Justice League had a lot to prove from the get go. With three critically panned films and only one moderate successfully movie in Wonder Woman, Warner Brothers and DC Comics had a lot to make up for and improve upon. While Justice League is ultimately a step in the right direction, it doesn’t quite hit the mark and is an overall haphazard execution. Throughout this review, I’ll be constantly comparing this film to other superhero movies. While some of you may think this unfair, I disagree for two reasons. First, there are enough of them at this point that we pretty much have a benchmark for what is expected; second of all, this is the fricking Justice League. They are the most well known superhero team to fans and to the general public, hence they had a lot to live up to.
One improvement over the mediocre Batman V Superman is that the story actually makes sense and is not overly complicated. Having said that, it is very simple and conventional; generic bad guy wreaks havoc and the heroes have to come together and save the day. Some of you may argue that this is a blockbuster movie where you should focus on the spectacle and ignore the story. However, other superhero films have been able to go big and beyond while at the same time exploring themes and ideas, such as family and relationships in Guardians of the Galaxy, or centering on a character and watching their growth and development like in Spider-Man Homecoming or any good origin story for that matter.
“One improvement over the mediocre Batman V Superman is that the story actually makes sense”
The main villain, Steppenwolf, is as paper thin as the plot. First of all, a personal gripe: out of all the villains in comic book lore, they went with Steppenwolf, a character so obscure that I’m sure only hardcore fanboys would know who he is. On the one hand, this did mean that the writers could have written him in a new and interesting direction. Unfortunately, they don’t really do this and Steppenwolf is as bland and uninteresting as most marvel movie villains. Not only that, but he’s also 100% CGI, which honestly, is not the nicest thing to look at for the most part.
One area where the film does succeed though is in the Leaguers themselves. All the characters are given an adequate amount of screen time and come with their degrees of personality and quirks. They are also written much better and more optimistic compared to some characters’ dark and dreary portrayals in Batman V Superman. It might have taken three films, but they finally nail the character of Superman and Henry Cavill is able to bring the warmth and soul that makes Superman such a hopeful and heroic icon.
The overall tone of the film was also more hopeful and optimistic than the previous DCEU entries, save for Wonder Woman, which is how I believe superhero adaptations should be and what Marvel gets right. I’m not saying you can’t have stories with a darker direction, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of character and story development as is the case in Batman V Superman.
For those of you who don’t know, the production process was a bit of a mess with two directors having been in charge of the film at different times. For the most part, the film feels like a Zack Snyder movie with its darker atmosphere and operatic aesthetic. Some scenes have a very distinct Joss Whedon feel and while it’s alright for the most part, some scenes are just a bit jarring and seem a little out of place.
One of the main issues with this film, however, is the fact that there are no real stakes. The parademons facing the League are just awkward and bland CGI monsters with nothing particularly interesting about them. We never see anyone really have their life in danger, be it the heroes or any civilians. In Avengers, for example, there was always a sense of danger and threat in most of the action sequences, either to the main characters or to any unfortunate bystanders caught in the crossfire. Without these kinds of situations, it’s hard to really get engrossed in the Justice League and care as much as we should. For some odd reason, there are some scenes which focus on a particular payoff which leads to a lacklustre payoff. If these scenes were scrapped in favour of other things that are more plot-relevant, the movie would have been a touch better.
Warner Bros. are clearly trying to catch up to Marvel Studios and reach that level of success before the superhero movie bubble bursts. With Justice League, they were trying to do a course correction from Batman V Superman as well as make audiences care enough about these characters to want to see more of them. While the film mostly succeeds in these objectives and is at least somewhat entertaining, it does so in a sloppy and flawed execution that leaves one frustrated for something more.
Dir: Zach Snyder. Script: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon. Story by: Chris Terrio, Zack Snyder. Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot. 120 minutes