Justice League

‘Justice League’ Review: A Superhero Mashup/Mess Up

'Justice League'

Movie Rating:

2

Warner Bros.’ big, bloated ‘Justice League’ has been the subject of so many sneering editorials and clickbait news stories about reshoots that it’s almost a shock to see the movie even make it to theaters. Unsurprisingly, the flick suffers from a serious identity crisis.

Whatever it was that Zack Snyder initially planned for this ‘Batman v. Superman’ follow-up has been hacked apart and hastily rewritten to feel as much like ‘The Avengers’ as possible – even bringing in Joss Whedon to rework the material enough that he has a co-writing credit along with an obvious directorial hand in many scenes. However, it comes without any of the earned groundwork that made Marvel’s feature-length payoff so effective. The movie is a mess. That’s no surprise. It’s also innocuous and kind of dull, which is a surprise. Say what you will about Snyder’s previous DC movies, at least they had style and purpose, however misconceived.

Technically, the movie does have a plot, in that events happen in a structured manner that involves implied catharsis and resolution. Unfortunately, none of it is particularly satisfying. It’s a rush of perfunctory scenes necessary to line up all the superheroes that the audience paid money to see. Ben Affleck’s Batman takes a break from Batmanning around Gotham when he discovers a strange alien robo-bat creature that feeds on fear. Rather than assuming the Scarecrow is up to no good again, he quickly realizes that it’s some sort of intergalactic threat requiring a team of superheroes to stop. (I guess he saw ‘The Avengers’ as well and took notes.) So he decides to assemble that team. He gets Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) back on board rather quickly. He meets Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) in an isolated bar that conveniently has his entire origin story written on the wall. He meets a plucky kid fully established as The Flash and learns a little bit about a sympathetic backstory that goes nowhere. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) finds the gang himself so that he doesn’t have to explain of his convoluted backstory. No one seems particularly interested in forming the Justice League until a generic villain whose origin makes no sense unless you’ve read the comics shows up and starts smashing things while looking for boxes. Once he’s got those boxes, the team reluctantly join forces. There’s no Superman, though, because he’s dead and can’t possibly show up. Right? Oh yeah, he shows up too.

Trying to piece together what the narrative of the film is supposed to be is a fruitless task. Very little plot is worth remembering or exploring, and the lumpy movie has no real drive or purpose beyond linking up the big action set-pieces that Snyder clearly had the effects team working on from the start while everyone else frantically rewrote the script just days before production began when ‘Batman v. Superman’ landed with a harsh reception. ‘Justice League’ has no consistent style, tone or purpose. It’s one of the most glaring cases of “too many chefs in the kitchen” in the history of Hollywood. Even Snyder’s gift for gorgeous comic book splash panel storytelling feels lost outside of the action scenes. He must not have had time to plot out a visual approach because everything was changing so quickly. A number of scenes are clearly directed by Joss Whedon. (The quip-tastic dialogue gives the authorship away.) Those scenes are even more flatly shot, but at least have some sort of writerly personality, even if Whedon’s wit sits awkwardly next to the generic one-liners that serve as dialogue elsewhere.

With so many characters just barely given enough screen time to count as protagonists in this overstuffed two-hour superhero mashup, it goes without saying that there’s little depth. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman fares best, mostly because she’s riding the good will of a feature-length backstory that viewers saw just six months ago and can project onto her pensive posturing here. Ezra Miller’s Flash and Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman get the space to carve playfully amusing presences that serve as advertisements for the blockbusters that DC hopes to shove them into shortly. It says a lot that they both seem capable of carrying future films, even if they have precious little to do here other than pose for poster shots. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is sadly underused and tacked-on, as if no one really cared about the character. He’s included only because corporate powers-that-be chose him over Green Lantern when the Ryan Reynolds movie failed.

Ben Affleck’s Batman has an intriguing role to play as an aging hero feeling increasingly irrelevant next to the superpowered titans surrounding him, but any of that interior material is quickly dropped in favor of further quips. Affleck marches around in a performance that can only be described as perfunctory, and he clearly doesn’t want to be here. That’s a shame given that his performance was one of the best parts of ‘Batman v. Superman’, yet he seems infinitely less interested and committed only one movie later.

Other iconic DC characters make cameos, including J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, but none of them register as more than fan-service. Token scenes are given out in an attempt to rile up comic book fans with excitement from familiarity. (Once again, Amy Adam’s Lois Lane is wasted, even more notably than before.) The less said about the big bad Steppenwolf the better. Even to provide a sentence worth of thought about the villain’s purpose would be dedicating more time caring about the character than any of the filmmakers did.

As a work of storytelling and as an iconic superhero delivery system, ‘Justice League’ is a mess. It’s an awkward collection of competing visions and desperate attempts at fan-service. Rather than commit to making this movie a brooding questioning of heroism or a colorful costumed romp, the movie attempts to be both and about a dozen other things as well in a desperate attempt to find something that fans can latch onto.

Some of the action scenes are OK, which makes sense since Snyder does that stuff well. However, even as a work of spectacle, ‘Justice League’ is a mixed bag. The big smashy-smashy fights that the effects team worked on for years look good, but the reshot material requires new effects that were sloppily thrown together – whether it be Cyborg’s entire suit or Henry Cavil’s awkwardly CGI-erased mustache (which frequently makes it look like his top lip has been shot up with cartoon novocaine). Given how long ‘Justice League’ has been in production and how many iterations the producers have slaved over, it’s amazing how cheap and flimsy the film can feel at times. This is one of the most expensive comic book blockbusters ever made, and while that sometimes shows, it also often feels like a Syfy Channel production because the effects team just didn’t have the time to complete all the work.

It should come as no real surprise to learn that Justice League is an absolute mess. That was pretty much inevitable after the endlessly troubled production. It’s not a ‘Batman & Robin’ scale disaster, luckily. The movie throws so many ideas, tones, explosions, and iconic characters at the screen that inevitably a few of them stick, if only by accident. It has a few very fun scenes and delivers a certain geeky joy in watching these characters finally march across the screen together. The filmmakers also wisely pandered to fan fantasies enough to please some anxious nerds.

Nonetheless, it ultimately can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity. The cast is better than this and the characters deserve better. More than anything else, it makes you appreciate what Marvel has accomplished by actually taking the time to plan grand arcs for its franchises. ‘The Avengers’ had a built-in satisfaction that ‘Justice League’ can’t hope to capture no matter how many ideas it steals from that film’s success. Warner and DC really screwed this movie up in fascinating ways that will likely be discussed amongst nerds for ages, just not in the ways that the studios hope they will. There’s still a chance that the DC Cinematic Universe can be saved, but this sure isn’t the movie to do it.

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50 comments

  1. For me, it’s the same experience as ‘Thor 3.’ The structure is exactly the same – there’s a big, bad unstoppable villain, but we get distracted with a side character for act two and have to get the gang together for act three. And just like Thor, I had a lot of fun with it. The good outweighs the bad.

    Here’s to hoping that we’ll someday get one of Snyder’s Ultimate Cuts.

    • Timcharger

      “The structure is exactly the same – there’s a big, bad unstoppable villain…”

      Hela > Steppenwolf (by a wide margin)
      Yes, Hela was one-note. But Cate Blanchett had fun and reveled in her role.

      “…but we get distracted with a side character for act two…”
      Justice League’s Act 2 was great! > (by a wider margin) than the Thor-Hulk gladiator match. That Act 2 match was gleeful and wickedly written. What a great callback to the line in BvS.

      “…and have to get the gang together for act three…”
      Ragnarok’s Act 3 was better for one reason: Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, but I can listen to that without going to the theater.

      Agree that the good outweighs the bad and eager for an extended cut. Many scenes needed to breathe more.

  2. Timcharger

    “Noooooooo!”

    I guess likewise there was no logical reason to think Episode 3 would salvage the wreck of Phantom and Attack. But I was hoping against hope for Justice League (though prior films weren’t Episode 1 & 2 bad).

  3. chris B

    Yeeeeaaaah this isn’t surprising at all. After the mess that was B Vs. S I checked out. Call me when we have a new actor playing Batman and a new creative team. Until then I’ll be sitting these movies out.

    • Timcharger

      “Call me when we have a new actor playing Batman… I’ll be sitting these movies out”

      Sorry; pretty much consensus considers Batfleck as a good thing about BvS. Oh, you sat out of Wonder Woman?!

      • Chris B

        I went and saw Wonder Woman for the sheer fact of how gorgeous Gal Gadot is who I’ll watch in anything. When I said I’d “checked out”, I was speaking of Bat-Fleck. The consensus may be positive, but my feelings aren’t.

        • Timcharger

          Not to make too much of this… but how “gorgeous,” how muscular, how rippled Affleck’s, Henry Cavill’s, or Will Smith’s abs are, you demand a higher standard, a more “creative team.” But the sight of Gadot in a WW costume is enough for you to “watch her in anything.”

          (Not that I disagree with Gadot’s beauty. Do not mistake me.)

          Just pointing out that demands for more than visual spectacles are often daggers thrown at these films, but if ScarJo is in a tight leather Black Widow outfit… sorry, I forgot my train of thought.

          • Chris B

            That’s how bad Bat-Fleck is. He nullifies the GG as WW factor. Hence, I won’t be watching the movie.

            However, if some one could just edit together a clip reel of all her scenes I’d gladly watch that 😉

    • NJScorpio

      For me, the best parts of BvS all involved Batman. I loved the way he was filmed like a horror movie monster, creeping in the shadows.

      • Chris B

        I loved the prologue, it was the best part of the movie. All downhill after that. Affleck is too recognizable and the suit they put him in makes him look like he’s a mile wide. They need to cast a new actor and get a new creative team to write, produce and direct a new standalone Batman film to right the ship. Last I heard Matt Reeves was attached so that’s a good sign. Let’s hope they do well in the casting and writing department and we’re off and running.

  4. NJScorpio

    So this is more disjointed than ‘Suicide Squad’?

    Also…I’m not excited about seeing the characters together. There is no interest in what happens with The Flash meets Batman, because we really haven’t becoming familiar with the characters other than Batman and Wonder Woman, and they already interacted a great deal in Batman V Superman.

    The most exciting parts of The Avengers, based on the quality MCU building, was the conflicts involved in getting everyone on the same page.

  5. ‘I guess he saw ‘The Avengers’ as well and took notes.’

    I love this line from the review. I just love the jokey idea/suggestion that the Marvel movies exist in the DC universe. We know Batman likes ‘Jerry Maguire’, so imagine if we had a scene of Ben Affleck actively watching and riffing on ‘Civil War’ or ‘Ant-Man’.

  6. Ryan

    The DC movies ALL had something the marvel movies didn’t….Hans Zimmer. Without him, I am afraid the movie won’t work at all for me…..we’ll see. I am seeing the movie tonight

    • Timcharger

      Strange that Phil had no comment on Elfman. The Synder to Whedon conversation is necessary. But Zimmer to Elfman should be just as apt.

        • Timcharger

          You’ve made this complaint since Dark Knight.

          You have heard Man of Steel’s single note piano keys, right?

          You have heard Wonder Woman’s tribal electric strings riff, right?

          Speaking of a one note complaint, yours is.

          • I don’t know that the deafening background noise in Interstellar can really even be classified as a “score.” It was 2-and-a-half straight hours of “BBBBBBRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM”

          • Timcharger

            How many keyboards have you gone through wearing out those B, R, A, H, Ms?

            Mrs. Z: “Another keyboard from Amazon? Every Zimmer release, we go through this!”
            🙂

          • Timcharger

            Josh: “I don’t know that the deafening background noise in Interstellar can really even be classified as a ‘score.'”

            I know I’m responding to a 3 week old comment, but I happened to hear the music from the docking scene of Interstellar. The “It’s-not-possible.-No,-it’s-necessary” scene. That scene. The score. Marvelous. It would be so different without the music.

          • Timcharger

            You may or may not like Goodfellas. That doesn’t matter. But to claim there is no cinematography in it, is just wrong.

            Because the Interstellar score is loud? That’s your complaint? That then equates to having NO score?!

            Watch the equivalent of the Goodfellas’ one-take scene in terms of a brilliant score.
            https://youtu.be/VSW47_Qm7YY

            But why watch a good faith presentation of evidence? Just bang away at your B, R, A, H, M keys. Amazon can send you another keyboard within 2 days again.

    • NJScorpio

      I gotta agree…Alan Silvestri’s scores put me to sleep.

      (As an aside…my mom went to high school with him. She said he was weird, drummed on his desk all day, and lived in an apartment…which at the time was also weird, I guess.)

    • Ryan

      Saw the movie. I have NO clue what Luke is talking about. Elfman’s score is HORRIBLE. So uninspired. Zimmer’s MoS and BvS was epic, I loved it. I listen to it while driving often. There is absolutely nothing about Elfman’s score that is interesting at all.

      Was it the reason I didn’t care for the movie? Nah….but it didn’t help. The movie just didn’t work for me. Too much forced humor (that didn’t land), boring music, and just no emotion to the thing. Not to mention some lame CG.

  7. cardpetree

    I saw it last night and kind of liked it. I thought it had some pretty cool moments. I especially liked some of the specific musical themes that were added. I’ll just leave it at that.

  8. Timcharger

    Elfman’s hints to classic Batman and Superman themes were too slight. Should have been more bold. Hope an extended cut would also embolden Elfman to embrace the integration.

  9. Csm101

    I just saw it and it was okay. The shift in tone is a bit jarring. I see the same actors from Man of Steel and BvS, but the universe, even the aesthetic felt very different. It almost didn’t feel like a sequel. It was like a more friendly reboot with the same actors. It definitely needed a little more breathing room. Everyone keeps saying how lame Steppenwolf as, but I found him quite controversial. He kept going around asking people if they new where their mother’s box was. Very inappropriate 😀
    On my way out, I saw that they finally opened the bran spanking new Dolby auditorium which was the old ETX and it was playing JL. We snuck in for a little while and WOW!! Just WOW!! Bran new smell, leather reclining seats. Subwoofer bass that shakes you to the core. The picture was gorgeous. I thought they were saving this one for Star Wars for its big debut, but I guess I was wrong. This easily rivals the IMAX theater we have at Point Orlando. It definitely elevates the experience and brings more enjoyment to the feature.

  10. William Henley

    Saw it last night. I went in with low expecations, and, yep, about a 1.5-2 star movie is what we got. If the sound wasn’t so loud, I might have caught a nap. The movie wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good. I wouldn’t even go for “okay”, it was for me a “meh”, which puts it slightly below okay. It was watchable, and a good way to disengage my mind from the world for a couple of hours, but that is about all the praise I can give it. For me, the story didn’t make much sense. Why were the boxes not ever destroyed? What causes Steppenwolf to come back? Why did I not hear Magic Carpet Ride even once? Is there a “thing” going on between Bruce and Diana? So the box makes everything it touches bad, except for Superman, which then makes Cyborg’s armor magically start attacking him? If Superman is going crazy and not recognizing anyone (except for Batman as someone he hates), they put mortal Louis Lane in danger? Really, the Russians are going to resettle a town that had a nuclear reactor explosion only 30 years ago, and we are not even going to encase the reactor in cement, but it is okay to let families move within a couple of miles of this thing? How the heck did they build that hanger door under the lake? The Kent farm was not paid for already? Martha should have been able to get a reverse mortgage on the thing. Bruce didn’t know what Aquaman looked like, yet he knew who he was? No seriously, this movie doesn’t take place 30 years ago, this movie takes place in 2017, and Aquaman is sitting there drinking with his buddies, and no one posts anything to Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat Youtube or Facebook? They had no issue doing that with Superman. What the heck is that purple stuff that Steppenwolf is making grow all over the place, and why the heck do alien flowers bloom on it at the end of the movie? Why does Stepphenwolf pick this place in Russia to start making the purple stuff grow, does the leftover radiation help him do stuff with the boxes? Do all the superheros in the world live in either Gotham or Metropolis?

    So yeah, the movie was not well written at all. I would have to say it was about as enjoyable as Transformers.

  11. Pedram

    After being disappointed MoS and BvS, I was pleasantly surprised with this movie. I actually liked it and it was a fun time at the movies. The lighter tones and Whedon one-liners definitely helped. The villain was a bit lame, but the characters were fun.

    Gal Gadot is really overrated as Wonder Woman but I was able to tolerate her in this one. It’s a shame that they kept having “butt in tight leather pants” or “up skirt” shots of her though. I thought we were past that.

    • William Henley

      I think my issue is that when you start having Superheros team up like this, you don’t really appreciate how powerful the villian is. And when you have a Superhero like Superman, who can also turn back time, it makes you start to wonder why you even need the others there. In a movie with this many characters, and trying to tie in back story, exposition, and throw it into a two hour run time, and still try to make sure each character has screen time, you get a mess like this. Was the movie fun? Heck yes. So is Transformers. (hmm, we got a magical box that the evil guy wants because it has power and can destroy everything, but magical box also brings Megatron / Optimus Prime / Superman back to life?)

      I honestly didn’t notice the “butt in tight leather pants” or “up skirt” shots. Not saying they were not there, I just think that I have moved past that. :-p

      • Pedram

        Yeah I guess Superman could have basically taken Steppenwolf on by himself, which is why they didn’t bring him in until later in the fight. They already established that he’s basically more powerful than the rest of the team combined – kryptonite notwithstanding.
        So I guess this begs the question, if the mother boxes were activated because Superman died, and they couldn’t defeat Steppenwolf without him, why didn’t the mother boxes activate before Superman came to earth? Probably best not to think about it too much.
        Also, maybe you’ve just seen too many butts in tight leather pants and have become desensitized to it, haha. There were two shots of it though.

  12. Timcharger

    Snyder deserves to get to do a “Richard Donner Cut.” His sole vision.

    Heck, Whedon deserves to do a cut without studio interference, too.

    Why not have a special 4K/blu-ray release of all 3 cuts:
    the Studio version
    the “Richard” Snyder cut
    the “Richard” Wheldon cut

    Warner, you hear that? I’d pay extra for that. More $.

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