Arts & Culture

Justice League Review: We Deserve Better (it’s just….OK)

The DCEU has been an interesting ride. I left Man of Steel feeling amazing (but I was young, and foolish, and now realize that it was an adequate sci-fi movie and a terrible Superman movie), I left BvS feeling drained and disappointed, and I left Suicide Squad just feeling meh. Then I left Wonder Woman, and I felt invigorated, inspired, and happy. How did I feel when I left Justice League? It’s hard to say. Ultimately, I left feeling a bit cheated out of a movie I felt I deserved. There’s a lot to say about this movie, so bear with me.

I’m honestly confused as to all the reviews calling JL bleak and dour…it’s really not. It’s brisk (like, really brisk), and it’s light. Light on a lot actually, not just the mood. The atmosphere of JL is a MASSIVE improvement over the utterly depressing BvS. I felt like I was watching a Saturday morning cartoon, and I honestly want to go back in my pajamas and just binge on some popcorn. It has that vibe to it, and I really dug that. Yet, it also seemed confused as to what type of movie it wanted to be. It opens with slow-mo montages describing how much the world has regressed to fear and hate after Superman’s death in BvS (not unlike our own world in the wake of Donald Trump), yet it ends with Aquaman surfing on a CGI baddie through the air. It wants to be this rousing epic about people returning to the world after retreating out of loss and pain, and yet it also wants to be a giddy, fan-pleasing romp. Both sound fine, but I’m not entirely sure they mesh together seamlessly.

There is truly a lot to like about this movie. The CAST. I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again, the DCEU is nailing its casting (Jared Leto and Jesse Eisenburg aside). Ezra Miller is great as a neurotic, nonstop joke machine Barry Allen/The Flash. He’s definitely distinct from the TV version of Flash, but his arc is strong. He’s just a kid, he’s learning about his powers, he’s having a blast being with his Super Friends, and he’s also terrified about the idea of fighting off an alien invasion- I mean, who wouldn’t be? His action scenes are a lot of fun too, and Ezra Miller brings a wide-eyed, really jokey amount of fun to the role (there is a moment in the Batcave where he is LITERALLY me if I was ever there). If anything, he’s just a bit too awkward. Jason Momoa is also fantastic as Aquaman. I definitely felt casting Momoa was an attempt to overcompensate for Aquaman being the butt of many jokes about being a worthless superhero who talks to fish (which he doesn’t even do- come on). He’s basically Aqua-Bro in this movie, but I loved it. I just wanted more- so I can’t wait for his solo outing in a year (too long!). His scene in Atlantis is criminally short, and so too is the introduction of Mera (Amber Heard), who was a treat. Ray Fisher is just fine as Cyborg, he’s kind of boring but that’s not Fisher’s fault. You will never be able to convince me that Cyborg was a better choice than Martian Manhunter to round out the League, but he’s good enough (and we even get a “boo-yah!”). Ben Affleck comes back as Batman, and he’s just fine. I liked his opening scene, and I liked that this Batman wasn’t a murdery whiny little man-baby this time around, but he basically went through the entire movie with a giant man-crush on Superman (at one point it’s painfully obvious) and like come on, Batman has an ego the size of Jupiter. So he was just fine. Gal Gadot, no surprise, is wonderful. She has an opening scene that literally has nothing to do with the rest of the movie (and it definitely had the potential to), but was absolutely amazing nonetheless. She continues to prove that she is Wonder Woman. Henry Cavill also returns as Superman (this is not a spoiler. He receives second billing.) I’ll talk more about Superman in a bit, but I liked him here the most out of his three films. There are some scenes as Clark Kent where he seems like he’s holding in a fart, but he’s also got moments where he does a great job breathing some life into the character which has been marred by MoS and BvS. The supporting cast (many of them returning) are great as well. I enjoyed Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Jeremy Irons is still bitingly funny as Alfred, and Amy Adams is still a great Lois Lane (even though she is criminally underused). The film’s greatest strengths lie in its characters. Their interactions are a lot of fun to watch, and again they are perfectly cast. I am excited to see where they go in their individual movies (assuming those will still happen). The action is also good, for the most part. There’s a lot of it and sometimes it does get to be a bit much. There’s a scene where the classic Batman theme song plays in a triumphant moment for the Caped Crusader, and it is drowned out by the sounds of explosions. I won’t lie, that pissed me off. But there were enough superhero action moments to satisfy. The Amazons return as well (yay!), including Connie Nielsen’s fantastic Hippolyta and a brief flash of Robin Wright’s Antiope (double yay!). They have a truly epic action sequence that was actually pretty harrowing, since thanks to Wonder Woman I actually care for all of them. The final battle is a lot to take in, but it was good enough! There is a great deal of humor too, and I liked that. Batman has lots of one liners (only some work…Batman shouldn’t make a lot of jokes), Flash is funny, and Aquaman gets the honors of the funniest moment in the movie. Even Superman gets in on a lot of the jokes, that’s a plus. And the Easter Eggs- there is one moment during a Lord of the Rings-esque battle sequence that literally made me giggle with joy. The post credits scenes are also just plain awesome.

But the movie is far from perfect. It is ALL over the place. Like Suicide Squad before it, it is choppy and goes a million different directions at once. Sure, it’s a lot to introduce three major characters into one movie, but the movie does it so fast, it doesn’t do their backstories justice. I barely saw Atlantis (what I wanted to see most of all). Scenes literally jump like they are hopping on rocks over a river, there is barely a thread connecting them together. This thread is Steppenwolf, the big bad of the movie. He’s very tall (don’t worry, the characters will point it out for you), he is excellently voiced by Ciarán Hinds, and oh my gosh he is so boring. He had such potential. Sure, he’s more than a physical match for the League, and he’s great at clapbacks, but he has NO backstory. See, I know a lot about comic books, and so I know all about Steppenwolf. The movie doesn’t tell you anything. There is no mention of Apokolips, the hellish world he comes from, and there is BARELY any mention of his nephew and master, Darkseid (DC’s big bad, like Thanos from Marvel). Any semblance of a threat is removed because of this (except for the scene with the Amazons). He is relegated to just another alien conqueror, and trust me (trust me) he could have been SO much more. The Mother Box plot is just as weak, again because none of the backstory around Steppenwolf, Darkseid, and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World is explored (if you have no idea what that is, again trust me, it would have made for a much better conflict). This brings me to my other big issue with the movie- it is TOO brisk. Warner Bros. mandated that the film be under two hours, in response to criticisms that BvS was too long. Classic example of a studio misunderstanding the problems of their film. Wonder Woman is 2.5 hours long and is brilliant. BvS didn’t suck because it was too long, it sucked because it had a million different plots, was depressing, and absolutely botched its characters. Yes, it was long, but the fact that it was bad just made it feel longer. I don’t care if a movie is long, as long as it is a good movie. Shortening JL did not make it a good movie- it seriously hurt it. JL would have truly benefited from another half an hour of backstory building and character interaction to make the plot stronger. Once the final battle rolled around, I literally thought wait, seriously? This is it? Already? The movie moves at breakneck pace, and while this gets us to the action quicker, it speeds through necessary moments and is ultimately a detriment.

Alright, now that that is all out of the way, onto a (spoiler-free, of course) discussion about my feelings on Superman, the League as a whole, and Snyder/Whedon. I’ve hated the way Superman has been portrayed so far in the DCEU. In MoS, he is fine when he’s learning his powers, but there is a serious disconnect between the idea and discussions about Superman being a beacon of hope, and then having Superman not act like any of that (plus, the destruction-porn and the fact that HE DIDN’T NEED TO KILL ZOD). In BvS, he is just as dark as Batman, when literally the whole point of Batman vs Superman as characters is the contrast of their darkness and their light. His portrayal in JL is pretty much the opposite, once he puts on the cape again. His costume is colorful, he smiles, he cracks jokes. So I do appreciate the change in his character, but much like JL as a whole, I see this as a step in the right direction as opposed to a massive shift. I need to see more of this positive Superman, and for the first time, I want to. I’m excited for the future of this Justice League as well…this movie at least leaves a lot of potential for really great things down the road. Now onto Snyder and Whedon. Zack Snyder, basically the head of the DCEU (except for WW), directed all of production but needed to step away after truly tragic circumstances. Joss Whedon (yes, Avengers Whedon) did post-production and added in lots of new scenes as well. Thank GOD that Whedon came on, because I strongly feel that he saved this movie from being another steaming pile of shit. The dialogue is witty, snippy, and enjoyable, and from what I’ve heard, he changed the ending of the film which is ultimately a good thing (even if there is still no more mention of Darkseid, which would’ve made Steppenwolf so much better). I hope Snyder never comes back. He makes great visuals, but he has driven the DCEU into the ground. For someone who claims to love comic books, he has done a shit job with these characters which hold a special place in my heart. The Justice League is iconic. These characters are iconic. It should not be so hard to make a good Justice League movie, nor is it very hard to get these storied characters right. I do not study film, and I am 100% confident I could make a really good Justice League movie (better than this one). Yet Snyder has proven again and again that he has a special talent for ROYALLY screwing over these characters. Honestly, look at all of the DCEU movies. Of all of them, only one was both a critical and commercial success- Wonder Woman. The only one without the stink of Snyder all over it (Suicide Squad is dark, tries to be edgy, and fits in perfectly with Snyder’s desired vibe). I am honestly sick of butthurt DC fanboys screaming about Snyder’s brilliance and insisting that Marvel movies are forgettable piles of fluff- there is literal, tangible proof that anything Snyder has his fingers on is trash. I don’t care if you liked MoS or BvS, but any argument that they are good superhero movies is just wrong. We DC fans deserve better. Snyder was the wrong choice to start this franchise, and while I hope that JL is the beginning of a massive course correction and shift towards giving us fans the characters and stories we deserve (and I definitely felt that way), I worry that it is already too late.

Summary: Justice League is just…fine. Its characters are a delight to watch and carry the film above its flaws, and it honestly is very entertaining and a fun time at the movies, but there are just so many glaring flaws that it ultimately does not do the iconic team justice. A movie of this magnitude and significance to fans worldwide should not be just….fine. 6/10.

The Good: The awesome cast, great characters, lighter tone, the musical score, a better Superman, epic action, Easter Eggs and THE POST CREDIT SCENES.

The Bad: Disappointing villain, too choppy, threadbare plot, no stakes, too short and brisk, backstories are tossed aside, action is sometimes too much for the senses.

The Ugly: Henry Cavill’s CGI face (seriously, it’s laughably bad), WONDER WOMAN IS PRETTY MUCH AS STRONG AS SUPERMAN AND WHY WHY WHY CAN’T WE JUST SEE HER BE MORE OF A POWERHOUSE (rant over).

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