Justice League has seemingly been on the way forever and has endured one of the more tortured roads to the screen of any blockbuster in recent memory. First it was two films; then it was one. Then backlash from Batman vs. Superman changed things; then success from Wonder Woman and input from the always meddlesome WB demanded reshoots. Then director Zack Snyder’s family tragedy caused him to drop off the picture. Then Joss Whedon (who was already on-board to do the reshoots) took over the picture and cut the running time by 50 minutes, and then the tone was changed to be more in line with the hopeful note set by Wonder Woman. Take a second to breathe. So after all of that, what is the dominant impression walking away from Justice League? There isn’t one. It’s a film that makes no impact, has no presence, or lasting punch. So many cooks have been in its kitchen that the final product is just an average, bland waste of an opportunity.
Justice League picks up on plot threads from Batman vs. Superman and Wonder Woman, introduces The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg into the DCEU, and seemingly sets the stage for future Justice League films. The threads drawn together regarding the antagonist, which is the film’s weakest point, require you to have seen the extended version of Batman vs. Superman and have some working knowledge of the DCU. There is some mighty heavy exposition to try to get people up to speed on things like Mother Boxes, New Gods, Atlantis, and Boom Tubes (though they’re not called that), but the time isn’t spent particularly well, and-in the end-you’re left with the weakest link in the film’s character roster: Steppenwolf (no, not the band).
In a film where $300 million was spent, how can you end up with CGI villain that makes the Enchantress’ brother from Suicide Squad look polished? Steppenwolf is one of the worst looking CGI characters in modern comic book cinema, and he ruins every scene he’s in because he’s so jarringly unpolished. He doesn’t have any great lines in a screenplay that’s short on them to begin with, but he doesn’t connect back to Darkseid or Apokolips or leave you with any kind of character menace. His parademons get more of an arc than Steppenwolf (still not the band) does. He’s just a generic, world-ender of a monster, and you never feel any real menace. Zod/Doomsday was a better villain (that’s not a compliment).
The best thing about Justice League is the actors in the League itself. No one is miscast, and the three new members all get good scenes to introduce them. The best scenes in the film are when members of the League are sitting around talking. I love Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller does a good job of differentiating his Flash from the TV show’s without being off-character, and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg probably gets the best introduction and character arc of any member of the League. Gal Gadot is a more matured Wonder Woman than this summer’s, Henry Cavill is back as Superman and wonderful in the part (the weird, nasty Superman from BvS is nowhere to be seen), and Ben Affleck’s Batman remains strong, though there are already pointed comments about his age in the film making you wonder how long he can stick with it.
The clash between the styles of Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon are a problem. The tone of the film whiplashes back and forth between the two. It’s choppy at best, especially in the beginning. Whedon clearly was asked to infuse more humor into the film, and there are some funny lines, but some come at the expense of character. There are also jokes that fall flat and some flat-out groaners (“You smell good?”……really?). The film has been so cut and reshot that there’s little consistency, and you never feel like it has its feet under it.
That’s enough complaining. Justice League is not a one or two star disaster of a motion picture. The stars ARE all likable in their roles, and as opposed to some previous DCEU films, all acting within character for the most part (Bruce, Clark, looking at you here). A special medal of honor should be awarded to Jeremy Irons’ Alfred for stealing every scene he’s in, and I desperately want to see more of JK Simmons as Commissioner Gordon. Danny Elfman delivers his best score since Big Fish, and we get to hear the classic Batman and Superman themes, as well as the Man of Steel theme, and the Wonder Woman theme, woven together with new themes for the League. DC has always trumped Marvel in the music department. Out of 17 MCU films, maybe five have really good scores, and that’s perhaps my biggest criticism of that franchise.
It’s easiest to dwell on missed opportunities and the film’s flaws, but the overall product isn’t vile, and no one (if you don’t count CGI STILL NOT A BAND Steppenwolf) is as egregiously bad as Jared Leto’s Joker or Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. I think DC would have been wiser to ride out the wave of good will it generated with Wonder Woman while giving Whedon more time to try to make this flow more coherently and the F/X team more time to polish Steppenwolf (sure, fine, the band). They have 13 months before their next installment, and could have easily improved what is good about the film without stepping on the next film. It also could have benefited from a longer run time more in line with the previous DCEU films. 121 minutes is nothing next to even Wonder Woman. More time in the film and for the film was what was needed to make this more than just a forgettable super hero film, and the Justice League deserves better than that.
Here’s all the projects currently on the way in the DCEU in order of their release (if they have one): Aquaman (2018), Shazam (2019), Wonder Woman 2 (2019), Cyborg (2020), Green Lantern Corps (2020), The Batman (TBD), Batgirl (TBD), Nightwing (TBD), Flashpoint (TBD…..this could be used as a reset button on the DCEU to keep what works and ditch what doesn’t, but it doesn’t currently have a director or release date), Suicide Squad 2 (TBD), Gotham City Sirens (TBD), Untitled Joker & Harley Quinn Movie (TBD), Deadshot (TBD), Justice League Dark (TBD), Black Adam (TBD), Justice League 2 (TBD), Lobo (TBD), Man of Steel 2 (TBD), Elseworlds Joker Origin Movie (TBD), and Deathstroke (TBD). How many of these actually happen and in what order is your guess as good as mine.
Justice League has TWO post-credits scenes: one a great piece of fan service; the other an unwelcome look at a possible future for the franchise.