The Justice League…
Batman. Superman. Wonder Woman…They’re not only comic book icons, they are icons of pop culture. We all know the names and the modern day myths behind them. Bringing them together on the big screen is long over due and the release of 2017’s Justice League should be any film and comic book lover’s dream.
But here’s the thing: Justice League is just okay.
Don’t get me wrong, there is much to enjoy in DC’s latest offering. It’s great to see Batman alongside Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman. This is probably the most fun I have had at a DC comics live action film since the Nolan’s Batman films. But this film relies too heavily on the reputation of these heroes rather than telling a coherent and compelling story. The plot is rushed, some of the humor is awkwardly placed and you’re left wanting more in the worst way possible. While Justice League is far from the irredeemable mess that was Batman v Superman, it is still disappointing.
A powerful, interdimensional being called Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) is collecting mysterious sources of power called Motherboxes. These objects could bring about the end of the world. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) attempts to bring the other super powered individuals together to defend the world: Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the speedster known as The Flash (Ezra Miller), a former athlete turned cyborg Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), and the mysterious warrior from the deep known as Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Even with this alliance, Batman fears it may not be enough. He knows that the key to victor may lie with the long dead Superman (Henry Cavill)…
It may seem obvious, but Justice League’s greatest strength is its characters. There is something special about these icons coming together. Seeing Wonder Woman fighting alongside Batman and The Flash is incredibly fun. This is a sight that many hardcore comic book fans have been waiting to see for years.
The returning heroes are solid. Affleck’s grim Dark Knight returns (Pun fully intended), but is unfortunately saddled with some awkward humor. Whenever the character is serious and contemplating his role in defending his home, he is at his best. He contrasts well with Gadot’s optimistic Wonder Woman, a “believer” in the good in everyone. She also continues to be a great action heroine in nearly every action set piece.
The return of Cavill’s Superman is generally a mixed bag, but ultimately successful. The character is given some cringe inducing dialogue early on and some of the character’s humor feels goofy. But when you think about it, this fits the character overall. The filmmakers finally realized who Superman is: A beacon of hope. He is not a brooding killer or a sarcastic jokester, so when those moments don’t feel quite right, whether purposely or not, it’s oddly fitting. The film’s biggest crime is not having more of Superman. He’s a central member of the Justice League and he is barely in the film.
The film wastes little time bringing the new heroes into the fold, which is a double edged sword. Ezra Miller’s Flash is a fun dose of comic relief in the dour DC cinematic universe and is the most welcome of the new additions. Miller’s comic delivery and wide eyed amazement play well as the world gets closer to an apocalypse. Unfortunately, Aquaman and Cyborg feel underdeveloped. Momoa’s hero gets more than a few bad ass moments, but his motivations are under cooked. And while Cyborg has a very cool look and voice (Seriously, I could listen to Fisher narrate the phone book all day), his origin is only lightly touched on.
Ultimately, that is the problem with the new characters. Justice League relies a little too much on previous knowledge of these characters. A comic book fan will know everything about these characters, but general audiences may not. The comic book fan in me appreciates the film not treating its audience like they need everything explained to them. But the film fan in me wants a stronger characters. It isn’t enough for these heroes to simply show up and beat a bunch of faceless enemies to death.
A Thoroughly Average League
In general, Justice League feels rushed at best, a bit of a mess at worst. Most of Amy Adams’ scenes as Lois Lane feel like they were added as an after thought, as though the filmmakers suddenly remembered they have an award winning actress in their cast. One scene is particularly bad, as it includes a crude joke that is incredibly uncharacteristic to the person telling it. Lane is an important part of the mythology, but the character would have been better served as an important cameo.
The plot careens towards the final confrontation at almost break neck speed. The team comes together rather quickly and the conflicts that emerge between the heroes come out of nowhere. There are some great character moments, but they are never allowed any time to breath as the plot rushes past them. These moments would add some needed gravity to the events and you will want more of them.
The pace also takes some of the steam out of the villain’s threat. The power of the Motherboxes is a little unclear, and the ultimate end game becomes murky. Steppenwolf, a completely CGI creation, never registers as a character or a villain. His facial animations are poorly done and often cartoonish. In the end, he is yet another generic CGI villain in a DC film.
And that brings us to the CGI in the film. Visually, Justice League is surprisingly boring. The final battle is almost completely CGI with unbelievable stunts that never feel like they are actually happening. Some of them are fun, but others are laughably silly. The Flash’s running visual effect is cool, but Cyborg’s look often feels unfinished. The color palette still has the dull browns, grays and blacks from Batman v Superman. That said, Superman’s costume looks brighter than in previous films, which is a welcome change.
Much has been made about Justice League’s troubled production. Two different directors, original director Snyder and Joss Whedon, took a crack at the production, and the film’s inconsistent tone reflects this. While some of the humor works, much of it is forced. There are scenes that feel extraneous, while certain sequences that seem like they are missing important scenes. Is it enough to completely derail the film? No, but it is noticeable.
Film vs Source Material
Inevitably, the DC films will always be compared to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They have more in common than you would think. Marvel films are never short on CGI spectacle and heroes mowing down faceless enemies. Humor is an important aspect of both universes. And of course, both have their flaws.
But Marvel has an advantage: They took the time to build a cinematic world outside of the comic world. As stated above, Justice League relies on the audience’s comic book knowledge to create a connection with its characters. Marvel built up its film characters as almost separate entities. They have roots in the comics, but they also exist as characters outside of them. You care about Robert Downey, Jr’s Tony Stark or Chris Evans’ Captain America even if you have never read one comic book about them.
There is too much intermingling of the comic and film world in Justice League. The filmmakers want to have it both ways and, honestly, it comes off as slightly lazy. The producers want that cinematic universe, but aren’t willing to build up their characters. This leads to a fun, but thoroughly average comic book film.
SCORE: 6.5 OUT OF 10