JUSTICE LEAGUE (6.5 out of 10) Directed by Zack Snyder; Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon; Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher; Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.; Running time 119 minutes; In wide release November 17.
Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder (and Joss Whedon), is the latest film in the DC cinematic universe. It picks up where Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice left off, with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) working to put a team together in order to save the world from any future threats. The threat arrives quickly in Justice League in the form of Steppenwolf, a third tier villain first introduced into the comics in one iteration by Jack Kirby in ‘70s, then revamped by DC in 2012. Batman and Wonder Woman struggle to create a cohesive team in order to fend off the existential threat to Earth. And resurrecting Superman is somehow part of the plan.
Bryan: The good news is that this film is far better than Batman v Superman, which is an admittedly low bar. Sadly, it’s nowhere near as good as the passable Wonder Woman. And it felt like Zack Snyder was really the root of the problem. During production, he was replaced by Joss Whedon who seems to have worked hard to put a smile on everyone’s face. It’s almost like two different movies. In fact, he worked so hard to do that, you can see it. Henry Cavill was contractually obligated to keep a mustache through all of the reshoots because of another film and so his face became a clay-like mishmash of digital effects to remove the hair. The only time Superman doesn’t have this is when he’s fighting the rest of the League, which means it was original to Snyder’s shots. The weird brooding Superman who transforms into a man with a digital smile is a good symbol for what this film feels like.
Adam: I honestly go into every movie hoping it’s good and wanting to like it. With the DC films, I’ve especially been excited because they have such a great mythology to draw upon, and I grew up loving the likes of Superman and Batman, so I’ve been rooting for them like crazy with each film. And I’ve been let down a lot of the time, and Justice League was no different. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot here to like, but after coming off the fantastic movie that was Wonder Woman, it feels like they didn’t really learn their lesson from that film and kind of continued on with the old bandwagon and didn’t make the improvements they could have. Unlike Bryan, I actually enjoyed Batman v Superman, but the field has changed, and Justice League doesn’t seem to have learned the lessons it needed to make it what it should have been.
Bryan: The film is largely nonsensical and the stakes don’t really seem to matter. There’s an ancient mythology that allows the bad guy to take over the Earth. Where it came from, no one seems to know or care. The film vaguely implies that Steppenwolf is from Apokalips. He certainly arrives by Boom Tube everywhere he and his fiendish hordes arrive, but there’s very little attention paid to his back story. Ultimately, it’s because he’s disposable, just like the film.
Adam: Marvel has had its share of films with bad villains, and I fully enjoyed them, so I’m not going fault them too terribly here, but yes, the bad guy is only there to move the plot along, and kind of does so badly. We get no hint as to why Steppenwolf wants to destroy the earth other than that he can because he feels entitled to do so, and I really wish he had more screen time to flesh him out. Still, he is quite the badass, and he generally makes mincemeat of our heroes until the final battle when he finally succumbs. But I’m not entirely happy with how that happens because it played out much like the Lion King and brought more of a laugh to the results instead of the catharsis it should have evoked.
Bryan: Where the film worked was partially in its humor, which is a new thing for the DC Cinematic Universe and almost undoubtedly the work of Joss Whedon (who managed to do enough work on the movie to garner a screenwriting credit.) The chemistry between Flash and Cyborg and Batman is particularly great, and DC would do well to keep aiming the film in those directions. The other part where it soars is the music. Instead of the monotonous drumbeat we’d been “treated” to in previous installments, Danny Elfman brings an competent score to the mix and offers the film’s single perfect moment in the heralding of Superman’s return. His original Batman themes float through the score deliciously, making you feel at home with these heroes. It was a necessary thing for Elfman to do, because the film wastes zero time establishing characters, so he’s forced to resort to a short hand to get you familiar with them and it works.
Adam: Thank you! This was the first Zack Snyder DC film that finally realized that the DC universe doesn’t have to be all dark and dreary a la the Dark Knight trilogy to tell a good and engaging story! Humor is sprinkled throughout at just the right times to bring much needed moments of levity to the story as we are dealing with the earth-destroying drama that is the focus of the plot. While much of this needs to be credited to Joss Whedon and his punching up of the script and reshoots, it was enjoyable to actually have some great laughs during the story. As much as I loved Man of Steel, I’ll never forget getting out of that movie and taking a huge breath to calm myself because there was just too much tension throughout its run time. Justice League is definitely a serious film, but finally gets it right as far as making sure the audience is having a fun time at a movie instead of just pounding on them relentlessly like many of the other films it has given to us.
Bryan: The film makes some of the same bizarre mistakes as Batman v Superman, and I would bet they were all from the atrophied directorial mind of Zack Snyder. Things like Wonder Woman watching the news constantly for information, or bystanders like the purse snatcher in the first scene offering exposition he has no reason to offer. It also misunderstands Superman’s character, treating him almost like the Hulk until the CGI-faced version comes out. But this encounter also creates one of the film’s best moments and builds a beautiful Silver Age rivalry between Superman and the Flash.
The film is best when it focuses on the interplay between the team members with levity and heart and when the characters are true to their core. It loses itself when the villain is around because he’s utterly forgettable, as is his generic, paint-by-numbers plan to destroy the world.
Adam: I loved the Flash and Aquaman, and they steal the movie every scene they’re in. I was a bit hesitant to see a different version of the Flash since we’ve come to know and love Grant Gustin from the CW series, but Ezra Miller did a fine job and was quite charming and likable as this kid who has super powers but didn’t quite know how to use them. Jason Momoa was also a perfect choice as Aquaman who takes time to grow on you but actually makes the character interesting, funny and a complete badass. As much as that character has been the butt of jokes for years based on his portrayal in the comics, I challenge anyone to not agree he is equally as great and powerful as anyone else in the Justice League after this movie.
Bryan: Structurally, the film is sound in a way Zack Snyder outings in the DCEU haven’t been, where scenes add up in a logical progression toward a climax, but the tone is completely uneven and the film only works in fits and starts. What it gets right, it finally gets very right and what it gets wrong it gets very wrong. It’s a vast improvement over Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but not enough to be better than the pretty good Wonder Woman. This earns from me a 6.5 out of 10.
Adam: Justice League isn’t perfect, and I really went in hoping for more. It’s almost glaringly obvious where Whedon stepped in and directed new scenes because they are so tonally different from the rest of the film. But I had fun. And while it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, this isn’t a bad movie by any means. Unlike Bryan, I did like Batman v Superman a little bit more than this, but both pale in comparison to Wonder Woman. It’s nowhere near a work of art or a great movie, but it’s not bad by any means. I just wish it could have coalesced into a more meaningful story that took full advantage of all the characters and rich mythology it had to draw upon. 6.5 out of 10.