I feel like a live-action Justice League film ought to have been a dream come true and yet, I find myself underwhelmed with what ultimately hit the big screen. I doubt anyone can really disagree with me when I say that the road the DC Extended Universe has taken to get to this point has not exactly been a smooth one. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the first foray into catching up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that ended up being a massive trainwreck. Wonder Woman was probably the first time I could say a DCEU movie was actually enjoyable. It’s pedestrian and the story falls apart in the third act but it had a heart thanks to the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. It was at least a step in the right direction but after watching Justice League, I think this franchise still has a long way to go.
It should be noted that Justice League had two filmmakers heavily involved in its production. Zack Snyder directed principal photography (and received sole directorial credit) but following the tragic death of his daughter, he made the decision to step down from the project. Joss Whedon, who previously helped work on the screenplay, took over for reshoots and post-production. Having Whedon on board is an interesting choice, not just because he was the writer and director of the first two Avengers films but also because Whedon’s style is very different from Snyder’s.
For the most part, it seems like Snyder’s visual aesthetic was largely maintained for the entirety of the film. It’s difficult to really tell who did what but it’s hard to deny that the muted color palette, slow motion sequences, and camera zooms are all part of Snyder’s style. Whedon’s handiwork is definitely evident in the writing as a lot of the conversations, especially the comedic ones, feel more in line with his previous work than Snyder’s. I was concerned that these two different approaches would make the film a rather jarring experience to sit through. And at times, I feel like the movie is a little too lighthearted given the scenario and aesthetic that’s presented on screen. However, I think, on the whole, the tone worked more times than when it didn’t and the amount of levity injected is at least better than the lack of anything positive in BvS.
While the synergy at work here is very noticeable, the story sadly isn’t. There’s some guy with an axe named Steppenwolf who shows up on Earth to take these things called Mother Boxes which does….something bad I guess. Batman and Wonder Woman enlist the help of Aquaman, Cyborg, and Flash to a create a team that can combat this threat. There are some roadblocks but ultimately, the Justice League gets formed. During their fight against Steppenwhatever, the Justice League work to bring back Superman. I guess that detail is a spoiler but let’s face it, the fact that Superman died and would come back is perhaps one of the worst kept film marketing secrets of all time. The story is exactly what you’d expect to be. There aren’t any big surprises here and it’s easy predicting where the story will go from Point A to Point B. The action is pretty cool and watching the exception of the League is fun from time to time but at the end of the day, the film is just pedestrian. It is thankfully just two hours long but it’s two hours of stuff typical of superhero movies that’ll just pass through you.
I suppose one neat thing about Justice League is that it does address some stuff that annoyed me in past DCEU movies. Batman is less of a brutal and murderous psychopath this time around. Part of his arc in this movie is actually him making up for his actions in BvS. Wonder Woman admittedly needed the least amount of fixing but I do like that she is confronted about her 90 years of inactivity. That was a plot point in her solo film that frankly didn’t make a lot of sense. And apparently, coming back to life has made Superman the compassionate soul he should’ve been in the first place. Granted, some of these changes in characters is more of a 180 than a smooth progression. For example, it’s hard to believe Superman was this heroic beacon as everyone claims he was. He always looked far too reluctant and emo to act like one prior to this movie. So seeing him act all righteous and willing to help feels a bit out of place, even though it is more faithful to the Superman mythos. Still, I guess the DCEU addressing its past flaws in some way is better than not addressing them at all.
Since Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg only showed up in cameos prior to Justice League, their characters get to be established from the ground up. I do kind of wish that one or two of them got their solo films prior to Justice League. Whereas the first Avengers film was able to just build off of previously established characters and focus almost entirely on their chemistry, Justice League has to both introduce these heroes and explore how they interact with one another. Frankly, I don’t think the multitasking does this movie any favors. Flash seems to be the only one who got the necessary amount of set-up. You get a good glimpse of his backstory and his strengths and fears are all established in this movie. Meanwhile, the stuff about Aquaman and Atlantis gets horribly skimmed over and barely anything regarding Cyborg’s self-pondering over his humanity is investigated in great detail.
It’s just a shame that the writing isn’t on the level it ought to be because I really like the casting for the most part. I thought Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill were fine as Batman and Superman respectively so it’s nice to see them act as more faithful versions of these characters. Even though Aquaman and Cyborg got the short of the end of the stick, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher showed a lot of promise in their respective roles. Gal Gadot and Ezra Miller were perhaps the standouts for me. In Wonder Woman, Gadot brought a lot of charisma and authority to the titular character and those qualities are also in effect here in Justice League. As for Miller, I really like how socially awkward his Barry Allen is which is endearing as well as a smart differentiation from Grant Gustin’s take on the character in CW’s Flash TV series. On their own, these actors play their part well and together as a team, their chemistry can be quite charming. I just wish these actors had a more interesting script to work with.
I wish I could comment a lot on Steppenwolf but honestly, what is there to talk about him? He’s yet another addition to the increasing pile of mediocre super-villains. I’d hate to see how Darkseid is portrayed if one of his henchman couldn’t bear to be threatening or memorable. I’m sure Ciarán Hinds did his best but frankly nothing really works about this villain, be it in terms of writing, design, or gravitas.
Justice League is one of those films that I can’t bring myself to hate but I struggle to say that it was what I wanted. The film has its moments and I do admit that I enjoyed watching it. At best, I’d say this is a guilty pleasure but the thing is, I didn’t want this movie to be one. This is the first ever live-action film featuring the Justice league. Some of the iconic superheroes teaming up on the big screen. It ought to be have been one big shining moment for DC, much like how the first Avengers film was for Marvel. Maybe I’m just being a fan craving for more but I can’t help but feel so disappointed in how average this movie is.