Justice League review: Warner Brothers and DC go all-in with their first proper superhero ensemble movie, but how does it fare after a series of lackluster stand-alone efforts?
Justice League review by Luke Ryan Baldock.
You can’t just drop a superhero team-up movie into cinemas and hope to avoid comparisons with Marvel. It’s a sad fact and one that has haunted the DC universe for quite some time. DC being part of the Warner Bros. family for decades meant that they really did have a head start. The first Warner Bros. production in the DC world, Tim Burton’s Batman, arrived in 1989, and there was a whole universe to explore while Marvel sold their rights to characters. Despite being 19 years behind, Marvel eventually acquired many of their rights back and have spent the last 9 years building a universe while DC have fumbled with Superman returning, Green Lanterns, and a current universe that just seems to have happened with the likes of Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
When it comes to comics I’m a DC fan, enjoying the complex crossovers and darker in-depth plots in paper form. However, the tone has been all wrong for the films. Trying to go dark is fine, but when doing that and trying to create a universe that the general public will get invested in is asking a bit too much. DC can and have done good, with Wonder Woman’s solo outing being a great example of this. But Justice League has a huge hurdle to overcome. We all know Batman, and most are familiar with Wonder Woman, but here’s a film that also needs to introduce us to Aquaman, Cyborg, and Flash (while avoiding confusion with his TV counterpart). How telling is it that the posters are adorned with the characters names as opposed to the actors playing them? It was never going to be easy for Justice League, and once you throw in Zack Snyder’s exit from the project and Joss Whedon being drafted in for rewrites, reshoots, and post-production, it’s almost as if the film wanted to give itself a hard time.
The trailers were no better, seemingly pandering to the audience. The first teaser showed a jokier side after the criticisms of Batman V. Superman. Once Wonder Woman was a hit we found a trailer that centered around her, but it all still culminated in a CG heavy landscape and awkward dialogue exchanges. However, we all know DC has enough material to really bring an exciting project to life, so maybe there’s some hope here? Yes and no. Although there certainly is some hope, Justice League hardly distinguishes itself as a powerhouse to take on Marvel.
First of all, Justice League is more entertaining than it has any right to be. The group dynamics are a lot of fun, and although characters are boiled down to simplicities – Stoic Cyborg (Ray Fisher), quirky Flash (Ezra Miller), reluctant Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) – their interactions are a highlight and endeared me to the team, even without stand-alone films. I’m excited to see Aquaman and The Flash films, so this certainly isn’t a franchise killer. Miller’s quick talking and spot-on facial expressions make him delightful to watch, while Mamoa is a pure joy as a hard-drinking ‘bro’ take on Aquaman. Unfortunately, their stories are quickly handled, with Cyborg coming to terms with what he is, Aquaman taking on the responsibility of his people, and Flash’s father in jail for killing his mother.
Where the film truly falls apart is its villain, Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). He is such a non-dimensional character that he is simply the dullest villain ever put on film. True, his simplicity means we can spend more time with the heroes, but his quest to find 3 boxes to wield the ultimate power is spurned on by the fact he loves to conquer. That is literally it. It also doesn’t help that he looks atrocious. I am very forgiving of CG and special effects, but Steppenwolf never once feels as though he is part of the action. His face is plastic looking and feels unrendered at points. Battles with him feel ripped from the video game Injustice, especially when mixed in with a poor CG recreation of one of our heroes.
For returning stars, Gadot is still brilliant, while Ben Affleck’s Batman seems to have had a poor rewrite. The film starts with him using a criminal to lure in one of Steppenwolf’s minions, before immediately letting him go. Later he argues for plans Batman would probably never consider, and he throws around petty insults and admittedly humorous one-liners. Again, the film is after a lighter tone, but this could have been supplied by Flash and Aquaman alone. Once Superman finally returns (not a spoiler as Henry Cavill is listed second in the opening credits), he also seems to have had a quick rewrite into a much more caring and traditional variant as opposed to the one we got in the previous two films. But trust me, you will be distracted by his CGI moustache removal.
The moustache is a good metaphor for the entire film in a way. It’s gone to great lengths to cover up something simple. It covers up bad decisions in past installments and shows how unprepared the film was that Cavill had to return for such extensive reshoots. The highlight of the film is composer Danny Elfman reincorporating his iconic Batman score, but even this is confusing and cheap. Was this just a quick grab for nostalgia in order to elicit fond memories and hope they could be passed on to this film? Justice League is a merciful two hours and for the majority, it is a fast moving bit of fun with signs of promise. The ending may be generic CG overkill which is almost funny in its lack of urgency and tension, but the assembling of the team was entertaining. DC needs to focus and decide what it is they’re doing because the messy production is clearly on screen.
Justice League review by Luke Ryan Baldock, November 2017.
Justice League opens in cinemas on Friday 17th November 2017.