Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, The Flash — this is an ensemble that shouldn’t be hard to sell to audiences, but Justice League is in a tricky situation. It’s responsible for being a very important piece of the DC Extended Universe, and director Zack Snyder hasn’t exactly paved a smooth road to the gathering of some of DC’s most legendary comic book heroes.
Let’s backtrack a bit: Man of Steel wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t God-awful, either. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was … incredibly messy and forgettable, unless you’re remembering how frustrating the film was. Suicide Squad was the pits — an absolute dumpster fire of a superhero film. Then, there’s Wonder Woman, Warner Brothers’ best DC film to-date.
Justice League now has two paths to go down: Will it be of BvS quality and, again, disappoint? Or will it travel down DC’s literal road less traveled and be an enjoyable film?
It didn’t take long after the end credits to realize that this film differed from most of its predecessors and split right down the middle.
I lowered my expectations tremendously after learning of Justice League’s runtime being cut from almost three hours to a strict two hours. Unfortunately, the film suffers from this almost immediately. During the first half, where most of our cast gets introduced outside of Batman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the film is rushed. Once Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) began rounding up the gang, I failed to understand why Snyder and writer Joss Whedon (who helped finish filming once Snyder stepped away due to a person tragedy) sped through Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg’s backstories.
Aquaman (Jason Momoa) spends ten minutes in Atlantis and holds little-to-no weight as a character once the film progresses. It doesn’t help that Jason Momoa just isn’t funny.
Barry Allen/Flash (Ezra Miller) spends two minutes in jail speaking to his father, which is somehow supposed to help the audience connect with his past.
Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is a generic hero but would’ve been much more than that if the film just took time to develop him as a character. Alas, like Aquaman, Fisher’s acting feels as if it doesn’t fit this film.
And that’s the thing: character development for our new heroes was poor, and it’s all attributed to the shorter runtime.
The premise of Justice League is meant to set-up future films. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), the main antagonist, is hunting down three mother cubes to construct a destructive, apocalyptic world. These three cubes must be kept out of Steppenwolf’s hands and, when the going gets tough, the Justice League is called to action.
The plot is basic and easy-to-follow, but it’s the surrounding noise that made me scratch my head. For starters, this is, in spurts, a technical mess. Steppenwolf’s CGI is absolutely unacceptable for a film with a $300 million production budget. His presence took me out of any scene he was in; it was jarring to witness such low-quality CGI on our main villain. The score is a letdown, which is a shame from a master like Danny Elfman. The moments where Snyder’s influence was smeared over the screen also felt unlike him and unimportant. No single shot held water outside of Diana on top of Lady Liberty.
This film simply needed fine-tuning, which would’ve saved face for the majority of the film. Even the actors needed further work with one another because chemistry seemed forced in many sequences. I couldn’t buy into Aquaman and Bruce Wayne poking fun at one another, and I had a hard time becoming immersed into the surrounding world. What worked was Ezra Miller’s charm coupled with natural comedic timing, helping bring life to otherwise lifeless conversations. It even felt that the script was suffocating Gal Gadot at times, who shined so bright in Wonder Woman (word to Patty Jenkins!).
That said, Justice League is miles ahead of Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Warner Bros. learned its lesson and realized this extended universe needed a tonal shift. Bringing Whedon on board helped bring about all of the comedy in this film, which propped up Ezra Miller as a show-stopped in the second half sans his terrible character development. If there’s one origin film I’m excited for after JL, it’s Flash’s. While the action isn’t remarkable, it worked just fine. This is a safe film by all means that’ll move the needle a tad in the box office, but it won’t leave a lasting impression for many reasons.
Reasons like a waste of space. Actors J.K. Simmons, who plays Jim Gordon, and Amy Adams, who plays Lois Lane, were shoehorned into this film. No amount of feel-good humor can mask the shallow dialogue in so many moments between Gordon-Batman and Lane-Superman.
Again, I can’t shake the feeling that this is a glimmering case of what could have been. There’s much promise to be found in the latter half of this film when our League begins to click, but then I’m asking myself why I should care about characters like Cyborg and Aquaman moving forward in this franchise. This is a decent attempt at apologizing for the terrible BvS and Suicide Squad, but it’s yet another DCEU film that has failed to come full circle.
I was invited to an advanced, 2D screening for purposes of this review thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing and Warner Bros. ❤
Justice League is rated PG-13, runs two hours and opens in North American theaters on Nov. 17, 2017.