Director: Zack Snyder
Notable Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, JK Simmons, Connie Nielsen, Ciaran Hinds, Joe Morton, Amber Heard, Billy Crudup
At some point, I should just know better. To get my hopes up at all that Justice League could pull off the ambitious task of continuing the plotting of where Batman V Superman left off, introduce three new heroes, and still manage to balance the tones and intents of the course correcting DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU) was just silly. Perhaps it was the heights that Wonder Woman actually reached as a heartfelt and interesting blockbuster that made me hope for the best. Perhaps it was the rumors and articles claiming Joss Whedon had to do extensive reshoots to try and produce a stronger film that made me hope Justice League would work. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter all that much because Justice League is a film that tries to cover its gaping holes and problematic issues with quips, cheesy moments, and the quickest pace of any DCCU film thus far. No matter how much fun the film tries to be, it’s built on extremely cracked and challenging foundations that undermine the experience of the film.
After the critical backlash against Batman V Superman’s darker and very (overtly) serious tone, Warner Bros. and the DCCU decided to try and course correct their entire franchise. It was the reason that Suicide Squad felt like a chaotic mess due to reshoots and the reason that Wonder Woman, thanks to the fantastic Patty Jenkins and the intentional spins on the classic blockbuster tropes, succeeded so well. Yet, Justice League feels more like the scattered results of the course correction being over corrected than the fluid results all of the fans wanted from it. In its over correction, Justice League is still quite entertaining. Those looking for the quippy, brightly colored, rock n’ roll feel that the trailers promised will find the film enjoyable to some degree. The film is brisk, sprinting almost from the get go, to never find the lags that bogged down previous DCCU films. It’s also, just as promised, quippy, bright, and it tries very hard to be as charming as possible with all of its characters. Giving The Flash, Aquaman, and Batman (?!) tons of one liners and silly moments as it breaths a lot of group banter into the dialogue and seemingly pokes fun at its own intents. It keeps it very light and moving quickly.
It’s obvious though that this becomes a problem for the film. Not only does the film substantially rest on creating ‘eye candy’ moments with its colors, slow motion moments, and framing (entire fight sequences have the muscular male heroes shirtless and there are a lot of those Zack Snyder eye rolling camera shots that predominately feature Gal Gadot’s posterior as a focus in frame), but Justice League seems intent on trying to be as crowd pleasing as possible. It’s bubblegum cinema with very little substance to be a fulfilling experience. Half of the time it rarely makes sense and it feels like a film that just really, really wants you to like it. Like that co-worker that just nudges you constantly, makes poorly executed surface jokes, and wears quirky clothes to be the popular guy that everyone finds “fun.” By the time the film hits its third act of senseless action, it just comes off as annoying more than enjoyable.
Part of the reason that this fails to work is that there is a fractured foundation to the film that cannot carry the load of the forced charm, colorful visuals, and epic plotting. Justice League desperately wants to pull off the same thing that The Avengers did, right down to hiring Joss Whedon for rewrites and reshoots, but it hasn’t put in the legwork to make it successful. This leaves Justice League with the very problematic issue of having to introduce three new protagonists, a new villain, and a world ending scenario with three otherworldly boxes (I guess they didn’t want to quite go with five like Marvel) to cover in less than two hours. That’s a lot. Thus, characters like The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg get quick brush overs and the film doesn’t have time to give any of the returning heroes, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman (that’s not a spoiler cause his logo is on the damn poster), the kind of character arcs to give them substance in this film. It tries to replace the lack of substantive character development with quips and banter where Aquaman accidentally sits on the Lasso of Truth or The Flash is inexperienced. On top of this, the film attempts to fast forward in a new epic villain and mythos (on top of trying to tie into previous mythos by haphazardly shoehorning in connections to Lex Luthor that feel like threads to future films) that feels rushed. It leaves gaping plot holes that are black holes that eat up the light of the film’s entertaining aspects. It’s scattered, unfocused, and rushed. Not three words one wants to write about any script.
Not only does the writing feel rushed, but the execution of the film does too. Entire scenes feel tacked on, including the one impressive action set piece that re-introduces Wonder Woman thwarting a terrorist attack, and Zack Snyder’s focus on disconnected otherworldly CGI makes this feel even less grounded and more cartoonish. The film visits Atlantis, although it’s so rushed that visually we have no idea what that really looks like. The film has three boxes convert the Earth into…something… in some abandoned place in Russia. It visually looks like a sequence Paul WS Anderson would have pulled out in one of the early Resident Evil sequels. Not only that, but most of the CGI in the film feels like it was half developed. One of my favorite actors, Ciaran Hinds, plays the villain Steppenwolf and he’s unrecognizable. He’s motion captured and then given a terrible looking CGI make over. For a film that reportedly cost $300 million, the execution in its visuals and tone is just underwhelming at best.
Justice League was a film that, considering the rushed DCCU time line, had a lot going against it no matter how good or bad the execution of the actual film would be. It’s problematic narrative structure, unfocused scripting, rushed visuals, and course over-correction to be a ‘fun’ film made sure that no matter how impressive the casting, colorful the characters, or quippy the dialogue was, it was going to have problems. For those willing to accept it for being a bubblegum blockbuster, it will be fun and entertaining. It tries very hard to be just that. For those looking for something more, in a time where Logan provided an emotional and dynamic film and Wonder Woman spun the tropes on its head without negating them, Justice League feels empty. A sugar rush without the nutrition to sustain its audience.
Let’s hope that the rest of the DCCU takes a cue from Wonder Woman and goes back to its core of creating strong characters and a story with heart. Otherwise, nothing will get better and the audiences will get their substance from other places. Places that are not Justice League.
Written By Matt Reifschneider