JUSTICE LEAGUE REVIEW:
The Finale to this Superman focused trilogy is a cartoony, nostalgic, messy, and uneven adventure that missed it’s chance to be legendary.
Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder is the culmination of the first phase of the DCEU. What started in 2013 with Snyder’s Man of Steel, followed by his direct sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, Justice League ties this journey in a very lean, 2 hour, action packed film that leaves much on the cutting floor and much more to be desired.
Zack Snyder intended this trilogy to be one with Superman as the focus. It’s worth pointing out that this film has moments where it feels like the spiritual continuation of a Superman story that started with Man of Steel but also equally as many moments where it is distant from it.
The tone of this film is also unique in comparison to the rest of it’s universe. Where Man of Steel plays like a gritty Sci-Fi “first contact” film about Kal-El’s origins and Batman v Superman like a dark, political thriller about the deconstruction of our most mythic heroes, Justice League plays like a film that has nothing to lose and is messy in its execution. In tone, the closest comparison I can make is to Justice League the Animated Series, a standout series that perfectly balanced it’s emotional backdrop with a sense of wonder, optimism and humor. While a little more silly than that legendary tv show, Justice League still plays like a very fast paced, unevenly toned rollercoaster of spectacle and mixed emotions.
Chris Terrio, writer of both Batman v Superman and Justice League, mentioned in early 2016; “I do think from MoS through JL, it is one saga. I expect JL will not be tonally as dark as BvS.” While this does indicate that JL was meant to be lighter than it’s counterpart, it is clear many changes were made. The film’s 2 hour run time was one mandated by WB to be more audience friendly than it’s predecessor and it’s clear Joss Whedon and WB executives forced in script lines of humor that were added to existing Snyder scenes. Sometimes, this caused a very jarring effect and Joss Whedon’s reshot material made for the some of the worst parts of the film. While the film is satisfactory at points and the moments where it seemed like a Snyder filmed shinned, Justice League is a film that will leave audiences wishing for Zack’s original vision rather than a studio driven mashup and competitor copying.
In the process of post-production, Zack Snyder was faced with a family tragedy where he reportedly chose to step away from the film to rightfully be with his family. Joss Whedon was asked to complete a major reshoots. While it was reported that Joss would follow Zack’s overall vision, as stated numerous times by producers and cast members alike, the careful, beautiful and profound work that Zack Snyder is known for did not come through in this film. That being said, while some script lines and scenes have a distinct “Whedon” feel to them, parts of the film retains a “Snyder” DNA. If I were to put an arbitrary percentage on it, 40% Snyder and 60% Whedon. A part of me wonders how much more beautiful the film would have been if they purely used Zack’s principle photography and followed his purest vision.
Justice League impresses with DC’s trademark comic imagery. There are moments with Batman that are pulled straight out of the comic pages and moments with the Flash that give you a sense of exhilaration that only the Speedster can bring. It also has nice moments with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who follows her amazing streak of performances in Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman with another good one here. Wonder Woman has an arc in this film that closely aligns with Batman v Superman and her own solo film. In her arc, she learns to be a leader. Gal’s presence as Diana simply speaks for itself. Outside of a few puzzling Whedon moments for Diana, (which also apply to the reshot Lois Lane scenes), Wonder Woman continues to be the rock and cornerstone of the DC Extended Universe thanks to the work of Zack Snyder and Patty Jenkins. Justice League only further proves that Gadot will own this role for years to come.
Justice League marked the cinematic debut of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, delivering on all three. One of the goals of this film is to have audiences excited for the standalone films of these characters and it accomplished that aspect well. It’s worth noting that Zack Snyder has been the driving force in introducing the entire Justice League in this universe and the first cinematic moments for 4 of the 6 members. The Flash is funny, charismatic, charming and a joy to watch. Ezra Miller plays Barry Allen with distinct personality and his character fits perfectly with the rest of the league. His Mentor-Student relationship with Affleck’s Batman is one of the standout dynamics between the team. The Flash brings a level of levity uneeen in prior DC Films and it is refreshing to watch. That is not to say he is simply a comedic character as Barry has touching moments which define his soul as well.
In many ways, each member of the league is meant to balances each other out but fails to do so with jarring dialogue. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman plays a tough and hilarious character but is left too hallow. A great thing about his character was Zack Snyder’s vision for him. Aquaman is the most fun to watch in battle. His action sequences with the rest of the league were nice and his personality was great to see in comparison with the rest of the league. Zack took a great opportunity to race-bend Arthur Curry into a Polynesian man. Momoa frequently thanks Zack Snyder for this change and it adds much needed diversity to the genre which is hard to see in rival franchises.
Ray Fisher’s Cyborg can be considered the “heart” of this film. Of all the characters, I felt Cyborg was a standout in the way his arc and story developed. While it is noticeable much of his part of cut from Zack’s vision, Victor Stone is a stoic, troubled, damaged human trying to find a balance between the machine and the man. His emotional backdrop through the plot gives he film it’s only sense of complexity and emotion akin to that of Snyder’s previous films. A character that can be considered as the least recognizable for the general audience will leave as one of the standouts in the franchise. Ray Fisher’s performance is strong and the chemistry between him and the rest of the cast speaks to the great work environment on set.
Ben Affleck’s Batman continues to be great though his reshot scenes left more to be desired. Much like Zack envisioned, Bruce Wayne, reborn from his broken state in Batman v Superman after Superman’s sacrifice, is a man on a mission. Bruce promised Clark he would not fail him in death and this film made it clear that he will stay true to that. Bringing the league together in “Magnificent Seven” fashion, Bruce’s character development between the two films makes Justice League amplify it’s predecessor even more. The visual art of Batman on screen is beautifully shown in classic Snyder fashion. There are multiple Batman shots that simply scream iconic and speaks to the the attention to detail that goes into the film. We don’t know how long Ben Affleck will continue to be the Caped Crusader but with Matt Reeves’ The Batman on the way, I think the audience will be very pumped to see him again in any capacity after Justice League.
No review would be complete without a look at my favorite superhero, and the soul of the DC Extended Universe, Superman. Superman’s role in Justice League is just as important when he is not physically on screen as when he makes his triumphant return. As mentioned before, Justice League is essentially a Superman focused DC Trilogy. Each and every character is affected by Superman in a unique way. After learning to balance between Human and Kryptonian cultures in Man of Steel, finding his place in a humanity that shunned him in Batman v Superman, to his rebirth in Justice League, Superman’s first arc comes to a close and it’s one of my powerful arcs in the genre, even though finale left much more to desired. Superman in Justice League is a confident, resonant and jarringly complete in an accelerated way. Clark has been through his journey and his arc followed Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in MoS & BvS. Reborn and with a completed arc, this is the Kal-El that the world has been waiting for. It is also the most powerful Superman has ever been. His powers are fully on display on the film and makes his raw ability in comparison to the rest of the league clear. We’ve seen many great battles with Superman throughout in this trilogy from the likes of General Zod, Batman and Doomsday, but the way he fights in Justice League shows he has gotten even more powerful. Henry Cavill has always played a great Kal-El and he does a nice job as Superman in Justice League. It is worth noting that some Superman scenes were a jarring as the CGI removal of his mustache was less than stellar and part of the “acceleration” in his arc felt rushed with Justice League’s reshoots cutting a crux of his development. That being said, as a lifelong Superman fan and as a fan of Snyder’s complex take on the character, Superman’s evolution in Justice League was nice to see and audience will be happy to see Superman become SUPERMAN. Jor-El has a poignant quote in Man of Steel; “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” You can impose Snyder’s entire trilogy through these words. Justice League delivers on a Superman that is the “ideal to strive towards” and rewards him with a team that has “joined him in the sun.”
Steppenwolf is the primary villain of the film. It is in this area where I feel the film cut a huge corner due to the corporate 2 hour mandate. While the villain serves is voiced impeccably by Ciarán Hinds, his character is written very thinly as a boss battle for the league with no arc of his own. With so much to cover in under 2 hours, Steppenwolf does not come across as nearly as complex as Shannon’s Zod or Eiesenberg’s Lex Luthor in Snyder’s previous films. Justice League was badly damaged but making it a corporate film rather than a director’s film. The film would have greatly benefited with an extra 20-30 minutes to develop the villain and add a few scenes to slow it’s very jarringly fast pace down. There were some shots and lines in the trailers that I was looking forward to but didn’t make the final cut. I feel these issues fall purely on WB, who mandated the shorter run time and lighter tone to appease the critical reception.
My true gripe comes with Danny Elfman’s score. Elfman, who is nothing short of a legend in the genre, was brought in to score this film when Whedon picked up the reigns after Zack’s departure. The score is simply uninspiring, fails to carry the exhilarating feel of Hans Zimmer’s previous 2 scores. While it’s nice to hear Elfman’s Batman theme for Affleck’s “reborn” Batman as well as Williams’ iconic Superman theme peppered throughout, the rest didn’t seem to gel with the film. What I really didn’t appreciate was the strong disconnect from Hans’ scores. While Zimmer’s Superman and Wonder Woman themes are used once, I wished more of his iconic work from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman was implemented to truly meld this trilogy together on a composition level.
Overall, Justice League is a mess and is only enjoyable on a very superficial and basic level. In a film trilogy where Man of Steel and Batman v Superman took the characters and story seriously, Justice League was corporate driven, badly written, sugar rushed finale to a trilogy that deserved a better ending. In many ways, Snyder’s true vision of Justice League is what everyone is left wanting after the film.
From start to finish, Justice League is still joyful and I feel kids will enjoy it like they would any cartoon. In just a 2 hour run time, Justice League has some nice character moments, good team dynamics and is packed together with tons of comic book easter eggs. While this film would greatly benefit from Snyder’s original footage and tone rather than a corporate driven mashup, the film holds up more like a corporate mandated cartoon with all the test room “boxes” checked. While Zack Snyder successfully built a complex, powerful Superman story trilogy that will hopefully stand the test of time from the sci-fi epic of Man of Steel, and political thriller of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it has found an end with an corporate tampered, optimistic, uneven, nostalgia driven adventure with Justice League.