There’s a brief moment in Justice League during the opening title sequence which pans through a variety of Metropolitan civilians causing havoc one of which is a homeless man holding up a cardboard sign which reads: “I tried”. I feel as though this quote sums up Snyder’s attempt to bring DC’s super-team to the silver screen. Is it better than some of the lacklustre previous efforts such as Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad? Yes. Is it a step in the right direction for DC? Sort of. Is it a good film? Ehhhhhhhh. Let’s check out the review.
Set exactly one year after the events of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman (Cavill) is still dead and there is a threat coming in the form of the villainous Steppenwolf (Hinds providing voice and motion-capture) and his army of Parademons (sharper tooth and winged beings equipped with laser guns). Our only hope is Batman (Affleck) and his efforts bring together a team of super people including Amazonian warrior Wonder Woman (Gadot), lightning fast The Flash (Miller), King of Atlantis Aquaman (Momoa) and cybernetic creation Cyborg (Fisher) in order to prevent from this CGI monster from achieving three mcguffins in the form of “mother boxes” and from, you guessed it, taking over the world.
In case you weren’t aware, this film went through significant production alterations after Snyder stepped away from the project during the post-production phase following a family tragedy and geek overlord Joss Whedon (best known for creating Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse and who also helmed Marvel’s Avengers films) was brought on board to carry out some reshoots. Reports claim that Whedon was only working on 15-20% of the film but having seen the final product you would swear that almost half of the film was the product of Whedon’s quippy wordplay and meta-theatrical humour. I hate to say this but Justice League is a tonal mess.
The moment the film begins, It’s immediately apparent which scenes were the work of Snyder and those of Whedon. The film incoherently jumps from dark and brooding to humorous moments to scenes in which characters such as Batman and Wonder Woman are delivering serious monologues about the fate of humanity to The Flash making a funny joke about his blood sugar levels depleting. The only thing which remains consistent is the colour palette which thankfully is a lot brighter than previous instalments in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) but it does come across as though Justice League is doing all it can to mimic the lightheartedness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When the stakes and threat of imminent doom seem high it’s hard to engage with the more dramatic moments because you don’t feel as though the film is taking itself seriously. There is a lot of fun to be had here but it does fall into the problem that I feared Thor:Ragnarok would fall into which is that the over-reliance on jokes causes the film to feel like it’s more of a parody of previous instalments rather than the next chapter in a series of films.
The performances are good for the most part. Gal Gadot is easily the strongest out of all of the characters along with Ben Affleck as Batman, who is a far more roughened version of the dark knight has been protecting Gotham for more than twenty years. Ezra Miller as The Flash was also a little bit of a revelation. I was so worried when I heard that he would be the comic relief that he would be annoying and desperate to enforce the new DCEU mindset of their films being more wholesome and fun but his humour does work and he does have some pretty funny quips throughout the course of the film. The weakest links here are Cyborg, who is just very dull and is just around to ramble on about a lot of technical babble, and Aquaman, who is just a big tough guy with a “pitchfork”.
They could have done so much more with these characters and that’s because this is their first introduction to this universe, unlike Superman and Wonder Woman who have both already had their own solo outings on the big screen. Their introductions feel rushed and you get the sense that the filmmakers haven’t got a clue what to do with them once they’re part of the big team. There is an attempt to mimic those bickering moments that were made so prominent in the Avenger’s films where characters argue over their conflicting ideologies before settling their differences in order to come together to put an end to the big baddie’s reign of terror. These moments don’t feel earned mainly due to the fact that we barely know half these characters having only been introduced to them in this film.
Also making a “surprise” return is Henry Cahill as the man of steel himself. Cavill does a fine job in his performance and I would definitely say that this is the best he’s been out of his three appearances in the DCEU but I had a serious issue behind his return from the grave is ridiculous and a lot of reshoots which had to remove Cavill’s moustache due to his commitment to Mission: Impossible 6 make him feel as though he is an entirely artificial creation and it feels like he was never there, to begin with. In fact, a lot of the CGI here isn’t great at all which is surprising considering the film’s $300 million budget (*spits out glass of water). Now I’m not referring to the cinematography and overall look of the film. To be fair, Snyder and co. Have created a very nice looking film which is no surprise given Snyder’s track record of beautifully looking comic book adaptations such as Watchmen and 300 which weren’t the strongest films when it came to their narratives but were still beautiful to look at.
In particular, I loved how Gotham city looked, full of dark and shady film noir-esque streets that look almost as if they had been pulled from Rocksteady’s Arkham video game series. However, a lot of the backdrops and explosions here do not look appealing in the slightest. There is one scene, in particular, involving an exchange of dialogue between Cavill’s Superman and Lois Lane (Adams) in a field and I could not get over how bad the screen was. I’m almost certain this was a scene that was reshot. Speaking of bad CGI, Steppenwolf is a terrible villain. Not only are his motivations uninteresting, but he looks awful. Legendary Irish actor Ciarán Hinds does fine in the role, but he in no way is a threatening presence and feels like a secondary villain rather than the main threat. Imagine in the first Avengers film instead of going against Loki they fought Malekith from Thor: The Dark World. Yeah. He’s that bad.
In short, Justice League is a lot brighter and wholesome than the moody doom and gloom previous instalments, but the clunky storytelling, weak characterisation and rushed narrative (this officially marks the shortest running time of the DCEU clocking in at only two hours) still remain apparent. Moments of fun are cut short by the film’s tonal inconsistency and a tedious end of the world plot and terrible villain. I’m uncertain about the future of DC at this point but there is a strong suggestion that things could get brighter from this point on. Then I saw the post-credit scene and……..oh boy was I concerned. Sean Moriarty