Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy. (from IMDB)
You really can’t blame DC and Warner Bros. for wanting so badly to recreate the magic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 2012’s Marvel’s Avengers was a huge hit and a heck of a lot of fun at the movies, so it should be of no surprise that DC would want to take us on a similar journey to Justice League. However, Marvel had meticulously mapped out the road to Avengers carefully. 2008’s surprise hit, Iron Man, launched the series, and it turned a somewhat obscure superhero into a household name and reestablished Robert Downey Jr. as a superstar. From there, things were a smidge bumpy with the reboot of The Incredible Hulk that same year, but we were soon given an underrated Iron Man 2 (which introduced Black Widow), an introduction to Thor (and Hawkeye), and finally, Captain America. By the time Avengers rolled around in 2012, we were all-in and ready to see our heroes unite. And it was a blast!
DC tried using 2013’s Man of Steel as a kick-off point for their universe, but the 2016 follow-up–three years later–of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, felt ill-conceived and forced. Not only does it introduce us to a brand new Batman–now played by Ben Affleck–but it also introduced us to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. To make things even more convoluted, though, we were teased a new Flash (different from the popular TV version), Aquaman, and Cyborg. It was too much for one movie to handle, and key plot points were trimmed out of the film to keep it down to 2 and a half hours. Sadly, the eventual 3-hour home video release would end up making it a more cohesive story and film, but it still suffered from too much bloat. Then we had Suicide Squad later in the year which didn’t help the cinematic universe much at all (if anything, it hurt it). This year, we were finally treated to arguably the best the franchise has offered us this far (next to Man of Steel) in Wonder Woman’s own standalone film, and it brought her a new audience and fanbase — giving us another reason to be excited about Justice League.
But the problems do not end there. For starters, the criticisms of Batman v Superman and the success of Wonder Woman caused the studio to keep trying to mold Justice League into the right movie. Then, after tragedy struck his personal life, director Zack Snyder literally quit the production of Justice League a few months ago. Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in to work on the script and finish what Snyder started, but change was inevitable. Then, this past summer, Henry Cavill was brought back in to film more or reshoot scenes for Superman. The only problem was – he was in the middle of making Mission: Impossible 6 for Paramount and his character dons a significant mustache, which that studio wouldn’t let him shave off for new Superman scenes… so Warner and DC were forced to digitally remove the mustache in post-production. The end result? An awkwardly digitized mouth for Cavill for most of his scenes in Justice League. (Which also presents a curious thought: if most of his scenes in this movie feature a digital upper lip, then what happened to what he filmed for this movie earlier? Exactly how much was changed about Justice League before its theatrical release?)
The film itself opens with a cell phone-captured video of Superman talking to an unseen person, and the doctored mouth of Superman is instantly distracting and obvious. From this awkward beginning, we’re shown a world without Superman, all set to the irritating sounds of “Everybody Knows” by Sigrid, which does anything but fit with the film. Maybe they’re immediately trying to show there’s a tone shift here from previous films, but they’re doing it while reminding us that Superman gave his life to defeat Doomsday at the end of Batman v Superman — and this forces us to endure the assembly of the Justice League without the red-caped wonder. The film must then rely on Affeck’s Bruce Wayne / Batman and Wonder Woman to carry the story while recruiting new characters that have no real history with viewers of this cinematic franchise. Everything about them is either told in exposition (and lots of it) or briefly shown in side-scenes that distract from the main story. To be fair, Aquaman, Cyborg and Flash probably should have all had their own movies before this one so we could get to know them, but instead, their stories feel like unwanted side trips. The worst of them may actually be Aquaman’s, as Jason Momoa’s take on the character feels more like a “surfer dude” from Point Break than what one might expect from the character. We briefly get a glimpse of his home in Atlantis and some hints that he may be more of a rebel there (in a terrible scene between him and Amber Heard), but it’s all vague and unclear. And it doesn’t really help things much that most DC fans are probably well adjusted to over 3 full seasons of Grant Gustin as Barry Allen / The Flash. Ezra Miller’s goofy, and slightly flamboyant, performance isn’t as endearing as the filmmakers must think it is, and he feels out of place alongside the other heroes (although, to be fair, after seeing the movie, I must admit Gustin’s version of the character probably wouldn’t really fit in either). Barry Allen has an interesting story, but the way it’s handled here just seems poorly conceived.
I suppose part of the problem is we’ve seen this all before, and seen it done better. If Marvel didn’t have its cinematic movie world, we’d probably enjoy what DC is doing a little bit more, but it doesn’t change the fact that these films frequently end up being shoddy messes — and it seems so avoidable. But, Justice League, after everything stacked against it and after all of the groundwork laid before it, is still a watchable film. It’s more fun than Batman v Superman, but it isn’t all that satisfying. It’s kind of like going to your favorite restaurant, but the food wasn’t quite as good this time around as it usually is. It’s exciting to see Wonder Woman in action again (and she gets some great moments here), and Superman steals the show. After seeing him brooding his way through the previous film, it’s nice to see a brighter representation of him here. And like any good thing that is used sparingly, we’re left wishing he were in the film longer. Remember those moments in Avengers where the camera sweeps around the heroes as they all work together to defeat the Chitauri, and you feel like you’re witnessing something truly special unfolding before your eyes? THAT magic is what is missing from Justice League. It does try to achieve that at times, but it feels more like the heroes tag each other in more often than work together.
To make matters worse, Steppenwolf–of whom I know nothing of prior to this film–is a disappointing villain to have go up against the Justice League. (And, honestly, he isn’t that scary or intimidating.) Even worse is the CGI used to create him. It feels like a huge step backward in technology more than anything progressing forward. It’s almost on par with the lower budget DC CW channel TV show effects. Did the production lose all of its funds in reshoots, rehiring a director, rewriting it, etc? (Did they change who was supposed to be the villain this time around?) The end result feels like a box of puzzle pieces that got pieces of other puzzles mixed in with it — it doesn’t all fit together. There may be one scene where Steppenwolf seems like he’s a genuine threat, but even when he’s fighting the heroes, we never really feel like they’re in all that much danger.
Sadly, a movie like Justice League is easy to pick apart and dissect, and sometimes that alone makes it tough to point out what is good about it. I didn’t feel like the movie found any real footing until after the recruitment process was over and the team was getting into their first real fight against Steppenwolf. From there, it started to be fun, and I was officially along for the ride, but it continued to be a bumpy one from there. Cavill’s computer-generated upper lip never stopped being very distracting (Including making one wonder what he was originally supposed to do or be in previous versions of this film. Rumors of him being an “evil Superman” kind of villain may be supported by this notion). I like what they did with Superman in the film here; I just have to wonder why all of his reshot footage was used instead of the original footage? I do have to say that the scene where he comes back contains easily some of my favorite moments in the film.
The content of the film is far softer than Batman v Superman, and in some ways, softer than Wonder Woman. While it still has some more mature elements, it’s a bit more “kid” friendly than any of the DC movies so far, but I still wouldn’t recommend it for younger kids (although, ironically, they’d most likely be the most forgiving of the film’s flaws). There is some profanity, but not a lot, including 3 uses of the “S” word, 2 uses of Jesus’ name in vain (both by Bruce Wayne), a use of “S.O.B” and a few other more mild cuss words. There’s a tiny bit of sexual humor, but nothing explicit. As far as violence, there are a few action scenes where the Justice League is fighting the main villain and a swarm of alien bugs, so most of the violence involves the bug creatures getting destroyed (sometimes with green goo flying). Steppenwolf also attacks Wonder Woman’s home world, Themyscira, and kills many of the Amazons. It’s not graphic, but it definitely is a bit intense.
When all is said and done, the most frustrating thing about Justice League is realizing the potential that’s been wasted here. It’s been one major misstep after another for DC, and Justice League is a clear result of it. It’s entertaining, yes, but there’s also just so much wrong with it. It’s fun seeing the heroes team up — especially for the finale — but the whole production could have been so much more. If you see one superhero movie this fall, see Thor: Ragnarok instead. Who knows? Maybe DC will give fans a good Wonder Woman 2 (slated for 2019) or a Superman sequel, but at this rate, things haven’t been too promising. However, if you do see the film, stay through the end of the credits. There’s a mid-credits scene that’s a lot of fun, and then a post-credits scene that brings back a character from a previous DC film and introduces a new one that should excite DC comics fans.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/17/17)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: An obscure joke is made when Martha Kent tells Lois that Clark thought she was the “thirstiest woman he knew,” to which Lois reacts embarrassed. Martha then corrects herself “hungriest;” Aquaman comments on how beautiful Diana is in an exaggerated (i.e. somewhat lustful) fashion; We see Wonder Woman in her short skirt that reveals part of her butt cheeks in many scenes; The Flash falls on top of Wonder Woman accidentally, landing with his face on her chest. He then zips away from the awkward position as fast as possible.