SBox Recommends: Justice League (Movie Review)

Note: SBR never spoils. You are safe. Enjoy!

Welcome back to SBox Recommends, where our motto is “every film has its fans”. Here I see a movie, review it, and then find out who will like it most and who will like it least.

The story of the DC Extended Universe is a tragic one to say the least. Created as a response and competitor to the rising Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DCEU got its start back in 2013 with the split receptive Man of Steel. Since then, the franchise struggled to find a solid audience with one mixed to poorly received film after the other. But then came 2017 — a year of potential optimism for the DCEU — which brought about their first hit, Wonder Woman. The film became one of the most beloved of the year, and represented a golden opportunity for the DCEU to finally, FINALLY get on stable footing with critics, audiences, and the box office. But that opportunity only rests on one other variable: the success of Justice League.

Now, I won’t blow smoke up your collective asses and pretend things are looking good for the movie so far, because holy crap! However, despite all the skepticism, the steep odds for success, and the so-so word of mouth, is it still worth seeing?

Story

Justice League is the 5th film in the DC Extended Universe, based on the 1960 comic book team of the same name by DC Comics.

In a world without Superman to defend it, mankind stands vulnerable to any other powerful foes who seek to destroy and conquer it. Taking advantage of this opportunity is an ancient being called Steppenwolf, who intends to unite the three “mother boxes” spread across the earth in order to take over the world. With little time left until the end of the world, Bruce Wayne must now call upon friends new and old to form an alliance to protect the world from certain doom. Can this team — comprising of Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg — prove strong enough to take Steppenwolf on together?

Writing

It’s no secret that this movie has taken a fair share of critical beating, and I would be a fool to say none of it is deserved. Still, there’s a lot to admire about Justice League from a narrative point of view.

For starters, the story is very tightly written. It’s a simple plot (perhaps overly so) to say the least and what you see is basically what you get when it comes to plot progression. So, while nothing extraordinary or new, I can say that the film has a leg up on some of the worst films of the DCEU —namely BvS and Suicide Squad — who struggled to tell a cohesive story. There is little in the vicinity of plot holes and inconsistencies, the pace of the narrative is pretty steady, and the film keeps your interest most of the way through.

Some particularly good narrative choices includes Batman being the Nick Fury figure who brings the team together. I found that very cool, and this gives him a good character arc as a result. I also like the handling of Superman in this movie. (For all 3 of you who don’t know just how involved Superman is in this film, I’ll leave it at that). The fact that Batman and Wonder Woman don’t initially know everything about the 3 perspective League-members was fairly clever. It added to those first encounter scenes as each one surprises or bewilders the 2 founding members in a certain way.

I must admit that, for a movie with as many behind the scenes woes as it has, the movie does remain tonally consistent throughout. I wasn’t expecting Zach Snyder’s basis to mesh well with the reshoots done by Joss Whedon, but Whedon did do a good job at keeping his scenes in line with the style Snyder initially set for it. Yes, you can still tell which scenes are Whedon scenes by using what I call the “Avengers test”. If a line sounds like leftovers from The Avengers, that’s because it probably is. Still, it wasn’t a jarring difference in feel, which I’m relieved to say.

Lastly, because the film is much shorter than other DCEU movies and comic book movies in general, there’s barely any room for exposition, which detractors of Man of Steel and BvS will appreciate. In fact, dialogue is pretty well-handled throughout the movie. Sure there are a few stupid lines and pointless conversations, but there are no “Martha” level moments in the movie. I repeat, there is no Martha moment in this movie! Rejoice!

But this is where we start to get into problems, and truth be told I can sum all the issues up with just one general complaint: this movie came out at the wrong time. Releasing a Justice League movie now was a huge mistake and stunted the odds of this movie being so much better than it is now. This is a topic I could make an entire post about, but for the sake of brevity, let’s discuss two consequences of the movie coming out now as opposed to later.

One side-effect was learning the wrong lesson from the only universally adored film in the franchise, Wonder Woman; specifically in terms of the film’s length. I know that Wonder Woman wasn’t the only reason Warner mandated the film be 2 hours or less, but it was a factor. This mandate was a bad idea. A movie like Justice League which needs to introduce four characters (including Steppenwolf), continue the storyline of Superman, and somehow leave room for Batman and Wonder Woman to shine cannot, or at least should not, be condensed to 2 hours… Actually, I take it back. You actually could make a Justice League movie 2 hours long no problem IF you didn’t have to introduce Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg.

As a result of rushing straight to Justice League after introducing the audience to 3 superheroes and a rogue team that has nothing to do with this movie, you neither gave enough time to get the audience invested in these new characters nor do you give the audience something integral in a crossover movie: camaraderie.

Don’t get me wrong, there is some amount of character interaction present, but not nearly enough to make this team feel like that much of a team. The Avengers worked because you had a ton of character interaction and relationship building that made the team feel like a unit. A single force of nature up against a powerful threat. By comparison, the Justice League is less like a unit and more like 5 people who happen to be fighting alongside each other. A little more chemistry, banter, and interaction among the League would’ve gone a long way.

I’m not even asking for a lot more camaraderie. Just maybe another 10 minutes worth at least. If only the film’s limited runtime wasn’t used up by character introductions we could’ve gotten more character interactions. You see what I’m saying?

One final complaint involves the film’s memorability. At the time of writing this review, I saw the movie yesterday. I have been for the passed day forgetting more and more of this movie. I’m struggling to recall dialogue and even whole sections of the plot. So, I should probably finish this review up quickly while I still remember I saw it.

On the whole this movie is well-written for a plot that’s been done before and had as many restrictions as it did. You can tell that the story could’ve been much better under better circumstances, but as is it’s serviceable.

Action/Effects

While I have seen much better action in other films, I was thoroughly entertained by the action scenes in Justice League. There are around 7 action sequences in the movie, give or take, and each ranged from passable to great. My favorite of these was what I like to call the Superman scene (again, I’ll leave it at that so I don’t spoil anything). There is also a solo Batman scene, a solo Wonder Woman scene, and a solo Aquaman scene which were really good, too. Strangely, I tended to enjoy the action scenes with the League apart more than I enjoyed those with them together, or at least I remember them a lot more.

One thing left to be desired about the team-up action scenes is, again, a sense of unity. They only scratch the surface of what the Justice League can accomplish with their powers combined, because it usually comes down to seeing one person fight at a time. For example, you’ll see what The Flash is contributing to the battle individually, then cut to Wonder Woman wasting a bunch of enemies, then cut to Cyborg hacking something, and so on. Every now and then you’ll see Aquaman hitching a ride on the Batmobile or The Flash rushing down an abyss to pass Wonder Woman her sword. However, that’s few and far between. I really wish there could’ve been more combining of abilities to make those action scenes stand out more.

Also, as a quick nitpick about Batman’s participation in this movie, he comes off a bit weak in some scenes. Yes, I know he “has no superpowers”, but come on. Need I remind you that this Batman defeated Superman in hand-to-hand combat? Yet he’s struggling to fight off a giant Steppenwolf wasp? I’m not saying make Batman an unstoppable beast, but give him a little more credit than that.

The effects range from good to passable. A lot of the movie relies on realistic sets, and when they aren’t they look extraordinary. Themyscira still looks as great as it did in Wonder Woman and even adds a little more diversity in that location with open fields and caves. Atlantis also looked great, and the battle that took place in there was a joy to watch. I’m actually looking forward to how DC will try to top those scenes in the Aquaman movie next year.

The color pallet brings the welcomed addition of light to the series. It’s been a long road from flushed out whites and grays, to black and gray, to gray with select instances of neon, to light scenes and darks scenes serving a useful contrast, to finally just the right amount of color. A grand majority of this movie has the color pallet of a typical Marvel movie, perhaps with a more realistic hue. We’re still not quite in the realm of sunlight yet, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been, and the one special instance during the final battle utilizes deep, brighter shades of red and brown. In fact, some of the effects like Flash’s lightning speed and Wonder Woman’s lasso compliment the scenery at all times.

Not all the effects are created equal, though. For instance, while most of Cyborg’s scenes looked convincing enough, there is still the occasional moment where he doesn’t look so convincing. It’s not terribly distracting, though, even when he may not look up to par. Besides, nothing compares to the infamy of Superman’s upper lip.

For those uninitiated, Justice League needed reshoots and it just so happened that Henry Cavill had a mustache he couldn’t shave due to filming another movie. Their solution: CGI. The effect: lots and lots of memes.

I tried to prepare myself for this issue. I tried to not notice it. I told myself that it was just a couple scenes where he’ll look like someone put a lighter to the wax statue and hastily repaired it. Alas, it’s just too distracting, and it was not just a couple scenes as I thought. I’m pretty sure it was a 3 to 1 ratio of fake-lip goodness.

Is it a big deal? No. But how could I not comment on it?

Acting

You know, if there’s one thing the DCEU consistently gets right it’s the on-screen performances. The acting is the one aspect of the DCEU we can all agree is at least decent and at best great.

This is the third time we’re seeing both Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in this series. So, it should go without saying they do just as good a job here as they have been thus far. There are very few deviations to the character of Diana Prince here minus the fact that she’s less naive than in her solo venture. She maintains the same charm, class, and sense of justice we love about the character. Add the fact that she may just be the most beautiful woman alive, and you have a fantastic portrayal of Wonder Woman.

As for Bruce Wayne… you know, in all honesty I always found the DCEU Batman kinda bland and uninteresting, but Ben Affleck plays the character so well he makes the character better. I think that’s the reason Affleck is considered the best Batman we ever had. He implicitly captures everything about Batman the story doesn’t bother to demonstrate. He’s intimidating, calculated, shrewd, and ballsy, which makes him a great choice for this movie’s central figure.

Speaking of actors making bland characters better, the same can also be said for Henry Cavill as Clark Kent. Cavill is a great Superman (weird CGI lip aside) who brings a lot of life, likability and energy to the character. He is only in 20 minutes of the movie or so, but he tends to be one of the best and most memorable people in the room. This may be due to something this movie adds to the character of Superman at long last: optimism. His presence in this movie is actually very uplifting and he’s even allowed to smile and joke this time around. I know! Finally, right?

Now let’s talk about some of the newer faces on the team, starting with the speedster everyone’s been talking about, The Flash played by Ezra Miller. It’s no secret that this is the film’s comic relief character, and there are no aversions to the contrary when watching it. There has been a lot of varying opinions about how Barry Allen is portrayed, and I’ll admit that I found Barry’s comedy very hit-and-miss. They were simply trying too hard to make the character funny; and when it misses, it misses pretty bad. However, that’s not to say he is totally unfunny, and once you put aside the comedic side of the character Miller does play a charming, high-energy guy. With better material, I can see him being one of my favorite parts of this universe.

Jason Mamoa is Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman. (Kinda wish they got Adrian Grenier, though. If you get this reference, you’re awesome). I enjoyed this character a lot actually. On the one hand, he’s a somewhat one-note character. He’s the big and intimidating guy with a fun-loving side. Nothing we haven’t seen before. On the other hand, Mamoa does for Aquaman what Cavill and Affleck do for their respective characters. He’s the perfect choice for this character overall, and I can’t wait to see more of him in a year to see how the character grows.

You’ll notice that there’s a recurring theme when it comes to the cast. The actor makes the character much more than the material does. This brings me to Ray Fisher’s portrayal of Cyborg, who I’d be lying if I said he was my favorite character of the movie. It’s unfortunate, because Fisher actually does a decent job making the character likable. I can tell that he’s trying his best to bring personality to Victor Stone, but for some reason Cyborg is just… fine. Nothing against Fisher, though. I’m willing to believe this comes down to a lack of solid character building, which can be fixed with future appearances down the road. I look forward to that.

Finally, there’s the matter of our villain, Steppenwolf played by Ciarán Hinds. Okay, how do I put this lightly? This is a boring villain of tremendous proportions. This character is the most cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers, uninteresting villain in a comic book movie since Doctor Doom in Fant4stic. Yes, I am going there. Through no fault of Hinds, who like Fisher is trying as hard as humanly possible to make the character more interesting and intimidating than he is, this is the kind of villain a 5 year old comes up with. Oh, sure, his design’s pretty cool, he’s powerful, and he benefits from Hinds’ spectacular voice work, but so what? Say what you want about Ares or Lex Luthor, but at least they had motivation passed “taking over the world”.

Other than the main cast, some familiar faces such as Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta, and Diane Lane as “Martha!” reprise their roles with results consistent with their past performances in the DCEU. Nothing special to report there besides J.K. Simmons debuting as Commissioner Gordon. As far as that goes, Simmons does fine I guess. He’s a cool face to see from time to time, but his presence is a far cry from his stint as J. Jonah Jameson if you catch my drift.

Production Value

The film suffers from a troubled production, which makes it a miracle that the film still looks presentable for the most part. I’m happy to say that Snyder’s stylization is still felt throughout the movie. The camera work is much akin to his work on BvS, which is a good thing as that’s one of the few things everyone praised about the movie. And just about everything else from sound design to editing is at industry standard. Nothing to write home about, but just right.

I’ll take this opportunity to offer one last positive and negative aspect for the film. On the negative side, there’s one transition that really bugged me. It was right after an action scene where the film makes an abrupt switch from near the end of the action to just outside the battle site post-action. I really hope I’m explaining it right, but it felt like they cut part of the action out and jumped right to after the battle. It was a very awkward transition that made me wonder “Wait, how did they get out of *spoiler*?”

On the positive side, I give the film’s score props for including both the Danny Elfman Batman theme and John Williams’ Superman theme in the film. That was a nice touch.

Overall

In the end, what can you say about Justice League? I personally consider it a number of conflicting things. I consider it a fun, positive step in the right direction for the franchise. I consider it a movie that should’ve been something more. I think the movie has a ton of noticeable flaws, but not many of those flaws are major. I consider it a miraculously put together despite it being a mess. And while I personally believe that this movie is an undercooked meal that could’ve used a little more time in the oven, I’m not disappointed with what I got.

So, yes, I enjoyed Justice League. It’s certainly one of the greater outings of the DCEU thus far, and despite its track record that is saying something. It’s definitely not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d never say it’s a movie deserving of this much critical backlash. It’s just a decent, short, and sweet time in the theater I don’t regret seeing. Maybe you’ll feel the same if you give it a chance.

 

Score: 7.6/10

 

Recommendations

  • Fans of the DCEU probably already saw the movie twice by now. In case you haven’t, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t enjoy this, even if you’re skeptical of the new tonal direction.
  • Comic book movie fans should give it a go no matter what. It’s important not to write this movie off too early. With leveled expectations you’ll be fine.
  • Those who hate the DCEU so far should also give this movie at least a rental down the line. Otherwise, try giving it a matinee screening if you’re feeling adventurous. I assure you that this is a massive improvement from some of the lesser films in the series.
  • Those who have never seen a DCEU movie before, surprisingly, should be able to get into the movie fine. It does a good job at explaining passed events well enough for newcomers to fit right in. However, if you have the time and patience see Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman before seeing this movie.
  • Those looking for a fun, throwaway action comedy should look no further than this. In fact, if you go in with that expectation, this movie may even over-deliver for you.
  • If you hate comic book movies, don’t bother seeing this one. There’s nothing for you here.
  • Otherwise, for general audiences your mileage may vary depending on your expectations and your ability to forgive some of this movie’s shortcomings. The ideal audience are people age 5 and up with leveled expectations looking for something a little less compelling than Marvel, but still enjoyable. Otherwise, stay away.

I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!

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