Movie Review: Justice League

So, I drastically underestimated the month of November. My vacation went longer than I planned, some stuff happened in between, and there is a lot I want to write about. I also have a Secret Black Project I am trying to push out around December. To put it simply, expect a gradual trickle of posts in the days to come. And now, here is a review I wish I could put off indefinitely.

After the death of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, played by Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, put together a team to counter future threats. At the same time, an ancient evil scours the globe in search of artifacts that could mean total annihilation.

The DCEU was born in a state of perpetual catch-up. By 2013, when Man of Steel was released, the MCU had an ensemble of well-defined characters and a story spread across different installments. Since then, every studio under the sun has tried to emulate Marvel’s success, and Warner Brothers was the first to give it a try. However, they came out of the blocks a little too fast, and also went backwards.

Justice League suffers from the same issue that plagued BvS. It skipped over the basic foundations of a long form narrative to make that Marvel money. The philosophical underpinnings and deconstruction of a superhero in real life touched upon in Man of Steel were pushed to the background to jump-start the DCEU. I would love to have seen what Zack Snyder was trying to say about Superman, but Warner Brothers wanted its own cinematic universe as soon as possible.

The haphazard nature of the DCEU is baked into Justice League. While there is some development and depth with the three new characters it is not enough. We are given basic details about who they are from interactions with the team, but there is no foundation on which to even know them. Flash is a spaz, Cyborg is brooding, and Aquaman does not care. That is all we get. We do not have to like them, but it would be great to have a reason why we do not like them.

Is there more to Flash behind his spastic personality?

How does Cyborg feel about being brought to life as a robot?

Did something happen to Aquaman that made him a loner?

I would like to know, but there is nothing to go on. You are forced to make assumptions based on how the characters interact with each other and what is there is minuscule to say the least. No time was given to build a foundation for these characters to stand upon and the movie suffers as a result.

Then you have the rushed progression in which the story plays out. The League is quickly assembled before going off on their first mission, followed by a quick digression into an obvious spoiler, and then it ends. It all happens very fast with brief pauses in between. Typical story tropes like a Low Point or the characters having doubt were more or less nonexistent. The whole film was in one ear and out the other with a two-hour run time that felt like 60 minutes. When the credits rolled I almost forgot I actually saw the damn thing.

Another aspect of note is the change in tone. Up until now, the DCEU was established as darker and realistic compared to the MCU. Wonder Woman was bright and optimistic, but carried the series’ signature tone in the visuals and story. I have no issue with what the DCEU is trying to be, but Justice League did. This time, the movie is saturated in color and uncharacteristically happy in a lot of places. It is more an issue of consistency, like Warner Brothers was regretting their past choices, and wanted to backtrack four films in.

As strange as this sounds, the banter and jokes took me right out of the experience. Following up a deadly serious and violent study of the superhero with a movie where characters talk like they do not care felt like a punch in the face. All of a sudden, Zack Snyder walked back everything he was trying to do in the past. Then Joss Whedon showed up to drive the final nail in the coffin. I was expecting the DCEU signature and got a mediocre Avengers clone.

That is Justice League in a nutshell: Avengers if it was Suicide Squad.

These principle issues are why the film does not work, but there is more I feel compelled to discuss. For one thing, Danny Elfman took up the reins of composer in place of Hans Zimmer. The soundtrack was up beat and heroic, not unlike your typical Marvel movie, and pulled me even further out. The DCEU had a rapturous, epic feel thanks to Zimmer’s distinct, albeit annoying use of percussion and horns. Justice League might as well be a separate entity given how the soundtrack makes it stand out.

The villain Steppenwolf is dumb, but not because he is a run-off-the-mill bad dude. He is totally CG, not a guy in a rubber suit or something real. Warner Brothers was so cheap, they could not be bothered to hire someone to wear a relatively simple costume. I would do it for free if it spared audiences from watching that gaudy CG abomination. At least Marvel makes their CG characters look good before putting them on the big screen. Take the ugly Ares character from the ending of Wonder Woman, place him throughout the entirety of the movie, and you have Steppenwolf.

Not much to say about the performances. Honestly, it felt like everyone was just going through the motions, trying to get it over with so they can work on other projects. Gadot was still a great Wonder Woman, but she had a lot more to do in her own film. Affleck really hated the whole situation from start to finish. He clearly has his own ideas for Batman, a character he loves, but he is forced to stand in front of the camera instead of behind it. Despite being an obnoxious prick in real life, Ezra Miller was fine as Flash. He was genuinely funny in some places and stood out the most. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman did not have anything to do and Ray Fisher was a boring Cyborg that was also hamstrung by a bad script.

It is unfair that Justice League had everything stacked against it. I did not want to see it knowing the DCEU has been consistently bad (except Wonder Woman). Nobody wanted to give this movie the light of day and it was intellectually dishonest of me to have such low expectations. Having seen it, I was only proven slightly wrong. Justice League is not terrible or disturbing; it is just not that great. It never took its time to come into its own, to truly define its characters, and skipped all the way to the finish. It is a product without a heart, a soul to set it apart from the rest. Thor: Ragnarok has heart and soul…

You should watch Thor: Ragnarok instead.

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