Film Review: 'Justice League'
Who could forget when that very first badass Justice League trailer dropped last year? Set to the beats and riffs of the The White Stripes' Icky Thump, the superpowered promo built up the hype machine for when Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman would finally share the big screen. It promised spectacle and it promised laughs, and it seemed destined to be the movie that would finally put the DC Extended Universe on par with its Marvel equivalent.
At long last, Justice League debuted yesterday. And it was perfectly fine. That's it -- just fine.
Zack Snyder's latest directorial effort has all of the right materials: his trademark beautiful cinematography, an all-star cast that includes Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, and the nostalgia factor of seeing childhood heroes come to vibrant and ass-kicking life. Yet in its two-hour run time, Justice League focuses all of its efforts on only those items, giving it the fan-service flair without much regard to things that would have truly pushed it over the top, like a good story or respectable character development. But it's fine nonetheless!
What little story there is involves big-time bad guy Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) barging in to claim Earth for his own diabolical plans since Superman (Henry Cavill) has died. The finer details of said plan aren't terribly important; what we care about is that Bruce Wayne (Affleck), in response to this new danger, works together with Diana Prince (Gadot) to form an alliance of superheroes to protect Earth. A few quick and snappy scenes later, they convince Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller) to join their ranks. A few action scenes and dialogue breaks later, and then we cue the ass-kicking.
It's about as much of a popcorn-muncher as it gets, with high-flying action sequences that are the dream of anyone who grew up watching these heroes, even if the CGI leaves a lot to be desired. But while all the popcorn is being munched, its unmistakeable that Justice League never truly excels in any one aspect, and doesn't provide the escapist high of a great blockbuster. In fact, it moreso comes dangerously close to being a terrible film, as the film's lower points can often be a slog. Our heroes lack depth beyond their superhero personas, and the haphazard switching between them is often jarring in a way that feels out-of-place for a good ensemble-based movie.
Thankfully, Justice League is finds its saving grace in the creative efforts by Avengers mastermind Joss Whedon in directing and in writing. The film has the air that it doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as its predecessors, and Whedon perhaps cut down what could have easily been a nearly three-hour film into barely two. The result is punched-up and tightened-up quite nicely, even if it does come at the expense of story.
There's no better example of that than Ezra Miller's Flash, who steals scenes with his comic relief and is one of the film's brighter spots. He's a lot of fun and he'd definitely be welcome in a solo installment, although Justice League is hardly concerned about where he came from and how his character could arc.
Each hero contributes a different element or style to Justice League, and although the variety is welcome, there's the residual effect of having too much to juggle; the same issue plagued Whedon's Avengers sequel. And with Justice League having difficulty transitioning effectively between our heroes, it's especially prevalent.
All of this put together results in a movie that's tonally different from every other entry in the DCEU. It's got more swagger and flair than Man of Steel and it's more lighthearted than Batman V Superman. It's definitely better than Suicide Squad, but definitely nowhere near as good as Wonder Woman. It's clear that the creative minds behind the DCEU are still trying to find their signature tone, a winning formula that makes their movies unmistakably DC.
A lot like its awesome debut trailer, Justice League is a hype machine that provides sufficient entertainment and whets our superhero appetite for the DC superhero flicks to come. It's all style and little to no substance, though in this case, the style is definitely welcome. Let's just hope the overall quality of future movies is a little less Batman V Superman and a little more Wonder Woman.
Maybe Patty Jenkins should just direct everything.
Rated PG-13. 120 minutes.
Written by Chris Terri and Joss Whedon.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Erza Miller, and Ray Fisher.