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Review: Justice League

Justice League
7 10

LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD!

Arguably one of the most-anticipated movies of all time, JUSTICE LEAGUE carries with it the weight of decades of comic history that can’t be undersold. Ever since superheroes began making their way to the big screen the hope of seeing them teaming up in a single film became something of a dream for fans. However, with the success of the X-MEN films and later with Marvel’s THE AVENGERS (and subsequent releases like CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR), as well as DC’s own BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and SUICIDE SQUAD last year, it became apparent that the dream was now a reality.

And now it’s here. It took some doing and there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes drama that led to the film finally getting done, complete with director Zack Snyder stepping aside late in the game and Joss Whedon stepping in to shoot additional scenes and reshoots as well as seeing the editing through to the theatrical cut. With all of those factors in play, fans have been deeply concerned and the discussion has been one of both hope and doubt, given that the darker turn that Snyder delivered with BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE divided audiences and fans alike.

Would JUSTICE LEAGUE be more of the “dark” DCEU or would it instead focus on a “lighter” vision, as has been teased? Having watched the film twice in order to really get a grip on my overall feelings on it, I can say that JUSTICE LEAGUE is very much a bit of a course correction in tone, taking a lighter approach to the characters and stepping away from the more heavy-handed stuff of BVS. I think this shift will likely sway some, while irritate others, especially those that really dug the darker stuff. That said, JUSTICE LEAGUE is, ultimately, a fun, yet bumpy ride, that coasts on the charisma, charm and heroics of the lead characters, outshining the very evident flaws in narrative. Sadly, the threat is all too simple and the villain is little more than a cardboard cutout baddie-of-the-week complete with rule-the-world ambitions that never amount to any real stakes that can be felt.

The film begins on a very different note than you may expect, setting up a new kind of tone for the DCEU, but one that still fits the universe. It then dives into Batman and Wonder Woman, each fighting individual threats from their home bases (Gotham and Paris, respectively). Batman is on the hunt for Parademons, which have started sprouting up all over and causes him growing concern for a greater threat. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is simply carrying on as a superhero, fighting local threats in a way that picks up directly from her solo movie outing. The "awakening" of the three motherboxes on Earth (one in Themiscyra, one in Atlantis and one in a mysterious location) seems to have alerted an ancient evil known as Steppenwolf, as teased at the end of BVS and it's this threat that drives the recruitment of the League.

The arrival of Steppenwolf begins at Themiscyra where he begins his acquisition of the motherboxes in order to, you know, rule the world. A short battle ensues and we even see Diana's mom, Hippolyta (as played by Connie Nielsen) get in on the action. It's a very "Snyder" sequence in terms of action and a fun trip back to the island we came to know earlier this year in WONDER WOMAN. The events here trigger Diana to seek out Bruce and thus begin their recruitment of like-powered beings to topple the threat. In essence, JUSTICE LEAGUE is very much a recruitment film, in more ways than one, as it’s not just about bringing these heroes together, but also bringing audiences together in this somewhat “new” DCEU.

While explaining to Bruce the history of the motherboxes, we get a cool little Easter Egg flashback that shows that this isn’t Steppenwolf’s first rodeo; in fact, he’s tried to take over Earth before and in a very Lord of the Rings-ish way; the Amazons, Atlanteans, Humans and other varied super-powered races banded together to repel him. And yes, that includes some very familiar groups, which I won't spoil here. It's a worthwhile scene for the Easter Eggs alone, so don't go to the bathroom when it kicks off. For many fans, this will be something they've been waiting to see since the birth of the DCEU.

From there, the film moves at a very rapid pace. Too rapid, in fact. It slows down here and there for some walk-and-talk, but there's little time for suspense or build-up. There are a few slower scenes, one of which introduces us to the plight of Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, brooding in his father’s apartment as he deals with his new dilemma of becoming a cybernetic superhero. Fisher is strong as Cyborg, playing both a tortured soul, but also a charismatic fighter as well and he fits the team dynamic well.

Bruce Wayne is tasked with bringing in both Aquaman and The Flash, both of which prove to have their own reasons for or against joining up. For Aquaman, as played by Jason Momoa, we’re treated to a rebellious and reluctant hero who simply doesn’t want to get involved and doesn’t really care. It’s a very different take on Arthur Curry than we’ve seen in his other iterations, with Momoa’s version being every bit the charismatic bad boy (aka Jason Momoa), but with fiery intensity behind those eyes. We dive (ahem) ever so slightly into his backstory when he heads to Atlantis to help fend off an attack by Steppenwolf to steal the Atlanteans motherbox. Here, we witness the introduction of Amber Heard’s Mera, which is a short, but cool interaction that shows she’s not be messed with and that there’s much more to their story to follow in Aquaman’s solo outing.

The Flash is easily recruited, as we’ve seen in the trailers, and, quite simply, he steals the movie. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen, a hyperactive (obviously) jokester who seems to have the most innocent soul on the team, is endearing and cool, slightly aloof and genuinely funny. As he struggles with freeing his wrongly convicted father (in a cameo role from Billy Crudup) and being a part of something bigger than himself, The Flash steps into his own and is easily a character to root for and look forward to seeing more of. He has many of the best lines and you’ll never think of Pet Semetary the same again. Trust me.

Batman seems to be on more of a path to redemption than anything in JUSTICE LEAGUE and Affleck is certainly up to task, but I have to admit that I missed the dark and brooding Batman here, as it’s a bit of a staple to his character. Much of what Bruce is dealing with revolves around the death of Superman, which is something he carries with deep regret, coming to the realization that Clark Kent/Kal-El was more human than him in the end. The dilemma works for this story, but the weight doesn't feel as heavy as it did in BVS, which is hard not to compare as this follows directly in its heels. The other disappointment here is that Batman relies far too often on his vehicles. Sure, he's human and susceptible to great harm (which isn't shied away from here), but we don't get anything even remotely close to the brilliant warehouse sequence in BVS, which is a true shame.

And that's kind of par for the course in terms of action. There are cool moments for sure, but they come in spurts rather than in any grand confrontation or coordinated and refined sequence. It's very much like flipping through a comic without reading it in that sense. The initial confrontation with Steppenwolf is rather boring as he simply spouts the same kind of mindless bad guy drivel that we’ve heard in countless movies before and the heroes barely engage him in talking; they just get down to business, which is cool and all, but not when we have very little idea of who the bad guy is, why he wants what he wants or just who the hell he is. The stakes never feel that high because the villain never feels like a genuine threat. Ironically, he feels like a cartoon villain. And, to be fair, the film is supposed to be about the League, so I can relent a bit on that, but is it too much to ask even for some charisma or, at the very least, an actual performance that isn't completely CGI?

Which brings us to Superman, who, quite frankly, doesn’t come back early enough in my opinion and I can’t say that his resurrection held as much weight as I’d hoped. For those hoping to see the long locks and black suit as we saw in his comics resurrection, you may as well put those hopes in check now, as it’s not something that appears, sadly. Still, Superman’s return, however clumsy, gives birth to a rousing and fun sequence, as the newly formed league meet their resurrected member hopeful. There’s some BVS references here that are rather on the nose and there’s something jarring about the sequence overall. Still, it’s one of the cooler moments in the film and one that fans have been waiting to see since the end of BVS.

All of these things unfold briskly and while there are a few walk-and-talk scenes (almost all of which feel like scenes shot by Whedon), the plot moves quickly and that’s not all that surprising when you consider there just isn’t much to it. In the end, JUSTICE LEAGUE leans more on characters than story, which can be good or bad, depending on if you want your cake and eat it too. I give more credit to this aspect than anything as that’s really what we’re here for, but it sure would’ve been nice to get the total package. Still, successfully establishing new characters and continuing the legacy of established ones works like a charm here overall, so at least there’s that win.

The final battle, sadly, isn’t as rousing as you may hope and falls prey to more CGI-induced theatrics than genuine thrills. Which isn’t to say there aren’t at least SOME good punches thrown or asses kicked or well-timed comedic quips. There just isn’t a sense of a true threat being handled as Steppenwolf just doesn’t come off as scary, cool, threatening or anything more than a single issue bad guy. However, the League DOES come together and fight together and there’s something to be said about the JUSTICE LEAGUE finally kicking ass onscreen. I just wish it had been a more focused effort with some real stakes, emotional investment and genuine thrills, rather than a fist bump with a few choice punches and quick saves.

In terms of tone and style, JUSTICE LEAGUE is kind of all over the map. It’s very easy to spot what is Snyder, what is Whedon and what is filmmaking by committee here. This, more than anything, is the biggest shortcoming of JUSTICE LEAGUE; it’s fun, no doubt, but it’s also unfocused and lacking in singular vision. It feels like there were way too many cooks in the kitchen. Say what you will about BVS or SUICIDE SQUAD, but they at least felt like they were made with one vision in mind. The consistency simply isn’t there for JUSTICE LEAGUE in that department. Thankfully, the characters rise above all of those issues, otherwise we could’ve been in real trouble. In addition, Danny Elfman's score changes things up from Junkie XL's pulse-pounding themes in BVS to a more heroic and generic sound, even with shades of '89 BATMAN and classic SUPERMAN from John Williams mixed in. I didn't mind the themes at all and it was kind of cool that they were there, but why not just go all out with them? Felt half-hearted in the end.

As for JUSTICE LEAGUE being a “lighter” film; well, it is, if you consider what’s come before, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on how married you are to the previous DCEU films. It’s way more in line with WONDER WOMAN than BVS, but stripped of the emotional element almost entirely. Whedon’s comedic banter amongst League members is actually pretty on point and considering that that’s one of his strong suits it’s hard to complain about that. If anything, I think it’s a saving grace and makes the humor sharp and genuinely funny rather than eye-rolling or silly. So, props to Whedon for that, even if he couldn’t touch Snyder’s cinematic style with a ten foot pole.

JUSTICE LEAGUE ends with a message of hope and a look to the future, where these characters are existing and carrying on with their newly-formed purpose, both individually and as a team. Hope seems to be the resounding message, although a part of me took it almost as an apology for what came before (i.e. the darker tones) and I just don’t think it was needed. Where the film is on-the-nose it often needs to be more subtle and vice versa. Again with the consistency.The film isn’t the slam dunk many may be hoping for, but it’s also not a complete disaster either. I wouldn’t even say it falls in the middle, either, as the characters are everything and they are executed exceptionally well.

Credit to Snyder for bringing together the right people for the job, as they salvage much of what is broken otherwise here. In the end, JUSTICE LEAGUE comes together as a launching off point kind of film, rather than the end-all-be-all JUSTICE LEAGUE film we've been waiting for. But, is that really a bad thing? Perhaps that's just what was needed and it's very likely most people will walk out wanting to see more of these characters in solo efforts or sequels and that's a good bit of hope to take with you out of the theater.

Source: JoBlo.com

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