Film Review – Justice League

Well it’s finally here. After years of languishing in development Hell, Justice League has finally arrived in all its glory. I’ve been waiting for this a long time. More than The Avengers, I dreamed of seeing the Justice League on the big screen. For me it was one those Holy Grail things that I wasn’t entirely sure would come to pass, yet still the prospect of seeing Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman punch evil till Kingdom come made me quiver. When the first trailer dropped I wasn’t frothing at the mouth like I thought I’d be. Maybe the last few years of superhero films quelled my appetite. Or maybe the last few DC films just left a lot to be desired (Except Wonder Woman of course). In any case in the midst of a director shakeup and a plethora of both production and marketing issues, the fabled film arrives in theaters this weekend and for what it’s worth; the film is good. It didn’t exactly knock my socks off, and while there is a lot of bad to go around, the good very much outweighs it by being enjoyable with a great cast of characters. If there’s a way to describe Justice League, it’s that it very much knows what it is, in that it’s a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. And that ain’t bad at all.

Starring an ensemble cast featuring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams and many others, Justice League finds Ben Affleck’s Batman post Dawn of Justice as he recruits a team of meta humans to fight off the coming New God: Steppenwolf. Jumping right into a hero team up movie may seem ill advised to many, and to those same individuals may very well feel vindicated by the time the movie ends and the lights come up. Mostly that relies on how you feel about the film’s newcomers. Both Aquaman and Flash steal the show, with Momoa giving Arthur a brotastic quality that comes off as if he’s one of the very few really enjoying themselves. He doesn’t have an arc per say (then again, no one really does) but I am excited about his solo film next year. On the other hand, Ezra Miller imbues Barry Allen with a youthful energy that bounces off the others, especially in a sequence with Cyborg that was a complete riot. If there’s any one character (Besides Batman) I’m excited about seeing in a solo film, it’s Flash, and I sincerely hope he brings that energy to what could potentially be a very dark film in Flashpoint.  Meanwhile, Cyborg may very well be the weakest link in the film. Played by first timer, Ray Fisher, he does what he can with the role given to him, but his character doesn’t really come together till the end. I’m not sure that he deserves a whole film dedicated to him, but I’d gladly watch him with Ezra Miller in Flashpoint, especially if they adapt the story verbatim. It should also be said that Cyborg’s look is very messy and a bit too much, but with the film’s closing I’m definitely excited to see his look evolve into something more…manageable.

Ben Affleck is back as Batman, and while he does a bang-up job as the character, there is something off about his portrayal. I can only guess that he wants out of playing the character due to a myriad of reasons I won’t cover here. And it’s a shame. Affleck looks the part, he acts the part, and I really think he’s the best live action Batman yet. Unfortunately, the role has proved too much from what I can imagine. I’d like to hope that he’ll stick around for at least the stand-alone Batman film, but I won’t hold my breath. If is replaced I once throw my hat to Karl Urban to pick up the cowl. NO. REALLY. KARL URBAN, OR BUST. On the plus side Gal Gadot once again crushes as Wonder Woman and all I can do is wait patiently for her to return to theaters in 2019 to kick more ass. There is a hint of romance between both Bruce and Diana and while some may feel it is a bit shoehorned in, I only point to the DC Animated series in the early 2000’s which did the exact same thing. And I am all there for it. It works as a will-they-wont-they, but it remains to be seen if they will push that towards anything.

And now for the elephant in the room: Superman. Look if I say “spoilers” that would be a mistake, Superman returning is practically well known to the general populace unless you’re a child. So yes, Henry Cavill returns as the Man of Steel, as for how he returns, I won’t say. But let it be said that after years of darker Superman, Cavill is finally allowed to be the Superman he was always meant to be. Make no mistake, Cavill LOOKS the part, but he didn’t really act it. His return from the dead gives him a new lease on life and his interactions with both the league and civilians is a hoot. He’s great and I hope that Cavill finally gets the superman movie he’s been denied these last few years. That being said, the reshoots that occurred during the summer came at a point where Cavill was working on the next Mission Impossible film, in which he had a contractually obligated mustache. A mustache that was digitally removed after the Justice League reshoots. And by all that is holy the CGI for his face is BAD. Like people complained about Tarkin in Rouge One, but this is just as jarring – if not more so. God as my witness I’d rather have had porn-stache Superman than the CGI tomfoolery they employed here. It’s a miracle I didn’t laugh in the more serious moments of the film. But to be fair, it’s only a few scenes, yet when you see it, it can never be unseen.

The characters make Justice League what it is. The CGI however, does not. It’s not atrocious, but like Cyborg it leaves a lot to be desired. It’s crazy, has no real purpose and is all over the place. This goes hand in hand with the film’s villain Steppenwolf. If there was one part of the film that was truly unforgivable, it was him. A CGI monstrosity that looks nothing like his comics counterpart, Steppenwolf is a New God from the planet Apokolips whose sole purpose is to use the Mother Boxes to create a Unity to destroy the Earth. Or is it to reshape it? Both? It’s never really clearly stated, but then again this is film isn’t trying to be Citizen Kane, and while I could just brush over the narrative and say it’s just an excuse for our heroes to team up, that wouldn’t be fair when we live in a post Avengers world, where it was done right and the narrative was as air tight as could be. There is no excuse for the flimsy plot, especially near the final act when Steppenwolf retrieves the final Mother Box. It’s ridiculous and all it does is highlight the League’s incompetence. Meanwhile Steppenwolf is a different beast entirely. Voiced by Ciaran Hinds, Steppenwolf is little more than a prelude for the REAL threat to come. A threat that barely gets a name drop and one that ultimately left me disappointed. For any comics fan, it’s no small secret that Steppenwolf is small potatoes compared to his nephew. And while its rumored that his nephew did feature some kind of the appearance in the early stages of the film, the reshoots all but did away with that story line, leaving us a forgettable villain that has absolutely no payoff whatsoever. He comes, he disappears and he pulls the same trick a few times, before he is ultimately and inevitably defeated.

When it was announced that Danny Elfman was returning to the DC Universe I was beyond excited. The man who gave us the iconic 1989 Batman theme that defined a generation and an animated TV show was coming back to work his magic. And yet like many aspects of the film, his score falters. There’s nothing simple or even grandiose about his work here. He uses and remixes hints of the old Superman theme from the Richard Donner films as well as Hans Zimmer’s. He even sprinkles in his own 1989 Batman theme, and you know what? It doesn’t work at all. I appreciate what he was going for, even what it was trying to convey, but it leaves me with nothing other than wanting to see those older movies than sitting through the current one. Take for instance his Batman theme, it works well with the era it came from, but it absolutely fails to complement Ben Affleck’s Batman. Tonally it doesn’t fit. Sure, Hans Zimmer’s work on Batman V. Superman was not his greatest, especially in light of him not wanting to do another Batman theme. So instead he brought in Junkie XL to do what he could not. And I respect that. XL’s theme wasn’t iconic, but it worked for the Batman it went with. It had a bombastic horror vibe that I very much enjoyed. For this interpretation of Batman. I would have preferred a whole new theme than a rehash of old ones, but alas.  What Elfman has done here is that he’s made a very much heroic score, but one that fails to enhance anything or even be memorable. And that is a shame.

Justice League is very much a Frankenstein film. In the wake of Zack Snyder’s personal tragedy, Joss Whedon took over to oversee reshoots and rewrites of the script. The result of which is a film that has many faults, but its fantastic characters save both the day and the film. The CGI is dodgy, Steppenwolf is atrocious in both design and character (Part of me wishes they just cast a man for the role since Steppenwolf looks like a guy anyway, but I digress), but at least he’s not Galactus from Rise of the Silver Surfer bad. There’s no real plot, and whenever it tries to become one it just comes apart. But these characters are it. They make the film, when almost nothing else does. There is the question of the future of this franchise, and the setup -while not what I expected- is bright. Things are looking up and judging from the absolutely amazing post credit tag, I can only assume that DC will try to turn their future stories more towards their Silver Age line of comics. And that makes me hopeful. Justice League is a mess of a Frankenstein monster, but ultimately it boils done to one loud Saturday morning cartoon, and sometimes despite its mediocrity, that’s okay.

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