Needs a little more of South Park’s Super Best Friends.
Cast of Characters:
Bruce Wayne / Batman – Ben Affleck
Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman – Henry Cavill
Lois Lane – Amy Adams
Diana Prince / Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot
Barry Allen / Flash – Ezra Miller
Arthur Curry / Aquaman – Jason Momoa
Victor Stone / Cyborg – Ray Fisher
Alfred Pennyworth – Jeremy Irons
Martha Kent – Diane Lane
Hippolyta – Connie Nielsen
Commissioner James Gordon – J. K. Simmons
Steppenwolf – Ciaran Hinds
Director – Zack Snyder
Screenplay – Chris Terrio & Joss Whedon
Based on characters created by Gardner Fox
Producer – Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg & Geoff Johns
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) has joined forces with newfound ally Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), aka Wonder Woman, to establish a team of superheroes that will battle the impending worldwide threat by the name of New God Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds).
Who I hear likes smoke and lightning, as well as heavy metal thunder.
Steppenwolf has brought his army of Parademons down to Earth in search of three ancient Mother Boxes that will aid in his conquering of the world. When combined, the mother boxes will bring about an apocalyptic fury unlike any other – well, except for that other world-devastating device used by that other world-conquering villain in the last comic book film and the one before that and the one before that and the hundred before that.
In no time, Wayne and Prince find their world-saving teammates. There’s Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), aka Flash, who can move at the speed of light; Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), aka Cyborg, a cybernetically reconstructed genius; and Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), aka Aquaman, who can – uh – I guess control water. Together, they are known as the Justice League.
Meanwhile, the world continues to reflect on Superman’s legacy, and wonders if there is a chance that he could return to help save the world once again.
Or, at the very least, the DC Cinematic Universe.
Warner Bros.’s DC Universe has been, at best, hit-and-miss, and at worst, an utter clusterfuck. Man of Steel was a dark but nevertheless thrilling reboot (the fanboys complaining about this Superman being “too dark” must’ve forgotten that Kal-El’s story begins with him being orphaned after his home planet’s blown to bits); however, Batman v Superman was a shoddily pieced together turd that somehow managed to get out-dumpster fired by the colossal waste of talent that was Suicide Squad. Behind-the-scenes it wasn’t any better. Ben Affleck stepped down as director from the upcoming Batman standalone project, and to add insult to injury, his script was run through the shredder faster than you can say sinking ship with replacement director Matt Reeves choosing to start over with a fresh rewrite. Needless to say, the subsequent “Will Affleck stay or will he go?” rumors didn’t help matters any either.
In spite of all that, after two failures, Warner Bros. and DC were spared from having to pull the plug by getting lucky this past summer with Wonder Woman. While highly overrated by those calling it one of the greatest comic book films ever and bafflingly campaigning for director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot to receive Oscar nods (sure, the two were solid, but let’s pump the brakes a little ’cause “solid” isn’t exactly nomination worthy), the DCEU’s fourth film was still an entertaining standalone effort. That may speak more of just how bad BvS and Suicide Squad were and less of how good Wonder Woman was, but entertaining is entertaining, right?
So here we are with the much anticipated Justice League, aka DC’s Avengers. DC’s spotty track record so far is obvious enough reason to give everyone pause, and I’d be lying if said my nerves didn’t spike after seeing the theatrical poster bear more than a slight resemblance to the poster for a certain Caped Crusader film directed by Joel Schumacher circa 1997, but when you step back and look at said record, it’s really only two good films vs. two bad. So does Justice League continue the step in the right direction that Wonder Woman started, or, like BvS and Suicide Squad, is this another stinker worthy of getting flushed down the shitter?
The Good: The best thing Justice League has going for it is its onscreen talent, all of whom liven up the film with their spot-on chemistry and comic banter (Joss Whedon’s influence is definitely evident in the film’s wit). Ben Affleck’s haggard, broken down take on Batman (the best part – well, the only good part of BvS) continues to be one of the franchise’s shining assets, and if the rumors are true, it’s a shame that there’s a possibility we won’t be seeing him get his own film (at this point, who really knows what’s gonna happen with the standalone project). Gal Gadot may have been guilty of a little stiff acting in BvS, but she’s grown on me more and more over the course of her three films, and even scores the highlight action sequence of this film where Wonder Woman takes down a band of bank robbers in spectacular fashion. Despite the outcry from hardcore comic nerds that this Wonder Woman isn’t built like a roided-out she-warrior, Gadot carries herself with a radiant presence that suits the character quite well.
Newcomers Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller provide some solid comic relief as Aquaman and Flash, respectively. Momoa is somewhat overcompensating Aquaman being the butt of superhero jokes by portraying him as the hybrid of a Five Finger Death Punch roadie and a boozy member of Deadliest Catch, but he does earn some laughs. Miller earns most of the laughs with his lovable doofus take on Flash (a stark contrast to the TV version played by Grant Gustin), though I wonder if his wide-eyed, manic, Red Bull fueled energy can sustain an entire feature film of his own without wearing out the audience.
One marked difference between Justice League and its predecessors is Danny Elfman’s score, who retains the essence of Hans Zimmer’s prior scores while wisely going back to the basics for his own, drawing heavily from prior works of his own. Fans of Tim Burton’s 1989 adaptation of Batman (also scored by Elfman, among many other Burton films) will be pleased to hear a familiar theme pop up in this film.
The Bad: Look, is this an improvement over BvS and Suicide Squad? Yes, but two hours of watching the Justice League eating out at McDonald’s would’ve still been an improvement. Admittedly, the first half of this film is entertaining, solidly action-packed fun, but here’s its problem. I believe Warner Bros. has been itching and itching like crazy to get a Justice League out to the public so bad that they in turn delivered an undercooked story. There’s just too much going on here, and all crammed into a film that’s barely two hours, no less. We have the reunion of Wonder Woman and Batman, the host of new and returning supporting characters (Queen Hippolyta, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, Lois Lane, Martha Kent, etc.), the introduction of a new villain, and the introductions of three key members of the Justice League – Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg.
There’s all that, and I had yet to mention Superman’s resurrection and the possible repercussions of that resurrection. No, that’s not a spoiler. C’mon, like Warner Bros. was gonna prematurely kill off DC’s most iconic superhero.
All of this would be considered overstuffing even for your usual comic book film runtime which typically averages around 2 1/2 hours. Subtract 30 minutes and you have this film, which is a case of lack of substantial character and story foundation equaling lack of any conflict urgency. Of course, I get not every character here needs to be properly introduced. Superman has already been established in this universe, as have Batman and Woman Woman; however, Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg are new to the franchise (unless you wanna count the story-halting Justice League advertisement that came midway through BvS) and their poorly developed mini-origin stories lack the impact they’re trying to hit in spots. Why? Well, so that the film can rush to its primary conflict, which – no surprise – also lacks impact. While Momoa, Miller and Ray Fisher all do what they can with their roles, and at times they do shine, but their material is somewhat of a disservice to them.
Though not nearly disserviced as the host of under-utilized Oscar-level talent – Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J. K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons – who show up in supporting roles and disappear faster than they can say, “Where’s my paycheck?”
Then we have the villain, who might as well have been named McGuffin instead of Steppenwolf. Ciaran Hinds is a fantastic character actor, but this muddled bore of a monster he’s playing is about five notches below forgettable; in fact, Steppenwolf makes the weakest villain out of Marvel’s antagonist arsenal look like Hannibal Lecter. His backstory and motives are poorly-defined; he has the personality of a rock; and I guess his only reason for even bothering to show up in this cinematic universe is nothing more than to just bring the Justice League together. Congrats on being a next-to-nothing stepping stone to a possible Darkseid showdown.
Sure, at the end of the day, hardcore comic fans will notice all the Easter eggs and be able to make heads or tails of everything, but a movie of this size and scope is made to appeal to all moviegoers and not just the sweaty fanboys.
The Ugly: For a film that cost $300 million to make, the climactic showdown against Steppenwolf is a God awful orgy of unintelligible action and horrendous special effects. A spastic kid going wild in Microsoft Paint could’ve done a more disciplined job than the incoherent mess that is splattered across the screen. Hell, it makes the mano a mano fight between Kal-El and General Zod in Man of Steel (which has been criticized more for its cavalier display of Metropolis destruction than visual incoherence) look like Wyke and Tindle’s battle of wits in Sleuth. It’s a puzzling result coming from Snyder who, for all his faults as a filmmaker, does know how to stage great action sequences (300, Watchmen).
That’s most disappointing ’cause as I said before, the first half contains some exciting, well-choreographed action set-pieces, so one wonders how it could all fall apart visually in the third-act.
Consensus: Justice League has just enough thrills to elevate it above its predecessors Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, but unfortunately suffers from a poorly developed story, lackluster villain and the inexplicably crappiest special effects $300 million can buy, leaving DC’s fourth shared universe offering as a so-so, middling experience.
Silver Screen Fanatic’s Verdict: I give Justice League a C (★★½).