Okay. Justice League is finally here.
Now, I wasn't a big fan of Man of Steel. Or Batman v Superman. Or The Dark Knight Rises. Or Green Lantern.
This isn't a Marvel vs. DC thing. The comic book characters I liked. I grew up with them. This was DC just not understanding how to take those great characters and translate them well to the big screen.
The heroes just weren't likable. The villains were forgettable. The films were a dreary chore to sit through. I didn't care about the heroes, or what they were doing. DC had a long way to go.
They redeemed themselves big-time this summer with Wonder Woman. Finally! A DC character brought to the screen with a likable personality, and wit, and charisma! Things were looking up! (The villain was still stupid - but hey, one step at a time.)
So that brings us to Justice League. Zack Snyder (who was responsible for a lot of the morose tone of recent DC films) stepped down due to a family tragedy, and Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the film. Now, Whedon did a great job on The Avengers. But not so much on Avengers: Age of Ultron. The latter film was a bit of a disjointed mess, and the characters never really got the screen time they needed to develop into compelling characters.
And fundamentally, that was the problem I had with Justice League.
Well, one of them, anyway. So let's get this review started!
(play Spoiler-free review theme music here)
Ahhh... that's great stuff! I especially love the part where it goes da-da-da... da-da-da-dummm! Classic.
What - you're not hearing it on your end? Plays just fine here.
Huh. Well, it's Mars - Bringer of War from Holst's "The Planets". About 3:51 into it. Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.
I'm sure there are other great recordings out there, but I like Bernstein's tempo and interpretation. Actually, his tempo is really close to Holst's own. Pretty amazing they have recordings of him conducting that. Some conductors just go way too slow with it for some reason.
You can really hear where John Williams lifted a lot of his ideas for Star Wars from.
I wonder if Lucas used that as a temp track while editing the film together? I'm sure I could find that on the internet somewhere. I may even have it in the Making of Star Wars book. I should look for it.
Anyway... onto the review.
Where to start?
Well, let's start with Batman. Batman is one of the coolest superheroes, period. But here - he's just... bland. Oh sure, there are a few fight scenes where what he's doing is cool, but as Bruce Wayne, or whenever Batman is saying pretty-much anything, Ben Affleck delivers the line like someone who's sitting in a dentist's chair, completely shot full of novocaine. He's numb. He's expressionless. Any attempt at humor, or any emotion for that matter, feels forced and falls flat. He seems bored. Batman is... dull. Batman should be anything but dull. He should be exciting. Scary. Unhinged. Something. Frankly, the rumors of Affleck leaving the role don't bother me a bit. Where's the world's greatest detective? Where's the great strategist? He just kind of meanders around in this film, and things happen. It doesn't feel like he's driving the plot and situations forward. He's the de facto leader of the Justice League, but doesn't really lead. And Batman relies way too much on his Bat-military-equipment-that-he-somehow-acquired. What's up with all of the machine guns and missiles? I guess if he didn't have all that stuff, he'd be so hopelessly outmatched he'd have nothing to do. But that's not a character weakness - that's bad writing. In comparison, Captain America is always outclassed super-power wise, yet he manages to hold his own in combat and lead a team more powerful than himself. They really need to fix this before the next Bat movie.
Okay... but what of Wonder Woman?
Well, she's still charismatic, and formidable, and has some great moments on screen, but they really messed up her character arc. I'm still completely unclear on where's she's been since the end of World War I. The end of Wonder Woman's solo film seemed to imply she was ready to go out there and help humanity.
How about the rest?
Aquaman was a lot fun to watch... in an almost Thor: Ragnarok sort-of way. But I couldn't figure out why he was so goofy. He's like a surfer dude version of Aquaman. For an Atlantean and self-proclaimed loaner, I had a hard time figuring out where he picked up such a casual use of human colloquialisms. Maybe I'd have understood that approach better if they'd done his solo movie before Justice League. I honestly have no idea what his backstory was supposed to be. Also, his powers are very unclear. Or maybe underutilized. Besides swimming, he doesn't do much "watery" stuff in the movie. In most of the battles, he's just a really strong dude jumping around, punching things, and carrying a magic (?) trident around (which is also never explained). He just didn't get the screen time needed to really be developed. There were bits of dialog in the film that supposedly told more - but it went by so fast, and was so choppily edited, it just never clicked. That said, I'd like to see more of Aquaman. Learn his history. See him really in his element. But we should've seen that first.
Maybe that's part of the problem here... maybe the directors were so fully aware of who the characters were, because this film (and solo projects) have been in development for so long, that they forgot that the audience didn't know all of that stuff.
Cyborg really got the short end of the stick, backstory-wise. His origin is all-but completely skipped over. Maybe it was too dark? Too long? He's relevant to the story (in a very significant way), but he's there more as a necessary plot device than a really engaging character. There are scenes where we start to get a little insight into him, but then the movie pulls back for whatever reason. It's like they didn't know what sort of personality to give him, so they played it safe and gave him none. Maybe this was intentional because he lost so much humanity - but if so, show us the humanity he's lost. Maybe this was due to the change in directors and they had different visions for him. But it was certainly a missed opportunity. Also - I really disliked the design of his cybernetic parts. Too cluttered, overly-busy and Michael Bay Transformers-like. Detail for the sake of detail, not functionality. And the CG, especially around his face, generally looked pretty bad. Sometimes it looks like they replaced some or all of his face, and it just had that creepy uncanny valley vibe to it.
Flash, on the other hand, comes across great. He's a lot of fun to watch, and has a really engaging, likable personality. I don't know if he has any more screen time than the others, but it's certainly much better utilized. A large part of that comes down to Ezra Miller, who absolutely knocks it out of the park. He's likable and believable (although his origin is all-but completely skipped over as well). He's easily the best character in the film, and hopefully we'll get to see more of him soon. I don't recall enough of the Flash from when I read comics to know how on-point his Barry Allen is with that of the comics, but really, it doesn't matter all that much. This Flash is the star of this movie. Maybe that's in part because super-speed is just a lot of fun when it's done right.
Let's see... is that it for the League? Well, the original posters said "Unite the Seven"... so we're still two short.
Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog would leave us with eight, so it wasn't them.
And this might be considered a spoiler, but it wasn't the Wonder Twins, either. "Form of - a bucket of water!" That would've been awesome. Even as a joke.
So with the heroes not faring all that well, how about the villain?
Disposable. Generic. Boring. Inconsequential. Uninteresting. Bad CG. Completely lacking in any compelling characteristics. I have no idea, nor do I care, who even played him, because nothing of whoever it was showed through the final character onscreen. Should I go on?
Nope. Not worth it. He was just a plot device to for the Justice League to
I'll just say one more thing about him - how can you have a villain named Steppenwolf without even having one reference somewhere, anywhere, to Born to be Wild? Seriously. Aquaman should've been all over that.
Okay - heroes were a mixed bag. The villain was useless. How about the overall plot?
It's nothing we haven't seen before. But that would be okay if the characters who were on the journey were compelling, and if compelling things happened to them. If we had genuine concern for them, or the Earth, or something. But that just didn't happen. There were no stakes or consequences that really felt like we'd be losing something, if the heroes lost.
Well, was it fun to watch? Was the action good? The special effects worthwhile?
At times. There were some fun popcorn-munching scenes here and there. Aquaman seemed to be having the most fun. Wonder Woman and Flash have the best action scenes. But a lot of it we'd already seen before in other superhero movies, and I kept having flashbacks to other films where the same thing had been done, and usually better. As for the special effects, they were... okay. The problem with most films now, is that the special effects are all kind-of at the same level. So unless the events of the film wow you, the special effects just... won't. And while there were some impressive effects and sequences in the movie, for the most part, I just didn't care about what was going on.
Justice League feels like DC is playing catch-up to Marvel. But they didn't lay a proper foundation. They should've developed the characters in their solo films, and built up the mythos of the DC universe first, before throwing us into a larger, cosmic, high-consequence, team-centered story. As it is - this felt like a truncated, badly edited version of something that was supposed to be much bigger. It feels like half of the movie is missing. It runs just two hours, which is unusually short for a superhero movie - especially one that's supposed to be a tentpole film for an entire cinematic universe. Maybe this was due to the change in directors. Maybe the studio wanted to shift the tone of the original film too much. Maybe they wanted to get this out the door before Marvel's Infinity War comes out next year. Whatever the cause, they should have taken their time. Instead, Justice League feels disjointed and lacking its own identity. It's not morose and dreary, it's just... kind of boring.
Justice League goes only Half-In, with a 5/10.