So I watched Justice League…
I went into this movie with dwindling optimism, verging on hopelessness. When this movie’s first trailer came out I was a bundle of excitement and eagerness but with every subsequent trailer and piece of news about the film’s struggles (particularly those in post-production), I readied myself to be disappointed. THANKFULLY, my fears were in vain and Zack Snyder delivers one of the best films of the DCEU (okay, that isn’t hard to do but still).
Okay, basic plot: After a string of mysterious alien attacks, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) recognise the impending need for them to band together and form a team to defend the Earth in Superman’s absence. They scour the globe to find three heroes – Victor Stone (Ray Ellis), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) – who have breathtaking abilities and implore them to join them in their fight to defend the Earth. Before the team can even be formed an ancient enemy to the planet named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) arrives with the sole intention of conquering the planet. Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman must now stand together to defeat Steppenwolf and his army of parademons.
From the very first scene in this movie – and I mean the very first scene – it’s evident that this film is going to be more lighthearted, fun and easier to watch than it’s predecessor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A complaint perpetually leveled against DC is that its films are too dark and macabre. Justice League addresses that without losing the characteristic grit that comes with DC films. It’s as if Justice League heard all our complaints about Dawn of Justice but didn’t over-correct to Marvel levels of humour but still did enough to avoid being doom and gloom without losing any gravity.
I think the secret to this film’s success is that it takes a page out of the DC Animated Universe’s playbook. It actually reminded me heavily of 2014’s Justice League: War both in terms of plot and overall style. Both films introduce us to the members of the Justice League without the need for any prior setup. The film realises that an origins story is not the only way to introduce a new hero to the mix. The film is also well aware that the audience enjoying the film have brains and don’t need every detail spelt out to them. We can connect the dots and this leads to a film that feels more streamlined. I love the way the film just dives into its action without feeling the need to have a break to catch us up on every hero’s backstory. Now just because we aren’t getting any origins stories doesn’t mean we aren’t getting insight into each individual hero.
The way the heroes come together is very functional. They aren’t friends and don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye about every issue but they realise that individually they can’t counter the impeding threat and need each other’s help. The functionality of their relationship is a product of their individual stories rather than a distraction from it. I don’t want to go into spoilers explaining what every hero derives from the formation of this team; but if you remember Batman v Superman, you’ll remember how Batman was struggling with the realisation of his mortality and his limits in a world that’s being filled with flying aliens who shoot fire from their eyes. These same feelings are carried into this film and are a driving force for him to build the league. Similarly each hero gets something from being part of this team. This strengthens the idea of the team and allows them to better work as a unit.
In the same way that seeing The Avengers on screen together thrilled me, seeing Batman alongside The Flash and other members of The League is rather mind-boggling. I grew up watching The Justice League animated series and to see it in live-action is truly remarkable. I think the actors in this film do an amazing job not only bringing their individual characters to life but also creating a team spirit and camaraderie between each other. Aquaman was probably my favourite character in this movie (which is saying a lot considering Batman’s in it). I’ve taken to calling him ‘Alcoholic Aquaman’ because of the swashbuckling attitude that Jason Momoa brings to the character. I think he’s perfectly cast and does a lot to make a character, who most people think is dorky and lame, a real badass. He’s phenomenal to watch but so is the entire cast. Ben Affleck is sensational as Gotham’s Dark Knight, Gal Gadot a revelation as Princess of the Amazons; but let’s not forget Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher who both impress as The Flash and Cyborg, respectively. Miller is a highlight with his idiosyncratic quirkiness that suited the character to a tee.
Another thing this film does right is balance the screentime needed by different characters. Most importantly its scale is set to requirements of the story rather than status of the actors portraying the characters. There’s a wealth of talent in this film’s supporting cast and I have to commend them for their commitment to their roles in knowing that they have to shine from this film’s periphery. Jeremy Irons as Alfred often steals the spotlight. The witty writing behind his dialogue and Irons’ expert delivery is one of my favourite things about this film. I also really enjoyed J.K. Simmons brief appearance as Commissioner Gordon – I’m really excited about seeing him in a standalone Batman film.
Now, I’ve thrown this film a fair bit of – well-deserved – praise but it wasn’t perfect. I walked away a bit disappointed with its action. I don’t know if I wanted a big Avengers-esque shot of the entire team standing in a line whooping ass but I would have liked to see more of the team fighting as a unit. Combining their powers, coming up with new and exciting ways to defeat evil. There is action in this film but it didn’t quite lift me out of my seat. I was left wanting more. Another place where there could have been more done was in regard to this film’s villain – Steppenwolf. I skillfully avoided any reviews of this film before watching it; but I couldn’t avoid the complaints about the poor rendering of his appearance. I didn’t think it was that bad but when you consider the budget this film had and its importance to helping the franchise’s sustainability, he really should have looked better. The CGI is average but it should have been flawless.
Another problem with this villain is that he isn’t memorable. He’s a cookie-cutter villain whose motivations and malice aren’t exciting enough to make you consider him a real threat. I will concede that he is quite powerful and does kick his fair share of ass but you know that he’s going to lose and you don’t really care if he does. I can actually forgive this because Steppenwolf’s purpose is nothing more than to act as a catalyst to bring the team together. He doesn’t need to be memorable or the world’s best villain, he just needs to be enough of a threat to necessitate our heroes banding together.
Another complaint about this film that I couldn’t avoid was that of many scenes shown in the trailer not making it into the final cut of the film. Now normally this is one of my personal pet peeves. I hate getting excited about a scene in a trailer then watching the movie and having the scene be omitted or edited in such a way that it’s now completely different. However, this time around it didn’t phase me at all. Firstly, it helped the movie feel fresh because less scenes from the trailers meant more scenes I hadn’t seen, and secondly, my favourite parts from the trailers managed to survive and make the final cut. Finally there was quite a bit of dust kicked up about this film’s runtime and it been so short. It cames in at two hours exactly and I think it’s completely free of bloat but still delivers on all the points of story it needed to. I think this is a film where the story dictates the runtime and let it be an example – length does not equal strength (and no, I don’t say that to my girlfriend…because I don’t have a girlfriend 😥 but I digress).
Overall, Justice League is a film I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. It introduces a host of new, exciting heroes, keeps the characteristic grit of DC and gives us a welcome alternative to Marvel’s never-ending joke fun-house. I’m hearing bad things about it at the box office but here’s hoping it makes a ton of money because it deserves to. It’s not the best superhero movie out there but it’s fun to watch and very cool at times, GO SEE IT 7/10