Zack Snyder's Justice League is a clunky and tonally misguided mess, mostly delivering the action, while occasionally landing its character beats. Unfortunately, the story is just too half-handed and rushed to feel like any sort of achievement. Wonder Woman moved DC several giant steps forward, while Justice League moves DC two steps back.
Zack Snyder‘s highly-anticipated DC character team-up film Justice League is finally here, on the good graces of Wonder Woman, after several DC fumbles all but destroyed the cinematic universe (I’m looking at you Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad). Sadly, Justice League doesn’t completely course-correct the entire franchise, but it does offer glimpses of hope and actual change among the now-typical disastrous productions from DC/WB.
Justice League continues where we left off in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Spoilers, but Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead and Batman (Ben Affleck) must track down the world’s greatest heroes to prevent Earth from complete annihilation.
He starts with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who he enlists to help recruit the rest of the team, which consists of Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Flash (Ezra Miller). Together, the team must unite to stop Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) from wreacking havoc on Earth and summoning even more deadly enemies, now that Supes is out of the equation.
From the get-go, Justice League has had an uphill battle making it to the big screen. Firstly, Batman v Superman kind of killed the spirit of WB/DC’s artist-first, adult-oriented superhero franchise that was supposed to rival Marvel’s family-friendly approach. Secondly, Wonder Woman smashed all sorts of records and reminded us that it’s okay to be hopeful, which sparked rumors of re-shoots to try and align Justice League‘s tone with Wonder Woman‘s, versus Batman v Superman‘s grimdark approach on such beloved characters.
Lastly, Justice League has the unlucky task of introducing us to not one, but three completely new on-screen characters, which I’m of course talking about Cyborg, Aquaman and Flash.
This must all happen while also introducing a new villain, Steppenwolf, and having our heroes form a team to defeat said baddie.
Director Zack Snyder is no genius writer, which is why he brought in Oscar-winning writer Chris Terrio to help pen such a massive movie, which was then altered after Snyder had to leave the production and get replaced by director/writer Joss Whedon (The Avengers). Whedon apparently had a big enough impact on the film that he was credited as a writer, but no mention of director.
Thus, Justice League has turned out exactly like it sounds after reading all of that backstory. It’s a wobbly mess of ideas, emotions and reactions that feels clunky, half-baked and all sorts of confused. Visually, the film is much brighter than Snyder’s previous films, capturing colors and action that feels big and loud.
Thematically, the story also feels much more punchier, with character beats actually unfolding on the screen, allowing for each character to transform on the screen and come together as a true team. Humor isn’t forced, but instead eased into otherwise dark and doubtful situations. This is mostly a noticeable change whenever Ben Affleck‘s Batman/Bruce Wayne is on screen, acting as a direct response to the complaints filed from Batman v Superman.
This feels more natural when Aquaman and Flash are introduced. Momoa and Miller are absolutely perfect in their roles. I was initially worried about Miller’s Flash being the sole comedic relief character, but he spreads the wealth with the entire team and creates an exciting performance. Selfishly, I wish his Barry Allen was a little brainer and not so spacey, but it works given the context. Momoa’s Aquaman is the perfect blend of manly and tough, yet fun and simple. He reminds me a lot of DC’s version of Thor, with that lovable, yet occasionally narrow-minded viewpoint that you can’t hate but to love.
Gal Gadot‘s Wonder Woman is the rock of the group, reinforcing just what it means to be a superhero and protector of the world. Gadot is graceful, bad ass and an all-around warrior that you do not want to mess with.
As stated before, Affleck’s Batman is much more silly this time around. I couldn’t help but to feel that the shift in tone for the character felt a little too forced. He’s not a complete joke, but there are times that I wondered if he was going to really add any value to the team. There are a few brief moments that highlight the fact that Batman is only human and that he can only do this for so long, which I hope gets explored more in-depth in his future solo movie.
Cyborg and Steppenwolf are the two biggest losers of the film. Ray Fisher does a fine job as Cyborg, but there’s just not enough character context to really give you an idea of what the character is about. I felt that Cyborg was simply used as a convenient character that helped them get out of a couple tough spots, but never really felt like an addition to the team. Steppenwolf is yet another CGI-created generic piece of villain with very little to do, aside from take over the world and destroy everything. His motives aren’t really fleshed out and Hinds’ voice does nothing to command the clearly fake-looking character.
I’ll reserve my comments on Superman, because I don’t want to spoil his involvement in the film.
I will say that the CGI used on his face is some of the worst on-screen special effects that I’ve ever seen and I was completely distracted every single time he was in front of the camera.
Other nitpicks include…
Danny Elfman‘s score. Gone are Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL‘s pulsating and dynamic sounds and in are the most boring and obvious tracks that I’ve ever heard for a composed film. Every single track feels safe and one-note and unlike everything before it, which really killed the mood of the film and ruined the connection with the previous films. It sounded like I was watching a 90s Batman Forever/Batman & Robin flick and it made my ears bleed.
It’s also hard not to comment on the fact that this was a shared production between Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon. The film certainly feels like a Frankenstein’s monster mash-up of two distinctively different directing styles. I’m not even sure how much was filmed from who, the film’s construction feels like an inconsistent collection of action sequences and character beats.
Nothing really sticks or feels like it has any high-stakes value, despite the entire planet being on the line. The plot’s logic is weak and only continues to fall apart as the film reaches its somewhat predictable conclusion.
My frustration with Justice League is rather large. I’m one of those rare supporters of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I understand that it’s far from perfect, but I feel that Snyder’s Director’s Cut represented a dark and different take on familiar characters. He gave us a terrifying Batman and a down and out Superman. His reflection and deconstruction of the genre might have been a mess of epic proportions, but it was an artistic mess that took bold chances that didn’t always pay off (but occasionally did).
Justice League feels like a course-correction simply for the fact that people didn’t like the previous film. Snyder’s sincerity is lost, despite his visuals remaining in full tact. Whedon’s dialogue and humor are definitely pluses, but feel completely mismatched when compared to Snyder’s forced friendship of characters.
Parts of Justice League are cringe-worthy and awful in almost every regard, yet there are moments of true clarity and hope for a potential franchise that could explore things that we haven’t seen just yet. Aquaman and Flash are hilarious and fun and exactly what the team needs, yet Steppenwolf is an afterthought and Cyborg really doesn’t fit in. The action on display is grand and looks great, but there’s no real weight to any of it. Justice League might be one of the most difficult films of the year to like or dislike. It’s almost impossible to gauge it, yet I’ve written nearly 1300 words on it.
I loved parts of it. I hated parts of it. Justice League is a step in a different direction for the DC universe, but a step back when compared to the likes of Wonder Woman. It’s certainly better than Suicide Squad, yet I still think Batman v Superman is a more coherent film.
Take that information for whatever its worth.