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Catch-up Notes On A Film: Justice League

I saw Justice League in the cinema when it first came out. It left such a lack of impression on me, even as I left the cinema, that I didn’t even tweet my reactions, because I didn’t have any. I recently rented it so that my partner could see it and so I could see if it would be different when seen outside of the initial critical bubble in which it existed. It didn’t. It’s not a terrible movie but it’s also not a good movie: it’s just there, on the screen, existing, going through the motions.

I wanted to enjoy Justice League – although I’m a huge fan of the MCU films, I don’t have any prejudice against the DCEU films, even if I haven’t been blown away by any of them (Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, Batman V Superman, Man of Steel). I want all films based on comic books to be high quality so that they will continue being made, no matter which studio is making them.

I didn’t enjoy Justice League and that depresses me for a variety of reasons. The first is the negative impact it has on the DCEU – this was supposed to be a big film for the DCEU, the equivalent of The Avengers, bringing together the big guns into one team, so this damp squib does nothing to bolster the universe that Warner Bros. is trying to build. This has a knock-on effect on other DCEU films, which will result in a less cohesive universe. As it is, Warner Bros. appears to be throwing ideas out and seeing what sticks: apart from the obvious sequel to Wonder Woman, there might be a Harley Quinn film that is a Birds of Prey film, a Joker film produced by Martin Scorcese for gritty authenticity (in a character who exists completely outside a gritty authenticity), a Batman film that may or may not star the current actor playing Batman, a Suicide Squad sequel because the first one did enough business, maybe?

The second reason I was depressed was the fact that there is a lot of talent involved in this film and collectively they couldn’t wrestle it into an entertaining story. The Frankenstein nature of this film doesn’t help – Zack Snyder made most of the film but had to pull out due to family tragedy, so Joss Whedon came in to finish the film (up to 20% is by him, and he gets a screenwriting credit). This results in a mix of Snyder’s darkness and visual flourish mixed with Whedon’s lightness of touch and quips, a melange that doesn’t work because the jokes can’t land in the rest of the seriousness.

The filmmakers are hindered by the obvious similarities to The Avengers (also co-written and directed by Whedon), where a team of superheroes is brought together to fight the threat of an alien invasion. There’s the fact that Justice League hasn’t earned the desire to see a team of superheroes because half the group are recruited in this film. This requires introducing the new members and setting up their statuses without the benefit of the origin film or seeding in previous films (beyond viewing the files on Lex Luthor’s computer in Batman V Superman). Jason Mamoa makes the biggest splash (pun definitely intended) as Aquaman, while Ezra Miller has to work hard as comic relief as the Flash and Ray Fisher makes little impact as Cyborg beyond a bit of brooding.

Justice League movie promotional imageThe existing cast are a mixed bag as well. Gal Gadot shines the brightest as Wonder Woman, bringing the nobility and purity of the character from her own film. Ben Affleck seems to have lost the lustre of Batman – he was a great Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman V Superman but there’s nothing of that here, which is problematic because he’s the driving force behind the creation of the Justice League. Spoiler if you haven’t seen it or have no understanding of comic book movies: Henry Cavill, returning as Superman, suffers from a rushed resurrection being turned into a more upbeat version of the character, and is hampered by the studio power-plays (famously, when brought back in for reshoots, Cavill was not permitted to shave his moustache he was wearing for his role in Mission: Impossible 6 by Paramount, so it had to be removed digitally for this film, something that is unfortunately glaringly obvious because the digital artists weren’t given enough time for such a tricky job).

The film suffers another problem central to superhero films: a dull villain. Steppenwolf is a CGI character lacking in three dimensions, Ciaran Hinds’ voice work unable to overcome the flat ‘I will destroy this world for reasons’ characterisation and uninteresting design. His threat is built up by other people talking about him but his eventual defeat (I know, spoilers) is anticlimactic. I know that Steppenwolf is a stepping stone to bringing in Darkseid as the big villain but he’s not enough of a big deal and you are never made to care about why he is doing what he’s doing.

I should try to come up with some positives, or this review will be as bleak as the film, but there’s very little that stands out. In a flashback scene, detailing the massive fight against Steppenwolf the first time he came to Earth against the forces of Amazons, Atlanteans, tribes of humanity and even the gods, there’s a geeky moment where a Green Lantern ring is seen flying off to find its next bearer after the current owner is killed in battle. The first post-credits sting is another geeky touch, involving the Flash and Superman starting a race to see who is fastest – the moment in the film where Superman notices the Flash running at superspeed is a lovely little touch. The scene where Aquaman doesn’t realise he’s sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso is a funny one (quite clearly a Whedon bit). Wonder Woman stopping the terrorists in the Bank of England is a good scene. And that’s about all I can remember. Not a great batting average.

Justice League was such a wasted opportunity. It could have been a huge event with the three superheroes with the widest appeal in the world. But it wasn’t. It wasted its chance to plant the flag for the DC team of superheroes, it wasted a lot of talent in even small roles (Amy Adams, JK Simmons, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Connie Nielsen), it wasted the goodwill engendered by the global love for Wonder Woman. It even wasted the final post-credits scene setting up the possibility of the Injustice League, something which now seems highly unlikely. As I said, I really wanted to enjoy Justice League, and I’m sad that it wasn’t even enjoyable. In summary: not a terrible film, but not a good film.

Rating: DA

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