JUSTICE LEAGUE

Every year has a box office and critical surprise success story, and Wonder Woman happened to be both. Coming hot off the heels of three poorly received DC comics films, nobody expected it to be one of the best reviewed and highest grossing films of the year. It wasn’t just a solid film, but one of those zeitgeist type of films that everyone of all types were seeing and talking about. While I actually love Man of Steel, most people were thinking, “Finally! A decent film in the DC Extended Universe!” 

But how long would that last? 

The world is still reeling from the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), many feeling a loss of hope. Not Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). He’s still fighting crime as Batman and when he comes across a giant flying bug, he realizes something sinister is afoot. Something is indeed, when generic comic bad guy #849 arrives on Earth to steal some cubes and take over the world. Realizing it’s time to put a team together and stop this threat, Bruce and Wonder Woman Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) seek out superhumans Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) to form the Justice League. 

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about Justice League without talking about the tumultuous production history behind it. Just like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, it seemed like it would be a big mess of ideas with no real soul or identity. Just another installment to bring more comic book characters to the screen. That mess was made worse when Zack Snyder tragically lost his daughter, and left while the film was in post-production. WB brought on screenwriter/director Joss Whedon of Marvel’s Avengers fame to oversee the rest of the film. Knowing Zack Snyder, I’m sure we already had some sort of absurd, three hour long, Grecian epic. This didn’t stop Whedon from doing a script rewrite and performing some reshoots. Then put that sweet cherry on top with WB CEO Kevin Tsujihara forcing the film to be cut down to 119 minutes. 

So, really, the only question we were left with here was how much of a mess we would be getting here. Shockingly, the film makes way more sense than Batman v Superman, with actually much less going on plot wise. The first half hour is pretty messy, as our new characters like Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg have to be introduced and developed. Everything to set up the conflict is needlessly complicated and you probably need a firm grasp of the source material to fully grasp what’s going on. Good thing we have a lame 5-minute voiceover from Wonder Woman explaining who and what everything is for non-comic book folks like me to understand. Once the characters and stakes are introduced, the plot streamlines, but in complete contrast to Batman v Superman, the narrative ends up being too simplistic. It really boils down to bad guy needing his MacGuffin cubes, while Batman and company attempt to stop him. 

Which is why you need things like character drama and personal stakes. They all have little personal stories that are all practically abandoned once the main narrative takes hold, rendering their resolutions feeling very sudden and unsatisfying. There’s no overarching theme or story, really. Just a plot for our characters to go through. Where The Avengers succeeded was not only was it a culmination of all of the films that came before, but it still told its own story. It was all about these heroes working through their conflicts, so they could be strong enough as a team to save the world. If you’re a comic book fan, you’re already satisfied seeing your heroes come together, but it even works simply on a narrative level. To me, there was no satisfaction with how the Justice League came together as a team. Aside from one scene, they don’t have a lot of personal conflict with each other, mostly just bantering about the next plot point they need to get to. 

Even though it’s not really satisfying to finally see them team up, they all at least have really good chemistry with each other. The performances are all quite good, with poor Ben Affleck doing all he can with his inconsistent Batman role. I know he had his tiny character arc resolved in the last film, but it would have been more fun to have psychotic Batman back, because here he just kind of cracks joke and acts like prick. It just shows how inconsistent the vision of this series is, which Gal Gadot is another fine example of. I’m now convinced she is only as good as the writer and director, with some of her scenes being pretty stiff, just like in Batman v Superman. Gone is the incredibly human performance director Patty Jenkins got out of her in Wonder Woman. There is one really nice scene between her and Batman where she’s quite good, and it’s probably because Whedon was the one who directed it. There are other scenes similar to this, where some characters just sit down and discuss their feelings. When it was announced that Whedon would be shooting “connective scenes”, this is probably what he was talking about it. Otherwise, we may have not really gotten anything truly emotional. 

Was it easy to tell what scenes were directed by Snyder and which by Whedon? Well, the reshoots only completed two months ago back in September, so it’s quite clear when some of the film looks downright unfinished. A majority of the tone and style is unabashedly Snyder with ridiculously over the top action sequences, “cool” looking visuals that don’t make a whole lot of logical sense, and awkwardly acted and directed dialogue. Sarcasm aside, I actually enjoy Snyder’s style, with the first couple of action scenes here being quite fun. They feel creative and fresh with how the characters use their different abilities to come together. Unfortunately, that freshness is lost by the end, when our characters are practically fighting on a hellscape surrounded by fire and it’s nearly incoherent. If there’s one thing Snyder’s films are consistent in, it’s the stellar visual effects. This is where it’s completely obvious where some of these reshoots took place, with some atrocious green screen and an awkwardly digitally removed mustache from Henry Cavill. At least the cinematography is nice and it actually looks like a film, unlike most comic book films these days. 

If the embarrassing use of Danny Elfman’s 1989 Batman theme isn’t telling enough, it’s pretty obvious that Snyder and WB aren’t really sure what to really do these characters. “Everyone thinks Aquaman is lame, so let’s make him a sarcastic surfer bro, I guess?” was probably the sentiment shared throughout the boardroom during pre-production. So, with too many different cooks in the kitchen with their own special recipes, Justice League unsurprisingly turned out to be another mess in the DC Extended Universe. I would like to see these characters again, but who know if we actually will down the line? This series is all over the place. Next on the horizon is Aquaman, which is directed by James Wan and due for release next December. This one doesn’t seem to have the production issues as the other films in the series so far, but with a whole year to go, you never know. Will we get a distinct vision like Wonder Woman, or a hodgepodge of ideas like Suicide Squad? Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain: everybody’s prediction of Justice League ruining all of that goodwill built up by Wonder Woman was dead on. 

4.5/10

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