DC’s Expanded Universe is… well, expanding. After some failed attempts at bringing well-known comicbook characters together (with Batman v Superman first, and the infamous Suicide Squad a year later), Justice League gives the formula another chance, following a more traditional approach of the superhero assembly plot. Taking into account the track record of the DCEU, as well as the pretty terrible marketing material released to promote the movie, the expectations for this film weren’t all that positive. I mean, look at the image above! Has the more light-hearted tone helped make a better superhero flick? Have they managed to create chemistry among the characters? Is Batman any useful when surrounded by actual superheroes? Let’s find out!
Superman was the first alien to ever come to us, but he sure wasn’t the last. Knowing some of these visitors don’t come with friendly intentions, Batman and Wonder Woman decide to create a team of heroes that will defend the planet from the most dangerous threats in history. Both of them, now together with Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, will have to stop Steppenwolf, who intends to find the three Mother Boxes in order to turn Earth into Hell.
Snyder directs the film with very clear intentions: creating an epic narrative that will delight both fans and occasional movie-goers. In order to achieve that he takes the criticism gathered by his previous superhero outing into account, and tries to take a more light-hearted approach, with more comedy and a quicker pace. This definitely makes the watching experience more entertaining and fun, but it still lacks depth and thematic richness. DCEU’s approach to filmmaking is usually said to be darker than that of Marvel, but nothing is actually gritty or mature in its films, with the exception of the overly obscure color-grading that makes everything look black. The problem with most superhero movies (both from DC and Marvel) is the excessive reliance on an already established formula, which results in shallow narratives. Very few films escape that fact, such as Logan and The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, Justice League falls into the pit of empty, uninteresting popcorn-munching comicbook adaptations, together with the vast majority of recent superhero movies.
It is well known that this film got many reshoots scheduled in order to improve the final cut before release, just like Suicide Squad did. This time around, however, those additional scenes aren’t very obviously placed throughout the film, and therefore, the whole runtime flows in a more correct way, even if the poor editing makes it a pretty messy picture. According to some, the film was originally intended to last almost three hours, but its final runtime is of exactly two hours. The more frenetic pacing definitely improves Justice League, but the spots in which great cuts have been made are extremely evident. For instance, the very first few scenes obviously lack some exposition-heavy conversations about the villain’s army of Parademons, as characters talk about it as if the viewers knew what was going on. This is not a huge issue, as everything can be properly understood as the minutes go by, but it does seem like everything was put together in a rather sloppy fashion.
Probably the best thing that can be said about Justice League is that characters are pretty good. Not that they are incredibly written, but the chemistry among them definitely works. Wonder Woman once again steals the show. She is the best thing about the whole movie, as she provides both dramatic and comedic moments, her fight scenes are the most compelling to watch and her backstory is one of the few that is well established, probably because of the great standalone film Patty Jenkins did about the character (I really have to rewatch it and write a review!). Gal Gadot is phenomenal once again at portraying this incredible character, to the point that I can’t picture anyone else in this role by now. My favourite superhero of all time, however, is pretty dull this time. In this assembly, Batman has basically nothing to do because of his lack of superpowers. While everyone else is fighting against Steppenwolf, he can be seen doing next to nothing against some of the villain’s expendables. Maybe the problem is the overly supernatural nature of the villain what doesn’t work, but I felt the character was really out-of-place. In my opinion, Ben Affleck is an excellent Batman, so it was a shame to see his character pretty much wasted.
When it comes to the new additions, Flash, the comedy relief character of the film, is definitely the most welcome one. The progression of his character from being a normal guy to turning into a superhero is something that hasn’t been addressed this well in a long time. He isn’t a hero just because he is fast, so when having to face the enemy for the first time, he is really scared and it is Batman who tries to calm him down and make him believe in himself. This was a nice scene to watch that added a lot to the character. Ezra Miller does such a nice job at portraying the lightning-fast Barry Allen, that I’m eager to watch a standalone film about Flash. Aquaman and Cyborg, on the other hand, are not nearly as interesting. The former plays the typical tough guy role, and even if Jason Momoa does a good job at delivering his lines, the end result is not all that exciting. The latter, played by Ray Fisher, is probably the dullest hero of them all, as it has the most foreseeable and uninteresting storyline going on.
I had no idea who played the main villain of the story, Steppenwolf, until I searched it online. Not because I didn’t know the actor (Ciarán Hinds, who played Dumbledore’s brother in the Harry Potter franchise), but because his character was a piece of CGI. This fact definitely made the film worse, as it wasn’t believable at any level. The plans of the bad guy were incredibly over the top, which, in my opinion, is another problem superhero films are facing right now: the threats are so big the characters aren’t all that important to the story. A typical criticism made to superhero flicks is how much destruction they always cause. Sure, they are saving the world, but doesn’t destroying every building in a city kill some civilians? Ever since this argument was made (with films such as Man of Steel and The Avengers), companies started coming up with their own solutions. Batman v Superman’s grand finale took place on an abandoned island, in Avengers – Age of Ultron heroes made sure nobody died in turns during the final battle and the destruction caused was then used as the plot for Civil War… How Justice League approached this problem is hilarious. The film ends in a little village that will get destroyed due to the battle, so the film tries to show how the heroes take care of the civilians. But since they can’t show all the civilians, they focus on a family of four. The thing is literally no one else is seen. Not a single person other than those four. I understand what it means, but it makes no sense while watching the film.
Steppenwolf isn’t the only CGI seen throughout the movie, obviously… Lots and lots of elements are created with 3D animation. Like way too many. Whole scenaries, characters, objects, you name it. The film relies excessively on computer generated imagery, and the result is quite poor. Not because of the quality of the CGI, which is quite appropriate despite some awful moments, but because it isn’t used just to enhance certain things. Suspension of disbelief is completely shattered as whole cities, plot-centric characters such as Steppenwolf and Cyborg, and important locations are close to being a Disney animated movie.
Hans Zimmer. Enough said, right? He was in charge of giving music to the film, and the result is great, as expected. The new themes are rich and powerful, but for me, it was the old themes what worked best. The Wonder Woman theme still remains as exciting as the first time, and as soon as the first note hit, I was 100% pumped up. I listen to it all the time, and the bus rides feel epic with it. However, in Justice League there is another song that, in my opinion, is even more hectic. The Batman Theme. Yes, the 1989 Batman Theme that Zimmer wrote for Tim Burton’s classic film. I have no words to describe the excitement I felt as the song got more and more power.
All in all, Snyder’s new flick works properly. It entertains, it will delight the fans of the characters, it is a crowd-pleaser by definition. It is however, a messy picture, with a myriad of editing problems, weird decisions and uninspired plot devices. CGI messes with the visuals and big scripting changes definitely takes its tolls on the end result. However, the main problem is Justice League is empty. It lacks thematic depth, innovative storylines, new approaches to the narrative. It’s just another DCEU flick, the same way the latest Marvel movies are just more Marvel movies. I love superhero films, but I’m waiting for movies that will take the genre by storm and push it forward, prove more stories can be told, and that those stories can be told in new and compelling ways. There’s not much wrong with Justice League, but is that enough, anyway? 5/10