Review: Justice League Is a Messy Ride Saved Only by an Electric Cast of Characters—Except Batman
2.5 out of 5 Stars.
In coming into Justice League, I tried to leave everything at the door. My own biases were bad enough that I didn’t need early reviews or Rotten Tomatoes scores in my brain. Instead, I brought my best nerd friend with me and sat down for a movie that—despite being very, very poorly written and somehow managing to have bad CGI in a multi-million dollar budget—actually kept me entertained while releasing my DC fangirl side for the second time since Wonder Woman.
The plot is that Steppenwolf, a powerful New God and relative of future baddy Darkseid (squee), once came to Earth to conquer it forever and ever ago, but was driven away by the combined forces of mankind. Now, after the death of Superman has left Earth vulnerable (what about all the years there was no Superman tho?) he has returned to reunite the three Mother Boxes and destroy the world. The usual.
Many of Justice League‘s flaws are based on the problem with having a very shaky foundation for a multi-part universe: you have to build upon each piece even though the bottom wasn’t the best part. When the story asks us to believe that the death of Superman, from the waste pile that was Batman v Superman, causes a domino effect of chaos and civil unrest, it doesn’t feel earned because the Superman of the previous two films didn’t really do much besides brood. He never felt like that emblem of hope to the audience, so how can we believe it in the film?
Like most comic book movie villains, Steppenwolf is nothing spectacular. Early fight scenes we get between him and the Amazons, and a flashback scene (which is filled with fantastic cameos and easter eggs) provide great bits of action. There’s definitely and indication that he’s a powerful figure, but beyond that, he’s just another horn-helmet person with an army of faceless goons. That would be more of a knock if so many films in the genre didn’t also suffer from the same predicament, so Justice League just fits the mold.
While the story is never dull, the first two acts are largely setup, and while it’s fun to see the characters all interact, that’s because of the characters, not because there’s anything really special going on plot-wise. The only thing that took me out of the movie was how bad the CGI would look at times, especially when it came to Superman’s face. I’m sure most people heard about how Henry Cavill has a mustache in an upcoming film, and therefore they had to CGI it off for Justice League. Well, sometimes it works, and sometimes it really, really doesn’t.
When it comes to Wonder Woman, the true star, while Gal Gadot and the Amazons stole every moment they were on screen, it reminded me that there is a huge difference in execution depending on who’s behind the camera. While many scenes in Wonder Woman address Diana’s ethereal beauty, it never feels gaze-y or excessive, yet there are so many low-angle butt shots in Justice League when Diana is present that it’s jarring.
Somehow, in the same costume she was wearing in the last two movies, every time her skirt is at a certain angle, you can see her butt spilling out of it like Harley Quinn in her hot shorts. Much of the fighting style the Amazons had in their previous movie was gone, and I was left multiple times wondering what Diana’s powers actually were. Every time a team-up movie comes along, at least one character has to be toned down so as not to make the audience wonder: Hey, why does she even need those guys? It looks like that character is gonna be Diana.
Thankfully, the rest of the cast works really well together, despite being underwritten. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman/Arthur Curry is probably the most underwritten of them all; he gets a two-second backstory after a few scenes of being a loner badass before joining in the fight with a cowboy-esque feel that’s admittedly fun to watch. Ezra Miller’s Flash/Barry Allen is all charm but also playing the exact same character who’s already existed for four seasons on television, with the same damn backstory. Ray Fisher does a great job at giving layers to Cyborg/Victor Stone, even though the movie explains very little about him, and the fear he has of being taken over by the machine part of himself is over fairly quickly.
The movie doesn’t feel entirely weighed down by those holes in their character design, but there’s no denying their existence, despite the charisma dripping from (almost) everyone. I feel like the writers were hoping that since most people know these characters, the audience would just fill in the blanks and while that’s certainly what I did, it works more for some than others.
Ben Affleck’s Batman leaves much to be desired, and the “tension” between him and Diana is something that they play with, but it just reminds us all that Bruce is an asshole and Diana deserves better. I much more enjoyed the vibe between Victor and Diana. Do that instead. Bruce is such a “Xander” character at times that when he finally gets punched I felt very satisfied with it. Part of the problem is that Batman isn’t meant to be the dude who brings the team together; he’s the planner and in this movie, he’s bad at it. Also, the “I’m rich” line just got so old … we get it, dude. You have money and yet some of the ugliest Batman costumes to hit the big screen.
Overall, if you’re a fan of the DC Universe and have wanted them to finally have color and fun, this was definitely the film for that. As much as I knew on a technical level how poor the film was, I was giddy and jumping in my seat at every little nugget that was given. I felt like, with the exception of Batman, they nailed down what a Justice League team should be like, and as a fan of those characters and that universe, it’s a big win.
Yet it’s so sloppy in how it gets from Point A to Point B that it’s hard to not eye-roll and sigh about how this story could have been elevated by just a little more tweaking. In the end, while I was talking about this film with my friend, we both walked out enjoying it at the end, but knowing that it was on a superficial level. This is not a good movie, but it is a fun movie, and it’s a massive step in the right direction of fixing this universe. We get fun scenes, good action, actual colors, and a real sense that this is a team of heroes. Now we just need a well-written plot.
Also, yes, Cyborg does say “boo-yah” at one point, and it is freaking awesome.
**SPOILERS BELOW THE GIF.**
They finally got Superman right! It took two previous movies, but they got Superman right, and I’m so happy. When the third act comes and Superman leaves the battle to go help the Flash with saving civilians, I was like, “That’s my Superman!”
The resurrection battle was also great for reminding audiences just how powerful Superman is. When he turned his head while the Flash was running, you could see Barry’s sphincter clench. Not to mention when he and Diana started headbutting each other. Lived for it. Plus the mid-cut scene with Barry and Superman racing, the end scene with Deathstroke and the hint of the Legion of Doom. Ugh, so good. Also, Shazam and the Green Lanterns all get cameos in the flashback scene that explains Steppenwolf’s origins!
Plus, Superman’s costume had real color. This was the reddest his cape has ever looked, and his outfit finally looked blue and not navy. What a difference a color palate makes.
(image: Warner Bros.)
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