In Review: Justice League

It's a mixed bag, but an enjoyable mixed bag.

Justice League 

Premiered on  November 17, 2017. 120 minutes, rated PG-13.

Directed by Zach Snyder

Story by Chris Terrio & Zack Snyder

Screenplay by Chris Terrio & Joss Whedon 

After the death of Superman the world is plunged into a depressive funk, which is shown with a fairly competent opening song. Feeling responsible for Superman’s death, Batman wants to gather the heroes he’s aware of together to battle an invasion that he’s noticed, with one of the soldiers, a parademon, coming into Gotham. It seems that a general of Apokolips tried to destroy Earth long ago, was beaten back, but is feeling the urge to try again since the world is without hope. Can the heroes band together to ward of Steppenwolf? Will Superman be resurrected? That’s the premise of this film.

I don’t get the hate for this movie. Like all super hero movies there’s much to like and much that could be nitpicked endlessly if one is a fan of these characters in their comic book iterations. However, this is a movie and things will be changed. If one is a fevered fan and goes in with this attitude, you’ll enjoy the film as I did, and I’ve been reading about these heroes for over four decades.

The story does have issues, starting first and foremost with the villain. Steppenwolf is a C-level villain and his association with Apokolips and Darkseid is so pushed aside as to make his motivation for destroying Earth border on “‘Cause I can.” The mother boxes’ purposes are also sketchy. That said, the heroes are enjoyable. This is the first film since the Nolan films where Batman needed someone to help out. He’s still awash in guilt, now from Superman’s death, but he’s got a goal. Ben Affleck was awesome as Batman, with the character acting as I want my Batman to be. Wonder Woman continues to be a sensational character, in actions and words. Gal Gadot is also awesome, with Wonder Woman getting a spectacular rescue scene at the beginning of the film and being the voice of reason around Bruce Wayne. Aquaman comes across as the brainless muscle of the movie, with his position and marriage in Atlantis questionable. Jason Momoa was just okay. His best scene comes as the heroes fly to the final battle. The Flash is the comic relief of the film and comes across as much younger than Cyborg. The Scarlet Speedster has no fighting ability and, though involved in skirmishes, doesn’t do as much as the television version of the character. All his scenes in the final battle could be edited out and the outcome of the film unchanged. I’ve never seen Barry Allen played like Ezra Miller plays him and I don’t know whether this is due to the director/writers or Miller himself. I wasn’t a fan of this Flash. Cyborg has “anything” abilities, where if he thinks it, it morphs out of his armor. However, this ability doesn’t seem to be controllable, given how it goes off on an ally. Ray Fisher starts the film off with Victor Stone glum and depressed, but when he gives his iconic one word response from the cartoon at the end of the film he was in a much better place; plus the youngest members of my audience cheered the loudest. Not a spoiler, but Superman returns with Henry Cavill doing a good job and being a very confident-in-his-abilities hero. His return changes the tone of the battle. Of all the heroes, he seems to have the best relationship with the Flash.

The best two scenes in the movie were not the action scenes, but a conversation between Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince after a battle. The two came to an understanding about what their purposes are as heroes and how their choices affect them. The other is a thoughtful monologue from Aquaman that has a terrific conclusion.

The action builds as the movie progresses, with one hero’s returning creating a solid action scene, but the ending of the film looking like bad computer graphics. It just does not look good. It does capture the visuals of what a comic book would contain, but it’s not working on the big screen. All the scenes in Russia looked poor. Especially not helping is Steppenworf, who is a bad computer effect. First, his design is terrible. Someone needs to seriously keep Patrick Tatopoulous away from this franchise. His design work is always big and clunky characters, be they human or aliens. Second, he looks rubbery each time he speaks. Third, when he fights someone it looks like someone playing Injustice: Gods Among Us, complete with computerized speed lines to follow his weapon’s trail. These needed to be choreographed better. That said, the Gotham battle, the exterior battle at Themyscira, the Metropolis battle, and all the scenes where the heroes are on their own using their powers look great. It’s the final battle, sadly, that just looks average.

The music is composed by Danny Elfman and I couldn’t recall any of it if I tried. I read that the music was to contain themes from Elfman’s Batman score and John Williams’s Superman score, but I never heard them during the film. Is this a bad thing? If a score is bad, it sticks out horrendously, but nothing stuck out about this. Nowhere did the characters’ signature themes pop out for me. Did I hear music? Yes. Did it add anything to the film? Not really. So is it a negative if it doesn’t really stick out? I’m left shrugging my shoulders.

I saw the film with about two-thirds of the theater adults and one-third ten and under. The kids ate it up. This is where I think the film differs greatly from the other big super hero team franchise: the Avengers. When I see an Avengers film it’s teens or older. This was a younger audience. The kids cheered and laughed. I heard them gasp when a hero went down. Adults laughed at the jokes. Did they laugh at them all. No. However, there was more laughing in this film than Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, and I enjoyed this movie more. The pacing was also good, with it going a lot quicker than I expected — except for occasional, unnecessary returns to a family in Russia, it went quickly.

If I had to rate this film against other comic book movies, it wouldn’t make my top five (1. Spider-Man 2; 2. Superman 1978; 3. Captain America: Winter Soldier; 4. Avengers: Age of Ultron; 5. Guardians of the Galaxy). However, this film comes after Wonder Woman for DC films because the heroes are acting the most like their comic book inspirations. That’s what I wanted more than anything.

The good: Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Superman’s return, the action until Russia, and the scenes where the characters just talk to one another.

The bad: Steppenwolf, the Flash (who could be deleted after a rebirth and nothing would be lost), Aquaman, the last half hour, and a villain’s return post-credits.

The final line: The darkness has left the DC Universe in films and it’s long overdue. The story is okay, the actors are awesome to okay, and the effects are cool to poor. It’s a mixed bag, but an enjoyable mixed bag. I’m glad I saw it and I’ll purchase this film once it’s on DVD. Overall grade: C+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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