My Review of Justice League (2017)
It took decades to bring DC’s greatest superhero team together on the big screen, and it took one movie to blow all of the air out of that project. The unpopularity of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice put a lot of people on edge for this project while Wonder Woman restored everyone’s belief in what makes the DC heroes great. Justice League falls somewhere in the middle as a good movie that misses just enough beats to keep it from being great. The franchise is back on track but with room for improvement.
The recent use of alien technology unintentionally resurrects one of Earth’s oldest villains, Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), who returns to transform the world into the wasteland of his home of exile. First, he must collect three mother boxes hidden in various places on Earth. This gives Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) just enough time to assemble a team of heroes to take him down. He recruits Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to join his team and save the world, but they may not be enough to stop Steppenwolf and his parademons from taking over the world.
What They Got Right
This is a spoiler-free review, but it’s not hard to guess from the trailers that Superman comes back from the dead. Not only that, but the large stick from his butt is removed, creating room for some light-hearted banter and comic relief. While no scene is downright hysterical, they also avoid being silly or corny. There is no cringe-worthy moment like the Jolly Rancher scene in Batman v Superman. They are teasing and tension-cutting, especially Aquaman’s digs at Batman or The Flash’s over-enthusiasm at being part of a group that gets him. Even Batman gets a few funny lines that broaden his character without changing it.
The most emotional story belongs to Cyborg who is still getting used to his new and ever-evolving body and trying to deal with the fact that he is no longer fully himself. Diana, too, is still emotionally recovering from the events of her solo film, despite it taking place nearly 100 years prior. I was surprised that Steve Trevor was brought up several times throughout the movie, both indirectly and directly. His name alone brings forward a lot of emotions in Diana at various points throughout the movie including her hesitation of assuming leadership in the group when called upon to do so. Her quiet moments are appropriately thoughtful and grounded. She uses her past to help the characters deal with their own pasts and motivations for protecting the world.
Another crucial character in the movie is Lois Lane (reprised by Amy Adams). It’s hard to serve a grand purpose when you’re surrounded by super powered people, but Lois’ role in the events are helpful and less in the way than she has been in the past. She is trying to move on in a world without the person she cares about most which renders her useless in her normal capacity as fearless reporter but becomes detrimental in an emotional sense. It’s odd to think that standing on the sidelines makes her more helpful towards the events of the story, but it works.
The story itself is simplified which is a good thing. You can show it to a kid (a kid who can handle violence, scary-faced creatures, and occasional swearing), and it’s going to make sense to them. In the convoluted storyline of Batman v Superman, too much time was wasted on a villain’s master plan that made no sense and wasn’t even interesting. They kept Steppenwolf’s screen time to a minimum. Personally, I prefer this since I’m in it for the heroes and not the villains, especially villains that don’t come from Batman’s incomparable Gotham City-based rogue’s gallery. But, Batman wouldn’t need a league of heroes to take out his villains. They need something superhuman and nearly invincible in order to raise the stakes and make a team necessary. As a result, Steppenwolf fits the mold as long as his goal is to destroy earth using superhuman methods, even if he is boring and one-dimensional. It’s no wonder his role in the trailers was kept to a minimum. It’s almost as if the filmmakers knew in advance that he was their biggest weak link, but he alone doesn’t make or break the movie.
It was also a smart move to keep the movie around the two hour mark. Audiences were hesitant enough about this movie, but a nearly three hour running time may have tipped the scales out of their favor. It's also nicely shot. There are some really pretty scenes, and the dark scenes aren't that inky, runny, barely visible shots that we've seen before, even in Wonder Woman. They've definitely been taking audience notes and improving on past mistakes.
As for music, it was a no-brainer to hire the king of superhero movie scores, Danny Elfman, to score this film. I was thrilled to learn that he would be incorporating his classic Batman theme, and John Williams’ iconic Superman theme, and he does, but their presence is kept to a minimum. The rest of the score doesn’t stick in your head, but it’s exciting and epic enough to help lighten the tone of this story.
What Fell Short
I don’t like to read in-depth reviews of movies until I have seen them so I put off listening to the general opinion on this movie until I had seen it myself, and I have to say, I agree with most of the issues critics and audiences had with this movie. The problem is the fact that you can’t help but compare it to the flawless execution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In tone, characterization, and action, it just doesn’t quite match Marvel’s level of quality. They only had three previous movies to build on: one good (Wonder Woman), one bad (Batman v Superman), and one with a mixed reaction (Man of Steel).
Most of the characters don’t have the benefit of being real people with extraordinary abilities. Those who do are not developed enough in the DC Cinematic Universe to matter yet. The God-like status of this team creates a disconnect. That’s not something the filmmakers could avoid without weakening their abilities, which would have caused even more backlash. There is a reason why Batman is so popular: he’s real. You only have to suspend your disbelief so far with him. The others take a leap of faith and need a lot of help and explanation along the way. Wonder Woman got a boost with her own movie explaining her origin and utilizing her powers to show that she is basically a female Superman. The Flash and Cyborg’s back stories need to be glossed over in order to get to the movie’s final battle, and it takes a long time not only to introduce the characters but to bring them all together. Even then, you can see the filmmakers struggling to balance the screen time.
Barry Allen’s abilities are underused to show his lack of experience in battle, but it also makes him next to useless. They also forget to use his intelligence to their advantage. He’s basically a kid along for the ride, a hero in training. Cyborg too is too new to his situation to even know if he can be trusted, at least the parts of him that he is still getting used to. So much time is spent giving everyone enough scenes with Batman and Wonder Woman, the two that most people paid to see that Aquaman’s part gets dramatically reduced, despite the fact that his home world is home to one of the mother boxes crucial to Steppenwolf’s plan of world domination.
Also shortchanged is the final battle. They take an Avengers: Age of Ultron approach to setting it in an abandoned, foreign city, this time Russia. There are a few civilians to save but nothing like the Avengers had to deal with in their first movie. You almost forget that it is set on Earth since the town is practically destroyed and infested with parademons under an apocalyptic red sky. The members have their squabbles throughout the film, but it’s nothing that doesn’t resolve itself in a few minutes. There is no conflict besides inexperience working together. Otherwise they are focused towards one goal and are pretty much all on board once they know what Steppenwolf is up to. He’s hyped up as being so powerful that it took several different races of hero to destroy him the first time. Themyscarians, Atlantians, Gods, aliens, and humans all joined together to take him out. So, what makes a mere six people who all represent at least one of these groups, believe that they alone can stop him? Does that say a lot about how strong this team is, or do they just get lucky? It’s hard to say, but either way, it didn’t sit right with me.
Speaking of the Themyscarians, they get about two scenes in the movie as do the Atlantians. Wonder Woman gave Diana’s people a full first act to develop these characters, but after their part is over in this movie, you don’t see them again. Arthur’s people have yet to be fully introduced, and while he will get his own movie in the future, they shouldn’t have been as integrated into the back story of this villain if they weren’t going to help take him down again.
If you were expecting to see Commissioner Gordon join the fight after seeing the pictures of JK Simmons getting into shape for the film, don’t count on it. His only purpose is to provide a meeting place for the Justice League to get together. I like Alfred’s role as the voice in Batman’s earpiece feeding him information as is done by various characters throughout Batman’s history, including Bruce Wayne himself, but there are certain scenes where Alfred just stands in the background. He could have doled out advice to the other characters in his Alfred way. Instead, his place is behind the computer, nothing we haven’t seen from him before. Again, this has to do with the script’s inability to balance the characters, plot, and tone, something the Marvel scripts do so well over and over again.
In the end, team work is one main theme of this movie, as it should be. The will to live and how you make the most of your life is another. Everyone uses this opportunity as a second chance at creating a purpose for themselves as well as using their abilities as best they can to serve that purpose. Their outcast nature also makes them lonely and longing for companionship from others who feel the same way. The Justice League is famous for their unity, and ultimately they pulled that off in their cinematic universe, giving them room to grow and remedy the last few issues that plague their franchise.