November 22, 2017 by bck1402
After watching a movie in the cinema, I usually give a day or two to let the movie sink in properly before starting to write a review. Honestly, I was having a hard time remembering anything from the Justice League movie. Even with the trailers and promos, nothing was really sticking in mind, nor was anything really being recalled. So maybe, a second viewing was in order. Is it that there was nothing in particular from the film that was truly awesome or memorable? Or have superhero movies become so generic that even the sight of the heroes standing side-by-side in their eye-popping garb doesn’t seem impressive.
Yes, the reports of Henry Cavill’s mustached reshoots and subsequent CGI shave proved massively distracting, which also makes Superman’s inevitable return a non-starter (not helped by Henry Cavill’s name popping up in the opening credits). It almost makes the marketing of the movie so very counter-intuitive to the overall plot, and that’s also despite Superman not appearing in many of the early trailers. His one major non-fight scene does nothing much to address his death and rebirth, only to serve as a breather between fight scenes that seem to make up almost half the movie.
So, plot wise, the story picks up some time after Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, quite likely almost the same time as, or just a little after, Suicide Squad (which also picks up the Death of Superman plot point). The timeline elements being Bruce Wayne / Batman (Ben Affleck) and the information he gathers on the other members that make up the titular League. As the parademons start popping up all over the place, Batman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) set out to make contact with other potential members, that being Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Things escalate when major baddie Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) drops in on the Amazons and starts collecting the three-part MacGuffin called Mother Boxes. The first is with the Amazons, the second is with Aquaman’s people and the third… well, we saw that being used to create Cyborg back in Dawn of Justice. Meanwhile, everyone speculates why these boxes started activating after thousands of years being dormant – not that it actually matters in the end.
The team comes together and one fight later, decide they need more firepower in the shape of the big blue guy with the S on his chest. Aside from coming together with the common goal in mind, there is practically zero conflict among the team members and everyone seems to work well together, even if Flash is a little green and keep stumbling over his feet.
Affleck practically carries the movie on his broad shoulders, but he’s very ably supported by Gadot who continues to shine as Wonder Woman. Momoa clearly relishes his role as Aquaman, appearing to have the time of his life and finding joy in a much maligned comic book character. Miller has a more thankless role having to compete with his TV counterpart and a muddled origin. It’s a little unclear how this Barry Allen got his powers, but as a friend pointed out, Miller seems to have the Spider-Man in Civil War role; unexperienced while trying to prove himself and quipping away most of the time. Fisher, in the meantime, does the best he can while being a expositional plot device. If there’s any conflict within himself at being who he is, being brought back to life by an alien piece of technology, it must have been handled off-screen. Perhaps there’s an attempt at constricted storytelling going on and keeping the characters to the drive of the main mission, but with a focus more on Batman and Wonder Woman getting the bulk of character moments. In a way, we have a continuation of Wonder Woman’s story after her first movie, and a readjustment of Batman after the numerous screen interpretations.
But as I said, nothing really sticks because there’s also a sense that none of it really matters in the end, and we have an action flick no different from any of the Transformers movies. The action-set-pieces are the key and the draw. Director Zack Snyder obviously has his signature all over that, but he also seems to have learnt a little from past experiences. The slo-mo has been toned down, but there’s still a sense that clarity and geography needs more tending to. The additional moments of humour may be more Joss Whedon’s contribution as there is a lot of ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording – bits of dialogue heard without seeing the actor saying them on screen) going on.
I suppose Justice League comes across as a patchwork film most of the time with a singular idea serving as the plot and an aim to simply entertain, but as with Dawn of Justice, there’s something just a little off. The DCEU films operate very differently from the comics we grew up with or even the TV shows that have been going on for the last few years. Batman isn’t as mentally sharp as we’ve expected him to be despite the years he’s supposedly been in operation; secret identities don’t mean much as Clark and Bruce get their names used in or out of costume around other people; Barry Allen appears to be pretty smart most of the time and yet doesn’t behave as so the rest of the time; rules how things work are stated and broken all over the place (Parademons are drawn by fear? They’re pretty selective who they go after); and can we have a moratorium on overly large CGI baddies who appear nothing like the actor portraying them? Ciaran Hinds is barely recognisable as Steppenwolf
Some actors love playing villains because it affords them a different range in terms of performance; to be the contrary of who they are every normal day. Maybe they go in knowing they won’t really be recognised or maybe they take the job for the money (looking at the utterly unrecognisable Christopher Eccleston in Thor: The Dark World, taking on a character who could have been played by any unknown actor probably just as well). Aside from an awesome silhouette, Steppenwolf feels generic as an over-powered CGI baddie with an entirely disposable army of CGI minions (parademons, we are told – and shown in flashback – come from fallen enemy soldiers, but they also seem selectively male). At least they didn’t have a last minute late third act change in the villain department.
Despite it all, the entertainment value is up there and it is aided by Danny Elfman’s score that revives and recalls some key themes. Particular of note is Elfman’s Batman theme from the 1990’s (the Batman movies from Tim Burton), instead of more recent bass thumping version from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard (from Christopher Nolan’s Batman films). Also peeking through the music are chords from John William’s Superman theme, with only Wonder Woman relying on the current electric guitar theme originated in Dawn of Justice and the Wonder Woman movie. The action set-pieces do have a few eye-catching moments (looking at the effects surrounding the Flash in particular) and while Wonder Woman has been nicely established in previous movies, the rest have yet to show any particular style or skills in the way they fight. Aquaman, after having one solid set-piece underwater, is way out of his element after that and appears to just be that little bit stronger than Batman or Wonder Woman.
But these are just minor gripes in the end. Watching the movie, all that doesn’t quite matter in the moment. The colourful costumes, particular with the red of Flash’s outfit or the gold from Wonder Woman, are sparkles against the drab and dour background colour palette that has permeated the DCEU films so far.There are some moments of brilliance and visual spectacle. Just wish it didn’t take a second viewing or revisiting the trailers to remind me.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher with Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, Joe Morton, JK Simmons and Ciarán Hinds
Rating: ***1/2 / 5