Going back to the start of the 2017 movie year “Justice League” gave us two of the easiest things to predict. First, “Justice League” would (one way or another) get a lot of attention for Warner Brothers. Second, the majority of film critics wouldn’t like “Justice League”. Okay, perhaps the second prediction was a bit cynical, but lets just say with one prominent exception (this year’s “Wonder Woman”) critics haven’t responded well with the DCEU’s approach.
DC films have a much different flavor than their rival, Disney-owned Marvel. Marvel movies tend to be lighter and often poke fun at themselves for their overall absurdity, so much so that several of their films could be called all-out comedies. DC movies are darker and considerably more serious. In many ways they are more like their comic book inspirations in how they tonally treat their stories. Therefore critics who have a hard time taking comic books seriously equally struggle with DC’s movies.
Contrary to some, I’ve enjoyed the DC formula (minus “Suicide Squad”) and for the most part “Justice League” sticks to it. Yet this movie is far from humorless and there’s no denying that the creative heads have made it a point to inject some laughs (to a fault). But some of the serious tone and dire threat is still there, just to a slightly lesser degree.
The story begins with the world still mourning the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). In his absence an increase of crime can be seen from city to city. Fear sets in which attracts the attention of an interdimensional conqueror Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his army of parademons. Recognizing the weakened earth’s vulnerability, Steppenwolf sets out to resume his centuries-old hunt for three powerful energy sources called Mother Boxes.
Batman (Ben Affleck) is the first to get a whiff of the impending invasion. Superman’s death and the reality that he can’t handle it alone drives Bats to contact Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to help him form a team. Enter Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) also known as The Flash, and Ray Fisher who is called Cyborg. Each have their own demons that keep them on their own, but each are faced with personal trials that eventually bring them together.
Returning director Zack Snyder’s vision once again plays with a lot of moving parts but manages to keep them all within a cohesive working universe. Several smaller characters with connections to past films return – Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Ma Kent, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, Connie Nielsen as Hyppolyta, J.K. Simmons as James Gordon. They never feel wedged in and each have their moments that serve the story well.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Chris Terrio (who worked with Affleck on “Argo”) wrote the screenplay based on a story he developed with Snyder. But Snyder left the project in post-production following the heart-breaking loss of his daughter. Joss Whedon came aboard to finish up and received a screenplay credit. The trio work hard to balance the fantastical with the human element. Sometimes the get it right, sometimes not so much. Some personal stories are better and more fleshed out than others. Perhaps the most surprising is Cyborg – a failed experiment whose story pulsates with a Frankenstein’s monster vibe. Fisher is excellent at juggling the proper amounts of sorrow and anger. Ezra Miller is the wide-eyed comic relief who dances close to the line of overkill but never crosses it. That said it still feels like there is more to their stories that needs to be told.
As for the big guns, Affleck has the dark brooding side of Bruce Wayne down and (for better or worse) he’s not asked to do much beyond that. While I’m ready for the character to show a tad more life, I do like how he is written here. He’s older, tired, and unsure of himself. He knows he can’t lead a team and we get a good sense of that internal struggle. Gadot’s Diana hits nearly every note that has made her the star of the DCEU. She’s strong, courageous, and upright yet she too sports her own personal scars. Then there is Cavill’s Superman, long accused of being dry and lifeless (I’ve never fully agreed with that take). We see him in the trailer and I won’t go further than that, but I’ll say this is a strong depiction of what makes Superman great.
“Justice League” isn’t without its issues. It has been difficult for comic book movies of all sorts to truly nail their villain and it’s no different here. There is actually a cool otherworldly background alluded to but ultimately Steppenwolf comes off as a little thin. You’ll easily recognize him as the familiar cosmic threat here to take over our planet. There is more just under the surface but we never get a good enough taste. There are also instances where the CGI and green-screen backgrounds are far too obvious. The bulk of the action is fun, but those instances do stick out.
It was no surprise that “Justice League” was met with the same consternation as “Batman vs. Superman”. And even though it addresses many of the complaints hurled at its predecessor, “Justice League” and its audacity to take itself and its story seriously is sure to set the film up as a fashionable punching bag. It’s unfortunate because this is a solid DCEU installment that expands the established characters, introduces compelling new ones and does some nifty world building. It will do nothing to win over those uninterested in the DCEU or the superhero genre as a whole. But for fans, especially those who want something that doesn’t strictly adhere to the Marvel formula, “Justice League” is a fun ride.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS
I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed Justice League. Was it a truly great movie? No, but it was definitely a step in the right direction, and I’m one of the few people that is willing to defend Batman V. Superman to the death, despite its problems. I think Justice League could stand to be about 20 minutes longer, but I have to say I loved most of the characters. Aquaman was awesome as was the Flash. I think they could have done a little bit more with Cyborg, but overall, I really enjoyed the film. I can’t wait to see if they actually bring Darkseid into the next film. That should be epic.
I agree. I would have loved to have seen some extra time added and given to the character-building. Even Steppenwolf deserved a little more time. I wonder if that too was a response to the harsh criticisms tossed and BvS? Speaking of BvS I’m right there with you. I think it was criminally maligned. It’s a really good superhero film that deserved better.
I enjoyed the film but they need to stop meddling. The thing with cutting stuff and putting them in trailers anyways is HORRIBLE. I went to see it in cinema just for Momoa and a bulk of his scenes was cut and Atlantis scene was horribly desaturated comparing to trailers. The film was fun but the way the studio treated Snyder and just messed up his movie is awful. They shouldn’t have given this film to begin with but once they did at least they should have let him finish it on his own terms
It’s a really weird scenario, isn’t it. I think some of the “lighter” stuff works, but I don’t want DC movies to follow Marvel’s blueprint. I like their darker and more serious side. I’m hoping they don’t stray too far away from that.
Good to hear. I feel this film is yet another critical punching bag which is a shame.
Yeah. Had some trepidation going to the Thursday preview screening, given the negative review emanating, and left scratching my head after. Feeling the reviewers and I watched two different movies.
Same here. I just didn’t get some of the criticisms.
For the most part I agree with you. This film managed to balance the introduction of four major characters and still keep things straight for the most part. You can see some elements are being set up for the next movies, both stand alone and Justice League, but the seams are not obvious. Miller was a spark that helped the main story immensely but it was A character I have complained about before that really sold me on this. The biggest star in the DC universe needs to have some humanity or I just don’t care. After the fight between the heroes we get a few quiet moments with two of those side characters, and then the smile and attitude that I have waited three films for showed up. Follow that direction DC and you will gain more acolytes for your films.
YES! And those quiet moments you speak of worked VERY well. I felt this film served as a great reminder of who that character is and why he is THE star of the DC universe.
This is so frustrating to me because their characters really work so well together, they just can’t seem to get a good story around them. Snyder almost seems like he’s afraid to acknowledge that comic books started as something for children and he tries to hard to be “grown up.”
But I really see that as a strength. I love the darker nature of these movies. It gives them a much needed identity that separates them from the Marvel brand. And as comic books have evolved over the last several decades they have become much more serious. For me, DC taps into that which I appreciate.
Most people I have heard from think poorly of this movie. Surprised to see how much you like it
Yes, it seems DC movies tend to attract plenty of scorn often for the reasons I mentioned. I have to say though, I had a lot of fun with JL and don’t necessarily see many of those criticisms. It’s a good time.
Good to know. I hear Wonder Woman is the best part!
She’s really good. Gadot has really fallen into that role.
I’ve said it once but I’ll say it again, I appreciate your fair and open-minded approach to reviews because this really gets me pumped to see this tomorrow. I’m still carrying in with me the same level of trepidation that a few unfortunate bad and up-until-Wonder-Woman quite consecutively poor releases have instilled in me but your enthusiasm for this and your willingness to not overlook the issues the film seems to have really is convincing. I’m looking forward to seeing Justice League, more so now
Kind words and I really appreciate them. Yep, there are issues with this movie but they never derail the film (at least for me). But as a whole it’s a ton of fun. I’m actually a defender of BvS, but JL does address some of the criticisms it faced. I’ll be anxious to read your thoughts.
I like your balanced views, Keith. You never just rip into a movie without reason or praise a movie without the need too. That’s why I enjoy your work, you never disappoint.
Thanks so much Vinnie. I truly appreciate that. It’s very encouraging to hear.
You’ve been an amazing supporter of mine.
And you mine!
I’m thankful to be a follower of yours.
I’m never going to bash this film for trying its best. I think losing Snyder midway through was a crucial loss, and whoever replaced him was always going to be up against it (from fans and critics) regardless. it’s a tonal mess, and replete with problems, but I had a blast with it and can’t wait to crank it on the old home cinema in the months to come on Blu.
I’m with you. I’m hearing there were some significant scenes cut that did a lot of character building particularly with the new guys. I would really like to see that cut and hopefully we will get that chance on Blu-ray.
I really enjoyed what I saw with Justice League and it will be a day one blu-ray purchase. I just wish that it didn’t feel so reactionary to Batman v Superman. Because while it’s an enjoyable 2 hours, it doesn’t feel the culmination of Snyder’s work as it should have been.
Definitely a purchase for me too and it’s great to hear you enjoyed it. I would like to give it another look on the big screen but this time of year makes it ultimately impossible.
I’ve lost interest in DCU if I’m honest, although I still plan to watch Wonder Woman. It’s nice to see you’ve been open minded about Justice League. I’m sure it’s good if you like the style. But I feel I’m not invested enough in the world to sit through it. But excellent review and very enjoyable to read.
Completely fair and to be honest if you aren’t invested or interested this movie won’t change your mind. Wonder Woman is excellent though. Definitely worth your time.
Really enjoyed the movie but it did have some flaws. It’s hard to not like a movie with most of the justice league in it. It did kind of seem like a filler movie for the next one. They needed this movie to set up characters since they started with the justice league and not stand alone films
Exactly. This was a group origin movie (for lack of a better description). It will be really interesting to see where the launch from here.
I’m actually really excited for the next one. I am hoping it will be more focused and less filler.
I bet it will be. Plus we will have another solo movie or two in the bag by then. That will open up the world even more.
Yes, I’m very excited about that. Also, I think after this movie they will want to change the direction if the universe, focusing more on the stand alone movies
I’m excited too. I want to know more about the characters they have introduced and I’m even more curious about who they bring in next. Perhaps a Green Lantern reboot? Hal Jordan has to be involved in this universe.
Really well thought out review . I liked Justice League a lot and have been a bit baffled by some of the very negative bashings of the movie and the cast . I know that Synder has polarized many with his take on things but I have found it really refreshing because my interest in the MCU/Disney is waning fast . Plus much of the things hurled at this movie , I could do the same at some of the Marvel movies . CGI was weak in places but look at the Hulk . He never looks right , ever .
Plus I really tire of the Affleck bashing . I have read Batman since I was a kid. From the comedic to the more serious runs in the 70s and 80’s and the new comics . This Batman is bang on and he is great as a tired ,weary crime fighter .
Bottom line its not going to convert anyone and the stigma of BvS hanged over this release sadly and unfairly . But I like DCs more serious tone and taking these stories kinda like modern myths . Not the gag reels Marvel is turning into .
I gave it a 4.5 . Took a consensus of people I know who went and seen it , the average was a solid 8.
Agree with you! I find DC’s willingness to offer a different type of superhero movie to be refreshing. And not only that, in some ways I like it better than Marvel’s current approach. Now I’m just anxious to see it again.
Well one thing is sure – JL is better than BvS. Now I wonder whose merot is that, Whedon’s or Snyder’s (both?).
I don’t know. Then again I really liked BVS so I’m not the best judge there. They definitely addressed some of the criticisms though.
I quit reading them funny books when I was 12 year old. Now they made them funny books into moving pictures. What is the world coming too?
Despite the flaws (you mention) I really had a blast with this. It’s refreshing to find a film that just throws out the angst of BvS and goes for a full-throttle rollercoaster ride. It doesn’t always work every time, and like a commenter above I’m a huge fan of Affleck as Batman (wish he’d stick around for some solo film action, TBH) but he does solid work here; my biggest joy was the return of Happy Superman and finally, finally we got to see the character enjoy his superman-ness. Yeah, some of the Cg was awful but you know what? I’m prepared to overlook it as long as I have fun, and I definitely had fun.
Same here Rodney! I had a lot of fun with JL. And I was nodding in agreement with pretty much everything you just said. I think DC/WB succeeded here. It’s a shame it received such a critical thrashing.
I like Superman and Flash’s race scene
Like your view points. Quite a few matching with mine.
Have a look.
Nice review. It seems I liked it a tad better than you. Several of your criticisms didn’t really bother me. Certainly agree on Steppenwolf and several other points you made.
Had a lot of expectations on it you know. I thought the personality of the iconic characters were compromised.
I sense the passion and see where you’re coming from. Marvel has ran into that problem as well. They often start on the right foot but sometimes compromise theirs as well. I guess it’s tricky.
But Marvel magic is somehow working.
I agree with a lot of what you say about this one. The big thing for me is that studio meddling I know was present was less obvious in the final product. Like one of the previous commentators said, set ups for future DCEU installations felt seamless, more organic to the story. It was completely the opposite in BvS. They were downright jarring in that film, which was one of many problems.
Another big problem with BvS was the overly serious tone. I know it works for you, but for me it’s a few clicks too far in the opposite direction of Marvel. What I mean is that I don’t want the DC movies to be yuk-fests, but being a bit lighter would help. I feel this is where the inclusion of Whedon helped. As Brit said, Snyder is trying too hard for a “grown-up” feel. I’m sure he and the studio took their cues on tone from Nolan’s Bat-trilogy. Unfortunately, I think they’re missing the nuances. Namely, they’ve mistaken dark and gritty for dour and oppressively humorless. Nolan’s movies weren’t that. As dire as things got, there was a thread of humor running through all three. More importantly, that tone doesn’t fit Superman.
Throughout his history, at least the most successful parts of it, Superman is a representative of the best of humanity which includes a hopefulness that Snyder’s Supes doesn’t (or didn’t) possess. It works for Batman because he’s more representative of how willing we are to submerge ourselves in the muck in order to clean it up. If the DCEU can continue bringing Supes away from that going forward, the opposing personalities and philosophies will create a natural tension between he and Batman I think will serve the franchise well. As it was in BvS, we just two of the same dude moping and glaring at one another. I said all this to say, Justice League was a step in the right direction.
Great expression of your perspective. Good points. I really do like the serious, dark tone. The way I look at it is the seriousness feels more connected to the comic books. It doesn’t wink at the camera and it doesn’t feel the need to poke fun at itself. I agree you can get bogged down in it. Nolan did great at juggling that. Snyder doesn’t quite have that skill.
And I definitely get what you’re saying about Superman. But as just a chapter of his story, I didn’t mind it having an unorthodox angle. Certainly not a standard Superman story and I can understand people not liking it. For me, the angle from BvS made his return in Justice League that much better.
I enjoyed it more than BvS.
Are you going to be watching The Snyder Cut that’s coming soon?
Not immediately – I don’t have HBO Max – but when it comes to DVD or one of the other streaming sites I’ll watch it.
I found out which Australian streaming services will have the movie when it releases in a few days, and have subscribed to one (Binge). I should be seeing Zak Snyder’s Justice League shortly after it’s released.
In the meantime I’m finally starting Game of Thrones, which Binge has.
Nice! My review of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” went up yesterday! 😉
I’ll read it after I’ve seen the movie.