Why Justice League Doesn’t Work. Kind of

NOTE: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR JUSTICE LEAGUE!!!!! I reveal the whole damn thing

I did not care for Man of Steel.

I really hated Batman vs Superman. Podcast here, and it got on my worst of 2016 list here.

Suicide Squad was also pretty bad. Review here. It also made my 2016 worst list here.

Wonder Woman was way better than it had any right to be. Review here.

The DCEU has not had the greatest track record. Like, at all. But the success of Wonder Woman earlier this year has prompted a little hope that the franchise can get back off the ground and deliver actual quality films with characters people like.

Justice League, in light of this, is a little hopeful. Somewhat of a speck, one might say. A lonely little candle if its wax could tear off your skin, though even that…odd metaphor cannot really describe what it was like watching this weightless film.

I usually reserve this ‘Doesn’t Work’ categories for movies with little-to-no redeeming factors, and I don’t think this film is at that level at all. It’s fine, and while I could never be compelled to go see it again, I don’t particularly think it’s a complete write-off. Also, it kind of dies of a thousand cuts, which is why I like reviewing certain movies in that way. Ones that have minute failures that add up into massive shitstorms.

I give this film a 5/10, and with that out of the way, SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!! Let’s look at Justice League.

-Right off the bat (hah!), we have Superman’s seriously dodgy not-moustache. How bad this post-shave effect looks is kind of infamous at this stage, but I’ll also note that already the ‘reframing Superman’s legacy from the other two films’ stuff is already on the go. This scene could have had more impact, but it’s just too openly manipulative and flat to really start this film off.

-Batman’s entire routine of hanging a low-level crook to bring out the parademon is weirdly mean-spirited considering the supposed lesson he learned in the last movie. It also lacks very little tension and is not very well blocked. Things just kind of…happen in this film, and I’ll get into that soon.

-So do the Parademons attack the world before that scene where Steppenwolf arrives at Thymescira and, presumably, back to Earth? The film doesn’t make the timeline on that really clear, considering this moment kind of goes nowhere save for some clunky build-up leading on from one of the few set-ups from Batman v Superman this film bothers to remember.

-I should probably point out the editing. Warner Bros have a tendency to try to save these movies to death. Suicide Squad featured similar weird editing decisions, but nowhere near as baffling as them cutting nearly a third of the film out in order to get it around 2 hours. Everything that wasn’t utterly essential to the plot or a joke was gone. This results in the movie having no sense of build-up, visual flow, energy, or grounding. This is why I think it’s weightless-absolutely nothing in the choppy and haphazard cinematography is there even a glimpse that this film once had scenes that transferred from one to another fluidly.

-Case-in-point: the intro credits and the ending feel like completely different movies because they rely on editing to get across a lot of valuable information to the viewer and thus couldn’t be chopped down. And they feel like they belong in different movies. Maybe not a Justice League movie, but….other movies.

-Wonder Woman’s first scene is fun, but I get the distinct impression that it originally ended a lot worse with those bombs going off which set off her arc about inspiring people and helping them in a much more morose sense. The success of Wonder Woman and the realisation that the DCEU didn’t have to be earth-shakingly depressing must have made them change it to the goofiness of her tossing a bomb with a blast radius of 4 blocks slightly up in the air and have its detonation be harmless. Eh, it’s very comic booky.

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-Actually, another similarity to Suicide Squad, every character seems to be introduced twice? I don’t know if that was a note in post-production because it’s clear Snyder shot both Aquaman ‘intros’, but his and Flash’s second scene serve as better introductions to their characters.

-Speaking of Flash intros, we’re going back to that backstory with Barry’s mother being murdered that I never like. Oh well-both actors in the scene with Barry’s dad in prison were really good. Henry telling his son not to visit him anymore is a little odd though-I can’t really think of any scenario where someone would benefit from not seeing a loving parent, jailbird or not.

-I like Cyborg. Some of the scenes with him and his dad have some wooden acting, but Ray Fischer is overall solid and I’m probably the only person on planet Earth who actually liked his design, even if the CG is a little ropey. Also, because he’s so essential to the plot, he gets a lot of development kept in the movie.

-As rushed as that plane scene is, I will say one of the aspects I did like from BvS was Bruce and Alfred’s relationship. You really get a sense of history with these two.

-Bruce and Diana have a good rapport too. Even if Ben Affleck is *hardcore* phoning it in this time around.

-The Flash gets a lot of comedy lines and decided to keep them all in regardless of tone or even the rhythm of a scene, and he can be *super* annoying because of that, but Ezra Miller is really fun in the part and he pulls off the young kid becoming a superhero thing great. He’s got a very distinct identity as Barry Allen, and I love him tripping all the time because of his inexperience in running. It’s a subtlety that a lot of Snyder’s other movies lack.

-Aquaman is also there.

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-Steppenwolf is boring. His design is boring, his minions are boring (and don’t make a lot of sense), motivation is boring, his plan is boring, they got a great actor and caked him in terrible CG, and every scene he was in sucked the air out of it. Still not as bad as some MCU villains, but pretty freaking forgettable.

-The fight on Themiscyra ranged from bad-ass to dopey. Good to see Connie Nelson as Hippolyta again, if nothing else. I love how she immediately takes charge, thinks on her feet and rushes into combat, fun character.

-‘Hey Bruce, want an overlong, badly cut in, aesthetically unpleasing flashback to explain fucking EVERYTHING about the villain and the main conflict of the movie because we can’t find a way to just develop all this more naturally and want some lazy fan pleasing references to other Justice League movies? Oh, and I don’t really care if you say “No” to this. Embrace the storytelling!’

-One of the things Justice League does well is the character dynamics. Bruce and Diana have a great rapport built up from the last film. Bruce has a kind of belaboured partner dynamic with the younger Flash, I wish they had played this up more because of his implied tragedy with Robin, and that may have been something that was fleshed out a lot more in a movie that wasn’t so compromised. Diana and Victor have a nice bond too, both outsiders in very, very different ways. These dynamics need more fleshing out, but the effort to make this a team movie in *some* regards already puts it miles ahead of Suicide Squad anyway.

-The scene where Aquaman finds the Motherbox being stolen feels pretty sloppy. I think the indulgences at the beginning of it would have worked better if this WAS the character’s introduction to the movie (again, hard to tell if they just added the previous scene via studio notes because they have an Aquaman movie coming up), and the underwater fight was nowhere near as creative or fun as it could have been. The effect of Mera removing the water was a little neat, though.

-Hard to tell if JK Simmons as Gordon is good in the role or not as he’s barely in the film and has some plodding exposition to get out in those scenes. I’m sure he would be though-hope he doesn’t get canned along with Affleck (MAN, did I wait too long to finish this review!)

-The fight at the warehouse was pretty cool. I love how they incorporated the extra levels and the Night Crawler is comic book silly awesomeness and actually pretty practical for their situation. Aquaman coming in at the end was a little convenient, but it’s still a solid set piece.

-Probably one of the biggest continuity goofs in the film in line with the previous ones: Cyborg said the Mother Box that saved him went off when Superman was killed by Doomsday. But we saw in BvS the demo reel for future Warner Bros projects the Mother Box save Cyborg before the fight with Doomsday. This kind of further adds clearance that this film lowkey retcons Batman vs Superman into a movie more palatable and yet one we will never see. I’ve never seen a movie so blatantly disregard its predecessor whilst heavily relying on plot points in it.

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-Batman’s plan to revive Superman is *deeply* stupid and relies on factors that are basically him throwing stuff out there hoping they’ll land. He’s more lucky that 1. Superman DOES come back, and 2. Lois Lane was able to calm down his homicidal tendencies, than smart. Not much foresight for the world’s greatest detective.

-Also, HOLY SHIT did he go way too far bringing up Steve Trevor to Diana! I know he wants his boyfriend back, and the movie calls him out on it and he eventually apologises, but considering his entire motivation is based on the loss of loved ones, that’s a seriously bad place for Bruce to go! It doesn’t feel very in character at all.

-I really love the graveyard scene with Flash and Cyborg. Probably the most solid bit of character building in the entire film, and it’s a really simple back and forth. These two have a great rapport and I hope it’s followed up on in future movies.

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-I guess I should bring up the colour correcting thing. A lot of Justice League’s footage that was shot in Snyder’s dark murky style has been artificially brightened up digitally. This is a pretty transparent attempt to make the film feel lighter, but it also contrasts with a lot of the other choices, like costuming, which is decided to fit a certain tone and design aesthetic. It’s most apparent in the scene where Superman comes back to life, mostly cause there are clips of it in the trailers with the original colouring, but goddamn seeing all the other Justice Leaguers standing together it honestly feels like they were plucked from another dimension and put in a movie that doesn’t require you to evolve into an owl to view correctly.

-Superman fight is mostly odd and weirdly blocked (also why does Diana keep calling him ‘Kal’?) except for two great moments: Superman staring at Flash as he tries to outrun him, and Clark throwing ‘Do you bleed?’ in Bruce’s face. Also Bruce’s reaction to that. And hearing the John Williams Superman score, while superfluous and brief, was pretty nice.

-The Motherbox just randomly being taken without even a token appearance of Steppenwolf is one of the most hilarious ‘Fix it in post’ moments ever brought to cinema. It’s really obvious this sequence was meant to be in the second movie back when they were making it and they had to rush this whole thing to keep it under the two hour mark.

-I don’t give a shit about anything involving Lois Lane or Martha Kent. Though Moustache-Gate is really noticeable in the scenes back at the farm. I even think selling off the farm could have had some emotional pay off, but nope! Bruce pays it back at the end of the film for a tacked on happy ending.

-I get the point on focusing on that one family and I don’t. I thought their saving would have more of an impact because the movie devotes so much time developing their peril. Instead they’re the set up for a gag involving Superman and Flash.

-The colour correcting was more obvious in the scene of Clark’s resurrection, but it absolutely destroys the climax! It looks like a pretty poor PS2 cut scene, and Steppenwolf is too bland a villain and has built exactly zero animosity with our heroes. There’s no investment at all outside of some action compromised because the one thing people like Snyder’s movies for has been fixed to death.

-Superman acts, talks, sounds like Superman! He’s written like Superman, and Henry Cavill is great at him! I always thought he could pull off the role, but here he is finally showing off his prowess. He even laughs! I mean, damn, they weren’t kidding about saying bringing someone back with that Mother Box thing changes a person-Superman came back nice! I actually got a big kick out of his truth/justice one liner.

-‘I don’t…not like you’ BATMAN IS SO NEEDY IN THIS MOVIE HOLY GOD!!!

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-I actually do like how Steppenwolf was taken out. Pierced on his own spear, similar to how Scar died. A satisfying ending to a terrible villain.

-Lois Lane’s closing speech is boring and overwritten. They really struggle to justify it in the few scenes she has, too. Amy Adams deserves better than these movies.

-The post-credit scene with Superman and Flash was cute. The one with Deathstroke and Luthor did less for me, though at least Lex isn’t bouncing off the walls like he was last time. Also ‘A League of our Own’ can only mean that Luthor and Slade are starting their own rival baseball team!

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