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Review: Justice League (2017)

Justice League (2017)

Directed by: Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon (uncredited)

Premise: A sequel to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit Cyborg (Ray Fisher), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) to fight off an alien invasion.

What Works: The greatest strength of Justice League is its core cast. Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot return as Batman and Wonder Woman. Affleck’s Batman is unique from other versions of the Caped Crusader in that he has a character arc, starting in Batman v Superman as a xenophobic and cynical character but gradually opening up to the possibilities of cooperation and hope. Gadot continues to be a likable Wonder Woman and she matches the character’s toughness with an accessible charm. New to the DC Extended Universe are Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash, played by Ray Fischer, Jason Momoa, and Ezra Miller, respectively. Each of these characters is distinct with Cyborg a Frankenstein-like creation, Aquaman the macho warrior, and The Flash an earnest and talkative teenager. Ezra Miller’s performance as The Flash particularly stands out. He is a much more comedic character than anyone else in the DCEU and he shows some fear when first confronted with combat. That makes him more human than a lot of the other superhero characters in this franchise.

What Doesn’t: Justice League is an attempt at course correction following Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Those movies, especially the latter, were roundly criticized for being too dark and too somber and missing the hopeful and humanistic qualities that the public associates with Superman. And Justice League does make some of those changes. The tone is lighter, the material is not as cerebral, and the action scenes are reined in a bit. However, Justice League comes across compromised and watered down and it discards everything that was interesting about Zack Snyder’s previous DC films. Snyder is a frustrating filmmaker because he has talent for creating impressive visuals and his movies often have kernels of big ideas but those qualities are offset by stupid storytelling decisions and a disregard for pacing. Both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman had sequences that were well executed and the movies thoughtfully examined what superheroes represent in a post-9/11 culture. That is gone from Justice League. The action scenes no longer have Snyder’s excessiveness but they also lack his style. The story moves along faster but the substance is gone. What’s left is a bland superhero team up adventure. This is, essentially, The Avengers done poorly. Like Marvel’s 2012 picture, Justice League involves a group of superheroes coming together to fight off an invasion of flying insect-like aliens facilitated by ancient artifacts. The point of a movie like this is to develop the heroes as a team. That’s not evident in Justice League. There is little sense of them cohering as a group. The workmanship of Justice League is shoddy. The CGI-rendered villain is stupid and looks like a cartoon. Many of the action scenes are difficult to follow. In fact, the pacing of the entire movie is off. Justice League lurches forward but the film doesn’t have a narrative shape. It jerks the audience around and one scene feels disconnected from the other. It also has a lackluster score by Danny Elfman, replacing Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL from Batman v Superman. Elfman reiterates his Batman theme from the 1989 film as well as John Williams’ motif from 1978’s Superman: The Movie and they are entirely out of place in Justice League. The score doesn’t sound like anything at all.

Bottom Line: Justice League is an attempt to make a more accessible superhero picture in the DC feature film franchise. But the result is a bland and mediocre movie. Far from correcting this series, Justice League is the worst of the three DC pictures directed by Zack Snyder.

Episode: #676 (December 3, 2017)

Addendum: In the lead up to the 2021 release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, it was reported that Joss Whedon rewrote and reshot about three-fourths of the 2017 version. Despite DGA rules specifying that the credited director be responsible for the majority of the footage, Snyder’s name remained on the 2017 picture. (March 28, 2021)