“Justice League” Movie Review


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     It took four films in the DC Cinematic Universe, dating back to its beginning in 2013 with “Man of Steel”, for DC Entertainment to finally bring us “Justice League”, a mash up of arguably the most popular comic book characters of all time in a big screen extravaganza those of us who grew up watching “Super Friends” every Saturday morning could only dream of.  Of course, if you’ve been following along, you know DC hasn't had the same kind of critical and box office success as their cross town rivals at Marvel Studios have with their slate of seventeen, and counting, films based on their own characters within a well established alternate universe.  And to this day, being as though DC is armed with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, it has continued to baffle me as to why the filmmakers behind the DC Universe have been unable to connect in the same ways Marvel has been so successful.

     Two weeks ago, audiences flocked to “Thor: Ragnarok”, the third film about a Marvel character most would consider to be B level within the hierarchy of the MCU’s heroes and yet the film continued to demonstrate the unmistakable quality and creativity each Marvel film has excelled at since 2008’s “Ironman”.  “Justice League” doesn't leave you with the same fun and satisfied feeling that an MCU film does, instead choosing to follow the same path as its recent predecessors with its serious tone, dark settings, and unintelligible action sequences.  The troubled production lost its original director, Zack Snyder, after a horrific family tragedy, which allowed the studio to hire “The Avengers” director Joss Whedon to step in and oversee reshoots and post production.  The result is no doubt a cross between both director’s previous work, with everything that was wrong with Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” still present and mixed unevenly with Whedon’s punched up superhero dialogue installed to lighten the mood.

     Comparisons with the way Marvel Studios proceeded with their various properties before allowing them to appear in the same film together is inevitable.  In a well organized and thought out manner, Marvel announced to the public a Marvel Cinematic Universe that would be divided into distinct phases.  In Phase One, which began in 2008, we were introduced to the four most important characters of the series, with each being given their own stand alone films first in order to develop their on screen personalities long before the eventual team up came four years later with 2012’s “The Avengers”.  DC, in comparison, went another direction entirely, but with so much history already established for their main stable of superheroes, perhaps they had no choice.  Snyder’s reboot of Superman’s origin story in “Man of Steel” was met with plenty of backlash, as Henry Cavill never really seemed to come out of his shell and make Superman a hero you want to root for.  Not to mention Snyder’s hyper kinetic style didn't mesh well with the material, making the third act of the film play like an incoherent mess.

     Nolan’s superb Batman trilogy didn't make things any easier for the transition of that character into this new universe of films, given the fact Christian Bale didn't reprise his role and Ben Affleck was thrust into the famed Bat Suit with the expectation he would somehow surpass the lofty heights established in “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”, and “The Dark Knight Rises”.  A tough act to follow indeed.  That leaves Wonder Woman as the remaining top line character, and fortunately her solo outing, “Wonder Woman”, this past summer remains one of the best films of the year and allows the Amazonian Goddess, played by Gal Gadot, to enter the fray much more naturally since the character’s origins are fresh on our minds. She also establishes herself as the lone bright spot in a film that sorely needs more of them. 

     The same can’t be said for The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who have yet to have stand alone films and are unceremoniously rushed into the first act of the film in order to allow Bruce Wayne to create his team.  And why the rush?  Because like “Suicide Squad”, the filmmakers have chosen to have the villain arrive in the form of another CGI creation who blurts out one liners about power and fear, while looking about as threatening as a cartoon character.  Apparently, there are three magical boxes hidden in different parts of the Earth, that when combined allow the possessor to have unspeakable power.  The boxes themselves are activated by fear amongst the people, which is now being triggered due to Superman’s death in “Dawn of Justice”.  This allows the Demigod Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds) to invade our world via one of the boxes located in Themyscira, and along with an army of minions he plans to use the power of all three boxes to transform our planet into his.

     With Superman out of the picture until the third act, Batman leads the charge, along with Wonder Woman in scenes clearly designed to shed some of the self serious somber tone of the previous entries and replace it with meaningless quips about the costumes each person wears and the weapons they choose to bring to battle.  But none of it feels right.  There’s no chemistry between any of these characters and that’s likely because three of them are meeting us and each other for the first time on screen.  Their first encounter with Steppenwolf is a good example when they show up to do battle, but no one knows what to do or how to work with each other.  It’s as if everyone, including the filmmakers, are just winging it.

     Because of the necessity to fit all of these characters in with just under two hours to get it all done, great actors like Amy Adams, Diane Lane, and J.K. Simmons are completely wasted with minimal screen time and impact.  All of which is done in favor of having an incomprehensible third act where our newly formed team of heroes fight Steppenwolf within a confined area, endlessly beating on each other, but doing no visible damage since all involved are nearly invincible.  It all feels like a replay of similar sequences in both “Man of Steel” and “Dawn of Justice”, leaving your mind completely numb as the images on screen start to blur together.  And it doesn't help that new blood like Mamoa’s Aquaman constantly rifts lines as if he's quoting Kid Rock songs and Miller’s The Flash, no matter what he does, seems to be channeling all of Justin Long’s quirky looks and mannerisms, or the fact that Cyborg is an emotionless bore. I can’t overstate how helpful a solo film for each of these characters would have been prior to their inclusion in this film, since it’s difficult to bring levity to either of them in just a few short scenes.

     But perhaps the biggest disappointment of them all is how emotionless Henry Cavill remains as Superman, who often appears as if he doesn’t want to be there.  His return had all the potential to be as great as it was when he comes back from mortality in “Superman 2” just prior to taking on General Zod for the first time, but instead it falls flat because there isn't anything thats gets us excited about this incarnation of Superman anyway.  And that seems to be the prevailing opinion on the entire DC Universe as it stands now.  Many find themselves referring back to Batman and Superman films outside of the current slate, looking back to our childhoods when the charismatic Christopher Reeve convinced us a man could fly, and that’s a clear signal things have not gone as planned.  If there ever was a plan at all.  GRADE: C-