Film review: “Justice League”(2017)

“Justice League” (2017)

Action/Fantasy

stars-2-5

Running Time: 120 minutes

Written by:  Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon

Directed by:  Zack Snyder

Featuring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons and Ciarán Hinds

Diana Prince: “People said the Age of Heroes would never come again.“

Bruce Wayne: “It has to. We don’t have any more time!

Has there ever been any more problems in modern movie history than the struggles that Warner Brothers has had with the DCEU attempting to get a comic book universe off the ground that will rival the mighty marvel comic book universe? It really isn’t a faor comparison, Marvel are into their seventeenth movie with this years “Thor: Ragnarok”(2017), while this weeks “Justice League”(2017) is just the fifth – with at least four of the previous being major disappointments – of course their only real bright spot is that they have continued to make money. But audiences as well as critics have not held back with their own opinions on how dreadful they really are.

Now comes the second team movie to be under the DCEU banner after the horrible “Suicide Squad”(2016) that seeks to unite at least three of the biggest superheroes ever, along with three definite B characters to form the titular ‘Justice League’. This was kind of teased in the derided “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”(2016). Of course even before “Justice League “is released it has had its share of issues, massive amounts of reshoots, changing directors for at least a quarter of the movie, mandated running time of less than two hours as well as heightening the humor, decreasing the darkness, finally not forgetting to increase the amount of Wonder Woman in the movie. This really does not bode well, especially as many of these issues and changes faced “Suicide Squad”, however “Justice League “has turned out much better – for the most part. There is a large  caveat, that is this is still not a coherent movie, not only that I had pretty much forgotten about it as soon as I left the theatre.

The bare bones plot takes place months after the events of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, inspired by Superman’s sacrifice for humanity, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince unite a team consisting of Barry Allen, Arthur Curry, and Victor Stone to face the catastrophic threat of Steppenwolf and his army of Para demons, who are on the hunt for three Mother Boxes on Earth, while the world reflects on Superman’s death.

The good news is that this movie for the most part holds together, (that is being kind)  serving as a kind of origin movie as well as a look to the future as to what to expect in the coming years. It also serves to introduce Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman to an audience so as to show what those individuals offer. This is accomplished through the recruitment that Batman as well as Wonder Woman attempt to accomplish so as to give the audience someone they do know making the introductions for us. This works quite well overall, but I could not help feel that out of all this that Aquaman is the one best served (although not the deepest character) which could have something to do with his own movie arriving next year – while Flash and Cyborg are given the scraps off the table, as it were.

Other than the bringing together of the team, there is what feels like a necessary call back to “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in the fact that the main villain here is Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons who made appearances in that movie (actually Steppenwolf only appears in the directors cut which to me is odd to say the least) – does this work? For me the answer is no, but antagonists in all comic book movies do seem to be an issue – there are a few exceptions but it does not necessarily mean that this makes for a negative experience – origin movies tend to be forgiven more, which this for all intents and purposes is.

The trailers for this movie have been out for months so we have all known what to expect casting wise, there is Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck as Wonder Woman and Batman who have appeared in their own features so we know what to expect from them. In this movie Affleck has taken a step forward, Gadot a step back. However this is the first time we are spending an extended amount of time with Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Ezra Miller (Flash) and Ray Fisher (Cyborg). While Momoa and Miller are known genre actors and know how to play to the cameras in big films, it was Fisher for me who is an unknown element, he acquits himself well with the role as Cyborg, but the issue for me is that this just seems like an Iron Man rip-off with the exception that his amour is bonded to his skin, which for me makes a hollow hero – maybe in time I will grow to like this character, but for now he seems a little redundant. The supporting cast is rounded out with highly experienced character actors that we have seen in previous movies, the likes of Connie Neilsen as Queen Hippolyta, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as MAARRTTHHAAA Kent (no jokes please), Jeremy Irons as Alfred, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex, who all do their jobs well, although they seem to be there as identifiers of earlier movies. There is now the arrival of new supporting characters (assuming we are supposed to see more of them in the next standalone movies) such as Amber Heard as Mera, Billy Crudup as Henry Allen, J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon and Joe Morton as Dr. Silas Stone. Now while these actors are all great I cannot help think that they were appearing as some kind of preview to possible standalone movies, whether they eventuate or not – Marvel got bashed for this. See “Iron Man 2”(2010) for the reaction to their version of this.

Famously the original director, Zack Snyder left the movie late in the game so screenwriter Joss Whedon was given the job of completing the shooting as well as being solely in charge of reshoots. For many movies this might be an issue, however because the story is so simple it meant that it was relatively easy to marry the two directors work making a story that is what the creatives wanted – to me it seemed fairly standard with little in the way of surprise or real stakes. As with most DCEU movies they seem to be overcooked with too many chefs as well as creators who seem to lack any vision for what they are doing. Snyder has proved again and again an overreliance on tropes as well as storylines that existed in the 1980s with the inability to be able to movie forward modernizing these wonderful characters. With Snyder gone (apparently never to return thank goodness) Whedon has picked up the mantle adding his signature dialogue and humor as well as a shorter tighter movie that is brisk with its narrative – no pondering heroes here or heavy handed dialogue, just a lot more fun in general – thank goodness because really the plot makes little sense or bears no relation to any real situations you can think of. The other screenwriter who is credited is Chris Terrio who believe it or not received an Oscar for “Argo” (2012) but revealed the kind of messy uneditable writer he actually is with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Of course when you have someone like Whedon who has always been about a plot with character moments you can see his fingerprints here – Terrio like his friend Affleck to have been cut out of any production decisions since their first disaster was released.

As you would expect the movie looks like a Snyder movie, mostly, although there are cracks in the seams with some fairly ordinary CGI, again an over reliance on these which makes for a rather blurry action movie. This is a shame but comes from late reshoots as well as a general feeling that the people behind the scenes were all making different movies – something it seems all the DCEU movies have in common. What we end up watching is an OK movie that rates probably third (maybe) behind this years “Wonder Woman” and “Man of Steel”(2009) – although they had plenty of issues as well – it is also a small reset which is welcome, showing a way forward. I have to admit that after this movie I am hoping that next years “Aquaman” (2018) will improve and should be a treat in particular because it will not involve Terrio, Snyder but will involve Geoff Johns.

The big question to ask is – should you see “Justice League “in cinemas? The answer is I guess, especially if you have made the trip for previous movies. “Justice League” is a sign that even though Warner Brothers will have you believe that they make these movies in a vacuum, they most certainly in reality do not. They have looking at feedback as well as reviews and are making course corrections on the fly – which can be good as in “Wonder Woman” or can be disastrous as in “Suicide Squad”. In the case of this movie it has worked out somewhere in between but it is a sign of things to come, so take the chance and enjoy a rare thing, a pretty good Joss Whedon inspired super hero movie.

“Justice League” (2017) is out now only in cinemas.

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