Really, if you haven’t seen the movie, don’t even go one word further if you want to remain unspoiled. My usual review style is to talk about plot points in details, and this will be no exception.
So– Justice League — I’d almost say you’d have to have been living under a rock for the last year to not know about this film, but it does occur to me that superhero films are just not on some people’s radar, so the quickest of recaps– Justice League is DC’s latest entry in their Extended Cinematic Universe, their attempt to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. League is the fifth film in the series, recounting the origin of the team uniting Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman. Ok, ’nuff said.
In the run up to the film’s debut critical opinion began to be increasingly negative. Just before it opened, Rotten Tomatoes came out with a rating of 40%, a dismal consensus. Some reviewers said positive things about the movie, but many more were negative and deprecatory. Suffice to say that I had very low expectations going into the theater yesterday.
On the whole, however, I am pleased to report that on the whole the movie is not quite the absolute disaster that 40% rating would lead you to believe. It is not a great film; it is a film with issues; but it is not the muddled shit-pile of Suicide Squad or the even more muddled Batman v. Superman. On some levels it was pretty good, while on others it leaves you scratching your head wondering why the hell did they do that?, and on yet others feeling like they should just get on with it.
First, the pros–
- Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. I wish they had just come out with the next Wonder Woman movie. Gadot commands the screen in any scene she’s in; at her first appearance in League, where she foils a bombing by right-wing fanatics (led, in a dangerous bit of typecasting, by Roose Bolton), my impulse was to stand up and cheer. My admiration goes beyond the fact that she is stunningly beautiful; Gadot gets the character, and brings her to life.
- Ezra Miller as the Flash. He brings a fresh approach to the character, as a nerdy youngster none to sure of his own capabilities, with fears to overcome and enough pain in his own history on which to lay the foundations of a hero.
- Jeremy Irons as Alfred. He’s not on screen much, but when he is brings dry wit to some otherwise rather absurd goings-on.
Well, that was over quick. Now, the cons–
- Jason Momoa is irritating as Aquaman/Arthur Curry. His underwater biker routine gets tiresome real quick.
- Someone else has said that Ben Affleck (Batman) looks as if he would like to be somewhere other than in this film, and that seems a fair assessment. He gives perhaps the flattest performance of the ensemble.
- Yeah, I know, the villain was named “Steppenwolf” in the comic, but for someone of my generation the name really conjures up a way different image. Threw me out of the picture every time.
- Not only that, but Steppenwolf is just not that threatening a villain. Not sure what it is, but we have had a glut lately of villains with horns (Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, etc.), so maybe the headgear was too cliche (?). Whatever the reason, I didn’t get a sense of visceral danger from the guy, despite how many Amazons and Atlanteans he smashes.
- On top of that, I thought this was supposed to be a build-up to a confrontation between the League and Darkseid, paralleling the coming confrontation between the Avengers and Thanos in the MCU. As best I can recall, however, Steppenwolf makes one passing reference to Darkseid, and then, nothing. This is one area where I still had expectations to be disappointed.
- I miss Hal Jordan. Maybe they just couldn’t squeeze him into the ensemble this time around.
- For the most part, the action sequences are kinda, well, meh. Formulaic maybe too generous. Once or twice, I had the sense that I was watching a Michael Bay film. That’s so not a good thing.
- Superman’s resurrection sequence is, well, creepy, a quality that was even called out by the Flash in the film itself.
- Clark’s reunion with Lois Lane is half sweet and half schmaltz, and I’m not entirely which is which in the scene. Plus, after he flies her to Smallville for private time, where did they get his clothes? Ma Kent had moved out and everything….
- Oh, and while you’re resurrecting Clark, you leave the mother box that resurrected him, and which the villain has been frantically seeking, out in the open where he can grab it? That’s one for CinemaSins.
If I were to sum up the negative aspects of the film, I’d say that League is a film with far too many color-by-the-numbers elements, some uninspired or even repulsive performances, and which is dragged down even further by the fact that its basic premises were established for it by Batman v. Superman. It has to try to reconcile some really dumb and incoherent plot points that BvS perpetrated, chief among which, in my opinion, was killing off Superman so early in the franchise. To League’s credit, it almost pulls it off here and there, but then it commits its own acts of incoherence (e.g., see # 10 above). It feels as if the people who created the overall story arc really, really didn’t think everything through beforehand and are now stuck in various thematic corners. And, while I have a high tolerance for grim and gritty, the way the DC films have been going about it just drags your soul down and leaves you gasping for some Guardians of the Galaxy humor.
On the whole, I give League a middling, 2.5 out of 5 Mother Boxes rating. Considering that I would give BvS one and Suicide Squad one and a half, that’s some improvement, but not much. It would be nice if the guys running the DCECU could have an opportunity to really, really rethink their approach to their material, but by now, five films in, with more in the pipeline, it’s probably too late.
Well, in any case, here’s to the next Wonder Woman film. We have to wait until November, 2019, though. A reason to live.