I know what you are thinking. Why on Krypton am I titling my Justice League review with a line from Batman V Superman? Well… we’ll get there.
But that brings up a pretty good preface for my Justice League review. I loved Batman V Superman. Sure, it wasn’t a perfect movie by any means, and the extended Blu-ray version was far superior to the one I saw in theaters four times, but it was a consistent, well made movie. I know many criticized it for its dark tone, but to me, that tone was a refreshing difference from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which I love to death), and made the DCEU unique (plus, that dark tone was perfectly fitting in with Batman).
And as far as the rest of the DCEU goes, well… Wonder Woman is, by far, the best movie in the franchise. Hands down. That movie deserves all its praise and more. Man of Steel was good, not great, but back then, I wasn’t judging it as the foundation for the DCEU, as that decision seemed to come after it was released. But, again, the tone of BvS flowed from Man of Steel extremely well; while Man of Steel reworked the Superman origin into a nifty alien invasion flick, BvS showcased the aftermath of that invasion, and what one man with a particular set of skills might do in reaction to that invasion. Also, Suicide Squad sucked all kinds of ass.
So where does that put us with Justice League? Does it bleed?
Yes. Yes, it does bleed. A lot.
Justice League is a full blown mess. And you have no idea how much it pains me to say that. I’ve been dying to see a Justice League movie done justice (see what I did there?). I am a Marvel fan, through and through, but I’m no less a DC fan. Batman and Spider-Man are, equally, my two favorite superheros. And I’m not one of those people who loves one and hates the other; why be that when you can enjoy both? For the record, I also love Star Wars and Star Trek on a near equal level. I don’t see the need to pick a side with similar franchises.
And this movie has a lot to offer; I’m a fan not only of Batman, but also of Superman and Wonder Woman, as well as a fan of the performances of Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot in these roles. And I love the Flash as well, though I am very partial to Grant Gustin’s version on the CW. But everything in this movie feels… wrong. DC has not earned Justice League, not in the way Marvel has earned Avengers or the upcoming Infinity War. Marvel has been laying the groundwork for a decade now. DC has jumped the gun. We should have had a solo Batman film, a solo Flash film, and a solo Aquaman film, at least, joining the excellent Wonder Woman between Batman V Superman and Justice League.
I’ve got a lot to say on this movie, so I’m going to (attempt to) separate into thoughts on different parts of the movie.
While there was a lot of backlash on Batman V Superman, there was almost universal praise for Affleck’s Batman. Ben Affleck, surprisingly, brought us arguably the most comic-book accurate Batman that we’ve seen on the big screen. Dark, fearsome, his appearance was, at times, terrifying. You understood why he was a formidable threat, and why criminals feared him. When he fought, he fought like Batman, cold, calculated, always in control. When he planned, he made accounts for every foreseeable variable. He was the detective, he was the intelligent Bruce Wayne.
Not here. After this, I can see why Affleck may want out. The Batman in Justice League is not the Batman he signed up to portray. Batman goes through a dramatic, unbelievable character change, and he lost the aspect that made him the one part of BvS that almost no one complained about. He lost that edge, that ferocity. He was tamed down. Dare I say it, he was very nearly George Clooney’d. Even his suit, that beautiful Frank Miller-esque suit, got a Clooney-like redesign (ok, it wasn’t that bad).
Batman V Superman gave us an incredibly comic-book accurate take on Batman, on his methods, his skills, his mentality. He was someone to fear, and he was showcased as almost a monster, a creature that lurked in the shadows and preyed on criminals. His first scene was akin to a horror movie. This was Batman, as we’d only seen him previously on page. And Warner Bros. took the criticism for that movie, placed it unfoundedly on Bat-fleck, and changed him. Shame on them.
And that’s nothing to say of Batman’s decisions. Batman was uncharacteristically unprepared. After watching an entire movie that showed him preparing, meticulously, to take down Superman, we were treated to a Batman who jumped the gun on something he didn’t understand. This is a man who- in the comics- has a contingency plan to defeat every member of the Justice League should they turn into a threat. And in this movie, he’s all gung-ho about using a dangerous, alien technology- similar technology, in fact, that created Doomsday- to revive Superman. The same man who said that “if there is even a one percent chance [that Superman could be a threat] we have to take it as an absolute,” turned around and threw that absolute out on a gamble. It made no sense. Especially since Batman was present for the Doomsday rampage; he knew exactly what horrors that birthing chamber produced, and he knew exactly what it took to stop it, the price Superman paid to stop Doomsday. Why he would be on board with- nay, come up with- the idea to use that chamber and the Mother Box (also a proven dangerous power sought by the enemy) on a fractional chance that it could save Superman is baffling, given he knows the danger it imposes.
They took possibly my favorite interpretation of Batman on screen and watered him down into something unrecognizable. And this movie consistently proves that it doesn’t know what to do with the heroes. In BvS, Snyder showcased his intimate knowledge and understanding of these characters, their motivations, their weaknesses, their morality. This movie shows none of that understanding. This movie simply has characters make choices to fit the story, not a story that fits the characters. And Batman probably suffers most of all in this regard.
Unfortunately, Superman did not fare any better. I’ve always thought Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the Kryptonian was excellent; I know many complained that he didn’t say a whole lot in BvS, but that always felt fine for me, as it drew a character who didn’t say anything until he had something to say. The performance he gives here (of which I’ve read most of it was reshot) is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen previously. He makes jokes that are uncharacteristic of the Superman they’ve provided in the last two films. He’s a bizarro Superman, except he isn’t playing Bizarro Superman.
And the CGI… as reported, Henry Cavill had to grow a mustache for Mission: Impossible 6, and so they had to digitally erase it in post production. And it is obvious. It looks bad. His suit looks bad. I know another of the many complaints was that there wasn’t enough color, that everything was de-saturated, but here it is over-saturated. His suit is too blue, and too fake looking.
In all honesty, I think this movie would have done better without him. After all, there’s an awesome poster that shows the League formed around Superman’s silhouette, showcasing that they form around his absence. I think the movie would have been better, too, to form completely around his absence, and bring him back either at the end, when all hope is lost, or at the beginning of the next one. After all, Snyder originally positioned this story to be Part One of Two.
And I’m not really sure where to talk about Lois, but since she’s primarily connected to Supes, I’ll talk about her here. I love Amy Adams. I’ve loved how she has played Lois as fearless, as a powerful force in the DCEU. She gets herself into situations that are beyond dangerous, and she gets results. In this movie, however, she is reduced to a prop to snap Superman out of his confusion. Her character probably suffers the most in this movie, and that’s saying a lot. And that’s especially sad, given how important the last movie made her seem, what with being Superman’s world, and being the possible cause of Superman going darkside (see what I did there?) if she were to die. But they broke her in this movie. And, granted, the loss of Superman took a tole on her, but they didn’t even give her enough screen time to delve into that story, either. So when she is brought in to stop a confused Superman from killing the JLA, the reunion of Lois and Clark doesn’t have any depth. They don’t even show her reacting to him being alive, really, or even give her a scene where Bruce explains to her what they are doing (and she clearly knows what they’ve done, since she doesn’t react to it in any way beyond the acting range of Kristen Stewart). And it is so hard to watch her go from being a strong major character in the last two movies to being a relatively unimportant side character in this one (and I won’t even mention the absence of Perry White… oops).
Gal Gadot is the shining light in this movie. She’s such a wonderful performance as Diana Prince. She is Diana Prince, in the same way that Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. There’s nothing bad to say about her, except that they didn’t give her enough to do, like all the other characters. But she doesn’t suffer massive character revisions like Batman, Superman, and Lois. And we probably owe that to the extreme success of her movie earlier this year. At least Warner Bros. didn’t mess with her, and they let her have probably the best arc in the film, even exploring why she hasn’t become a known hero like Superman and how she’s handled the loss of Steve Trevor over the last century. Whatever repercussions Warner Bros. feels for this dud of a movie, Gal Gadot should play Wonder Woman for the rest of time.
She is, as I said, the shining light in this movie, but even the brightest of lights can be swallowed by the muck around it, and as fantastic as Gal Gadot is, she can’t save this movie on her own. But Wonder Woman can still save the world.
The bald mastermind, Lex Luthor (love him or hate him) was nowhere to be found (except in the end credits), and Steppenwolf and his army of parademons were here to generically destroy the world. The visual effects were very subpar for this movie, but none were worse than Steppenwolf himself. Good lord, he looked so fake. And if people complain that Marvel has a villain problem, their villains are nothing compared to this 2-dimensional one-note baddie who literally appears when conflict is needed and then disappears when it is no longer necessary.
For the upcoming Infinity War, we’ve been building up to Thanos’ arrival for over half a decade. Here, we have no vested interest in Steppenwolf, because we haven’t seen him yet (and while I love the extended BvS, that can’t count for his introduction, as not everyone has seen that version). We have no interest in the Mother Boxes because they only just showed up without explanation (hell, we could have at least seen the one kept by the Amazons in this year’s Wonder Woman). While I’m grateful that WB and DC have attempted to bring the Justice League to life on the big screen, they have not earned that movie.
The Other Guys:
They haven’t earned it, because they haven’t introduced us to Aquaman or Flash or Cyborg, not in the way Marvel introduced us to Thor and Loki and Captain America. And the fact that over half of the JLA haven’t been introduced before the start of this movie means that we get rushed introductions to characters who could hold their own in a feature film. Look at Flash; he’s a fantastic character to explore (if you don’t believe so, check out CW’s show). But his first movie is going to be Flashpoint. And while I’m beyond excited to see that story on the big screen, I still feel like there should have been at least one Flash movie before it; in fact, for Justice League, I think there should have been a solo Batman film between it and BvS. Something to bridge the time between Superman’s death and his revival. Something to show the world diving into chaos, to show the first arrival of Steppenwolf’s soldiers.
For what rushed introductions they were given, the new team were also some of the better parts of the movie. While I am partial to Grant Gustin’s Flash, Ezra Miller was excellent in the role. And I’ve loved Jason Momoa since the days when he played Ronan Dex on Stargate: Atlantis (and, yes, that was before everyone else loved him as Drogo on Game of Thrones). He definitely made Aquaman a fun character. And Cyborg, probably the one who most deserved a solo movie before this one, given his connections to the Mother Boxes, was excellent as well.
I have no real complaints on the new blood, I just wish we didn’t have to cram their introductions (and Atlantis’ intro, to boot) into this 2-hour movie. It made everything feel out of pace and rushed and underdeveloped.
A Tale of Two Directors:
But enough about the characters. I want to talk more about the production. First and foremost, I want to express my deepest sympathies to Zack Snyder and what he and his family have been going through. At the end of the day, this is just a movie, and you can’t be mad at him for having to leave this project to deal with an unspeakable personal tragedy.
I do, however, wish the studio had postponed Justice League to let him have time to heal, so that he could have finished this project himself when he was ready. I’d have waited another year or two for that. We could have even gotten some solo movies in between. I’d have preferred to see his vision for following up BvS completed. Maybe, one day, we will get his alternate cut, much like the superior Richard Donner cut of Superman II.
Joss Whedon has created so many of my favorite television shows and movies over the years, and I was excited to hear he was coming to direct a Batgirl movie, and when the announced Snyder stepping down and Whedon replacing him, I got excited. But Whedon, however good he is, is like oil to Snyder’s water; they don’t mix, at all. Gone are the cinematic, comic-panel-come-to-life shots that Snyder was so good at. Gone is the tangled web of plot that the characters must work through.
I attribute the jarring changes to the differing directors. And I don’t think either one is fully to blame here; after all, Zack Snyder didn’t get the opportunity to finish the film he set out to make, and Joss Whedon could only do so much, given that Snyder had already filmed most of it. So what we got, really, was a Frankenstein mix of the two, a movie that wants to be both a dark and brooding sequel to BvS and a much more lighthearted adventure. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some Warner Bros. executive told Whedon to make it more like Avengers.
It is clear that Warner Bros. attempted some damage control after the negative reception to Batman V Superman, as they did (to horrific results) with Suicide Squad (how Wonder Woman escaped the damage control and came out fine is an intriguing mystery, indeed). After all, there’s quite a bit of footage from the trailers that are absent in the film. And, unfortunately, they corrected the parts that didn’t need fixing. I get people complained about the dark tone of BvS, but they should have seen it through. After all, the night is darkest before the dawn. BvS left us in a dark place, and Justice League should have opened up in that dark place and pulled us back into the light. But Warner Bros. instead tried to correct the tone, with the same level of competence as Siri’s autocorrected text messages.
There was much rejoicing to hear that Danny Elfman was composing the music for Justice League; after Hans Zimmer (who scored Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy) announced that he was retiring from superhero scores, there was some concern of who would follow him up. Of course, his partner on BvS took over, but several months later, Junkie XL too was leaving the project. But Danny Elfman stepped in, and there was a sigh of relief. After all, Elfman created the iconic Batman theme, as well as the great music of the Tobey McGuire Spider-Man series. And my interest was sparked when he announced that he’d be using John Williams’ classic Superman theme in the film- if he was using that song, surely he’d be using his own Batman theme.
Of course, listening to the soundtrack on its own, you can clearly hear that- while John Williams’ themes are peppered throughout- Elfman’s original Batman theme is the backbone of the score. Never fully heard until the climax of the film, almost every song leading up to the finale has elements of the Tim Burton Batman theme throughout.
But therein lies the problem. I’ve said that DC hasn’t yet earned this movie. And, likewise, they haven’t earned these iconic themes. Hans Zimmer once described his building theme for Nolan’s Batman as something that the character needed to earn; he didn’t get his fully realized theme until the second movie. And, when Zimmer stepped in to create a new theme for Superman, and a second theme for a different Batman, he expressed the desire to do something different. He didn’t want to emulate Williams’ Superman theme, as this was a different version of the character. He didn’t want to reuse his own Batman theme from the Nolan films because this was a different Batman. It would be like rebooting a series but keeping some of the same actors from the previous version. It would feel jarring.
And that’s exactly what it felt like, hearing those themes in Justice League. It felt jarring to hear Elfman’s Batman and Williams’ Superman. They felt out of place. They felt foreign. While Elfman’s score is great on its own, it ignores what came before. The music is in a tonally different language from what came in the previous two movies, and even from what was done in Wonder Woman. It’s a good score, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the right score for this movie.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Warner Bros. hasn’t earned this story. They haven’t built their world like Marvel has, they haven’t laid the groundwork for us to be properly excited to see the Justice League gather. After all, it isn’t just them gathering that we wanted to see, we need the anticipation, we need the build up. I mean, when The Avengers was announced, it was exciting. We were thrilled that characters we’d gotten to know separately were joining forces. Here, however, we don’t even know half of those characters before the beginning of this film. We aren’t given time to get to know them on their own before they join the team. There isn’t world-building here.
It is clear, with this movie, that DC is playing catch-up to Marvel. And the problem is that DC doesn’t need to race Marvel to some imaginary finish line. There’s room for both franchises. We aren’t growing tired of comic book movies- so long as they are good. I don’t mean to keep comparing to Marvel, but the comparison is obligatory, given their massive success. And the problem is that DC could have similar success if they weren’t rushing to get what Marvel has taken their time to prepare and achieve. They would have similar success if they believed in their material and their directors enough to let them continue to make bold, polarizing choices and create compelling stories, instead of forcing the entire franchise to change course every time bad reviews come in.
But, that’s not what we are getting from Warner Bros. Instead it is clear that they have no faith in DC comics, in the story-lines their writers and directors are bringing to the screen, in the actors’ takes on the roles. They have no faith in Zack Snyder’s vision for the DCEU, which is different from that of Marvel, and that is a good thing. Or at least it was, until the jumbled, hodgepodge mess that was Justice League entered into DCEU canon.
Batman V Superman might have been a polarizing story for the audiences, but Justice League is an insult to audiences. It dumbs things down, it doesn’t explain enough of what it does bring into the film. It left us with the wrong questions, questions not about what our heroes will face next, but rather questions that the film should have answered, or should have been answered before this film began. It felt like plot points were easily handed to the characters when the plot required them. There were no high stakes. There was no chance that the JLA could fail. There was no threat, really, from Steppenwolf or his minions, and little to explain how we got from Lex Luthor to Steppenwolf.
And even the visual style is different. There’s no consistency between the beautifully shot Man of Steel and BvS to the generically shot Justice League. And the special effects look subpar. As mentioned, Superman’s suit looks too blue, as though the contrast was turned up to maximum (also, where did he get a new suit? His last suit was utterly destroyed by Doomsday), and the color correction makes his skin look weird. The overabundance of bad CGI makes it feel more like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland than a serious DC comics movie.
I’ve been hating on this movie a lot. I want to talk about the good, too. J.K. Simmons is an excellent, but underused, Jim Gordon. Jeremy Irons, as always, steals the scene as Alfred. And Diane Lane is the best Martha Kent ever.
There were awesome moments, like seeing the big battle between Steppenwolf and the alliance of men, Amazons, gods, and Atlanteans (including a great cameo of the Green Lantern Corps). That was once of the most DC-awesome moments in the whole film. But even that was out of place; the movie should have opened with that to give us some idea of who Steppenwolf was, but instead it was placed a good forty minutes in.
Possibly the best moment, though, was when the League unites to fight the disoriented Superman, and when Flash goes fast to try to take him out from behind, Superman turns and watches him, showing that he, too, can move fast (I do want the results of that race).
I feel like I’m being too harsh. And the longer I talk about this movie, the angrier I get. And it isn’t that this is a bad movie; Suicide Squad was a bad movie. This movie is entertaining. But it isn’t on the same level of quality as the ones before it, and that is completely frustrating since this is supposed to be the next chapter. But instead of feeling like a continuation of the story, it feels like a cheap spin-off. It feels like too many cooks were in the kitchen and they kept throwing out ingredients. It feels undercooked, unfinished, unorganized. It feels like Warner Bros. decided to put out a broken film rather than take extra time to make it work.
This is the Justice League we got. It is not the Justice League we deserved. And that, more than anything, is just disappointing. I expect better from Warner Bros. I expect better from DC. And I truly hope we get it, because I want to see more of these characters. But I don’t want to see more of this.
Thoughts a day later:
I want to make it clear that I did not hate this movie. In fact, on it’s own, It is actually a pretty decent movie. However, this movie following Batman V Superman is, to me, like following up The Two Towers with Eragon. Booth are movies that I enjoyed, but clearly one is vastly better than the other, and had the letter done the follow up to the former, it would’ve sucked.
I will go see Justice League again. After all, I gave that same courtesy to Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, and that at least paid off for one of those movies, as I enjoyed Batman V Superman a lot more the second time. I don’t expect to have the same reaction to the second viewing of Justice League- I still expect to be disappointed in it. But I will do my due diligence, and I will give it a second chance.