Justice League Review: It Was Fine, I Guess? Not Good, But Not Awful

HAR_DM_FIRST LOOK RND F04

Justice League isn’t a terrible movie, and that in itself is a major achievement. Director Zack Snyder’s past two superhero outings were dour, unwieldy affairs that fundamentally misunderstood almost every character who appeared in them. Justice League is a much more conventional movie, leaner and even fun at times. It’s not great by any means. I wouldn’t even say it was good. But I didn’t leave the theater angry, so that’s a plus.

Everyone seems to have learned a few lessons from Wonder Woman, which is the far superior film by leaps and bounds. Justice League is lighter and funnier than its predecessors, though since those films weren’t light or funny in the slightest it really wouldn’t have taken much. But Snyder and his uncredited co-director Joss Whedon appear to be actively trying to set a new tone. There are jokes this time, and considerably less brooding and angst. The team bickers which each other instead of trying to kill each other. People smile sometimes. The success of this new approach is hit and miss, with a lot of corny dialogue and quips, but it’s a far better direction to move the franchise toward than the dark, miserable drama of the past.

In terms of plot, Justice League is a little bit thin. Steppenwolf and his evil plan to terraform the Earth and turn it into a hellscape is pretty standard stuff, and neither he nor his nondescript legion of Parademon minions bring much personality to the movie. Luckily, the good guys are far more endearing and enjoyable to watch. Jason Momoa’s gruff Aquaman is a good time, Ezra Miller’s socially awkward Flash is amusing, and the complicated interpersonal dynamics of bringing a group of very different heroes together for a common cause made for some decent scenes. Everyone is new at this team thing, and several members were new to their powers, so watching them all find their way together makes for an interesting angle. That’s really what the movie is about more so than the possible destruction of the world or how to bring back Superman (SPOILER ALERT: They bring back Superman! I know, I was shocked too).

Between assembling the League and Steppenwolf’s nefarious activities, we get a tour of the franchise as a whole and a peek at where things are going. We stop by Themyscira again, and I missed Patty Jenkins so much. The scenes there highlight that this was a film written, directed, and generally designed by men, as do many of Wonder Woman’s scenes. Nonetheless, the scene is a good reminder of the larger superhero world at play here. As is the visit to Atlantis, peeks into the backstories of the Flash and Cyborg (who was particularly cool; I’m excited to see more of Ray Fisher’s take on him moving forward), and a fun cameo that I won’t spoil. All of this will be fleshed out in solo films to come, and this is a franchise that could grow in interesting ways.

Watching the film, I realized that my main issue above all else was characterization. Having grown up on DC comic books and researched them extensively in my professional life, I feel like I know these characters very well. And as much as Momoa was fun, that wasn’t Aquaman. Ditto for Miller and the Flash. Affleck’s Batman and Cavill’s Superman have been off for multiple films now. No one feels right to me in the way that Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman does. She captures the spirit and legacy of Diana so well, in ways that the boys just don’t with their characters. It felt like I was watching Wonder Woman plus a bunch of alternate universe impostors.

In short, while they’ve made an okay movie with the characterizations they’ve decided to go with, it just doesn’t feel like the real Justice League to me. That’s 100% my personal taste, of course. But by not being true to the characters, I found this turn toward the light to be a little bit underwhelming. Composer Danny Elfman even integrated iconic bits of his own 1989 Batman score and John Williams’ Superman theme, which was super clever and cool, and it still didn’t move me because these versions of the characters don’t fit the iconic mold for me. For example, there’s a mid-credits scene with Superman and the Flash that is classic comic book fare and I should have loved it, but because the personalities are so different from my experience of the characters it fell flat. While I appreciated what they were trying to do, it just didn’t land for me in any emotionally resonant way. Meanwhile, I wanted to cheer every time Wonder Woman did anything rad because Gadot’s take on her connects with me so well. With everyone else, I felt a disconnect.

Speaking of Wonder Woman, I enjoyed her role in Justice League for the most part. The franchise painted itself into a corner by having her stay out of the public eye for a century in Batman v Superman, so trying to reconcile that with the engaged, inspirational character we saw in Wonder Woman was a bit awkward but narratively necessary. Her action scenes were excellent, especially her solo outing busting up an attempted bombing; there’s so much bullet deflecting, and it’s glorious. What I enjoyed the most, though, is that she’s the heart and soul of the team. No one particularly likes or trusts each other as the League comes together, but they all respect and admire Wonder Woman. There’s a scene where she and Batman are arguing in front of everyone and she gives him a forceful shove, and the Flash says something along the lines of “If she’d killed you, we would have covered for her.” As much as Batman is the one who works to assemble the team and Superman is set up as some sort of great, inspiring unifier, it’s Wonder Woman who brings them all together.

Another of my favourite ladies, Lois Lane, is in the mix as well, and although she isn’t given much to do, she does have a couple of amazing scenes. When SPOILER ALERT Superman comes back (I still can’t believe it! They pulled the wool over our eyes on that one!), Lois plays a pivotal role in what was the only really emotionally impactful moment in the entire film. Her connection with Superman is shown beautifully, and Adams and Cavill have great chemistry together that really makes for a powerful reunion. I wish that Lois could have had a bigger role, perhaps tracking down a big story or some such, but Adams make the most of the limited screen time she’s given.

Overall, Justice League isn’t awful and I’m glad about that. It’s not good either, and this cinematic universe really isn’t for me apart from Wonder Woman, but there was nothing egregious or terrible about it. I mean, the Amazons should have beaten the hell out of Steppenwolf; they screwed up there. But other than that, it is a run of the mill superhero film that isn’t entirely unpleasant to watch. It’s easily the second best movie from DC’s current superhero line. It’s just far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far behind the first best.

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2 Responses to “Justice League Review: It Was Fine, I Guess? Not Good, But Not Awful”

  1. Bret Laiben Says:

    Very nice, thank you!

  2. 2017 Actor Power Rankings – I See Movies Says:

    […] One of the few bright spots in the not-so-surprisingly disappointing ‘Justice League’   […]

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