Justice League: The High School Musical of Superhero Movies

…get it? Because JL’s slogans are “All In” and “Come Together”…We’re all in this together. I only do these things for the clicks.

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Moving on…

Why would I want to bother doing anything else in life right now other than writing a blog reviewing a film about a fictional team of super-powered beings originally designed to entertain children when I should be designing some mechanical whats-it to do that thing it does? Because work is boring and superheros are totally awesome, that’s why. Now…

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Earth, now vulnerable to attack following Superman’s death, finds itself the target of the world-conquering demi-god (or alien? idk) Steppenwolf, and his army of cannon fodder, I mean, Parademons. Now, Batman must recruit Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg to help him stop this threat and save the world. And that’s the movie. Really, that’s it. And it’s…fine, just fine.

As far as superhero movies go, there was nothing special about Justice League outside of getting to see arguably the best batch of superheros teaming up and fighting together. Giant, powerful alien comes to conquer Earth because…reasons. Earth needs saving. Only our heroes can save Earth (never mind the military’s of the world). Team up. Fight bad guys. Win. Hooray. Generic. Perfunctory. Still a blast. And it’s all because said heroes, without question, were the best part of this film. Makes sense, right? Right. That’s why it was so easy to overlook all the other issues this film had, and simply have a good time.

Ben Affleck continues to deliver his austere, world-weary depiction of Batman with the same gravitas as BvS, only he’s having a little bit more fun now that he isn’t hell bent on murdering the physical embodiment of hope and strength. Our newcomers really steal the show though. Ezra Miller’s version of the Flash is effortlessly fun and energetic. Ray Fischer gives an understated and interesting performance as Cyborg, a newer member of the League (in the comics at least) still trying to figure out whether his newfound powers are a blessing or a curse. Jason Mamoa as Aquaman is just…well, badass. Oh and Wonder Woman…obviously. Fierce and fabulous as usual. If a powerful, 10,000 year old time-traveling wizard named Mibzar were to arrive at my doorstep and turn me into a woman, I’d beg at his ankles to be morphed into Gal Gadot.

Guy in Audience (interrupting): “Hey, what about Superman?”

*Before I can respond, two men in black suits appear from nowhere, pulling the audience member into the shadows. His muffled screams fading into oblivion*

Me: “Superman? Why, he’s dead. He can’t be in this movie. That would be just silly.”

*Myself and the rest of audience all laugh and nod in nervous agreement, eyes darting to every dark corner, hoping to appease the studio powers behind JL*

Where was I. Ah yes. The team is great. The characters are great. And therefore the film works. But I’d be a badger’s legal associate (means nothing; just the delusions of an unstable man, carry on) if I didn’t address the other elements of Justice League.

The film itself is choppy; the pacing accelerates and decelerates noticeably throughout. Scenes feel shortened, and at times, it feels as though scenes are missing entirely from certain sequences. There’s very little room for the plot and characters to breath.  Probably had something to do with the studio mandate to shave the film down to 2 hours no matter what. Because that worked so well before with Batman v Superman. I digress.

Tonally, it is a departure from the previous films in the franchise (Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, and especially BvS), though this element is welcome, even for someone like myself who was a fan of the overall vision of the those films prior. Justice League is a joyous film with a heavy does of action. In fact, it would’ve been nice to fill the spaces between throwing bows at alien insect monsters (Parademons for all the sweaty nerds reading) with some more character moments and (restrained) world-building (that’s what allowing a film to breath means for all you non-Brooklynites reading).

Like most blockbuster, superhero films, Justice League is more video game cut-scene than live-action movie. Usually not an issue with the rapidly advancing VFX technology the industry is using these days, but unfortunately there were more than a handful of examples of maladroit rendering of effects. Maybe next time, don’t make every other character in your film completely CGI. Take a page out of the Mad Max: Fury Road Guide to Better Effects Manual (its actually just the movie; watch the movie and witness a masterclass in practical and visual effect integration amongst other film making aspects).

Without getting into all the behind the scenes drama, because that’s a post all on its own, this film felt like it was made by committee. And by all accounts it was. Though the opening credits clearly state that Justice League is a Zack Snyder film, very little of the 2 hour runtime felt Snyder-esque, save for some of the action sequences. To me, it was apparent that the studio took the liberties to re-shoot, re-edit, re-color, re-score, re-vamp, remix, and any other re-something to appease the most common of consumers. Without nerding out too much, it sounds as though they cut out extended scenes with Lex Luthor, Deathstroke, and most importantly, a Darkseid cameo, along with an extended look at the origins and backstories of The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. That would’ve been cool. My (unsolicited and inexperienced) advice to the producers and studio exec’s: let the director carry out his vision, and know when and when not to intercede. I’d be willing to wager that in the long run, the film will profit more by a longer, albeit better final product i.e. The Ultimate Cut of Batman v Superman.

Ultimately, Justice League is a fun film and a good theater experience, whether you’re into superheros or not. JL left me excited for the coming stand alone films and especially the JL sequel. I fear, however, that going forward, Warner Bros/DC may be too afraid of public opinion to try anything bold and new with their characters. Instead, recycling the same superhero story beats and genre tropes that we’ve all seen dozens of times by now, including Justice League.

The novelty of these characters fighting onscreen together for the first time awards them a pass this go-around. Next time, though, I want to see bold and ambitious. Say what you will about Batman v Superman, but that film was as ambitious as they come in this genre, and I’d rather see an ambitious failure than a safe rehash.

 

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