Monday, January 8, 2018

Justice League


Directed by Zack Snyder.
2017. Rated PG-13, 120 minutes.
Cast:
Ben Affleck
Gal Gadot
Jason Momoa
Ezra Miller
Ray Fisher
Henry Cavill
Ciarán Hinds
Amy Adams
Diane Lane
Jeremy Irons
Connie Nielsen
J.K. Simmons

Since the death of Superman (Cavill), Batman (Affleck) fears things are about to get out of hand. To stem the coming tide, he recruits Aquaman (Momoa), Flash (Miller), and Cyborg (Fisher). Of course, Wonder Woman (Gadot) is already on the team. It's a good thing, too, because the evil Steppenwolf (Hinds) is making a play to take over the world. Of course, there's a set of all-powerful-energy-sourcy-thingamjigabobs he needs to get his hands on first and he has all but one. Our newly formed group of heroes must endure the growing pains of team building while trying to stop him from getting the last, thus saving the day.

As with every DCEU film, the shadow of Marvel looms large over Justice League. Its similarities to The Avengers are obvious just from the synopsis. Odd as it may seem, however, the movie gets enough of a pass in this area for it to be largely irrelevant because it's what we've been expecting since Marvel's first team flick hit theaters back in 2012. The bigger obstacles are navigating this universe's self-imposed issues. Fear of fanboys has led to heavy studio meddling. The resulting films have struggled mightily to find the right tone and are loaded with cryptic easter eggs that eat away at narrative cohesion. Any vision the directors may have had was obscured by mandated advertising of films to come. If they were dishes served to us at a restaurant, they wouldn't only taste like there were too many cooks in the kitchen, but like each one of them threw in random ingredients without actually knowing what they were preparing. Wonder Woman was largely free of these problems and is easily the franchise's best movie. Justice League doesn't run quite as smoothly, but definitely manages those pitfalls far better than its direct predecessor, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

A big reason Justice League works as well as it does is it gives us characters with discernible, albeit flat, personalities. Aquaman has a drunken surfer dude vibe going like he wandered in from the set of 1991's Point Break. Flash is the wide-eyed kid, perpetually starstruck by Batman and Wonder Woman. Cyborg gets to be Angry Black, but with a conscience. All three newcomers are really good and work well within the framework of the story. Jason Momoa gives the best performance, but only by one of his very long hairs over Ezra Miller as Flash. As a side note, I'm not fond of the cheesy fx they chose to show his speed. But I digress. Both Aquaman and Flash add levity to the proceedings. Fisher as Cyborg might be the weakest, but that's not entirely his fault. The script mostly just calls on him to scowl, giving Affleck's Batman a fellow sourpuss. Luckily, even Batfleck lightens up just a bit. He gets to drop a few one-liners that fit in with the overall tone.


That tone is a serious one, but it's not oppressively so. In Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman the viewer got the sense that deciding what to eat for dinner could have dire consequences for entire planet. They wore us down when not even Superman, regardless of what he says his symbol stands for, couldn't really foster a feeling of hope. This time around, things are kept light enough that we don't feel trapped in a room with them, we actually want to spend time with them. The one person who doesn't benefit from this approach, ironically, is Wonder Woman. As a character, perhaps because we already got to know her through her solo flick, she's dialed back in order to give the others more chances to shine. As compensation, her physical abilities seem to be enhanced. Combined with the powers of the others, this gives us some nice superhero action. Since all of these things come together, the film moves along at a lively pace instead of being a slow death march. It's also much more focused than Suicide Squad which saddled itself with a massive subplot. There are subplots here, but none distract from the overriding story.

Everything is not hunky-dory, however. the biggest issue is one that has plagued superhero movies for quite a while now. The villain is forgettable. Steppenwolf is quickly built up, but becomes more and more generic as the movie rolls along. By the end, he's just a random bad guy who has checked a lot of uninspired boxes as he went. We pretty much know what he's going to do, and when he's going to do it. Instead of us ever really fearing him, we view him with a sense of inevitability. Honestly, this is pretty much par for the superhero flick course, but it feels more noticeable here. Perhaps, this is because Steppenwolf is a cgi baddie. Ciarán Hinds is normally a fine actor. He handles motion capture duty for the villain and fails to infuse him with any of the life of his other characters. If anything, this makes me even further appreciate what Andy Serkis has done as an actor with the technology. Serkis gives three-dimensional, emotionally resonant beings. Hinds, without any help form the script I might add, never lifts Steppenwolf from the comic book page. Yes, this is a comic book movie, but the characters must transfer in a relatable way, regardless of their powers, to work on the big screen. Steppenwolf never manages this.

The other area where Justice League struggles is in creating relationships. There is plenty of banter between the people on the screen, but it never really leads to anything that feels like genuine friendship. Granted, this is a group that has just assembled, so I get that not everyone can form lifelong friendships. Still, it would have been nice to have them step outside of their personas a little bit to reveal the people they actually are and forge real bonds. Sadly, this is also true of one of the universe's most iconic characters, Lois Lane (Amy Adams). The more the DCEU goes on, the more she devolves into a woman dependent on her man. She was anything but in Man of Steel, began morphing into this in BvS, and here is in full-on useless-without-Superman mode.

Taking all the parts of Justice League and finding a sum proves difficult. It's not all simple addition, there is a good deal of subtraction to be done. Thankfully, it never does anything egregiously bad so it doesn't incur our wrath. On the other hand, it doesn't do anything overwhelmingly good, either. It follows the path laid out before it without ever really veering off-course. It really does take its cues from Marvel. There's that word, again. I don't really want to constantly compare this film to its biggest competitor, but Justice League is a movie that feels very much like it rolled off the MCU assembly line. It would probably be on the low-end of those films, but is a step up from everything in its own universe, save for Wonder Woman.


My reviews of the rest of the DCEU



8 comments:

  1. I'll check it out when it's on TV as I'm sure it has its moments. Plus, I like the Batman.

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    1. It does have its moments, but yeah, no need to rush.

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  2. It's ridiculous what they've done with Lois. She's essentially a damsel half the time. I give this film props because it made me invested in Flash and Cyborg, I just wish I knew more about Flash prior. I think origin wise, this film worked well for Cyborg.

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  3. Diana aside, the treatment of Lois, Ma Kent and to a larger extent the women in general in JL is really rather disappointing. I understand that the team is largely a sausage-fest and by default has to be male-centric but the rubbish tripe Adams, Diane Lane and even the supporting cast of females (as few as they were) was just bad. At least Man of Steel gave us strong female characters to match the male ones - here, it felt as if the venerable Comic Book Movie had simply reverted to the easy (misogynistic) way out.

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    1. All very true except I think it applies to Diana, too, in this case. The camera, along with Flash and, to a lesser extent Bruce, fetishizes her.

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  4. Great review my friend. I quite liked Justice League and while I do think it leans towards the MCU formula, I don't think it goes all in. And I'm glad of that. I think I'm one of the few who enjoy DC's more serious tone. It offers some variety in the genre. But it isn't a perfect movie. Just a lot better than the critical thrashing would have us believe. Glad you found enjoyment in it too.

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    1. The problem I have with the DCEU tone, or at least as it pertains of Man of Steel and BvS is that it felt artificial and relentless because that's what some suit thought worked for Nolan's TDK trilogy. Thankfully, they're moving away from that a bit. It doesn't have to be a MCU type yuk-fest, but Superman as a depressed faux-Batman isn't working. Partly because of that, I was one of the ones who hated BvS. This is far better than that.

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