* This review contains SPOILERS for Justice League. *
Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder (and to some extent, Joss Whedon as well) is a totally empty, totally disappointing experience. Once again, you have a film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) that tries to tackle everything at once, rather than sensibly or properly developing things in a way that is smart, comprehensive, fulfilling or satisfying. You have the rushed development of key characters; a plot that is formulaic and filled with exposition, a villain with no characterisation, and action scenes that are ugly to look and lack anything exciting. This film is all that is bad about blockbuster films and also DC ones in particular. This review won’t be kind, which I’m disappointed about, but the MANY problems in this film have to be discussed – for the sake of people who might consider sitting through it or already have. Let’s get to it.
After the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne / Batman – played by Ben Affleck – and Diana Prince / Wonder Woman – played by Gal Gadot – hurriedly seek out others with special abilities, in the hopes of preventing the destruction of Earth at the hands of Steppenwolf – voiced by Ciarán Hinds – and his parademon army. With no longer having the mighty support of Superman / Clark Kent – played by Henry Cavill – they hope that, The Flash / Barry Allen – played by Ezra Miller – Aquaman / Arthur Curry – played by Jason Mamoa – and Cyborg / Victor Stone – played by Ray Fisher – can be the team that will come together to save the world.
Much like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League is a film that tries to tackle far too much (especially for a film that is 2 hours in length) and thus everything in it is poorly introduced, poorly developed, and left feeling completely unsatisfying. To put it bluntly: this film is a total mess! The extensive re-shoots; the budget that bloomed to over $300 million dollars, and two directors with wildly different styles and tonal offerings, leaves this film crumbling under all the weight of bad filmmaking decisions, uninspired storytelling, and a lack of understanding of how to handle the many characters on offer. I found it to be a generally just an unlikeable film that is tough to sit through, without being aggressively bored.
Interestingly, the film runtime being 2 hours is both a positive and a negative for the film. Positive: it meant that I wasn’t sitting in the cinema for longer than I think I could handle – BvS and its 2-hour and 31-minute runtime was no easy task. Negative: the film simply wasn’t able to tackle everything it wanted to. In a weird turn of events, to perhaps make the film better, it needed to have a longer runtime, so that it could juggle its many elements and service them appropriately, but if it had been a longer film, I think it would have been an even more laborious film to sit through. It’s a double-edged sword, because no matter what, there was no winning for them, with this film.
Which brings me onto the most atrocious aspect of Justice League: the handling of the characters and how their inevitable team-up is one of the most unsatisfying moments in a superhero movie, so far. Batman v Superman did a terrible job of introducing us to Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Wonder Woman was saved by having her own standalone film that did a great job of fleshing out the character and making us care about her (Justice League does not take advantage of that at all). So, it was left to this film to handle the three other new additions to the DCEU, while also trying to continue servicing Batman, Wonder Woman, and a few other characters. Batman v Superman failed to establish them, and Justice League fails to build upon them. I didn’t care about any of the characters in the film, nor does it do anything to suggest that the characters have any complex, compelling elements to them. Justice League has eradicated any interest I had in the upcoming standalone films for Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg. I don’t know which one I want less – that’s how much I disliked the handling of the characters.
The Flash became more irritating as the film went on – much of the comedic moments in the film come from him, but it quickly just becomes obnoxious (plus the majority of the jokes are spoiled in the trailer, so I always knew when they were coming). Aquaman barely feels present in the film – frankly he was the most forgettable of the ensemble. And Cyborg is used as nothing more than a plot device who spouts exposition every so often. None of what the three characters do in the film made me at all interested in seeing more of them.
Batman has been overhauled to fit the new tone that the DC films seem to be going for and it just doesn’t work. The intensity of Batman is gone; what made him so interesting before, has now been replaced with jokes and seemingly less influence upon the story and the world. Probably in preparation for when Affleck leaves the role (which could be any-day now, if rumours are to be believed), it seems they are in the process of neutering the character and lessening his importance – which is a shame, because Batman was one of the few elements of the DCEU that I actually liked.
There was a clear effort to position Wonder Woman more prominently, which makes perfect sense after the success of her film earlier in the year. But like every other character in the film, she isn’t given anything that really grows her as a character. Other than maybe taking on the role as leader of the Justice League, Wonder Woman is lost in all the empty noise of the film. It is perhaps one of the most egregious failings of a character that occurs in Justice League.
Meanwhile, Superman has more levity to him, but his limitless strength and inability to stay dead, makes him a character with no stakes. Bringing a character back from the dead with ease, immediately robs your film of any consequence going forward. Why would I care about the character’s well-being, if death isn’t something that is ever a threat to them? Also, Superman literally makes the forming of the Justice League irrelevant, as he does all the heavy lifting, he accomplishes what the others could not – they end up just looking on as he saves the day.
This is the first time all these characters come together on-screen – that should be a monumentally exciting, satisfying sequence of events. Think back to when The Avengers first all assembled (which ironically was achieved under Joss Whedon’s direction) and there was that classic shot that circles them as they prepare to do battle together – it was such a rewarding moment; especially because of the time put into getting to that moment. We had sat through, and dedicated so much time, up until that point, and then we were rewarded with the payoff of that fantastic moment. In Justice League, their first time working together as a team feels like a hollow moment – something simply to advance the plot – it has no meaningful weight to it. That was also how it felt to watch much of this film: a hollow, meaningless experience.
And the film clearly didn’t benefit from its treatment, once principal photography was complete. Extensive re-shoots, an editing job that feels more like they carved the film up, rather than assemble what they had, and two directors with vastly different styles, gives you a film that is a muddled mess, with a clear identity crisis. DC and Warner Bros. decision to bring more levity to their universe of films has ended up resulting in a massive over-correction. The Jokes feel forced and aren’t funny. The previously established tone and now the newer one clash at all times. A serious, grounded approach clashes with the more jovial, lightened feel to the film. When you have Batman making jokes that are genuinely cringe inducing, something has gone very wrong.
Drilling down deeper into the characters and the poor handling of them, I wouldn’t say the actors are at any point the problem. All the actors seem to do everything in their ability to make more of the characters – I still love Ben Affleck as Batman and desperately want to see him in a standalone film. Gal Gadot had a wonderfully refreshing standalone film and I think Wonder Woman will continue to be best served in a standalone format. Henry Cavill gets the opportunity to explore actual emotions in Justice League, which is great for Cavill, as he is a really charismatic actor, but it doesn’t really work in the context of this film or for the character they’ve previously been building – also the CGI chin that he has is perhaps the most laughably awful thing of the whole film. I can’t believe that’s what they decided to put out, in a film that cost $300 million dollars!
Hopefully a second attempt at a standalone film can rescue Superman. As for, Jason Mamoa, Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller: I was fine with their performances, it’s just that the script they were working from didn’t do them any favours.
It’s a film where no one has an actual conversation. Nearly every back-and-forth between characters is exposition dumps; clunky, uninteresting exposition dumps, and all for a plot that is clumsily shovelled down our throats. It really takes away from the characters when you don’t have them interacting with one another in an engaging way. It seems Joss Whedon tried to rectify that with some actual dialogue that wasn’t just explanations of what the McGuffins are or who the bad guy is, but, Whedon’s contributions to the film feel noticeably out-of-place compared to Snyder’s work.
Ultimately, the aspect that suffers the most in the film are the main characters. That’s right, the most important part to the whole film, The Justice League, are failed by a film that spreads its focus in every direction, rather than putting it where its most crucial; the aspect that your film lives and dies on (this film is very much dead on arrival). I can’t explain just how disappointed and a little angry I was when the film finished, and I walked out of the cinema. You finally have these titans of comic books coming together on the big screen and you excrete out this mess? As someone who grew up a DC kid, this film broke, and subsequently trampled on my younger self.
Then when it comes to the films villain: Steppenwolf, he is perhaps one of the worst villains I’ve seen in a comic book film, which is saying something, because both DC and Marvel seem to be competing for who can have a less interesting antagonist in their films. Steppenwolf is your typical superhero movie bad guy who spouts lines that add up to nothing and then he’s inevitably defeated. He looks more like a villain from a videogame, only videogame villains usually have depth, whereas Steppenwolf has literally nothing. It’s kind of insulting just how little effort was put into him. He at no point feels like a threat, he literally has no development in the film and he ultimately fades into the obscurity that nearly all comic books villains seemed destined to suffer from. I feel that only time people will talk about Steppenwolf going forward, is when they are listing off the worst comic book movie villains they’ve seen. For no other reason would he ever need to be spoken about.
And the problems don’t finish there; I’m barely even getting started on the issues with this film. The superhero genre is one that comes with a lot of baggage and I feel many recent films have been trying to get away from the now expected problems that plague them (Logan being a perfect example in 2017) – but not Justice League, nope. It’s full of the many formulaic and irritating clichés that dominate your basic superhero film; badly developed villains, a generic world ending plot that is poorly explained and completely mismanaged, action scenes that are ugly, empty and dull, glaring plot holes, a total lack of logic, etc, etc.
Much like BvS, the plot in this film is badly handled. It’s your usual world ending scenario, but due to the failing in setting up and establishing the plot in earlier films, much of the work falls to Justice League. That means that not only is it trying to juggle all its characters, but it is also trying to make sense of its story and deliver it to you in a competent way. It certainly isn’t a difficult plot to wrap your head around, but what it is: is boring. Much of the development of the plot is delivered through heavy-handed dialogue that the characters struggle awkwardly to get through – nothing is delivered in an interesting way – nothing about it is compelling. You are just given mandatory updates throughout the film about what needs to be done to stop the world from ending and it is really unengaging. I found myself switching off after a while, because I just didn’t care about what was happening or what was going to happen.
The DCEU has been so poorly managed up until this point, that even after 4 movies, which have led up to Justice League, I have no connection or care for the world they’ve established or the majority of the characters in it. This film further highlights the poor job that has been done to try to get the DCEU to a place of stability and expected quality. Justice League should feel like the culmination of something huge; something we’ve been building towards over many, many satisfying experiences, and also a film that will spawn a whole new set of adventures. Instead it feels like an after-thought. Something Warner Bros. and DC pushed out for the sake of it. There is no soul; no heart to this film. It’s a big, ugly, hollow mess.
And speaking of ugly, the DC films continue to have a visual aesthetic that is unpleasant to look at. Only the sections involving Batman being pure Batman does the visual tone of the film feel appropriate. But beyond him, you have larger than life, colourful superheroes who exist within a flat, grey (or brown) world where there is no life to any of the scenes. Again, only Batman benefits from Zack Snyder’s visual tone. Someone like Wonder Woman or Superman, or pretty much anyone who isn’t Batman feels massively out-of-place in the film. Locations that are filled with dark, muted colours doesn’t look right when you fill it with characters wearing costumes that are bright and cheesy looking. There’s no consistency; even the attempts to brighten things up with CGI overhauls and obvious colour grading, only worsens the look of the film, as both the digital tricks look abysmal.
This is another DC film that relies hugely on CGI – something to be expected from a film of this scale – but the problem is: is that the CGI is noticeably bad. Anytime a member of the Justice League is replaced by a CGI model, it is so glaringly obvious and so distractingly ugly, that I could never fully enjoy the action scenes – uncanny-valley was a constant occurrence in these moments. It’s a film that (other than the solo Batman segments) never delighted my eyes or wowed me with something truly wonderful to see. In terms of my ears, Danny Elfman does a decent job with the very limited time he had to score the film, and his work is certainly less intrusive than Hanz Zimmer’s and Junkie XL’s. Elfman’s score caught my attention a few times and for the most part it was positive reactions that I had.
I so wanted Justice League to be good. After Wonder Woman, I was hoping that they had finally gotten their universe on a better track and would begin to deliver worthy, satisfying experiences. Instead, Justice League only further shows just how irreparable the DCEU is. After BvS, I still had hope – I’m just going to say it: I liked Batman v Superman more than Justice League – and after Wonder Woman that hope was strengthened, but now having seen Justice League, I’m not sure how much longer these DC films (in their current iteration) can last. I haven’t been given nearly enough reasons to want to stick with it – there are certainly some good elements to DCEU, but not enough to get me excited for what is to come.
I DO NOT recommend, Justice League. The film is a mess from beginning to end. Why they pushed this film out in the state it was in, when it is so crucial to your universe, is beyond me. Despite it only being two hours, I at no point say it is worth sitting through. It is honestly not worth your time.
What are your thoughts in the DCEU at this point and what did you think of my review of the most recent film in it? Let me know in the comments section down below. I’d really appreciate it if you would follow both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – that would be swell. But I’ll finish up now by saying thank you for taking the time to read my review and I hope to see you again. Have a wonderful day.