Film Review – Justice League
With all its spectacle and bluster, Justice League opens on a low-quality shot designed like it’s coming from someone’s phone. Encompassing the shot is Superman (Henry Cavill), before his death in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a boy asks him what his favorite thing about Earth is, Superman pauses then smiles in a half-chuckle sort-of way and the scene cuts away before his answer. It’s the sort of moment, especially given it’s the first one, that appears to be setting something up for later, probably in the third act. A point that circles back to its self, an ah-ha moment if you will. The problem is, it never does. Whatever that moment was meant for, is never readdressed.
And so begins the myriad of issues that more or less surmise the totality that is what we’re supposed to call, this movie. By dictionary definition standards, Justice League meets the technical requirements to be called a movie, “a series of pictures projected on a screen in rapid succession with objects shown in successive positions slightly changed so as to produce the optical effect of a continuous picture in which the objects move.” That happens. Objects move. Mostly those objects in this instance are what we call characters.
To its credit, character might be one of the few things the movie has going for it. But, that’s really only if you’re counting character as people wearing costumes that dictate their identity while sharing quippy dialogue poking fun at each other designed to be a form of team bonding. Like the other DCEU movies, this one lives in the wake of its predecessor, the aforementioned BvS. Lex Luthor called an alien god to Earth before getting arrested and before Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Superman fought Doomsday, leading to Supes death.
That god it turns out is a guy named Steppenwolf (Cirian Hinds) who is inextricably linked to these three cosmic cubes, not the same cosmic cubes of Marvel lore, but different cosmic cubes that exist in the three realms inhabited by members of our league of justice. It turns out each of these cubes is guarded constantly by warriors who appear poised to attack the cube at a moment’s notice. So, Steppenwolf comes to Earth through a cube in Themyscira, fights some Amazonians and threatens to rule Earth by collection all three cubes. This is where the Justice League come in.
Batman’s fighting Holt McCallany (Mindhunter), who just stole some stuff, when this mutant, bug-human, hybrid thing shows up and Batman squashes it leaving McCallany to ponder if that things here because Superman isn’t. And Batman is like, we have to form a team. So he enlists the help of Wonder Woman and they go recruit Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) to go chasing after Steppenwolf before he claims all three of these cosmic cubes and rules Earth.
And that’s about where the plot stops mattering and making any real, meaningful sense. A jumbled collection of scenes and a few cgi fights cobbled between sometimes painful attempts at humor and you apparently have a movie. The plot is a retread of other superhero team-up movies we’ve seen, none of the action scenes are inventive in anyway and most of the heroes don’t really do anything other joke with each other. It probably can’t be helped to be somewhat of a messy thing considering the lengthy production process it underwent, including a course change in the wake of the darkly pubescent BvS.
That course change though overcorrects most of the time, leaving characters in non-character specific moments spouting jabs that are character specific, otherwise intended to create bonding that only really means is they get to fight in tandem against non-specific villains with non-specific intentions of wonton destruction. It’s all a little too vague and too lowest-common denominator in approach that there’s really nothing there beyond your favorite costumes flying around and colliding with spectacular colors swirled around fisticuffs and machismo.
There’s also director Zack Snyder’s departure and Joss Whedon’s arrival, followed by extensive reshoots, and Whedon script changes that show at best a clash in directorial style, given that Snyder, with all his faults has a directing style and Whedon shoots every scene like it’s another week on a syndicated television show and displays little interest in shot placement and scene construction. With everything wrong about BvS that can be said, it must at least be acknowledged that it’s trying to be an actual movie. One with a beginning, middle and end that are not merely dictated by a finite running time but an intention in audience consumption. Simply put, Snyder at least has a voice, where Whedon cinematically doesn’t display one.
Ultimately the result is a mixed bag of moments that when collected don’t equal a whole but a resemblance of what a whole could maybe be, if the people making it cared enough for it to be a whole. But, it doesn’t really matter, because when everybody’s favorite costumes team up, it only matters that they showed up at all.