It’s not as terrible as some will have you think. It’s not great, either; far from it. Justice League is one of those films with a troubled production where the behind the scenes story is far more interesting than what happens onscreen. Justice League, as originally directed by Zack Snyder was to be the third installment in a superhero film series that began with Man Of Steel and continued onward with Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
But when Snyder left JL (for reasons I don’t wish to dredge up here), Joss Whedon, the writer/director of such TV series as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, as well as the first two Avengers movies for Marvel, stepped in to do reshoots on JL. The edict from the studio was to make the tone of the film lighter than the darker take that Snyder had instilled in BvS. And the result is uneven, at best. Granted, Snyder’s take on Superman might have been too dark, and his Batman in BvS was portrayed as being an outright psychopath, but he did know how to direct action sequences (the scene with Batman taking on the Russian gangsters in BvS is outstanding). Plus, Snyder is a genius at handling extensive CGI and making it look spectacular.
But while the cobbled together Frankenstein version of Justice League still has Snyder’s impressive action scenes on display, the CGI is just plain terrible in some places. Most notably in the main villain, Steppenwolf--a world-conquering, god-like deity who has come to claim Earth as his next prize. The CG-ed Steppenwolf looks so fake that he appears as if he had stepped right out of a video game. Aside from their CG look, the villains overall seem very bland and uninteresting; their attempt to subjugate the Earth feels very weak and unimaginative, their motivations unclear. And having the main climatic battle take place in a Chernobyl-like ghost town that’s mostly abandoned gives the proceedings a very lackluster feel overall.
However, there are moments when the film really sings. One of which is when Henry Cavill’s Superman is back from his dirt nap and--apparently confused at having been brought back to life--starts fighting the members of the Justice League. While Superman battles the other Leaguers, the Flash decides to speed around in an attempt to outflank the Man of Steel. But Superman, in the midst of fighting, slowly turns his head to look right at the Scarlet Speedster in a moment of sheer comic book cinema majesty.
The heroes are really among the brightest spots in the film, with Ezra Miller bringing a younger, rougher-around-the-edges Flash to life with plenty of welcome humor, and Ray Fisher is very good as Cyborg, instilling in his character a much-needed sturdy presence. Gal Godot, fresh off of her triumphant turn as Wonder Woman in her own movie, livens up every scene she’s in, as can be expected. And Ben Affleck is even pretty good as Batman (he’s growing on me). Jason Momoa does what he can with Aquaman, who’s re-imagined here as a cool surfer dude. It works; Momoa’s forceful charisma makes you like Aquaman, but--like most of the characters in the film--he’s not given much development. Still, Momoa’s performance makes me look forward to seeing Aquaman’s standalone movie.
Henry Cavill’s Superman is lighter (even his costume is brighter), and he smiles more. Yet his return didn’t feel like it was earned, thanks to the rushed feeling to the story. This is a shame, because a movie like this should be epic. A story that brings together Earth’s mightiest heroes in its darkest hour needs time to flesh out the characters, to properly set up the situation. But thanks to another edict from Warner Brothers, which was that the film must be only two hours, Justice League severely suffers from its too-short run time.
There are people petitioning Warner Brothers to release Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. As much as I didn’t care for his dour version of the DC superheroes, I have to admit that, after having seen the mess that was eventually rushed out to theaters, I wouldn’t mind seeing Snyder’s version now, just to see his take on it. Say what you want about the tone of his DC films, Snyder still managed to make both Man of Steel and BvS feel like these epic stories that gave the viewer the sensation they were a witness to history in the making (which is what Justice League should have felt like, but didn’t).
I have been a fan of the DC comics superheroes since I was a kid, and I have wanted to see a Justice League movie since then. But after seeing this misbegotten attempt, I’m ready to move on. Besides, the CW Superhero shows--The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl--had their second crossover event last fall, where they fought their alter-egos from a Nazi planet, and it contained all of the excitement and fun that I was looking for in Justice League. Maybe the movie division of Warner Brothers might want to seek advice from their TV brethren on how to do superhero stories properly. --SF