Going into Justice League, I tried my absolute best to keep an open mind. Wonder Woman wasn’t perfect, but was a big improvement for DC, and the trailers for Justice League showed some real promise. I liked their casting and creative choices for Flash, and Jason Momoa seemed like he could bring some great energy to the group. However, as the premiere approached, the headlines started trickling in. For someone like myself, who likes to keep up on all things entertainment, they were unavoidable. Thus, my confidence waned.
Approximately an hour into the film, I found myself wondering if the opening scenes would ever cease. For over half the movie, nearly every scene feels introductory. As if every scene is the first or second scene of the film. This went on for entirely too long, which detracted from a lot of opportunities to develop the story or characters much more than they did. There were a sparing number of minor scenes that progressed the underlying plot some, but the film being based entirely around forming the Justice League really made the villain borderline arbitrary in the face of interpersonal conflict.
On the topic of villains, Justice League could have certainly done much better. I had read comments and reviews previously that stated that Steppenwolf was the worst comic book movie villain in history. That may have been something of an overstatement, but he didn’t exactly contribute much to the movie. He’s very two dimensional. He has one goal, one purpose, and he will stop at nothing to achieve it. Beyond that, his character is void. He has no personality, no character, no qualities whatsoever that make him an impactful, memorable villain. The only notable feature to him is his appearance, and I’m beginning to think that’s the entire reason for selecting him in the first place. On that note, he actually didn’t look that good. He looked like he would have fit better as a Power Rangers villain, and when he was on screen, particularly when fighting, the movie suddenly felt like a pre-rendered video game cinematic. Maybe it was the mixture of CGI and makeup, but he just didn’t settle into the aesthetic of the film to me. His henchmen felt off to me as well. All I could think about when I saw them was zombie versions of The Monarch’s henchmen.
The way many of the characters meet in the movie is far from organic. While the point here is not to compare the DC movies to Marvel movies, we all remember that moment in The Avengers when Thor crashes in after Loki was detained. This was not a “Can someone call Thor?” moment. It was a
reasonable and natural way to work him into the film. A large part of Justice League is just Bruce Wayne jet-hopping around, asking people to join his little club. There’s a reason there wasn’t a film dedicated to Nick Fury assembling The Avengers.
Even with Joss Whedon stepping in to oversee post production and polish some dialogue, a lot of the humor falls flat. There are a lot of attempts at humor through dialogue, and a strong majority of it fails to entertain. Many of the scenarios and the atmosphere simply didn’t call for it. Having the trademark gloominess that has plagued the series since Man of Steel, the attempts to inject humor into the mix just didn’t fit at times. That’s not to say there aren’t any funny moments, but for how hard they were obviously trying, and how much potential they had with the cast at hand, it’s disappointing to see them miss the mark by so much.
Now, the movie is not altogether bad, though I’m actually remaining rather reserved in my criticism. I actually found the climax of the film to be quite refreshing. They nearly had me with the atmosphere at the approach to the final battle. I thought it was going to be another monochromatic, swirling mass of chaos and debris. While most of the action in the build up of the film seems aimless and hard to follow, the final showdown actually comes together quite nicely, and is relatively easy to keep up with, while still having quite a bit going on. Also relieving to see nearer to the end of the movie, which was primarily lacking in previous installments, was the inclusion of color! Gone are the days of the nearly black and white color scheme, even toward the end of the movie. The DC crew has finally realized the potential of color that most studios got on board with in the 1960’s. A little late to the party, but at least they got there.
As mentioned, a few of the newcomers do bring some much needed balance and energy to the crew. While Flash is pretty fantastic, and really supplies the levity, the true success story in the film is in the execution of Cyborg. For a character who could have been ruined in so many ways, fans will likely be relieved to see how well his character is depicted, particularly as one of the few examples of growth throughout the film. I can’t delve into too much detail without what could (but really shouldn’t) be considered spoilers, but there are a few things to look forward to, if you plan to endure the movie, including a mid and post credit scene, one of which contains probably ninety percent of the movie’s humor.
What Justice League lacks in humor and dialogue, character development, setup, and progression, it fails to make up for in drama. Comic book movies have always been surprisingly successful with inspiring emotional responses in the audience. Justice League does not succeed in this area. These characters are not given the chance to be emotionally relatable. And it’s not for lack of trying. Twice in the movie, Wonder Woman brings up her dead boyfriend, and I can only assume this was supposed to be an attempt to incite some kind of emotional response, but it just felt obviously forced, and borderline distasteful. At the movie’s most emotional moment, I even tried my best to connect, but there was really just nothing there. It was just a major disconnect. There was one emotion the movie did evoke, and that was anger. Throughout much of the movie, I found myself gesturing in irritation and confusion about various developments in the movie. If this had been intentional, it would have been a major success, but alas, I don’t feel as though anger and confusion was a goal they had in mind.
Ultimately, if I had to rank the movie within the DC Film Collective, I would place it second, right beneath Wonder Woman. However, there is still a large gap in that ranking for many reasons. It’s not that it’s second best because it’s that good. It’s second best because Man of Steel, BvS, and Suicide Squad were all just that disappointing. To move forward, DC is really going to need to rethink their approach with their most promising property. There’s absolutely no reason why Justice League couldn’t have been a masterpiece, through and through. Instead, it adheres primarily to the same formula of disconnected scenes that make for good movie posters and trailer material, but lack the cohesion required to truly impress.
So that’s my assessment of Justice League. I know that I have been hard on the DC franchise from the start, but I truly did try to keep an open mind. How did you like the film? Did it live up to your expectations, or leave you disappointed? How do you feel about the direction and success of the DC Film Collective thus far? What would you like to see changed or expanded on in future films? Let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear some input from our readers.