With the world in mourning after the death of Superman, a guilt ridden Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) sets about assembling a team of super warriors to combat galactic mega villain Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons – who are hell bent on a mission to retrieve three ancient all powerful mother boxes and put an end to life on Earth.
After the extremely divisive Batman V Superman and the serious letdown that was Suicide Squad, it is safe to say that Warner Bros. and DC’s expanded universe is in a bit of trouble. To be fair this summer’s Wonder Woman went a long way in getting it back on track but without doubt Zack Snyder’s Justice League absolutely had to deliver the goods both commercially and (most importantly) critically for the franchise to have any hopes of long term survival.
Now despite what the highbrow critics and rabid comic book fanboys might be saying, Justice League is not in any way a total disaster- not even close, but dear lord does it have its issues – ill get to those in a sec – first i’ll go into what worked.
Firstly, at its core, Justice League is an entirely watchable, well directed, entertaining blockbuster, with a more than passable script. The entire cast are all impressive – newcomers Ezra Miller (The Flash) and Jason Momoa (Aquaman) are particularly good – both giving charismatic performances and providing some sorely needed comic relief. Jeremy Irons is again flawless as Alfred, Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill impress once more as Batman and Superman and Gal Gadot is fantastic in her third go around as Wonder Woman. In addition alot of the action scenes are very well handled – an opening sequence featuring Wonder Woman saving an entire building full of innocents from a mad bomber is outstanding, then an hour in we get a rollicking set piece where the (almost) entire team have their first proper tear up with Steppenwolf and the Parademons.
So far so good right? – Well yes and very much no.
The first issue is that tonally its all over the place – and this is obviously down to the involvement of Joss Whedon who stepped in to carry out extensive re-shoots and story rewrites after Zack Snyder left in post production to deal with a horrific family tragedy. As a result Whedon’s somewhat lighter comedic contribution sticks out like a sore thumb and is at odds with Snyder’s somewhat different vision for the film. Then there is the villain Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds) who is nothing more than a second rate Thanos , totally and utterly bland and brought to life by some decidedly iffy CGI. The plot is also decidedly unoriginal – Steppenwolf’s mission to unite the three mother boxes and destroy humanity is simply not good enough and seems to have been lifted from the entire running story arc of The Avengers.
I mentioned earlier that the action was mostly pretty impressive – i say mostly as the final showdown between the League and Steppenwolf is decidedly underwhelming and lacks any excitement or sense of danger. It is here that the film should have completely blown the roof off and flown sky high, but instead we get nothing more than an over abundance of pixellated fights and explosions that fail on every level to even come close to the epic Battle of New York in The Avengers or that awesome Bifrost scrap in Thor:Ragnarok.
Then we have the special effects – of which there are way too many and rendered in some eye bleedingly awful colours. Speaking of SFX – there is the issue of Henry Cavill’s ‘tache which he had grown for his role in Mission Impossible 6. To cut a long story short, when Cavill was called back for the aforementioned re-shoots on Justice League he was in the middle of filming MI6 and obviously couldn’t shave off said offending facial fuzz – so naturally it had to be digitally erased in post production. To say that the sfx team has made a bang up job of catastrophic proportions here is quite possibly the under statement of the millennium. The result being that in at least two major scenes Cavill’s face is horribly distorted, then in most of his other appearances on screen his mouth has been visibly and badly CGI’d. Simply put, this is an absolutely unforgivable error that simply cannot and should not happen in a $300 million dollar tentpole movie – and certainly not one with so much riding on it.
Overall i have to say that all of the above issues should not have happened full stop. Prior to Justice League, DC and Warner’s had four films to get it right plus they’ve seen the success that Marvel have enjoyed with their Avengers franchise – so why on Earth haven’t they learned from their mistakes?
To begin with after Batman V Superman (which i hasten to add i actually liked) they should have hired a different director to Zack Snyder and got rid of the writing team – specifically David S Goyer – as a completely fresh pair of eyes was (and still is) so desperately needed. Also they should have introduced Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg in their own individual films before embarking on making Justice League to give audiences time to get to know them – just like Marvel did with Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America etc. And finally they need one person, similar to Marvel’s Kevin Feige to “Godfather” the whole franchise instead of involving lots of different people and practicing movie making by committee -for a prime example of this see Suicide Squad if you don’t believe me.
So where do we go from here? Certainly there are some positive signs – next year we have James Wan’s Aquaman which sounds like it could be good fun, Wonder Woman 2 has recently been given the green light, Joss Whedon says he is going to direct Batgirl which could be good and the supremely talented Matt Reeves is gearing up for a new Batman trilogy. However we still don’t know about fate of the Flash movie which has gone through more than one director before a single frame has been shot, Green Lantern Corps is still in limbo, Affleck wont say if he’ll play Batman again (and who could blame him) a Man Of Steel sequel possibly has George Miller attached to direct but nothing has been announced, Suicide Squad 2 is going ahead – but who cares? Then there seems to be vague plans of a Justice League Dark project, plus rumors abound that Warners and DC are moving away from the expanded universe all together. All i can say is that Marvel must be rubbing their hands with glee.
To conclude i have to say that I very much wanted Justice League to work better than it did. As mentioned it was entertaining and there were parts that were great fun. But too many silly issues, tonal inconsistencies and lazy film making decisions badly dragged it down. My hope now is that perhaps there will be a blu ray directors cut which (like BVS) will improve on the cinematic version and if there is i’ll certainly be the first in line to buy it. Whatever happens – Warners and DC have a hell of alot of serious thinking to do if they are going to compete with Kevin Feige and the mighty Marvel Studios – on the strength of their output so far they’ve got their work cut out big time.
Author: Will Strong aka Grosse Point Geek