DerekPlease.com got an early look at this year's most buzzed-about superhero movie.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
The holiday 2017 blockbuster film season is upon us. “Justice League” is finally here, and I was lucky enough to attend an advanced screening. The film, which successfully ties together Warner Bros.' messy DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film franchise, follows a ragtag bunch of heroes that play well as a team, but vary in quality individually.
The new characters are a mixed bag.
The Flash steals the show in a star-making performance from burgeoning queer icon Ezra Miller. Every Flash one-liner got a big laugh from the crowd. It’s been tough watching mainstream Hollywood figure out what to do with Miller’s skill set - his role in “Harry Potter” prequel “Fantastic Beasts” was not the ticket - but “Justice League” is his showcase. The only thing he’s lacking is a better backstory, which is probably being saved for the DCEU “Flashpoint” film.
Aquaman is… basic. There’s not much else to say. He’s just sort of there. The film didn’t care about him, so neither did I. Jason Momoa gives a shirtless shrug of a performance. He was mostly reduced to the overused, albeit classic DC joke that Aquaman’s only power is talking to fish.
Cyborg could use a tune-up. This mostly-robot character lacks much of a human element, sense of humor. The only human part of him is maybe half a face’s worth of gorgeous Hollywood skin. He’s just about as animated as a robot in “Transformers”, and that is not a good thing. Actor Ray Fisher could have breathed some life into the character, but gives a wooden-faced, self-serious performance… all in a monotone voice.
When he’s not in battle, Cyborg wears unrealistic hoodies that somehow cover his giant robot body without looking misshapen. It seems like even the filmmakers are insecure about the effort they put into this character. Between Cyborg and Aquaman, it would have been great if the characters of color had been given more character development.
Halloween 2017 may be over, but “Justice League” invites “Frankenstein” to its Thanksgiving table. Kal-El AKA Clark Kent AKA Superman AKA God (if you’re asking the deranged Lex Luthor, and I am not) comes back in a thrilling, frightening sequence. The Batman vs. Superman fight scene that follows is the best action sequence of the film. The Mary Shelley vibes are real. The “big gun” Batman brings in to end the fight is a brilliant touch.
Superman? More like super objectified. Kal-El spends that aforementioned fight fully shirtless. And that isn’t the only time he inexplicably loses his clothing. I’m not mad at it, though. It’s about time straight men get a taste of their own objectifying ways, and us ladies and gaydies get to enjoy a petty benefit of Hollywood’s paradigm shift.
The move to further fetishize Superman, while obvious and gratuitous, makes sense. DC tried and failed to make Superman more than aesthetics. In “Justice League,” DC nods to the feverish online army of Henry Cavill stans. Even Buzzfeed published posts lusting over him. The thirst is real, and they even joke about that - at Lois Lane (Amy Adams)’s expense.
“Justice League” is actually the best use of Superman in the 21st century, so it seems like an odd choice not to feature him in the trailers or first wave marketing materials for the film. I mean, we all knew he was coming back. Hello! “Batman vs. Superman” literally ends teasing that fact. [Edit: I think they gave up and already started advertising Superman being in "Justice League"]
Ben Affleck is finally settling into his role as Batman, so of course, he wants to quit. Warner Bros. obliges, setting up a strong foreshadowing for Bruce Wayne’s near-future exit. The film is peppered with “old man Batman” jokes, and references to how this iteration has been fighting crime for 20 years.
All previous Batman films featured a Batman that instantly recovered from injury. However, “Justice League” features a Batman who licks his wounds after every battle. Wonder Woman even insists that Batman “can’t keep doing this forever.” It reads as a set up for disenchanted actor Ben Affleck to leave.
Wonder Woman has a great story arc you may have thought would have been saved for her solo sequel. The one thing “Justice League” got right that “Wonder Woman” did not? A more even tone. Whereas the campy villain scenes in “Wonder Woman” didn’t quite fit the rest of the film, “Justice League” invites camp along for the full ride.
The DCEU films remain aggressively masculine, but now in an almost tongue-in-cheek manner. The cinematography is flamboyantly fire and brimstone. The CGI is adorned with a grainy faux film look. The fights are loud, ultra-violent, and metallic. Concrete slabs burst apart like sticks of chalk. Surely no film is this cartoonishly macho without being self-aware… right?
The Jack Kirby creation Steppenwolf is better than most Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) villains; certainly better than the next Avengers film’s big bad, that boring purple giant Thanos. Despite heavy motion capture, actor Ciarán Hinds pulls off a fantastical performance. Whereas a similar “world ending” big bad in the MCU film “Thor: Ragnarok” is the butt of jokes, Steppenwolf is a serious threat. His army isn’t weak, either. With their unique look and backstory, Steppenwolf’s insect-like Parademons are more memorable than your average, disposable “faceless army.” All this good does not save the bad final fight scene, which feels long and predictable.
The credits feature a strange and intriguing decision not to credit Joss Whedon as Zach Snyder’s co-director, despite Whedon’s heavy rewrites and reshoots. While likely a show of respect to Snyder, the idea that this is as much a Snyder film as “Watchmen” or “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” does not compute. Whedon does take a writing credit for his reshoot efforts, though.
Despite the tragic circumstances that brought him on (director Zach Snyder’s daughter Willow died by suicide early this year), “Justice League” is lucky to have Joss Whedon. The film could have been another dark, violent mess for DC without Whedon’s signature crowd-pleasing touches. Joss Whedon's genre-defining work directing the MCU game changer “The Avengers” set the bar so high, his involvement in DC’s equivalent film “Justice League” was its only chance of being comparable. This film was never going to be perfect, but it’s at least a very fun ride. This is a best-case scenario for the most complex film in the messiest cinematic universe.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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