Hot Take: Love the DC characters and we already know the DCEU can deliver a great film in Wonder Woman. So, why does anything tied to Zack Snyder have to have such a mediocre story? Better than Batman v Superman but that’s not saying much, is it?
I wasn’t the harshest critic of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice but I’d never mistake it for a good movie. As the follow up to BvS, Justice League was in a bit of a quandary. It can’t distance itself from its predecessor or Man of Steel since Justice League is the third film in the de facto series (it’s never really packaged that way but with the way these Extended Universe films work, that’s how it is, right?) and they are all tied back to director Zack Snyder. Comparisons to BvS were inevitable and when the feel of Justice League was drastically different (it is!), all signs have pointed to reshoots from Joss Whedon who was brought in at the end of the project while Snyder tended to personal matters. While the official stance is that Whedon re-shot 15-20% of the film, those with a watchful eye have already chalked up almost all of Superman’s scenes (thanks to a really poor VFX effort to remove a mustache Henry Cavill had grown for Mission Impossible 6 in the re-shot scenes) which is at least 10% of the film right there) and other breakdowns of the re-shooting done by Whedon can be found on the Internet. The conflicting styles of Snyder and Whedon are evident in the film and it creates a tonal mess but it isn’t Justice League‘s biggest problem… that would be a rather pedestrian main story which feels way too small in retrospect for the formation of such a formidable team.
As for the performances, the returning players — Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Henry Cavill as Superman — deliver, as expected. Gadot is the standout again although she is occasionally marginalized amongst the men. She embodies Wonder Woman and is delightful every time she’s on the screen. Affleck is okay as Batman but defanged here compared to the massive role he played in BvS. It’s rare Affleck isn’t part of a dynamic duo whenever he is on screen. Cavill’s inevitable return as Superman often feels like a movie within a movie. Like someone turned the channel in the middle of the film only to have the two channels somehow miraculously merge. The new members of the Justice League recruited by Batman — Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Ezra Miller as The Flash and Ray Fisher as Cyborg — also deliver competent performances. The villain, Steppenwolf, I honestly thought was being played by Liam Neeson. While Ciaran Hinds played the motion capture CGI created Steppenwolf, he did reach out to his friend Neeson who was brought to life as a tree in A Monster Calls the same way… maybe that’s the connection that made me think it was Neeson? The villain is a little weak and nowhere near as formidable as Lex Luthor’s creation of Doomsday in BvS. However, I can think of a few reasons why it appears to be the case but it’s tough to sell Justice League as a milestone event rather than a bookmark. Justice League never feels like a necessary chapter to the complete story. There’s a universe evolving and in the grand scheme of things, Justice League lands in the category of “nice to see” rather than “must watch” as most of the key elements of the story you can already deduce.
For all of its faults, Justice League isn’t a terrible watch nor is it “unwatchable” as leaks of the initial cut of the film (pre-reshoots) were often described. The tonal shifts between Snyder and Whedon are jarring at times and you could almost dub this one Snyder v Whedon: The Tone of Justice. Unlike BvS, Justice League leaves you with more promise for the future, though. I’m not even sure which tone works better although I’m hypercritical of Snyder’s work and feel like anything done to water down his approach isn’t bad. Justice League is a film you want to like but either won’t or can’t completely give yourself over to. Maybe it’s a trust level at this point with what’s come out of the DCEU with the exception of Wonder Woman which, again, was phenomenal. Or maybe it’s something deeper as every sign of hope also comes with an asterisk. Essentially, when a “superteam” such as this one assembles, you expect epic but Justice League falls well short of epic. There’s promise of epic to come but we already had that thanks to Wonder Woman which felt like 10 steps forward and Justice League feels like a step or 2 back but thankfully not as far back as Suicide Squad.
Unclear of the future (Does the Brett Ratner/Gal Gadot issue get resolved the way it should (It appears it has)? Does Ben Affleck return to the DCEU now that he’s no longer directing the standalone Batman flick? Is Zack Snyder still the center of the Man of Steel universe? Can the DCEU spawn more solo successes off of Justice League with Batman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash?), the DCEU has always been in disarray. It’s nowhere near the well oiled machine that Marvel is which can turn out generally mediocre films like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok and they be received overwhelmingly positive by critics and at the box office. At a lukewarm 40% Tomatometer and what is trending to be a sub-$100 million opening weekend, Justice League shows no signs of the DCEU finding its footing. It’s highly unlikely Justice League will be the marathon runner Wonder Woman was which had the smallest opening of any DCEU film but raked in the biggest box office ($412 million!) of the four films in the DCEU. Now, Warner Brothers has to cross its fingers it’ll at least hold better than BvS which crashed and burned at the box office after an impressive $166 million opening.
At some point, you root for the DCEU getting it right. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and The Flash are iconic characters. (The Cyborg is a good character, too, but hardly iconic… let’s not overuse that terminology. Right, Rob?) When they have, (see Woman, Wonder) it’s amazing. Unfortunately, with Justice League, they are 1 for 5 now. That’s not a promising sign and these movies aren’t cheap to make so continued lack of success could put the DCEU in jeopardy. It could play into the uncertainty of future release dates for some of the other rumored projects or why no one has any clue what the 2nd end credit scene is expected to lead to. As for Justice League, it’s not terrible. If you’re a fan of the characters, it’s worth seeing. Don’t expect to be wowed by the storyline and some of it is downright forgettable but it does enough to hold your interest and it rewards you with a digestible run time for a film of its caliber.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Whedon’s Additions Are Welcome
If you’re a fan of Zack Snyder’s work, you might want to steer clear of Justice League. You’ll probably hate the changes Whedon has made to the film and there’s a light and airy feel that never even sniffs Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Maybe that’s why Lois Lane tells Clark he smells good?). You’ve been warned. Now, that we’ve addressed the minority, the rest of us will have open arms towards Whedon’s touches.
- Gal Gadot
Let’s root for her to be Wonder Woman at least once a year for the next 10 years and if we get half of that, we should be happy. She’s perfect in the role.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
The least impressive villain since Doctor Doom in the last Fantastic Four. Too harsh? Maybe.
- That Whedon Effect Isn’t All Good
Justice League has an identity crisis and all signs point to the massive re-shoots and changes to Snyder’s initial vision. Whether or not Snyder’s work would have been good or not is debatable but meshing the two visions doesn’t work at times and you almost feel like you’re watching two films, at times.