Purportedly Directed by Zack Snyder (but with obvious extensive material helmed by Joss Whedon)
November 13, 2017 (Dolby Theatre) / November 17, 2017 (United States)
Superman is dead and the remaining heroes must rally to stop the villainous Steppenwolf from conquering the Earth by rejoining the Mother Boxes and forming the Unity.
This 2017 version Justice League had its moments and I think those moments were the remains of Zack Snyder’s vision with the weaker portions of the film being what Joss Whedon did and that was attempting to turn the Justice League into the Avengers.
I have long said Whedon creates niche material that appeals to a very narrow group of individuals. For example, Buffy and Firefly are well regarded but were not monster hits when originally out. They had a small yet dedicated following that keeps them alive to this day. Both Avengers films that he directed came on the backend of a series of highly successful films containing characters from those films supported by the Disney marketing machine which WB has never tried to equal. He was not starting from scratch with those. Justice League had none of that and with two competing visions in one film this movie was not going to be successful. Having said that this is not a disaster. It is just disjointed. There is plenty of good in with the garbage.
Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) is the villain of this movie. I think Darkseid would have been more appropriate but so as not to duplicate Avengers they skipped him. Steppenwolf is a CGI character performed by Hinds via motion capture. Hinds has so much menace with his voice alone that the villain is intimidating. Steppenwolf is frightening and deranged and pure evil. One standout moment, and perhaps one of the best lines in the whole film, is when he is confronting Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) early on and says, “My axe is still slick with the blood of your sisters.” That was just such a bad ass bad guy line. Hinds was reportedly unhappy with the final product here since it cut out much of Steppenwolf’s backstory.
I have never understood why people hated Ben Affleck as Batman. Then again, I was puzzled by the reflexive hate they STILL seem to have for him concerning Daredevil. I have not seen Daredevil, but I thought he did a very good job as an older Batman. Then again I thought he would have done a fantastic job as a younger Superman back in the day. He is a good actor, and he brings a certain weight to the character Bruce Wayne/Batman. He is a weary individual that has seen too much and knows something worse is on the horizon.
Ezra Miller was cast as Barry Allen/The Flash. Miller gives a hyperactive bordering on manic performance here which fits a character who is the fastest man alive yet must slow himself down in order to function in everyday society. There are even moments of him geeking out like most people would.
Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is a man out of place who perhaps wonders if he is even really alive as his existence is because of alien technology that now threatens the planet. There is not much of the character here considering his implied significance to the story and his general prominence in the Justice League comics. There are even moments that feel like story is missing.
I admit at first I was a little hesitant with Gal Gadot being cast as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. I had seen her in the Fast & Furious films but not much else, and I was not too sure if she could pull off the character let alone helm the eventual solo film of the character. She assuaged my doubts in Batman vs. Superman and continued to do so here.
In Justice League there are moments where Wonder Woman is a stern warrior which I think is probably some of Gadot’s IDF training (she was in the military) coming through in her performance but there are others where she is less serious and bordering on a whole different character. I dare say those were the moments helmed by Whedon. It felt lighter like the Marvel films.
Jason Momoa as Aquaman was perhaps the casting I was most pleased with from the start. While not physically accurate to the depiction of the comic, having seen him mostly in Stargate Atlantis I thought he had the potential to translate the more serious version of Aquaman that was prevalent in the modern comics and I was right. But there were other times when he was more like a super bro than a superhero. The character could be jokey and not jazzed on adrenaline. For instance the moment when he accidentally sat on the Lasso of Truth and started letting his feelings out. Really?!
Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman was not only a perfect physical choice for the character but a perfect acting choice as well. He is able to channel the homespun character as well as the super Boy Scout in a way that does not feel goofy. This is in much a similar fashion that Christopher Reeve was able to do in his Superman films. But portions of his narrative feel disconnected or rushed in comparison to the rest of the movie. It is almost as if it were padding or done as an afterthought.
And perhaps this is what I am talking about. In the last three characters I discussed I knew the things that did not quite mesh together with the rest of the film. The lighter stuff is most definitely from Joss Whedon. It is a signature of his from back in the time of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is what he does with his films and his television shows and when those moments happen in this film you can close your eyes and think of Firefly or the first two Avengers films or the aforementioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer and see his fingerprints all over it but when the more serious stuff hits you cannot picture his hand behind the scenes. It is then the definite mark of Zack Snyder. And the Zack Snyder stuff is the superior material here.
Whedon was brought on to finish up the film after Snyder left for personal issues. From the looks of it WB executives were looking to copy the MCU after they got their film universe rolling in a different direction with a different feel and they got the guy they thought could help them do it. They allowed Whedon to do what he did with Avengers forgetting that DC in general is not Marvel and Justice League in particular is not Avengers.
Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron was the culmination of several other successful movies starring the major characters from those movies. There was virtually no way either could fail with the Disney marketing machine pushing success even further. A monkey could have directed those movies and they would have been successful.
One thing that jumped out at me in this film was this focus on an individual family in the Russian village where the terraforming of Earth at the hands of Steppenwolf was beginning. It was just this family. Even though the town was supposed to be populated by people we got one family and it felt as if they were completely alone in that town. And the joke with the can of bug spray? Come on! I understand that they were to give a human face to the potential for loss of life, but I just didn’t care about them. There is no effort to really get the audience to invest in them. We were just supposed to do so. They were never made any deeper than background characters.
The Parademons, winged bug like creatures that were Steppenwolf’s mindless drone army, looked good. Mostly. They were a few times when I questioned their appearance, but they were not that bad. But the main villain Steppenwolf looked as bad as Hulk from the Ang Lee movie did. Good from a distance but when they brought the camera up close just not as nice. I think Wheon’s extensive re-shoots and alteration of the story cut into the available budget and rather than toss in a little more money to make the villain look good he had to make do with what he had available and it was not nearly enough cash.
And there is the infamous CGI over Henry Cavill’s face that makes him look like Adam Baldwin. This is quite possibly because Whedon felt an extensive need to alter the story and to do that he had to bring in Cavill and he was sporting a mustache he could not shave for contractual reasons while filming another movie. If Whedon and those at WB were not acting to change the film into something completely different then I believe this would never have happened.
The costumes of the characters look great. The designs are pretty faithful to the source material with alterations that make them film worthy. You know who you are looking at and it feels as if the characters are coming right from the page to the screen. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson did an amazing job. Given his faithfulness and attention to detail I am curious if he is a fan.
I even like the nod to what used to be a regular feature in the DC Comics of a race between Superman and the Flash in the mid credit scene here. The Flash is the fastest man alive and Superman is naturally powerful in all aspects. Another nod to Superman history is Marc McClure who you will recognize as Jimmy Olsen from the Christopher Reeve Superman film series in a brief appearance as a police officer. Moments like this are slipped in and not shoved in your face and a nice gift to long time fans and will not hinder the experience of those here just because it is a movie.
The plot is a good an ancient evil returns story. I admit those stories tend to draw me in easy. Mere mortals being terrible is common and a little too close to real life, so I gravitate towards the escapism. We get a nice explanation of what happened when Steppenwolf was originally here and some even hints of the larger DC universe with an appearance by a Green Lantern.
Justice League is not a train wreck but there is a disjointed film that is not as good as it could be. The tone fluctuates between fun adventure and fighting a serious threat and again that is the difference in directors. Justice League is most definitely not as good as it could have or should have been. Still I am going to give this a tentative watch it!