Starring: Ben Affleck (The Town), Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6), Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Walflower), Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa (Conan the Barbarian), Amy Adams (Arrival), Jeremy Irons (Die Hard with a Vengeance), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), Ciaran Hinds (Road to Perdition)
Director: Zack Snyder (300)
Writers: Chris Terrio (Argo) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers)
Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes
Release Date: 17 November (US, UK)
The DC Extended Universe (or whatever it’s supposed to be called) has been uneven, to put it lightly. It has a lot of good elements going for it, but it also has had a deluge of problems that generally all link back to poor planning and a misunderstanding of audience expectations. There still remain a lot of apologists for the series out there, and I’ll admit to being one of them, but even I’ll say all the films (Wonder Woman being an exception) don’t hold up under scrutiny. You can go ahead and knock a few points off of my reviews of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad; I was far too generous at the time. But whilst Wonder Woman wowed audiences this past summer, the real test of whether this series can remain afloat comes in the form of what this has all been leading to: Justice League. The film itself has been through a troubled production of near-constant reworking since production began, but all that ultimately matters is whether the final product delivers. Does Justice League show promise of a new beginning for the DCEU, or does it succumb to the sins of its predecessors? Well, the answer is complicated, so bear with me.
A lot has changed in regards to story and tone in Justice League when compared to its predecessors. The grim-dark atmosphere has been lightened considerably, the plot has gone from needlessly overcomplicated to refreshingly simple, and the overbearing themes have been simplified down to the basics of good vs. evil. It’s not exactly groundbreaking or exemplary what they’ve done, but it’s a promising step in the right direction. The film’s pacing is also much improved, with a simple two hour runtime that breezes by effortlessly. It’s not a totally smooth ride, as there have clearly been concessions made to the story to attain its length, but it’s closer to ideal than before. What Justice League finally gets right and ultimately makes it an enjoyable experience is that it embraces fun without completely aping the Marvel formula. It embraces the sandbox of the DC Universe and has a blast playing with its toys with the time that it has, and that sense of exuberance makes it easier to forgive the basic plot and bumpy structure. It sets forth a brighter and more promising future for the future of the series, made clear by its optimistic conclusion and a fun set of post-credits sequences no fan will want to miss.
What the film also thankfully succeeds at is crafting an entertaining team of heroes to follow and, though the film doesn’t take full advantage of their potential, what’s there is a solid start. Ben Affleck’s Batman has been softened up a bit from his almost-barbaric portrayal in BvS and continues to be one of the more faithful interpretations of the character brought to screen; he’s the closest to Kevin Conroy any live-action actor has gotten. Gal Gadot continues to effortlessly shine as Wonder Woman, stealing almost every action sequence and bringing a lot of the lightness of her solo movie with her; even if you don’t end up liking the movie, you’ll at least like her. Ezra Miller as The Flash makes for some solid comic relief and does more than enough to differentiate himself from the likes of Grant Gustin from the TV series or either of the Quicksilvers. Jason Momoa as Aquaman is a nice surprise, with his macho surfer approach giving the character a fun edge that most interpretations fail to balance. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is a bit of a weak link, which is a shame considering how vital he is the plot, but at least he isn’t annoying or without purpose. And then, and don’t say this is a spoiler because we all knew it was happening, there’s Henry Cavill’s Superman. I won’t say much more, but if you’ve been disappointed by the series’ treatment of the character thus far, this film may give you some hope.
It’s a good thing the League itself is so entertaining to watch, because the supporting cast feels either wasted or completely lacklustre. Amy Adams and Diane Lane aren’t given much to do as Lois Lane and Martha Kent, with their involvement in the plot being sprung out of nowhere before disappearing once their usefulness is up. J.K. Simmons, Billy Crudup and Amber Heard are practically just here for glorified cameos here as Commissioner Gordon, Henry Allen and Mera respectively, not doing much but promising to be more important in future instalments. Jeremy Irons continues to be a solid Alfred, and seeing Connie Nielsen pop up as Hippolyta with the Amazons for a quick action beat is a nice touch, but that’s really about it. What really drags the film down unfortunately is the villain, who manages to make even the weakest of Marvel Studios’ stable of adversaries look varied and complex in comparison. Steppenwolf is a cookie-cutter antagonist with barely any motivation or characterisation, showing no real interaction with the team and just single-mindedly following the “destroy the world” evil plan without even a single unique flair. He seems a paltry offering for what is supposed to be the great evil that brings our heroes together, and not even the promise of what may come in the future as a result of his actions can make up for how bland he is.
Justice League makes all the right decisions on a technical front, but none of them quite add up in practice. The film looks vibrant and distinctive, like a comic book come to life, but often the colour grading does feel eerily saturated and can make certain elements look too artificial. The action sequences are well paced and spread generously throughout, but the film never quite pulls out a standout sequence. The costumes are designed well and effectively capture their comic book counterparts with a cinematic twist, but they sometimes look a little too costumey in certain lights. The visual effects are grand and ambitious, but they don’t feel like they’re ready for prime time yet; this is a problem when there’s nary a shot in the film that doesn’t involve visual effects, even during scenes that don’t really call for them. The only element that works solidly is Danny Elfman’s score, which junks the sombre, thudding music of Hans Zimmer and brings a more traditionally heroic soundtrack to the table. It’s a welcome change, and hardcore fans will probably even pick out a few echoes of classic tunes mixed into the new compositions.
Justice League may not bring DC to exactly where it wants to be, but at least it’s trundling in the right direction. It doesn’t do anything spectacularly original, yet it doesn’t embarrass itself with baffling creative decisions either. Its biggest crime is being a bit too safe from a storytelling perspective, however it does its main characters justice (pun sort of intended) and that counts for a lot. If you want what is essentially a live-action version of an above-average episode of Justice League Unlimited, or have been sated by Marvel’s lesser offerings like Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World, then Justice League should entertain you enough. I’d best compare it to eating takeout at 3AM. You know in the moment it’s not the best idea and won’t give you any nutrition, but you’re hungry, it fills a hole, it’s tasty while it lasts, and you’ll probably indulge in it again under similar circumstances.
FINAL VERDICT: 7/10