Saturday, 18 November 2017

Justice League - Movie Review

The DC Extended Universe hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts. Man of Steel was mediocre. Batman v. Superman was dreadful. Suicide Squad was diabolical. Only this year’s Wonder Woman showed signs of promise for Warner Bros and DC in their attempts to create a cinematic universe to rival Marvel. As such it’s quite natural to look at Justice League with a degree of worry, especially once you consider all the mad scrambling that had to be done to try and salvage the film after the disastrous reception to Batman v. Superman, with Warner Bros. mandating that the film have a much lighter tone and be under 2 hours long following complaints over the dour tone and general bloatedness of the franchise. The departure of director Zack Snyder as a result of his daughters’ tragic suicide and the entrance of the much lighter Joss Whedon to direct reshoots and write new scenes is also worrying due to the fear of tonal conflicts in the movie. But the trailers for Justice League have shown far more promise than before and indicated a warmer and lighter side to these DC characters that gave the impression that it would be a far more enjoyable film than the first few entries of this cinematic universe. So have DC managed to carry on with the mojo they found with Wonder Woman?

In Justice League the world is mourning following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), with crime skyrocketing in his absence. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), fuelled with a new sense of hope following Superman’s sacrifice, devises the idea to assemble a team of superpowered beings to be ready to fight crime when the opportunity arises. When that opportunity arises in the form of the return of Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a being who desires to assemble three Mother Boxes which will allow him to reshape the Earth into his image, Bruce and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) must attempt to recruit three individuals, enhanced cyborg Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), the super-fast Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), who can control the seas, and get them to come together in order to fight off Steppenwolf and bring hope back to the world.

Batman v. Superman faced the issue of having so much content stuffed into one movie, with multiple plots jostling for the screen time and some ultimately getting lost in the shuffle. That isn’t as big an issue with Justice League as most of the character arcs feel completed and connected in many way. But that doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t frantically scrambling around trying to get to the end in a hurry, leading to the movie feeling like an assault at times with little room to breathe; the 2 hour mandate from Warner Bros. hurts the movie in this instance as characters get thrown at you wildly all throughout and there’s little chance to take it all in before some more people get bought to your attention. Not helping is the inconsistent tone of the whole affair thanks to the sudden change in directors during reshoots (reports claim that 15-20% of the film was directed by Whedon). The film can’t quite decide whether or not it wants to go for grand, epic and serious, or lighter and a bit more comedic; it tries to do both but subsequently comes out as conflicted in its aims – the reasons for this are understandable but still detrimental to the final product.

Meanwhile the action is overall a bit rough, with many scenes of Snyder’s ADD influenced directing cutting through to the point where it’s hard to tell what’s going on sometimes; in particular an early battle featuring Steppenwolf taking on the Amazons is littered with quick cuts and CGI infused mumbo jumbo that makes it hard to care about what’s happening – the film gets better as it goes along, with the final action sequence being genuinely fun, but there are still signs of Snyder’s directorial issues in the mix throughout. And speaking of CGI the visual effects are shockingly bad; there are many instances where you can tell that CGI was used to create landscapes and buildings (the panning shot of Themiscyra is the worst offender), Steppenwolf looks like he stepped out of a PlayStation 3 game and Superman’s jawline is very goofy thanks to the need to remove Henry Cavill’s mustache (which he grew for Mission: Impossible 6 and legally couldn’t shave off – hope it’s all worth it…). Considering that Justice League has a budget of $300 million (no, that figure isn’t an exaggeration – it’s literally the second most expensive movie of all time), it’s stunning how bad some of the visual effects are. The real bright spark of the movie though are the characters themselves, with most of them being solid overall – the exceptions are Steppenwolf, who’s a really generic doomsday villain with his character and plans (although Hinds does voice him rather well), and The Flash, who seems to be angled as the Spider-Man of the group but comes across as irritating thanks to a bevy of bad faux-hipsterish and unfunny dialogue and a smug performance from Miller. But everyone else is solid overall – Affleck and Gadot have proven their mettle in these roles before and continue their mojo, Ray Fisher brings a stoic yet enjoyable charm as Cyborg and the supporting actors, such as Jeremy Irons as Alfred, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, all fill their parts well even if they aren’t that large (and Simmons also doesn’t yell once – for shame). The standout character however is Aquaman – he’s been the butt of so many jokes since his Super Friends days and his image from that show of being a useless goof are all shedded as he manages to be a total badass in both looks and actions. Jason Momoa proved to be the perfect choice for the character as he infuses the character with such a fun streak in his performance – the only real problem is that his screentime is far smaller than that of the other members of the League, though hopefully, like was the case with Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman, he’ll get to shine more in his solo movie next year.

Justice League is not a terrible movie – it’s a real couple of steps forward for the DC Cinematic Universe and doesn’t wallow in the pretentious and dour nature that Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman suffered from; there are moments of real fun in the film. However, there are still a lot of issues, predominantly as a result of the two directors issue; though the events leading to this change of hands are understandable it leaves the film in a strange limbo, making it feel hesitant as to whether it wants to go fully into the lighter or darker direction. Though the majority of the heroes are strong, they can’t quite compensate for the rushed storyline, crappy villain and stunningly bad effects that bring the film down a peg and really shows off its troubled production and studio mandated nature. Again, it’s not bad and it shows real signs of improvement but that’s ultimately not enough to save it from being merely ‘meh’.

Justice League – directed by Zack Snyder, story by Snyder and Chris Terrio, screenplay by Terrio and Joss Whedon, produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg and Geoff Johns, starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Ciaran Hinds, Amy Adams,  Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen and J.K. Simmons. A DC Films/RatPac Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment/Cruel and Unusual Films production, a Warner Bros. film

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