“Justice League”: The age of heroes comes… but give it some time
The road to Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” has been, if nothing else, a divisive one. Between the tepid reactions to last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the outright visceral response to “Suicide Squad,” for many people, a lot is riding on “Justice League” to be the salvation that DC so desperately needs, at least as far as the ensemble films are concerned.
The plot is about as straightforward as it gets. Pretty much no new ground is tread for the Justice League’s first outing as a team. A big gray gargoyle named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) arrives on Earth with vague intentions to destroy the world. Only a select few stand in his way — the recently formed Justice League, led by Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). The League goes through the usual beats — hesitant at first, facing defeat, in-fighting, coming together when the threat escalates — so I won’t say anymore about the plot. Basically, if you’ve been satisfied with the state of DC’s filmography, then you’ll surely enjoy this movie for its strong action and continuation of the overarching storyline established in “Batman v Superman”. But from a technical and plotting standpoint, “Justice League” has its fair share of problems.
That isn’t to say that this film has no good elements. Usually I save the best for last but in this case, I’ve decided to put the positives first. Snyder knows how to craft impressive and immersive action sequences, and this is some of his best work. On top of the action, Danny Elfman’s score is a brilliant complement to the gritty, earth-shaking fight scenes. It’s the perfect blend of modern, awe-inspiring fanfare, and homage to some of these character’s most famous themes (Elfman also scored 1989’s Batman film). And the strongest dynamic of this movie is its characters and the chemistry the league shares: Flash (Ezra Miller) is funny, Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) is stoic, Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is fun. It’s very much still rooted in the universe established by “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” but with such a diverse group of characters, it feels a lot more hopeful.
Now onto the rougher elements of the film. The biggest issue is the pacing. The first act (the first 30-ish minutes) is an exposition dump, giving a rundown of characters, origins, the archaic powers of medieval magic boxes, and who the villains are. These explanations are all tedious and none of them impact one another; it’s just an excuse to catch everyone in the audience up on what’s going on in the least subtle way possible. What makes this even more frustrating is that despite all the explanation getting thrown at the audience, there are still glaring plot holes that are outright ignored, weakening the overall narrative of the film.
Character development is impacted by the wonkiness of the editing and plotting as well. Most of the characters are done justice, which is obviously a good thing. But Wonder Woman, arguably DC’s most popular character (currently), takes a massive step backwards in her personal story-arch. She starts off strong, but her character quickly becomes a vehicle for contrived conflict amongst the team. She comes across as petty and unsure of herself, a major step backwards from DC’s other film this year, “Wonder Woman.” Also, the Amazons got a wardrobe change, which is a disappointing reminder that Patty Jenkins had very little to do with this movie.
There is one more very positive element to this piece — one that on its own elevates the overall experience of this movie — but it’s a minor spoiler regarding the appearance of a certain character, so if you’re determined to go into this movie spoiler free, skip this paragraph. That being said, Henry Cavill’s Superman’s revival in this film is absolutely phenomenal. In “Batman v Superman,” his apparent death at the hands of Doomsday (a different eight foot tall gargoyle) was teased as being only temporary in the final moments of that film, and “Justice League” sees his dramatic and much appreciated return. His time is brief, as it takes a good length of the runtime before he can be declared “back from the dead,” but he has undeniably one of the best action sequences in the movie.
Overall, I wouldn’t describe “Justice League” as a bad film; it’s got some strong points, but it is also convoluted and overly tedious. Fans of DC’s prior films will surely have fun and there are even elements that I believe non-fans could enjoy. But these elements take some time to emerge, meaning that patience is a necessity, an unfortunate caveat for a superhero movie.
I don’t tend to give films star ratings because it’s hard to capture the essence of a review in such rigid guidelines, but I feel that 7/10 is a fair score.