Justice League was a critical point film. After the release of Wonder Woman, Warner Brothers’ DC films found the perfect turning point to relieve themselves of some of their prior filmography gaffs. The lukewarm Man of Steel, followed by the universally panned Batman V Superman, and the identity-confused Suicide Squad all combined to give DC superhero movies the earned reputation of being inferior Marvel film clones.
With the release of Wonder Woman, I honestly felt they finally began how to understand the tired formula they were ripping off. It was decently paced, I liked the character development, and the only real improvements I could offer were to lose the abused slow-mo, ditch the awful CG effects, and to improve the story and dialog writing to not require so much damned exposition. I think you can figure out the reason for including a mini-review in this review if you weren’t already clued in by the title. Justice League is a mess.
[The film will now be discussed in detail, including plot details. Read at your own peril]
Justice League suffers from being what I will now call a showcase film. These are movies that have elements that the film knows, or assumes the audience doesn’t know about. The former category is useful for new IP films, or extremely unknown concepts; the latter is a mistake. This movie is bringing together a team of heroes that everyone has heard of at one point or another, and spends an inordinate amount of time exploring these “new” characters. It abuses the opposite of the phrase: “Show, don’t tell.”
The Flash, Barry Allen; Cyborg, Victor Stone; Aqua Man, Arthur Curry. Even if you didn’t know their actual names, you’ve heard their superhero titles. You know what they can do, but the film assumes you are a dunce with no ability to put two things together. You get Batman going through their character bios when talking to the Flash and Aquaman, the clumsiest way of explaining a character. The film even holds your hand when it slows down the Flash’s exposition sequence to show him dodging a Batarang. Nearly a minute to show you that he is extremely fast, just after a torturous 5 minute rushed character profile. If a character’s powers involve more time to demonstrate, than for them to actually occur in “real-time,” a film is doing it wrong.
On the subject of The Flash, let’s take a look at two of his other incarnations. The first will be the Flash from the Justice League animated series, real name: Wally West. Ignoring the historical personality differences between Wally and Barry, the animated series had Wally move at what one could easily consider being a brisk jog for him.
Wally moved fast, but only as fast as would be entertaining. When he needed to be instant, it took a toll on him. He almost became living energy in one episode because of his speed for heaven’s sake. They showed the viewer he was fast, and they didn’t insult your intelligence with unnecessary slow motion.
In fact, I can easily picture Barry’s introduction scene in the Justice League film taking place in only 20 seconds, based on the simplicity of the animated series. Bruce throws the Batarang, and looks to see nothing but an empty room and the arcing of electricity through metal. He turns to follows the arcing energy to see Barry behind him on the opposite side of the room, holding the Batarang. “Woah, you’re Batman?” End of character explanation.
When we compare the movie Barry to comic Barry, we come to another unfortunate problem. Lex Luthor Casting and Writing Syndrome has reared its ugly head again, last seen in BvS. This syndrome comes with the symptoms of characters being incorrectly aged, having awful and jarring personality differences, and just generally being annoying to watch.
Movie Barry is the new hip trend in films, the incredibly socially awkward character suddenly in a role of importance. If you know the Nerd character from Robot Chicken, congratulations. You now have 30% of how his dialog is delivered. This likely stems from one of my major contentious points with this film.
The Flash has been mis-aged. In his comic appearances, Barry is close to Bruce Wayne in age, and they frequently talk shop in criminology and crime, as Barry works in Forensics. In this film, Barry is considerably younger. Instead of being an established crime fighter, he’s a teen/young adult with no future, and is a mild inconvenience on convenience store robberies.
Bloody hell, we could have saved on 20 minutes of film time if we just had the flash cleaning up a bank robbery or a high-speed chase, with Batman arriving through some shadow covered alley. I am reminded yet again of how the animated series brought these characters together and showed off their powers by having them fight against the invading aliens in the first episodes.
Let’s talk about invasions. In the JL film, Steppenwolf is seeking to conquer the Earth to regain his honor from his prior failure to do the same millennia’s ago, and for his master and nephew, Sarksied. He seeks three Motherboxes to terraform the Earth into a hellscape similar to his home planet Apokolips; two being held by the Amazons, Atlanteans, and the third hidden by human hands.
In contrast, the Justice League animated series handled an alien invasion in its first few episodes. Characters are introduced in a large group, with their engagement in combat being the explanation of their abilities and combat prowess. Unlike the film, exposition isn’t just somehow known by the characters – investigation is done to figure out what these invaders are, and what they want with our blue marble. It isn’t hamfisted, and only has minor elements of what I can only refer to as “wat” moments.
The JL film on the other has many “wat” moments. To explain, simply say the word out loud. This was my internal reaction to plenty of events in the film. Such as Lois seemingly being completely okay with Bruce bringing Superman back from the dead. The film just glosses over this weird disconnect between how a normal, depressed widow would act, and how Lois does in this film. He comes back and Lois is carted into the scene as the means to stop the fighting between Batman’s faction and Superman.
Does something seem familiar to anyone? If you thought it sounds like how Bats and Supes stopped fighting in BvS, you’d be entirely correct. Replace MARTHA with LOVE, and you still get something a 5th grader could write better.
I realize as I write this piece that I am probably not being as structured as I have tried to be in the past. At this point, I feel like I have given up. I’m not even excited ironically for a DC release to make fun of later. I keep heading backward in time to the earlier releases of animated series and films and find myself even enjoying the ones I previously labeled something that rhymes with “wit.” One feature that is now topical is an animated movie called “Justice League: War.” The title is about as creative as the live action film, but let’s dive a bit deeper.
War follows a near identical scenario. The forces of Apokolips are invading, through subterfuge to open Boomtubes in strategic locations to allow forces to travel the dimensional gap that separates the two planets. Like the animated series, JL: War shows off the characters in combat and camaraderie. It’s better structured, has decent to above average voice acting and the superheroes don’t fight with the aid of slow motion. Even the fact that it’s in the NEW 52 era of DC doesn’t faze me anymore. I instead have a different era to loathe.
One could argue the JL live-action film attempts to have camaraderie, and in a few instances, I’d say it worked. There is only one major problem. There is no depth to these characters other than the 5-10 minutes we are given to ‘meet’ each character. Of course, this doesn’t affect the main three of the Bat Soup Wonder; for they’ve had a movie dedicated to each of them. Well, one and a half for Souper-man.
If DC did the smart thing and gave these characters their own film, like Wonder Woman, I wouldn’t have written 60% of this review and rant. I want to watch a movie with The Flash taking on The Rouges. Captain Cold, Golden Glider, and hell, I’d love to see the Shade. I’d actually watch a movie about Atlantean politics and conflict. Cyborg, being born from technology made by the New Gods (characters from the planets New Genesis and Apokolips), is potentially the only character that needs this movie to have a stable starting point. Instead, we got a film with less depth than an animated cartoon, with a budget that dwarfs any small economy.
I do have to say, if they were to get their own films, the Flash would need a more traditional costume than the idiotic plate-mail mess that he has now, wrapped in what I can only say is metal twine. The costume director and the director of CG need to go back to art school and take a lesson on how to design costumes and creatures.
Too many surfaces reflecting light is extremely distracting and hard to focus on consistently. While watching the film, I had no idea the first foe Batman fought was a parademon. There were so many sources of light reflecting off it that I could not make out many surface features of the creature, nor it’s attire. I thought for a moment that it was Firefly.
Now, the finale of this movie is probably the least-worst element of this movie, for one specific reason. Everyone comes together to infiltrate the stone tree thing created by Steppenwolf having the three Motherboxes. Everyone but Cyborg fights Steppenwolf to distract him while Cyborg attempts to split the boxes apart. Clashes, slo-mo, and Superman coming just when he is needed to save the day. The reason why it is the least unenjoyable component of the film is that I am using this one paragraph to represent its presence and impact on the entire film.
Justice League is a movie that you cannot discuss without mentioning the awful dialog. Like a lot of this article, Justice League is riddled with awful one-liners and cliched dialog. I honestly hoped they would have learned with how bad BvS, and Suicide Squad did that they should have stuck to how decently Wonder Woman handled the dialog. It wasn’t anything special, but is LEAGUES better than the junk we have now. That forced joke is the bar the film has set for their standards in writing, when it’s not being boring that is.
I can say that Batfleck actually felt like an alright batman in this film, but still hate his voice disguise tech. For other positives, I actually liked Cyborg in this film. For being one of the showcase characters – his character felt like it had enough development to warrant his screentime. It was left to be figured out by the audience for the most part, and was honestly the only component of this film I thought was done alright.
What I can also say is those positives are vastly not worth the monetary and time commitments to see Justice League. If you’re a fan of aggressive slow motion, numerous jump cuts, and an exposition-heavy story, you’ve got your perfect film. For everyone else, spend your money on something useful, or save it. This movie is not worth the two and a half hour commitment it demands. It may be better than BvS, but that’s not a bragging right; it’s a general expectation of any film.
★☆☆☆☆ “Trash – A painful experience. Only masochists need apply.”