There’s been a lot of discussion about the Justice League and our review of the Justice League movie. The DC cinematic franchise was on shaky ground following the critically savaged Batman v. Superman and the even worse Suicide Squad. Warner Brothers didn’t seem willing to slow things down and rethink their strategy, but they did take notice and bring in new blood to help with the entries that followed. Patty Jenkins turned down a shot at Thor: The Dark World as her first entry into the superhero genre, but she succeeded in capturing the heart and soul of Wonder Woman. It was a breath of fresh air and it came in the nick of time. When all hope was dwindling, we were rescued from the brink of despair as Jenkins delivered a terrific movie. James Wan has a stellar track record and is nearing completion on Aquaman.
Zack Snyder was still at the helm of Justice League for most of its production, but a family tragedy caused him to step aside, leading to Joss Whedon’s involvement. In most of his films, Snyder manages to deliver a brilliant vision that is oftentimes not properly executed and takes away from the compelling story. You look forward to set pieces, but not the overall composition. Joss Whedon, on the other hand, has a way of taking characters and letting them dance side by side on screen until they are one unique ensemble. You are emotionally tied to each character and enjoy every moment of their story. How Snyder’s vision and Whedon’s words would pair was anyone’s guess; but after stressing over the failures and setbacks, I can safely say that Warner Brothers and DC have nothing to worry about.
In Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder and written by Chris Terrio & Joss Whedon, the loss of Superman has plunged a shroud of doubt over the planet and left it vulnerable to new and terrifying threats. Bruce Wayne / Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are trying to recruit people with superhuman abilities that could help take on an impending enemy by the name of Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). This new evil is an ancient being from another world who was emboldened by the death of the last Kryptonian and is now attempting to bring his wrath to Earth. The new recruits are Barry Allen / The Flash (Ezra Miller), Victor Stone / Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Arthur Curry / Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Together they must risk their lives to save the world and hope that their strength and teamwork will be enough to hold the darkness back.
Superhero movies can be anything nowadays, but at the end of the day, it’s the fun ones that keep you coming back for more. Justice League is so much fun, and not just for its excellent banter between the characters. The way the story is introduced, how it unfolds, and the wonderful Danny Elfman score all bring a joyous light to this ensemble film.
I enjoyed how this film sets up its characters. It pays attention to their backstory but doesn’t overextend the scenes with exposition. There is a storyline that permeates throughout the film and gets us to our ultimate goal of seeing these superheroes fight together, but it isn’t at the expense of good, worthwhile conversation, the necessary cornerstone of any decent story. You can speak dialogue or you can telegraph it with your facial expressions or body language. I find all three very useful, and each is demonstrated well in this movie. Ezra Miller makes the most of his character’s ability to speak in a multitude of ways. Perhaps this is because Allen is a loner and always struggling to connect socially with his peers; so he tries anything to relay his thoughts and opinions.
Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone is a brooding man trying to determine his purpose as a cyborg with untapped potential. Fisher comes from a theater background and theater actors train themselves to harness the soul of their characters. I felt the raw intensity beneath the surface in Stone because of Fisher’s performance. Jason Momoa brings a certain bravado to Curry. He has strong convictions but is disenchanted with the world and its choices. Momoa kind of reminded me of Maui from Moana. He has power that he squanders and is most likely running away from his true destiny. With this newly introduced heroes-in-training, you get only a few snippets of their lives. I found it was just enough to know who they are and where they might be going.
Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot reprise their roles as Batman and Wonder Woman, and they both deliver great performances. Affleck portrays Wayne with more optimism than in the past. Bruce is willing to put his own life in harm’s way to see the world has a team they can root for and rely on. Gadot is slowly improving her acting, and I fully believe in her Wonder Woman. She commands her action scenes and gives Diana a presence of gravitas in her cordial disagreements with Bruce. Their chemistry together and with the entire team is a real pleasure to watch.
The biggest highlight of this movie, aside from some outstanding action moments that any comic book lover would drool over, is the chemistry. You’ll walk away from this film wanting to see more of this gang of heroes. The humor, tone, and personality make this ensemble succeed. Joss Whedon may have contributed to the dialogue and directing, but these actors know how to make it sing.
No superhero movie is without flaws. You focus on the entertainment value, but some things simply fail to escape criticism. I’m not sure if it was the unwavering intention to meet the release date, but the visual effects may have suffered as a result. Steppenwolf does not seem fully rendered and it takes away from Ciaran Hind’s performance. Some of his lines are also a little too “B-movie villain.” There was a decision by Warner Brothers to limit the runtime of the movie to two hours, but only in small instances did I feel it in the storytelling. I firmly believe the lean editing was well executed and delivered some brilliant scenes that were emotionally cohesive and also kept up the momentum. It’s like they took a Saturday morning cartoon from your childhood, adapted it to a modern-day story, and made it just long enough to support a feature-length film. This would be a huge undertaking for anyone, and it worked. You may not get a complex story, but you do get character development and an exciting, charismatic superhero team.
At one point Justice League was an unfinished piece of art that Joss Whedon took into his hands and, with a fine touch, skillfully produced a triumphant superhero film. While I enjoyed every one of the main actors in this film, it was Ezra Miller, especially who has one of the funniest scenes in any comic book film. After seeing his portrayal of the Scarlet Speedster, I think he has a bright future in the DC world. In fact, no character is left behind in this movie. Each one has equal moments to shine and be counted on when the time comes. There are Easter eggs galore in this movie, including in the score. Danny Elfman really makes you listen to the music and appreciate the subtle nods to DC’s historic filmography. The world that Zack Snyder put forth is still the foundation of the Justice League, but the characters that reside within it are a different breed entirely. You could go in so many directions with these characters and know that they won’t be carbon copies of each other. It’s a fun approach to take, and one that helps differentiate itself from more established comic book franchises.
I’ve had to temper my expectations so many times, but now I’m actually excited to see what else is in store for DC movies. I recommend all audiences find their way to the theater and get ready to have a good time. I don’t know if the vitality of the franchise will continue (box office will decide that), and I don’t know if we will ever get this team of actors together again in one movie (there’s already a sequel planned, but box office results could impact that), but I am sure of one thing, when things are at their darkest, you must always have hope.
About Justice League
Synopsis: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
Stars: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds
Runtime: 2 Hours, 1 Minute