2017, PG-13, 121 mins.
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman / Henry Cavill as Clark Kent / Superman / Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman / Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry / Aquaman / Ezra Miller as Barry Allen / The Flash / Ray Fisher as Victor Stone / Cyborg / Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf / Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor / Amy Adams as Lois Lane / Amber Heard as Mera / J.K. Simmons as Commissioner James Gordon / Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth / Diane Lane as Martha Kent / Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta / Billy Crudup as Henry Allen
Directed by Zack Snyder / Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon
There are two
distinct ways that I could sum up my thoughts about JUSTICE LEAGUE, the long
awaited super hero team up film and fifth entry in the DC Extended
in me that plays with action figures and reads comic books unequivocally
loved JUSTICE LEAGUE. It's a living manifestation of my wildest childhood fantasies
come thrillingly to life.
the 42-year-old cold, emotionally detached, and analytical film critic in me
fully acknowledges that, yes, JUSTICE LEAGUE was a very beleaguered
production (more on that in a bit) that most definitely has its share of
obtrusive issues, not to mention that it certainly doesn't achieve the genre
greatness of this past summer's WONDER WOMAN,
nor does it have the raw and gutsy genre
busting ambition of BATMAN
V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.
But JUSTICE LEAGUE is replete some key and welcoming traits that
even the first two Zack Snyder helmed DCEU films lacked: warmth, color, and
humor. That, and it has a fine ensemble of actors here that makes
this iconic team dynamic, engaging, and, well, super heroic. Their shared
charisma is palpable and you want to see more movies with them, and this goes an awfully long way with helping to override many of
JUSTICE LEAGUE's creative missteps.
film's behind-the-scenes production woes could arguably make for an endlessly fascinating
finished principle photography on JUSTICE LEAGUE late last year and then
hired Joss Whedon (director of two AVENGERS
films for the rival Marvel Cinematic Universe) to punch up dialogue scenes
during the reshoot process. When
personal tragedy befell Snyder in the form of his daughter committing
suicide, he dropped out of JUSTICE LEAGUE during the post-production
phase, leaving Warner Bros and the powers that be scrambling to get Whedon
to take over the film. With
an unheard of budget of $25 million just for shooting additional scenes
alone, Whedon reported re-made twenty per cent of JUSTICE LEAGUE, leaving
Snyder receiving sole directing credit and Whedon getting a co-writer
director with Chris Terio.
I'm mostly pleased to report that the resulting film - the product of
essentially two directors not working in tandem - seems to flow together
well and with reasonable fluidity. To
be fair, there are key moments sprinkled throughout JUSTICE LEAGUE where
the reshoots stick out like a proverbial sore thumb, but they're not
overwhelmingly distracting, nor do they fundamentally take away from the
whole. Snyder's unmistakably
slick and sumptuous visual style is chiefly on display, whereas every time
key members of the team engage in zippy and acerbic dialogue exchanges
Whedon's fingerprints can be felt all over the story.
It's a fairly harmonious marriage of styles, which is complimented
by the fact that JUSTICE LEAGUE - unlike many recent super hero cinematic
extravaganzas - never wears out its welcome with a self-importantly
protracted running time. At a
lean and mean two hours, JUSTICE LEAGUE has expeditious pacing that gives
us all of the expositional particulars of all of the characters it's trying
to introduce for the first time to viewers.
Considering the predilection of so many blockbusters to be bloated
to the point of inspiring watch checking, the narrative simplicity on
display here is refreshing.
also a concentrated effort to follow-through on key story particulars of
previous DCEU films with further compelling exploration, like how - at
the end of BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE - Superman (Henry Cavill)
gave his life to save the world from a city destroying monstrosity created
by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). As
we flash-forward to the beginning of JUSTICE LEAGUE we see a world still in
deep mourning over the loss of their most supreme protector.
With Superman gone, Earth has become vulnerable to even more
dangerous threats from across the cosmos, leaving one in particular,
Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), journeying to the Man of Steel-free planet to
wage war and turn it into a fiery hellscape.
When Batman (Ben Afffleck) sees early signs of Steppenwolf's future
invasion when he comes across one of his monstrous parademons on a survey
mission he's forced to spring to action with a plan to defend his
home and the world at large.
himself with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, not missing a
charismatic beat from her sensational solo film from a few months back),
Batman decides that the time is right to start recruiting other humans
with special abilities far beyond mortal men to form a new super hero
defensive league. Both Batman
and Wonder Woman journey the globe to nab their new recruits, including
the remarkably fast Barry Allen, aka The Flash (Ezra Miller), the ocean
dwelling Arthur Curry, aka The Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and part man, part
machine Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
After a few key initial attempts to click as a collective and well oiled
unit stumble, especially during their first altercation with the
god-like Steppenwolf, the newly anointed "Justice League" soon
realize that they will have to find some manner of resurrecting their fallen
Kryptonian hero to assist them with thwarting Steppenwolf's vast and
seemingly unstoppable intergalactic army.
LEAGUE most assuredly shines and stands out on a level of team dynamics,
showcasing all of its lead actors owning their respective characters with
a real passionate relish while forging solid chemistry with one another.
Early scenes featuring Batman and Wonder Woman trying to convince
their various handpicked heroes to join their squad have an unexpected
comic urgency to them, especially with Miller's infectiously nervous
energy that he brings to the deer-in-the-headlights Barry Allen, who takes
a whole ten seconds to decide to take Batman up on his offer (Miller, if
anything, serves as a fully engaging and endlessly likeable audience
surrogate here, reacting to everything around him with open mouthed awe
and astonishment). Less
cooperative is Momoa's Aquaman, whose tattooed adored body, rock star mane
of hair, and hard boozing disposition makes him an odd fit to be a team
player. Momoa immerses
himself fully into all of Aquaman's tantalizing possibilities as a rugged
tough talking hero, whose own ultra macho posturing is turned upside down
in one of JUSTICE LEAGUE's best and funniest sequences where he ridicules
every team member right to their faces...but only because he's
accidentally sitting on Wonder Woman's lasso of truth.
Prince herself is just as elegantly poised and confident as she was in
her own origin film, and Gadot once again shows why she's arguably the
best member of this cast with the trickiest performance balance to pull
off. She's the unofficial
matriarchal leader of the league and equal partner to Affleck's Batman,
who has intriguingly emerged from the ruthless, law breaking vigilante in
BATMAN V SUPERMAN and now into a reasonably minded and considerably more
mellow crusader of justice that has learned from his past indiscretions.
There are a few teases thrown in here and there that Wonder Woman
and Batman are heading towards romance, but JUSTICE LEAGUE thankfully and mercifully dispenses with that.
Rounding off the team is the surprisingly complex arc of Fisher's
Cyborg, who's dealing with his own life after death after having what
remains of his physical human body being grafted to robotic parts.
If anything, he's the most sad and poignantly sympathetic of all
the Justice League members.
again, JUSTICE LEAGUE is perhaps too littered with too many other
supporting characters for its own good, especially considering its own
mandate to be an economically short film (at least as far as this genre
is concerned). The story
reintroduces us to past DCEU characters, like Amy Adams' Lois Lane and
Diane Lane's Martha Kent (both having two potent scenes
reuniting themselves with Cavill's Superman).
Kal-El himself also returns (which is no longer the spoiler that it was once
considered), albeit with odd digital makeup (Cavill infamously had his
moustache - that he was contractual obligated to keep for another film -
digitally erased from shots that he participated in during JUSTICE
LEAGUE's reshoots, resulting in something that's not as jaw-droppingly distracting
as some have pained to point out, but nevertheless still draws unwanted
attention and scrutiny to his character).
New faces also appear, albeit somewhat unnecessarily, like a
blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo by J.K. Simmons as Commission Gordon, an
appearance that feels more like an obligatory placeholder tease for a
larger role in the upcoming Matt Reeves helmed BATMAN solo film.
LEAGUE's biggest sin is its execution of its main baddie in Steppenwolf, a
being of majestically and intimidatingly bassy tenor thanks to the voice
work of Hinds, but
mournfully reduced to a garish and frankly ugly looking CG creation that
lacks any level of memorable flair. Steppenwolf
is a menacing figure, but lacks an inspiring physical presence throughout
the narrative, and his backstory as well when it comes to his motivations
to invade Earth in the first place are somewhat ill defined and lack
embellishment. If anything,
he serves the larger purpose of being a MacGuffin-like entity that
leads to the formation of the Justice League itself, but beyond serving as
a catalyst that springs Batman and Wonder Woman to proactive action,
Stepphenwolf seems oddly inconsequential here.
Comic book purists will know of his ties to the much larger villain
in the DC comics world in Darkseid, but casual filmgoers leaving JUSTICE
LEAGUE will undoubtedly have trouble making those connections.
And despite the fact that JUSTICE LEAGUE has neatly trimmed the monotonous fat off of its running time, I still would be interested to see a longer cut of this film that allows the many of these new characters more thorough and meaningful introductions that don't feel a tad rushed out of the gate. Yet, you still have to kind of admire how nimble footed Snyder's and Whedon's approach to the material is here, diving headfirst into multiple origin stories and giving us all of the core details we need to know about them with minimal fuss (and in less than two hours, which is thanklessly commendable). More importantly, JUSTICE LEAGUE is made with energy and urgency, and at the risk of employing an overused and simplistic descriptor, it's fun and has its heart in the right place. This is not a transcending piece of super hero filmmaking (if anything, the makers here play everything achingly safe), but its aims were to course correct the DCEU into something more inviting and purely entertaining. On those basic levels, JUSTICE LEAGUE accomplishes its own end game and is a modest success.
And while watching the entire team strike a victory pose at the film's climax it was awfully hard for the cold hearted 42-year-old film critic in me not to crack a smile like a wide-eyed 10-year-old.
My CTV Review: