Review - Justice League

Justice League (2017), PG-13, 2hr - The long anticipated Justice League film finally hit theaters last weekend.  And when I say long, I mean long.  Comic book fans have been hoping and waiting for a Justice League film for about ten years now (George Miller had a JL film in pre-production in the mid-late 00's).  Things fell through (the details of which can and have been summed up better than I could, so I won't go into those details here), and the world has been forced to wait for the first live action adaptation of DC's super-team ever since.  This incarnation of the project faced production issues of its own, but all in all the end result is a step in the right direction for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).

As we know from the trailer, Justice League focuses on Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman's (Gal Gadot) recruitment of others with powers in an effort to combat an impending doom.  That threat arrives in the form of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), a New God from Apokolips who is trying to collect the three Mother Boxes (long ago separated and secreted across the globe) so that he may destroy Earth and rebuild it as he sees fit.  If this basic plot sounds familiar, it's because it is virtually the same as 2013's Man of Steel (funny that I didn't even think of this until now, a week after seeing the film, while writing my review).  Only this time around, there is no Superman to help combat this threat (see 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to find out why), which is why Batman and Wonder Woman recruit the likes of Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Flash (Ezra Miller) for help.

Overall, I really enjoyed the film, although I do have a few issues with it.  I'll focus on the positives first.  Considering that WB/DC took a different path to their tent pole team-up film than Marvel did (Marvel led into The Avengers with five solo films, whereas WB/DC has really only had two solo films and last year's JL-prequel Batman v Superman), I felt that they did a pretty good job of introducing all of the new characters.  They provided enough of a background so that they fit into this film well, while still being vague enough to drive interest towards their future solo films (Aquaman in 2018, and Cyborg and Flash in 2020).  Having had little to no familiarity with either Fisher or Miller previously, I was a little worried going into the film, but both were quite entertaining and more than held their own with their more recognizable co-stars.  Along with the introductions of these three primary characters, we also see the DCEU debuts of supporting characters such as Batman's Commission Gordon (J.K. Simmons), Aquaman's Mera (Amber Heard), Cyborg's Silas Stone (Joe Morton), and Flash's Henry Allen (Billy Crudup).  I also really enjoyed some of the interactions between the heroes, both socially and when it came to combining power sets in battle.

The score was provided by Danny Elfman so you know that it's pretty solid, and long time Batman/Superman fans will recognize snippets of both Elfman's theme from 1989's Batman and John Williams' iconic theme from 1978's Superman.

It is fairly well known that Director and primary DCEU architect Zack Snyder (understandably) left the film mid-production after his daughter's suicide earlier this year.  WB/DC then recruited Joss Whedon (director of The Avengers among others) to oversee the rest of the film's production.  As a result, changes were made.  It's no secret that the overall tone of both director's resumes differ fairly drastically.  I only mention this because I feel like the problems that the film does have can likely be traced back to this mid-production change.  Considering such a huge change being made in the middle of production, I'm willing to give the film's short comings a bit of a pass.  You can only do so much while staying on schedule, given the circumstances.

Those concerns aside, I do feel that most people will enjoy Justice League, and that the film doesn't deserve the amount of negativity that it has been receiving from critics and the various aggregate film-scoring websites.  Does the film have its problems?  Sure, but it succeeds in introducing a number of new and interesting characters to the DCEU and is a fun film overall.  If you're looking for something to break up the monotony of this busy holiday shopping weekend, you could do a lot worse than Justice League.  I believe it is a good bridge from the DCEU films that came before it (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman), moving forward to the films to come (Aquaman, the Wonder Woman sequel, Batman, Cyborg, and Flash).  If you are worried about a lot of film continuity potentially being a problem, you shouldn't.  Justice League stands on its own fairly well, although it may help to have seen Batman v Superman so that you know what is going on with Superman (Henry Cavill) leading into this film.


- In a new move for a DCEU film, there are two post film scenes: the first is mid-credits and shows Flash and Superman having a fun 'who's really the fastest?' race, while the second appears post-credits and shows Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) recruiting Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) to some sort of villain team-up after having escaped from prison.  Eisenberg's Luthor was very inconsistent in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but here we got the more even-keeled version as seen in the rooftop scene of that film with Superman that provided a glimpse of what he was capable of.  The best part of this scene was that Manganiello was actually portraying Deathstroke.  After originally being cast in the roll for the upcoming Batman solo film, there have been many rumors about potential changes to that film that left the certainty of his involvement up in the air.

- Honestly, I had three primary issues with the film, and even then, they are sort of nit-picky.  In order of how glaring I felt they were:
  • Bruce Wayne and Aquaman were openly discussing the fact that Bruce is Batman in front of an entire fishing colony.  Even with the remote nature of the colony, why on Earth would Bruce Wayne, a man shrouded in secrecy, chance publicly revealing his identity?  
  • The Amazons were depicted differently in this film than they were in Wonder Woman.  Specifically, a number of Amazons were more scantily clad than they were when introduced in the Wonder Woman film earlier this year.  Not all of them mind you, but a number of secondary Amazons were inexplicably exposing more skin.  This may be a small detail, but it feels a bit weird and just seems unnecessary.
  • While I loved the inclusion of elements from comics legend Jack Kirby's Fourth World stories, I felt that there was little to no explanation of just what those elements were in order for them to be truly appreciated by those who are not die-hard comic book fans.  I have just enough understanding of Kirby's Fourth World to have recognized what I saw, but I can only imagine how confusing it may be for others.
- I would be very curious to see how the film would have turned out if completed under Snyder's original vision.  I know that many people have issues with how he has handled the DCEU previously, but despite the changes he's made in some of the characters/characterizations, I have generally enjoyed what he's put together (although I would not consider myself a die-hard DC fan).  Supposedly Snyder's original plan was for an almost three hour run-time, whereas Whedon was very adamant about keeping the run time to right around two hours.

- Along with the new characters introduced to the DCEU, we see Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), and Lisa Loven Kongsli (Menalippe) reprise their roles from earlier DCEU films.

- During the flashback sequence of the first time Earth was defended against the forces of  Steppenwolf and Apokolips, we see the involvement of Green Lanterns.  This is the first reference to Green Lanterns being included in the DCEU.

- I don't know if it is due to the effects used while he is running, slowed down so that we can see his movement, but I felt like Flash's running motion was very awkward, arms and legs flailing in a very unnatural motion.

- The trailer includes a couple of scenes that don't even show up in the film. A different cut of Lois and Clark talking in the cornfield appears in the film, and the bit with Alfred saying 'you came' doesn't appear at all.

- It would be nice if WB/DC would introduce a threatening villain that was not primarily CG'd.  After Zod (in battle), Doomsday, and Ares, Steppenwolf is CG'd just enough that he feels a bit out of place.  I wish they would find a way to portray some of their battles/villains a little more practically.  

- At one point Alfred makes a comment to Bruce about 'exploding wind-up penguins', which is a reference to 1992's Batman Returns.

- Similarly to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman's movements on the roof tops and in battle are very comic book-esque.  

- Cyborg fans will love that he uses his signature 'booyah' catchphrase.

- GCPD Detective Crispus Allen (most notably from the Gotham Central series written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka) appears, portrayed by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

- When Barry Allen points out the Bat Signal in the sky, we see the sign for Ace Chemicals on the Gotham City skyline.  Ace Chemicals is where the accident from Joker's origin occurred.

- Clark wears a plaid flannel shirt/jacket at different points in the film, an homage to his look from previous live-action incarnations.

- At one point, Steppenwolf mentions Darkseid and Apokolips.  This is the most direct tie to more of Jack Kirby's Fourth World, but is not detailed any further.

- The shot of the shell casing falling in slow-motion is a very Zack Snyder shot, and could be considered a bit of an homage to a similar shot from the beginning of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice when Bruce's parents are shot.  

- Towards the end of the film, we get a hint of the Justice League's Hall of Justice being put together.


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