The headline way to start this review is to say something along the lines of “Justice League is a garbled mess of a film with no notion of subtlety.” It wouldn’t be a false statement.
But there are redeeming qualities to the latest DC film, coming to us by way of Zack Snyder with some re-shoots done by Joss Whedon. There is a comic relief character in the form of Ezra Miller’s Flash that works most of the time. Granted there is another comic relief character in the form of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman that works much less effectively (it would not have been surprising to hear him say something like “cowabunga” or “tubular”).
There is a scene involving a fight at a memorial site that is handled quite well. It is choreographed in a relatively exciting way. The fight actually has tangible stakes that we as an audience can feel and understand.
In general, the film feels cartoonish, and sometimes that is a fun thing to see in a DC film. Mostly, however, this tone just contributes to the messiness of it all.
The visual effects look awkward at the best of times, and they are eyesores at the worst of times. The main villain of the film appears grotesque, not because we are meant to be disgusted by him but because the computer-generated effect that is his face looks like it exists as a character template from an early-2000s sci-fi/fantasy film.
What comes from these inadequate effects are action sequences that read unrefined, full of flashing lights and gaudy spectacle. Not to mention that every second of these action sequences is scored by the clanging and ringing of metal. There is so much singing metal in this film that you could make a drinking game out of it. It would be dangerous, but you could do it.
Justice League is a trim two hours in length. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a breath of fresh air in a market where superhero movies often clock in at 140 minutes or longer. For what the film is attempting—bring together a team of superheros, some of which we have never met before outside of fan-service bits in other films—there is simply not enough time.
Each character gets an introduction in the first act of the film. This is done better than in Suicide Squad. And yet, it is not enough to make us care about this group or why it needs to be constructed in the first place. Given that Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and his evil plot is merely a Macguffin for this Justice League formation, the narrative of the film holds no real stakes.
What we are left with is a chance to marvel (no pun intended) at these characters as they join up and use their powers. Except, these characters ring hollow. This is true even for Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who was given plenty of character in the previous DC film.
None of these characters have goals (aside from facing the big bad), or motivations (except for ones that are needed for the plot to happen), or a real sense of being part of a team (aside from a handful of jibes and japes that characters make with one another).
The fundamental question that this film needs to answer is: Why do we care about seeing these characters come together? Beyond the impending doom that is a CG bug swarm (which you will never believe as something that could cause harm, despite the film’s attempt to make you care about one family that is in danger), Justice League doesn’t answer the question.
There are a few technical flourishes that keep the film above the line when it comes to other DC films. The Danny Elfman score uses hints of familiar themes. Scenes are lit in a way more similar to Wonder Woman than Batman v Superman. But for every technical triumph there is a technical hiccup, like weird green screen usage and that Henry Cavill upper lip.
That’s how Justice League feels. It is a handful of good in a pool of mediocrity. The characters can be fun and engaging while simultaneously being empty and not progressing. The narrative is thin and without stakes, even if an action scene here or there is exciting and flashy. The acting is by-and-large successful, even though the actors don’t get enough time to make their characters feel full.
The ultimate positive takeaway is this: It is clear the world of Justice League and thus the DCEU has the potential to be vast and engaging, in that different humanoid species on Earth and beyond exist to fight off evil and survive. There is one flashback sequence that is used in the film as exposition but is in fact the most fascinating thing that the DCEU has put forth so far. It expands the world of the DCEU in ways that are genuinely intriguing.
However, as much as Justice League broadens the possibilities for the DCEU, it is a messy film that otherwise does not stand on its own as something with a qualitative net positive.
At the very least, Justice League allows me the joy of something that until now I never thought I needed in my life. This is, of course, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman riding atop a bug demon like a surfboard as they crash through a building.
Justice League: C
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)