It feels unfair to review Justice League, a troubled production beset by personal tragedy with extensive re-shoots that were done so recently it would be difficult to get the effects just right. Too big to fail and too rushed to deliver the film still manages to…yes have its moments. The first may sum up both everything wrong and right with it; a tape by two kids interviewing Superman when he was alive opens the film. Henry Cavill is charming and perfect as Superman in this scene talking to the kids and emanating hope and inspiration. Long term fans of the character will love this scene because in it they will recognise the Superman they love but they will also wonder why it is Superman’s upper lip looks a bit weird and they may also reflect that Cavill’s Superman has rarely acted like this previously on screen. Therein lies the rub, this is a sequel in a way to a film that doesn’t exist. With the shift in tone they can acknowledge the past movies but not build upon them and there’s something inconsistent in how some of these characters changed behaviours that just come across as non-authentic. Batman vs. Superman also suffered from feeling like it was too many movies in one but at the least tone and the look of the world was consistent.
One way it is improved is in its relentless efficiency, some subplots are even dropped to make sure the film runs less than 2 hours. Almost all scenes are just to introduce characters to one another and move onto the next obligatory action scene, the bad guy is nothing more than a computer generated villain sprouting some lines about collecting boxes and taking over. Each of the new heroes is given one set-up scene, one scene where they introduced to Batman (Ben Affleck) and/or Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and then they all join together to fight…you know I kind of forget his name but don’t worry it doesn’t matter. They’re defeated so they then decide to spoiler but seriously you knew they were gonna get spoiler and spoiler so that spoiler by the end of the movie. In some ways it’s nice to not have an unnecessarily convoluted story but Cyborg (Ray Fisher) for example seems to have an interesting sub plot that does not really go anywhere. Most of the cast does well to sell you on the idea of them being in their own movie; Gal Gadot fared better under the direction of Zack Snyder and Patty Jenkins but is still great even if having the camera make her skirt seem shorter in this film. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is hot and the Flash (Ezra Miller) is funny, there’s a nice scene where he and Cyborg share they’re the accidents. A nice idea toyed with is that Batman truly is the more vulnerable hero in the group without any superpowers and is needed more for his ideas and direction than muscle and he’s also feeling his age more in this one. Remember when his portrayal was met with so much acclaim 20 months ago and now they’re already talking about how he may retire from the role?! I have no idea why J.K. Simmons had to hit the gym like a beast to appear on a rooftop in a trench coat for two scenes as Commissioner Gordon but hey that’s Hollywood for you. Amy Adams and Diane Lane are both back too as Lois Lane and Martha Wayne, completely being wasted in a movie that does not deserve them as the human face of what was lost when Superman died.
Despite a second director coming through half way through production the tone and visuals are relatively consistent but the props, costumes and locations were originally intended for different lighting and as a result don’t look as good with the revised palette. With rushed re-shoots and CGI augmentation this movie which comes with a reported budget of $300 million looks remarkably cheap too. Most of the action is boring, nothing on par with that sequence involving Batman rescuing Marthaaaaa! in the last film. There are flourishes of humour throughout that are classic Joss Whedon and given his track record it would really be interesting to see what he would do with a Justice League 2 with time to write a proper script and shoot Henry Cavill without having to CGI out his moustache from a Mission: Impossible movie.
As a comic book fan there are moments in this movie that will make your heart soar and others that will make you so mad at wasted opportunities. This is a film caught between two moments, neither the Zack Snyder film originally envisioned nor a Joss Whedon film built from the ground up. Both probably would have been better films but this is the one we got and under the circumstances it could have been a lot worse. Yet it could have been a lot better too.
Directors: Zack Snyder
Screenwriter: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons and Henry Cavi