A flawed but exciting step in the right direction.
After the exuberant, empowering heights of this summer’s smash hit Wonder Woman, the DC cinematic universe was given a new lease of happiness and faith from audiences and critics alike. It was reported that the surprise success of the comic-book icon spurred some inclusive reshoots, alongside some Superman revisions which required the digital removing of Henry Cavill’s facial hair – something which is embarrassingly obvious. Justice League, like 2012’s The Avengers to Marvel, is the culmination of a overwhelmingly average roster of series starters, the worst-offender being Dawn of Justice (the only thing that rose was the overwhelming smell of theatric faeces). Thankfully, there’s a wiff of excitement in the air this time. DC may finally be getting their act together.
Following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), the world is resorting to chaos without the former beacon of hope. With an otherworldy enemy in the form of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) threatening to end the world, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) has to band together a League of heroes; Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
This year’s super-macguffin is the trinity of ‘Mother Boxes’. Three ominous sources of indescribable power, when combined, have world-bending possibilities. Their purpose isn’t entirely useless, but all things considered, they are underwhelming plot devices that carry no real presence of mystery or consideration in the audience’s mind. They’re there, do we care? No. Pair that with arguably the most forgettable villain in the DCEU so far, Steppenwolf is a pitiful flop of a foe. Hinds’ voice work is meagre, but most of all, the animation behind the villain is simply atrocious in this contemporary age of CGI.
The effects are a glaringly terrible issue. This is a Zack Snyder product, which, for audiences unaware of his style, generally brings about a more stylish approach rather than photo-realistic. However, the 2009 days of Watchmen are long-gone. No longer can Snyder hide behind the screen in defence of a different flair – it’s just plain bad. His flourish is appropriate in the more intimate scenes; such as Wonder Woman bursting through a door, The Flash catching a Baterang, Superman tackling the League one-on-one. But the large-scale, hell-on-earth battle sequences, or the long-winded wannabe ‘Quicksilvery’ Flash sprints, or any scene of Aquaman in the water, the film fails their audience. We can appreciate the murky realities of the ocean, but we also want crystal clear Mamoa rocketing through the seas, not just a silhouette of a blue whale.
The League as an ensemble are a titillating team up, accentuating each other’s strengths while building on their flaws. Ben Affleck’s Batman is a dynamic Dark Knight, showing his fighting chops as reliably as he did in BvS. However, as Bruce Wayne, he’s a shadow of the charismatic aristocrat we expect. He is a shadow in the death of the red-cape, but the lack of bravado makes for a more unexciting Batman (with the exception of a fine exchange between him and The Flash: “What are your superpowers again?”…”I’m rich.”
Wonder Woman is a comparably exceptional hero. Riding high off her rip-roarious, conquering solo outing, Gal Gadot embodies the icon fully and whole-heartedly. The terrific theme sneaks in, sending those oh-so-familiar goosebumps across my arms. Funnily enough, she’s a firmer lead to the League than the Bat from Gotham. Her return to the screen is highly anticipated.
As for the newbies, they are all given a fair turn. Ezra Miller puts in a commendable, quirky performance, let down by some painfully dweeby patter but enduringly likeable. Mamoa’s Aquaman is an Arctic-cool god-like figure, regretfully let down by some dire, uninspiring dialogue that keeps him pegged at a level of admiration that doesn’t reach his character, rather, he’s a cosmetic delight. Fisher’s Cyborg is a remarkably important part of the narrative, a relief considering he’s arguably the least-known in the team. Well-performed by Fisher also, his admittedly darker origins are never to be debated, but one has to consider if he has enough screen-power to justify a solo outing. As for the Man of Steel, his return is nicely handled and not frustratingly nonsensical as one expected.
The issue here is – Superman is powerful. Not just powerful, he is literally a God. His strength is made brutally pertinent in his reintroduction, quashing those in his way like a man with bugs. This does make his omnipotent presence a little overbearing as he is the answer to nearly every problem in the universe. The plus here is that Cavill is finally given the chance to smile as Superman; he’s happy, he’s charming, he’s bloody super. What’s frustrating though is the consistent betrayal of the determination and independence of another comic-book icon, Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who once again is resorted to an emotional damsel than a figure of focus.
Fans of the animated Batman series can rejoice and cry tears of happiness; the theme is worked into the score for this feature. In a moment of pure, unadulterated nostalgia, the heartwarming sound of that reassuring tune is a highlight of the film. Special nods to the original Superman theme and some reliable Hans Zimmer, but overall, the score has an old-school sensibility that is a reminder of the time before the masterful Zimmer scores of the Nolan era, when the action took centre stage in front of the music rather than the other way around. In return, the chaos is given more attention, but as stated, it’s not always worth looking at.
It’s a mixed bag in terms of the tone. Where Wonder Woman perfected it, Justice League expectedly has some dullness there. But down to the inclusion of Joss Whedon as the runner (after Snyder sadly had to depart from production after a family tragedy), the film soars on some intelligently crafted crackers. You can feel his soul through the chemistry of the team, and honestly, without him, this could have been a total, (cinematic) universe ending disaster. If you’re not emotionally invested in DC, this could come across a bit jumbled and not as appealing as Marvel’s efforts. But there’s plenty to love here, particularly an enticing little hint at Green Lantern, and two post-credit scenes you better make sure you keep your bums firmly in your seats for.