Monday, February 19, 2018

Film Review: Justice League

Warner Bros. has long been criticized with making their DC Comics movies into serious, somber affairs rather than light-hearted fun films like those found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I think that this over-simplifies the differences, but regardless, it appears that Warner Bros. listened to the criticism and made what I would dub DC's first Marvel movie:  Justice League.

The movie takes place just after the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Our world is morning the loss of the Last Son of Krypton, but a foe from another world is rejoicing.  An alien conquerer Steppenwolf (Ciaron Hinds) has been slowly releasing flying drone monsters known as parademons throughout the world.  These parademons feed off of fear and are looking for items of power known as "Mother Boxes."  Batman (Ben Affleck), has been attempting to analyze this threat since his encounter with Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) at the end of the last film.  He recruits Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to help him assemble a team.  Batman reaches out to the world-weary loner Aquaman (Jason Momao) and adorkable speedster the Flash (Ezra Miller).  Another hero, Cyborb (Ray Fisher) also seeks out the heroes so that they can join forces to stop Steppenwolf from destroying the world.

The plot is a very straightforward, by-the-numbers superhero team fare.  But that doesn't mean that the movie isn't also a good deal of fun.

As always, director Zack Snyder has made a film that is gorgeous to watch.  Even though he left the project early beacause of a family tragedy, replacement director Joss Whedon keeps much of that same aesthetic intact.

You cannot review this movie without addressing this directing shake-up.  It is clearly evident in the movie.  This film was intended to be the capstone of a Zack Snyder DCEU trilogy.  And there are times when you can feel the thematic and tonal ties to Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman.  But then Whedon plays around in this world, but tries to make the film more like his breakout hit The Avengers.  Rather than letting the two styles harmonize completely, it feels like the movie cannot commit to a tone.  You see this most epsecially in Ben Affleck's performance.  His performance in Batman v. Superman is nuanced and powerful, always smoldering with barely-contained rage.  And there are many scenes where this can be seen in Justice League.  But then there are scenes where he comes off as relaxed and aloof like Tony Stark.  I would stake my paycheck that those latter scenes were filmed by Whedon.  Neither performance is bad, mind you.  But it feels a bit inconsistent.

The place where the melding works best, however, is the dialogue.  Especially in the early scenes, you can feel heavy drama and deep questions you would expect from a Snyder movie.  But Whedonesque wit actually compliments the darker tones that are found.  Batman is able to deliver insightful lines like "Superman was more human than I'll ever be."  And the Flash make jokes about Pet Semetary without it feeling out of place.

The biggest drawback of the film is its villain.  Steppenwolf is a character made of sub-par CGI and bland motives.  He is definitely no Loki.

Another challenge the story has that The Avengers did not was that it had to introduce half of its heroes in this film rather than bringing in already established characters.  This causes a lot of early exposition that slows down the first act, but the introductions are handled with care and are actually incredibly entertaining.

And a huge factor in that entertainment are the performances.  Affleck and Gadot are the center of this show and they hold everything together with their power and charisma.  Momoa comes off with effortless cool and manly-recklessness that his machismo comes off as charming rather than cringy.  When he shouts "My man!" during an epic fight, it feels oddly natural and awesome.  Fisher could have played Cyborg as one-note angry.  But he layers his performance as a man trying to reason his way out his unreasonable situation. The actor I was most worried about was Miller as the Flash.  His take on Barry Allen is nothing like the comic book version.  And even though I am a huge comic book nerd, I was okay with this diversion.  Miller functions as the fanboy; he is the stand in for all of us geeks who imagine what it might be like fight along side these heroes.  His beta-male point-of-view offers a wonderful foil to the more courageous members of the League.  And he serves as the jester of the group, cracking wise as he runs to and away from danger.  He probably has the best lines of the whole movie.

Also returning are Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, and Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth.  Adams role is smaller than in previous DCEU films, but she provides the emotional tether to the loss of Superman (Henry Cavill).  And Irons is once again perfect as the dry-witted butler.

One of the best things about movies like this is that it showcases the essential truths about heroism: courage and self-sacrifice.  The heroes have to face their fears and make choices that put the needs of others before themselves.  These very Christological ideals are continually explored as well the ideas of friendship and trust.

But the best part about the movie is that the entire thing is fun.

I enjoyed the entire film from start to finish.  There are several plot points that I will not discuss here for fear of spoilers (though by this point most of them are probably known).  The movie had lots of comic book moments that should satisfy most avid fans.  It also has one of my favorite comic book movie moments off all time.  I will not spoil the whole thing, but it involves the Flash as he is running with determination.  And then he sees something that terrifyies him beyond words.  In the theater I laughed so hard and the entire audince roared.  Whenever I think of this movie, this is the first scene I imagine.

This movie doesn't reach the emotional or thematic heights as Snyder's last two films.  Justice League seeks to simply be a fun action/adventure.  And on that level it soars up, up, and away.

image by Yasier72.multan

1 comment:

  1. "You cannot review this movie without addressing this directing shake-up."

    Now that you mention it, I actually managed to.