Dawn of Justice was terrible. Snyder made Superman into a dull, whining emo and Batman into a dim-witted, drunken, murdering psychopath who happens to dress like a bat. It goes without saying, then, that even after a mostly very good solo outing for Wonder Woman, I had no hope at all for Justice League.
Imagine my surprise, then, when after weeks of trying and failing to get in to see it, I found myself entirely alone in the cinema, enjoying most of what I was seeing. That’s right, I went to see Thor. I jest. I didn’t see Thor. Perhaps ‘enjoying’ is too strong a term. Easily tolerating.
Given how long it has been out now, I won’t try to avoid spoilers here but, honestly, there’s pretty much nothing TO spoil.
First off, the postivity of my opinion will obviously be swayed by how awful BvS was and the fact that it’s difficult not to compare Justice League with that. Were this the first team up film they had made, I would on the one hand be less forgiving, but on the other be a little more hopeful for the future of the DCMU (which is what I’m calling it). It had plenty of problems, but they seemed smaller than those in BvS, and there were actually enjoyable parts. On a scale of 1 (BvS) to 10 (WW – not that I’d quite give WW a 10/10), I would call Justice League a 6. In a proper rating out of 10, standing on its own merit, I’m not too sure what I could give it. Definitely less than that. 4?
Let’s start with my three biggest problems:
The CGI – WB needs to get its &%$! together when it comes to many things, but perhaps the most obvious to even the most casual of moviegoers is the CGI. It is sensationally bad. JL contains the worst yet. From a terrible, 100% CGI villain to completely unnecessary 100% CGI Alfred, to green-screening that looks like an unfinished fan film, WB would be hard pressed to make the CGI any worse. Cyborg’s face doesn’t need to be CGI – just have him wear a half mask and do it up with little bits of CGI. Although, they couldn’t get Superman’s upper lip to look realistic, so perhaps all is lost in this department.
The length – Perhaps ‘learning’ from people complaining about the length of BvS, Justice League is only two hours long. That would be okay for a solo film, but this is a team-up of six major characters. Although it did, to be fair, seem to give the characters equal-ish screen time, it could have done with at least an extra 30 minutes. As it is, it feels as though Whedon or Snyder or someone forgot that a film should have a middle, and instead went straight from the beginning into a run up to the end. One moment, we’re seeing some of the characters doing their own thing, and the next it’s all go. It’s like Usain Bolt turning up for the Olympics opening ceremony only to hear the starting gun and everyone’s off running and he’s not even in his goddamn shorts!
The Foundation – The film itself can’t help that it has to work off BvS, but…it does. Snyder stupidly rushed into the death of Superman storyline when the world doesn’t trust him, Batman just tried to murder him, and Diana has barely even met him. Even we, the audience, don’t have a good grasp of him as a character (this particular iteration, that is). Yet we’re supposed to believe that the entire world is in mourning because of his death, and so is each of the soon-to-be League. There are shots of places around the world flying gigantic flags with the Superman logo on them. Simply moronic.
Since I’m not sure how else to continue this whatever-this-is, let’s talk about the heroes:
Batman was a huge disappointment in BvS. He was stupid and oblivious (he lets himself get caught in Luthor’s servers twice, and clumsy, plodding Clark Kent manages to follow him there a third time without him even noticing. World’s greatest dewhat?). There was an allusion to him being an alcoholic womaniser, rather than this being simply a disguise and misdirection. He’s a murdering psychopath. He stands smirking as his traps hurt Superman instead of actually acting. He sees Doomsday about to laser-face him and cowers behind his hands instead of using his multitude of tools and skills to save himself (I maintain that the scene should have happened as is, except without him swearing and hiding, and when Diana turns around to see if he’s okay, he’s standing on the roof above, having escaped in time anyway – she’s still the hero who jumped in front of face laser to save him, and he’s still Batman).
But…I’m getting off track. In Justice League, we’re not too sure if he’s still a murderer because no one ever mentions it and he only fights parademons, which don’t count. He’s still not the Batman I want to see, but he’s a little closer to it. Despite being an older Batman, he shows no signs of the take-charge, always ten steps ahead, ready for anything, surprised by nothing Batman I want to see. For reference, Kevin Conroy is the definitive Batman for me – a live action version of the Batman of the Arkham games would be the Marvel-buster (basically a more brutal, adult version of the animated series Batman). But he doesn’t seem quite as stupid this time, at least. The worst part for me was when Superman first shows up to fight Steppenwolf and Batman literally gasps, with a huge grin on his face. I mean…no.
Batman’s first scene is by far the best and (along with a certain two-sworded villain’s appearance in the post-credits) actually gave me a little hope for his solo film (NOTE: Before editing this, I read that he may now not be playing Batman again after all, which is disappointing – the problem is the Batman he’s been given, not how Affleck plays him). There’s nothing particularly special about it, but it just felt…nice. It felt Batman-ish. A common burglar is climbing out of a window with his loot, and in the window’s reflection, you see Batman watching. Then comes a fairly typical cat and mouse sequence where the thief tries to shoot him but Batman’s never quite there. Again, nothing special, but the most Batman-ish we’ve seen this Batman (and credit to the city around them – it felt like Gotham).
There’s not too much to say about Wonder Woman. Her role is fairly minimal outside of hitting and slicing things. Otherwise, she’s really only there to protest bringing Superman back and to explain, unconvincingly, why she went off people in between WW and BvS. But what she did do, she did well.
It looked from the trailers like the team was a bit of a mess right up until Diana takes charge and gets them working as a team. This is not the case. Neither do they work badly together to start with, nor do they work particularly well together in the final fight. Perhaps WB’s collective brain will start working and we’ll see a Patty Jenkins Justice League next. I don’t know how she’d handle Batman, but WW, Superman, and Flash would all do well under her.
I was disappointed to see that not once did she fly. I still don’t know for sure if this version of Wonder Woman CAN fly. She certainly seemed to in her solo film, but it wasn’t clear enough. I’ve said before that, to me, she is almost Superman’s equal. He has more raw strength and power, but she is a demigod (or maybe full god in this version?) and is magic-based, and a trained warrior. These things together – again, to me – make her pretty much his equal in terms of who can beat who (up until Superman totally unleashes, that is; which he didn’t). I was worried, then, when I saw in a leaked video of Superman’s fight with them, that they headbutt each other. She barely knocks his head back, but then he headbutts her back and she gets planted in the concrete. The full scene is slightly better, as he actually headbutts her first, and does as little damage as her return headbutt. This at least shows that the most powerful man in the universe has to make some real effort to hurt her (but look out further down for how that’s completely ruined later on).
We all knew he was going to come back in this film, but it was as though all the characters knew he was going to come back in this film too. There was no light bulb moment when they realise they can bring him back; there was no clever or interesting way they went about it; there was no emotional realisation that it might actually be possible; there was no real drama to him suddenly being alive again. Aquaman and Diana put forward their ideas that it might be a bad idea – that they don’t know that he’d come back wholly himself – but otherwise, there’s not really any discussion about it.
Then there’s the fact that he’s only in three crucial scenes. His fight with the others, his talk with Lois, and then the end fight when he turns up to save the day, single-handed. Again, this is where a longer film would have come in handy. Perhaps the worst thing about this is that when he does turn up to fight Steppenwolf (cue Batman’s schoolgirl gasp), he bats him about like a cat playing with a dead mouse. This is badly handled. Not only because the other superpowered heroes do him almost no damage (remember how Superman had to really try in order to hurt WW?), but also because of the introductory flashback scene of the first time he comes to Earth, and is fought by Amazons, Atlantians, ‘the tribes of man’, and…wait for it…gods. Yes, the actual gods fight him, and he’s still only just sent packing. But Superman turns up and that’s that. He doesn’t even get a hair out of place while ‘fighting’ Steppenwolf. This, to me, is a little too much. Steppenwolf should at least have got in a couple of good hits. It should have been Superman’s power that allowed them TOGETHER to overwhelm Steppenwolf. Sure, he should be capable of defeating him single-handed, but it shouldn’t be that easy, or else what is the point of the Justice League? Not to mention, if Steppenwolf had hurt Superman a bit, we’d have been wondering just how much more damage Darkseid will be able to do (and I really just can’t get over how weak it makes Diana seem).
And he was just creepy and weird, like a Henry Cavill doppleganger was brought in to play him. He was so inhuman and unemotional all the way through – even when fighting Steppenwolf – as though he resented having to be there – character and actor.
Also, where did he get his new suit?
Apparently, Flash was most people’s favourite character. I don’t really understand why. His scenes with his father were a bit weak – there was no chemistry there at all. A lot of his humour was way over the top, forced, unfunny, and just childish. He runs weirdly. There’s a scene near the end where he’s running along a road, and I literally thought he was falling or something because of the way his arms were flailing about. But no, that’s just how he runs.
He is perhaps the most pointless character, as at least the others have reason to be there. Flash is just there because he’s part of the Justice League, so he HAS to be. Sure, he saves some people, but there’s no part where he earns his place in the team or the film.
I expected to dislike Aquaman. I don’t dislike Jason Mamoa, but his characters come across as too arrogant and smug for my liking. But, aside from a bit too much of the “Oh yeah”s and the “My man”s and the “Yeah-ya”s – which are nails on chalkboard to most non-Americans – he was actually okay. Not more than okay, but okay. I’ve read reviews that refer to him as the ‘bad boy’, which is just ridiculous. There’s nothing bad boy-ish about him other than his initial refusal to help. That’s it. He doesn’t hesitate for a second once he’s onboard. Doesn’t second guess anyone, doesn’t take issue with Diana taking charge and giving orders (one order), nothing. He has a teeny tiny spat with Cyborg which is over in an instant and feels no more serious than the rest of his banter.
What I don’t understand, though, is why he helps in the first place. Steppenwolf attacks Queen Mera, and Aquaman turns up to get beaten too. Then Mera – queen, remember – tells him that his then-queen mother gave him up to protect him (which he seems to immediately accept and change his previously-negative opinion of said mother), and that it would have been the mother’s duty (as queen) to go after Steppenwolf, but now it is Aquaman’s. W…why? Why is the queen’s duty not the queen’s duty now that the queen is a different queen? At least the Amazon queen actually makes some effort herself (and is actually acted properly too). It’s made to sound as though this is the first time Aquaman has even turned up in Atlantis, too, which makes it all even weirder.
I’ve heard it said that this is the weakest character, but I don’t agree. I don’t think he is given any less screen time than other characters, and best of all, his self-pity doesn’t last long and isn’t overwhelmingly irritating like certain other Batman/Superman films I could mention. He’s well acted, badly-CGI’d, and plays a crucial role in the story – but not so crucial that you feel he should have had a bigger part to play.
But seriously, why CGI the entire cyborg half of his face? It’s unnecessary and awful.
When it came to humour, as I’ve already said, Flash failed to amuse most of the time, but even that wasn’t totally horrendous as Age of Ultron taught me to expect from Whedon. The worst of it was the bit we already saw, with him getting excited about the Bat signal. Otherwise it was his general awkward, immature nature that was supposed to amuse. There were, I think, two parts that actually made me laugh – one of which is an older woman on the news, which has nothing to do with anything.
Danny Elfman – I’m assuming at Whedon’s behest, or at least permission – brought back the Batman and Superman themes (the proper ones), which worked quite well for Batman, despite him not being a Batman worthy of that theme. For Superman, I can only assume the part where it was used properly was cut. The only time we hear it is a bizzaro version when he’s not himself and is fighting the team. There is a recognisable sound when he punches Steppenwolf, which might be at least a bit of the theme, but it was barely audible underneath the noise of Steppenwolf hitting the ground. Perhaps just as well, since he was even less deserving of it than Batman.
‘Flat’ is probably the best word to describe it. Nothing ever felt remotely dangerous or dramatic, the only time the characters had a hint of emotional interaction with each other was when Bruce annoys Diana and she shoves him. Even that was over in an instant and they were apologising to each other minutes later. There’s no coming together, no clumsiness of people not used to working as a team and not used to trusting others, no…anything much. I’m not even totally sure why it would have been so terrible if Steppenwolf got all three motherboxes. I’m sure it was explained… It’s full of missed opportunities, rushes into things too fast, leaves no time for meaningful character development. It’s more like a pitch for a full film: ‘These are just some of the things you’ll see if you let us make a full Justice League movie’.
So, perhaps the main reason I actually ended up enjoying my two hours was because it was not as terrible as Dawn of Justice. I can’t explain why else I left the cinema not feeling as though I wasted two hours. I want the extended cut (BvS was less terrible in the extended cut), but whose do I want? Snyder’s? Not really. Whedon’s? Not really. I just want a longer, fuller version. But for now, I’m just surprised that I actually want to see it again.