Justice League Review: Good News and Bad News

Photo Credit:http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/justice-league/news/a818614/justice-league-new-picture-zack-snyder-dc/

Whether he understands it, or knows how to communicate it, or not, Zach Snyder is fascinated by the philosophy surrounding superheroes. That’s why he made Watchmen. That’s why he made Batman v. Superman, which takes much of its inspiration from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. That fascination comes across beautifully in Justice League’s duel opening scenes. The first is a child filming Superman (Henry Cavill) on his phone after he saved some folks, and just embodying the good he’s come to define in popular culture over the past 80-ish years, even if not in Snyder’s own DC films. The second is flashes of people suffering all across the world in light of the absence of hope, personified via the death of Superman at the end of Batman v. Superman. Here Snyder puts the camera on the real people in the world that genuinely need saving. It’s a moment more profound than any in the last 10 Marvel films. It’s also a moment not indicative of what the rest of Justice League ends up being.

Despite the fact that neither of the DCEU’s Superman-focused films made him into the beacon of hope he’s meant to be, Justice League sure acts like they did, but also does enough work to turn a corner on this series’ version of Kal-El. In wake of his death, Batman (Ben Affleck, clearly bored) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, still iconic) get the sense that something is coming to wreak havoc on the Earth. Enter Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a cookie-cutter CGI villain that’s barely worse than most of the MCU villains that aren’t related by blood to Thor. We watch this underwritten general defeat the Amazons and the Atlanteans in his quest to destroy the planet. And thus, Batman and Wonder Woman go on a mission to recruit more heroes like them. Most pivotal to the plot is Cyborg (Ray Fisher), but he also manages to be the blandest. The Flash (Ezra Miller), on the other hand, is just a ton of fun to watch and really comes close to saving the film. Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) is somewhere inbetween, with Mamoa doing solid work in the role, but suffering from a script that mostly relies on his quips and one liners, rather than any legitimate pathos.

With all these heroes in play, the standard superhero movie tropes are all on display in Justice League. Somehow, the film feels more like it’s merely going through the motions more than any of the MCU’s films this year. That’s where, through Snyder’s unimaginable family tragedy midway through production, Joss Whedon taking over after is most felt, in both good and bad ways. This film is genuinely funnier than the lesser DCEU outings, but it also sticks close to the tried and true formula that carried both of Whedon’s Avengers films (okay, so maybe his first one actually proved the merit of the formula…).

And even so, the success rate of the various superhero portrayals on the team makes for an uneven saga even while hitting the usual story beats. On the positive side, we’ve got Wonder Woman and the Flash, one who embodies hope and finds a way to bring that hope to others, and one who finds hope within himself and inserts as much comedic relief as he can. On the negative side, after a pretty watchable debut in Batman v. Superman, Affleck practically sleeps through his role this time around, while neither the script nor Fisher are capable of bringing any life to Cyborg. Somewhere in the middle are the entertaining but underwritten Aquaman, and the awkwardly reintroduced but surprisingly resonant Superman. Cavill does his best work as the original superhero here, inserting earnest compassion and unabashed heroism into every scene he’s in, which admittedly are few.

All in all, Justice League feels like a transitional film, taking the darkness of Snyder’s previous efforts and trying to push it more in the direction of what Marvel has done. But what they really should be doing is looking at Wonder Woman and finding ways to deliver these classic heroes in ways that aren’t only satisfying and entertaining, but emotional as well. That’s where the evolution of the superhero film belongs, as we saw in Patty Jenkins’ blockbuster as well as Logan this year. Justice League doesn’t really point to either of those, but it at least marks an improvement over what came before it. But that should hardly be considered an achievement. Grade: C+

By Matt Dougherty

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