Tuesday 21 November 2017

Justice League

Beleaguered Leaguers

Justice League
2017 USA Directed by Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Yeah, there will be some spoilers in this one, I think.

Okay, so let me just say up front that Justice League is not a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination... it’s just not a very good one either. It has its great little moments and a whole bunch of problems but, out of the five films to date making up the story arc of this particular set of interlocking DC superhero movies, this is about halfway up the list in terms of being an effective and entertaining movie.

DC’s track record hasn’t been all that great since the fantastic last part of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night trilogy, it has to be said. Man Of Steel (reviewed here) was just dreadful. Batman Vs Superman - Dawn of Justice (reviewed here) was a fair bit better but ultimately not very well received by critics and audiences alike, it seemed to me. Suicide Squad (reviewed here) was... okayish but really wasn’t making people that happy either. But then we had ‘the movie’. Wonder Woman (reviewed here) isn’t just the greatest superhero movie of all time (and, yeah, I know that’s a brave and bold claim to make but I promise this is not a knee jerk reaction to it)... it’s also one of the best movies in the past few years, period. It’s also flattened all the competition at the box office for the forseeable future (or just maybe until the new Star Wars movie premieres next month) and it more than deserves its success.

The thing is, though, everyone was kinda hoping that Justice League would somehow live up to the almost impossible standard that Patty Jenkins set with Wonder Woman and, frankly, that would be hard to top even by her, when she comes to work on the sequel. So I guess it’s no surprise that this movie comes nowhere near as close to the dizzying heights that Professor William Moulton Marston’s amazonian princess scaled to in her own solo movie adaptation. A shame, though, that Justice League doesn’t come close to the Batman VS Superman movie either.

Now I’m not going to go into the production problems this film had, what with Zack Snyder leaving for very understandable reasons and Joss Whedon reshooting the thing in places... firstly because I would be no good at figuring out which bits were directed by whom and, secondly, because it’s the film we’ve ended up with, for better or worse. Given Snyder’s reasons for leaving, there’s absolutely no point in having an autopsy on why this theatrically released cut doesn't really cut it.

Okay... so lets look at the good stuff first and get that out of the way...

Well, some of the action was okay, especially the Amazon’s fighting the villain of the piece, Steppenwolf, near the start... and also in the bank scene where Gal Gadot’s Diana saves a bunch of people by doing some cool action stuff. That being said, I did miss the sudden glow of orange as the metal on her wrist bands cool down after a bullet hit, which was a nice detail in Patty Jenkins movie during the alley scene in London... itself an homage, presumably, to the alley scene in Superman The Movie. Gadot is just wonderful again here, as she was in her previous two movies with this character because a) she looks just like she could do all this stuff in real life and b) because she performed it in such a way that she doesn’t betray the character as set up in the previous two films.

Similarly, say what you will about Ben Affleck but I think he makes a brilliant Bruce Wayne/Batman and I really hope he doesn’t leave the role after this. I think he could really do well in a solo Batman movie and I would really like to see it.

Henry Cavill... well I hated Superman in Man Of Steel but that’s more because of the script than Cavill’s performance and I certainly warmed to him more in Batman Vs Superman - Dawn Of Justice. He’s great here too and you really believe in his character, who he portrays with the same kind of honourable presence as some of the great actors who have played the part before him... and I’m specifically thinking of Kirk Alyn and Christopher Reeve here. Now if they’d only bring back the ‘S’ kiss curl and the red trunks then the illusion would be complete.

Jeremy Irons as Alfred has about as much screen time as he did in the previous movie but I think his character makes a bigger impact here, with various ironic comments thrown at Bruce Wayne which I found fairly entertaining.

 It was also great seeing a Green Lantern in the sequence flashing back to a battle on Earth which took places many hundreds of years ago, too. It’s been suggested that the cloak on him was a reference to the original Golden Age iteration of the character in comics but, the people saying that might do well to remember that the original Green Lantern’s costume was red (yeah, I know that’s ridiculous but don’t blame me... I didn’t write those things).

And that’s mostly the good stuff.

Now we also have three new members on the team...

Ezra Miller does okay as a really bizarre and teenage angsty version of the silver age version of The Flash (aka Barry Allen) and he was getting a good reaction from the audience at my screening. Personally I didn’t find him all that easy to identify with and I could take him or leave him, to be fair. Then we have Cyborg, who was a member of the Teen Titans the last time I read of him (sometime in the early 1980s) so goodness knows what he’s doing in the Justice League of America (as the supergroup was always known in the comics... until maybe recently). He’s played here by a guy called Ray Fisher and, although he turns in a solid performance, I couldn’t help but think that the script wasn’t doing him any favours. He just comes across as a bit dull, to be honest.

Jason Momoa’s version of Aquaman is a more fun character but, honestly, is nothing like the Aquaman I used to enjoy reading about when I was a kid (I even had a little action figure). The clean shaven, blonde version of Superman with the blue eyes, orange suit and green legs and gauntlets has morphed into what is presumably a more contemporary comic book version of the character (well... at least he still has both of his arms here). Again... he was okay but I really would have preferred the version of the character I grew up with here.

Okay... let’s get to the really bad then...

So much of the dialogue between Batman and Diana feels forced and, bearing in mind the amount of times that Steve Trevor’s name is bandied about, it somehow seems disrespectful of the truly marvellous solo Wonder Woman movie what came out earlier in the year.

Another thing which felt out of place was that the background story about the ‘mother boxes’ seemed like it came completely out of the blue and Diana never once goes to Thermyscira to consult with the Amazons. Indeed, she even goes so far as to say that they cannot leave their island... which is a completely redundant and contradictory idea in terms of their purpose on Earth, to be honest. This film so badly needed a scene between Diana and her mother and it similarly needed ‘the amazon horde’ to come galloping in for the somewhat bland (as it is here) action finale too. Especially since their own battle with Steppenwolf near the beginning of the movie was a heck of a lot better.

The way Superman is brought back to life is really stupid Doctor Frankenstein stuff and I couldn’t help but think it all seemed just a little too optimistic and contrived. “Gee whiz... wouldn’t it be great if we could use this mother box technology to bring Superman back to life with?”... well, okay, it wasn’t quite like that but it was pretty close. It felt like the whole thing was written by a small child at this point. What was worse than that though was... Superman and Batman were allies by the end of Batman Vs Superman. In fact, Batman saved Superman’s mother’s life. So why the heck would the newly woken Superman be so aggressively hostile to Batman and the others and try to kill them all? It made no sense. It was like watching that truly dumb scene in Superman III where he splits into two and the evil and good halves fight. It just made no sense.

And then they trot out Amy Adam’s Lois Lane to calm him down? Honestly, it felt like her role was really pushed to the back in this and the scene where she and Diane Lane as Martha Kent were talking in the newspaper offices felt like it was shot quickly in the director’s favourite room in his house one afternoon. The set dressing and feel of the scene seemed to be completely unconvincing.

The music is perplexing too. Danny Elfman has been tapped for this one but I felt like either Hans Zimmer or, especially, Rupert Gregson-Williams (who had provided real emotional depth to the Wonder Woman movie) should have got the gig here. Instead, Elfman uses various themes from films gone by to weave a new musical direction for the franchise and... it just felt wrong. Okay, so he uses Zimmer’s Superman theme from Man Of Steel at one point and he similarly uses Zimmer’s “Is She With You?” theme for Wonder Woman in a less striking arrangement (but without using Gregson-Williams gorgeous thematic material). However, he also uses John WIlliams' Superman music at one point too plus... he even uses his own 1980s Batman theme for some of Ben Affleck’s Batcentric shenanigans. None of that really made sense... what’s he trying to evoke here. It’s a nice enough score, when you can hear it over the noisy sound effects but... it doesn’t knock it out of the park like some of the films in this series do.

Okay, last thing I’ll highlight here is the running time. This is the shortest of the recent DC movies, clocking in at one minute shy of two hours. But you are dealing with six superhero characters, not to mention the big bad guy and the introduction of the mother box on the narrative. How do you cram all that into two hours without losing sight of something? Short answer... you don’t. This film feels like it should be a lot longer and, I dunno, less flippant and somewhat darker in tone considering the events that have birthed it in the previous films. Things felt somewhat rushed... especially when it hurtles to a climax that is less than interesting.

Also... you have continuity errors like the mother box being used to bring Cyborg to life being in the previous film, which makes no sense. Or the fact that the third mother box was found during World War I when, if you check out the epilogue scene included on the home video version of Wonder Woman, you’ll know that Etta Candy and the others were tasked with the mission to find it after the end of the war depicted in that film. Thins like this just seemed a bit like sloppy writing to me, it has to be said.

So, yeah, that’s my review of Justice League. All in all I’m glad I went to see it... if for nothing more than to see Gal Gadot totally slaying it as Wonder Woman. However, the film didn’t blow me away, for sure and it certainly felt a little more anti-climactic than I was expecting. All in all, if you loved Wonder Woman then you’ll probably want to see this one anyway. I can’t really recommend it to anyone on any other basis though so... make of that what you will. Old school DC comics fans, though, would do well to look out for the first of the two post-credits scenes if they want to see a familiar homage and... don’t miss the end if you want to see what happened to another character from a previous movie in the series.

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