By Jack Rico
The 2-8-0: #JusticeLeague is a modest and sufficiently entertaining film that delivers all the predictable offerings we expect from films of this nature – action, fights, explosions and cheesy one-liners. It’s not as good as The Avengers, but what is.
The Gist: In a continuation from the Batman v Superman movie, Batman goes around the world to assemble three heroes to fight Steppenwolf, an evil demon sent by Darkside to collect three cubes, which when fused together, can unlock the power of the universe.
What Works: Seeing my childhood ‘Super Friends’ cartoon characters in a live-action movie all at once is a fantasy come true. Jason Momoa as Aquaman was the standout star of the film. He brought a new masculinity and which the comic and animated cartoons didn’t previously possess. Ray Fisher provided Cyborg with a lot of emotional baggage to explore making him an interesting RoboCop-esque character to explore. (Jordan Peele, are you interested?) Gal Gadot is officially the face of DC. She was meant to play Wonder Woman and all the goodwill she has received has spilled over to Justice League.
What Doesn’t Work: There’s this thing in the superhero realm I like to call “star cache”. It’s that “shine” the hero characters bring into the movie. You don’t see it on the surface, but it’s there, in the psyche of the actor when he knows his movie made $174M on opening weekend. When you’re watching The Avengers, you know you’re seeing megastars, not so with Justice League. The introduction of Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman, all at once in Justice League, waters down the dramatic impact of the film and makes them appear more like supporting actors than the stars you’re paying to go see.
Which brings me to the importance of solo movies. Three of the six leads came in without solo films. Ezra Miller didn’t have full ownership of The Flash. You could tell he didn’t have command of the character’s nuances which is why the solo movies are so important for some actors. They can work out the kinks and by the time they reach the all-star movie, they deliver confident performances.
I also want to give DC/WB the benefit of the doubt. They are currently in the sculpting phase of its long-term strategy and trying to figure out how to distinguish itself from Marvel and build its own unique voice in the process. Regrettably, it is very visible throughout the whole film, from the hiring of The Avengers director Joss Whedon and two end-credit scenes (which they never did before), that it used the full Marvel template. This is disappointing because at this stage of the game I expected them to have had their style and voice down pat by now. I wanted to see DC do better, or damn, at least rival Marvel. What you get is a wanna-be Avengers film that fails to capture the wonder of the imagination.
Unlike Marvel’s films, the cast doesn’t seem to enjoy themselves here. They get through their lines fine, but where’s the chemistry? The Justice League attempts at humor fell flat; the subdued comedy felt manufactured and the only comic relief coming from Ezra Miller’s The Flash felt stiff and hollow. I must say, I usually don’t mind CGI, but when you use it gratuitously for even simple sunset backgrounds, you’re just being slack. Maybe it’s my nostalgia for Richard Donner’s Superman films when scenes used real external shots in real cities, but nothing felt real in Justice League. Everything felt fake, from the barn scenes, the Daily Planet offices… Hollywood needs a return to authenticity and realness in their film locations.
And finally, this should be Zack Snyder’s last film with DC. I still can’t accurately describe what Zack is trying to establish with tone and style. Are DC movies supposed to be comical like Marvel or dark like Nolan? It’s something in the middle, but that middle needs to be fresh and novel and they’ll eventually get there.
Pay or Nay: Pay. Justice League is neither epic or disastrous. It never hits the high marks of The Avengers, nor does it achieve the lows of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s a serviceable film that will provide all the action superhero fans expect along with a firm foundation for the DC Universe of films. Watch out for TWO end scenes after the credits. One is a funny scene comic book nerds will appreciate and the second pushes the story forward including a popular, familiar villain along with a brand new menacing face.