Thursday, November 16, 2017

Film Review: Justice League

First, I'll attempt a neutral review from a critic's viewpoint:

Justice League was a fun film, but flawed. It held the gem of hope following the success of Wonder Woman, and some of that was realized with Gal Gadot's performance. The rest of the cast and crew were fine, but this was no Avengers movie with Joss Whedon fully in control. That said, Whedon's participation was evident (even without his name in the credits) as the roughened corners of a Zak Snyder film were clearly here, polished off and rendered more acceptable to the anti-Snyder audience. In the process however the film felt less focused on one particular vision, and was painstakingly average in a year of mixed successes and failures.

Okay, now I'll write the real review, of a true DC fan:

This movie was much funnier, tighter, and focused than it otherwise might have been, probably thanks to Whedon's editing....but Snyder's absence was felt. If you hate Snyder's style, then you will not miss it in this movie; his presence is felt in only bits and bobs, like a ghost haunting the screen. If you are like me (and there are a few of us) and really like Snyder's almost resonant, mythic approach to directing then you'll sense the absence like a faberge egg....hollow on the inside but beautiful on the outside.

This film carries itself on the weight of the actors, and all of them do a fine performance (for a superhero flick). Afleck's Batman is a more reformed version, touched by the events of Batman vs. Superman in a way which has mellowed him into realizing he can't afford to be a gruff loner anymore. Gadot's Wonder Woman is just as awesome as ever, and she is the strength and spirit that binds the Justice League. Momoa actually plays a shit-kicking plain-talking fratbro Aquaman and pulls it off (YMMV but my wife also loved him). Then we have Ray Fisher's Cyborg, who was both more useful and plot-relevant than you might imagine, and managed to do the character justice. Finally there was the Flash (Ezra Miller), the junior member of the League with the least overall experience and confidence, but he got the best lines throughout the movie, with some very funny bits.

Considering this movie has all the potential for a disaster, I was really shocked to see that it came together so well. This film does lack.....a lot, honestly....compared to certain other, notably better movies out there. For example, the fight scenes in Justice League are mercifully not overly long and manage to focus on some actual action, but they remain CGI heavy in spots and are not nearly as clean and orchestrated as, to contrast, the amazing sequences seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Marvel's movies really have cinematic superhero fight sequences down to an art now; Warner's DC films are still struggling with this, and I think Snyder just doesn't know how to do these right, to be honest.

The rest of the movie was actually pretty decent, but you do get the feeling that had Snyder been able to finish it out we might have gotten a 2 1/2 to 3 hour film, one with a lot more extraneous stuff. It might have been more compelling and amazing (for Snyder fans; tortuous for others) if this had happened, but the final film at just under two hours managed to feel exactly right to me....any longer and I would have been wondering why 2 hour films are no longer considered the gold standard, and of course any shorter and we'd all be talking about how freakishly short and undeveloped it was.

Justice League's critics are out in force, and some of the criticism once again feels a bit forced, like they are seeking clickbait....but I know plenty of people who have not liked three out of four of the prior DC Universe films, and only one who didn't like Wonder Woman. As such, it's fair to say that if this film somehow manages to rate above Batman vs. Supeman and Suicide Squad, but below Wonder Woman, I will not be surprised. This is a shame, because while it lacks the focus and polish of a Marvel Universe film, it was genuinely fun and gives me hope that the next movies in the series will build on what has come before, and hopefully Warner Brothers will manage to allow a director and producer the kind of visionary control to do what they want (like Wonder Woman), but maybe without Snyder this time. Yeah, I love his style, but clearly the DC Universe can thrive without it.

So overall: I give this one personally as a DC Fan a solid A, but my critical side says it was more of a solid B. So we'll give it an A- and let my inner selves fight it out among themselves.

Seven fun bits (SPOILERS):

1. Getting to see Steppenwolf and the paradaemons take on Themiscyra and Atlantis
2. Superman's menacing initial response to Batman: "Do you bleed?"
3. The Flash in just about every scene, stealing it. Especially the one where he rushes in to save everyone from Superman, and then realizes that Superman is the only one moving at the same time he is, at the same speed. Hysterical scene!
4. So many paradaemons. Realizing that this wasn't even an invasion from Apokalypse, but Steppenwolf merely trying to use the Earth as fuel to join Darkseid and the New Gods.
5. The flashback to the ancient war against Steppenwolf, and the army of ancient Green Lanterns.
6. The way Superman returns was oddly simple genius, from a comic book science perspective.
7. Seeing the Atlanteans and Mera really told me that DC can do this, if they just let themselves accept the scope of their own universe.

Five Problem bits (more SPOILERS):

1. Would Aquaman really be able to get drunk? Will his new friends intervene and help him out?
2. The lasso scene with Aquaman was very funny but his honest commentary at Wonder Woman was also some unfortunate timing as the press hunts down politicians, movie producers and fratbros like scattering rats in the sexual harassment scandals.
3. I was disappointed only to see Steppenwolf and no one else from the New Gods or Apokalypse.
4. Did anyone else get the feeling that the lone family in the remote Russian city making their escape was a Joss Whedon addition, to humanize the scene? My gut tells me that either that city was mercilessly assaulted and everyone killed in slow motion in some cutting floor version of Snyder's take, or it was conveniently abandoned and we could all resume not caring about endless CGI building being trashed.
5. The gang of underage teens who smelled like pot and apparently were drinking stolen liquour next to us, though in their defense they were nice and quiet so I guess that's all that mattered?

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