Sunday, November 19, 2017

Review: "Justice League" flies, but not without some turbulence.

Justice League Review

It’s that time of year again. Warner Brothers released a new movie set in the DC Extended Universe. Several film critics write bad reviews, there is controversy over its Rotten Tomatoes score, the DC fanboys defend it to the death and flame battle anyone who disagrees with them. There are so much over-analyzed issues any time Warner Brothers releases a new movie. But I don’t care about any of that. If you love DC, more power to you. I am not going to sit back and write how this compares to anything Marvel does. Once a decade, maybe more, there are this tepid franchise wars. They are ugly for no reason, and frankly, I am sick of hearing about them. I may have been guilty of franchise hyperbole in the past, and I am quitting right now.

It's interesting to try and gauge “Justice League.” If the DCEU’s films were darts on a dart board, I would say that “Justice League” at least hits the board. It didn’t hit the wall next to the board like “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” did. However, it didn’t quite hit the target than say “Man of Steel” and “Wonder Woman” did. I think it works better as a whole than “Batman vs. Superman” and I think that “Justice League” proves that Warner Brothers is getting closer to making the ensemble superhero movie they so desperately want to make. I have to say, the things that are great in this movie are so great they will make you swoon. Not just hardcore DC fans, but fans of superhero movies in general. There are images and performances here that are wonderful, and some of the coolest superhero moments you’ll see in a theater this year. There is so much good here that I wish I could tip my hat and say job well done.

But it’s not 1998 anymore. We are past the time when we only used to get a superhero movie every five or so years. Superhero movies have become commonplace, but only that but great superhero movies are commonplace. So, it’s weird and frustrating that there is so much “Justice League” gets wrong while simultaneously getting so much right. Lots of blame is already getting heaped on Snyder, and that boggles my mind a bit. This is not Snyder’s train wreck, by any means. I think Snyder has a great eye as a director, and he creates a visual style that I think fits well in a superhero movie. It seems the studio is never confident in the people they hire, so we get reshoots, re-dos and a new director coming in for clean-up. What WB should be doing is hiring people passionate about the material and stepping out of their way.

Let’s discuss the good of “Justice League” first. I think Ben Affleck gets a bad rap for no reason. Yes, he sucked in the 1990’s, but we aren’t living in that decade anymore. Affleck has grown exponentially since then, and he’s developed some real range as a performer. His Batman is terrific, and I think he creates a brooding style that is awesome and fitting. Wonder Woman continues to be my favorite of the group. Having just finish her solo movie, she’s easily the most developed. Gal Gadot braces every scene it’s the last movie she’s going to make. I feel like she was born to give this character live-action life and she’s amazing in every moment she’s on screen. This isn’t really a spoiler, since anybody could have guessed this, but Henry Cavil returns as Superman, and everything I would ever want from a modern Superman, and reminds us of the glory days of Christopher Reeve.

The rest of the League? They are fine, I guess. Ezra Miller is an actor I have enjoyed over the years, in films like “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and I think he’s got real range as a performer. I think there are moments in “Justice League” wear he really shines, but the script makes his character way too overly-jokey and some it lands, and some of it doesn’t. It’s interesting how they have envisioned Aquaman in the modern world. But sadly, they don’t give Jason Mamoa much to play. He’s basically a “bro” version of Kal Drogo who speaks better English. I won’t say he’s not entertaining, every once in a while he is. I love when he taunts the other teammates. I love that he screams like a Comanche Indian during battle. There is a moment when he unknowingly sits on Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth that provides some big laughs. But there really isn’t much to the character. I feel like I can’t really judge Ray Fischer’s Cyborg, because he feels like a device for the League to use, instead of an actual character. He’s connected to the big weapon that The Big Bad of the movie uses in his evil plot, and that seems like Cyborg’s only use. He seems to exist in the League only to destroy the bad weapon, there is very little development in his character. Sure, there is some backstory here, which I hope pays off in his solo movie, but it’s basically glossed over to make room for all the other things happening in this movie.

That kind of leads to the films biggest flaw. There is too much of “Justice League” that is reactionary. It’s reacting to the other DCEU movies. It is reacting to the negativity of “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” It is reacting to the Marvel movies and what they represent. Throw in introducing Atlantis, Aquaman, Cyborg, Steppenwolf, The Mother Boxes and you have a bloated, overstuffed script that gets messy in some points. At least “Justice League” is quasi-coherent and not the editing nightmare “Batman vs. Superman” was. But the problems are so glaring that you can’t NOT notice them. This goes back to my point where WB needs to just trust the people they hire and allow them to tell a good story with these characters. Both “Batman vs. Superman” and “Justice League” (and even “Suicide Squad”) suffer big time from having too many cooks in the kitchen. They are also adopting the wrong things from other franchises. It looks like both DC and Marvel will have a villain problem, because Steppenwolf stinks as a villain. He’s basically a CGI giant that gloats about his evil plot all movie, and is never really given any personality. He retrieves the devices needed for his master weapon with a genuine amount of ease. There is no tension to many of the scenes with him in it. And his parademons aren’t really intimidating either, these flying, monstrous insect guys. Sure, every dark lord needs an army but I feel like the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” were more terrifying. Steppenwolf’s evil plot? It involves another glowing McGuffin, and the whole movie comes down to simply turning off an apocalyptic weapon. A plot device that is wearing out its welcome in all high-concept action movies.

I know it may sound like I am beating up on this movie too much. But here is the thing, the material that works, works so well that it feels like a great movie is slipping away from Snyder. I liked watching the team gradually come together. I liked the moments in Atlantis and the invisible Amazon island. I liked the flashback battle between Steppenwolf’s forces, and the alliance between Men, Gods, Atlantians and Amazons, as well as some special guests that will make DC fans’ jaws drop. I liked some of the back-and-forth between characters. I liked watching the team together on their off time (save for a ridiculous ethics discussion about reviving Superman that went on too long and written poorly). I liked lots of the film’s energy and I liked the way much of it was shot. I felt pretty nostalgic when Danny Elfman recycled his 1989 Batman score, and I liked his musical contributions in general. I think DC fans are in for a treat when they view both the post-credit scenes after the movie. There aren’t an over-abundance of silly scenes or poorly written plot points like in “Batman vs. Superman.” Some of this material is so great that it feels it should belong in a different movie. “Justice League” tap dances on the line between pass and fail that its almost dizzying. What’s killing me is that WB and DC are clearly listening to their critics and trying to improve. At the same time, they keep making the same mistakes. If they can’t overcome all of their flaws, they will keep making mediocre fare.

The year 2017 was a big year for the studio and this franchise. I will even say that 2017 has mostly been a step in the right direction. Where this franchise goes from here is crucial and I am hoping and praying that WB makes the right decisions going forward.


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