Justice League Review: Injustice For All (Especially Fans)
Justice League review: Warner Bros. and DC are back with what should be the culmination of years of building.
In the first scene of Justice League, an unseen kid runs up to Superman – circa pre-Batman v Superman – and asks the Man of Steel a few questions. It’s a mostly unimportant scene, but it appears to have been shot late in the reshoot phase, at a point when Henry Cavill was contractually obligated to have a mustache for another film.
If you missed that bizarre story, Warner Bros. decided to pony up and pay to digitally remove the mustache in post. Numbers haven’t been released, but that additional CGI probably made a simple scene stupidly expensive. It was meant to breathe a little humanity into the film, but the end result is an expensive, needlessly complicated, and ultimately unnecessary scene.
So basically, it is the perfect opening for Justice League.
After years of getting it wrong, it finally seemed like WB might be getting it right after releasing Wonder Woman and bringing on Joss Whedon to take over for Zack Snyder after his departure for personal reasons. But alas, Justice League is just one more step sideways for the DCEU. But on the plus side, it’s still better than Batman v Superman, so it has that going for it. It also sets things up decently for the future, assuming WB doesn’t screw that up too.
The film starts shortly after the end of Batman v Superman, which saw the death of the Man of Steel. Umm… spooiler? The world is still in mourning, and apparently everyone decided to go buck wild and go on crime sprees. The Earth has become a dark and scary place, so basically it’s just another Zack Snyder setting with plenty of sepia and muted colors running amok.
Meanwhile in Gotham, Batman (Ben Affleck) has rediscovered his old Danny Elfman Batman theme while investigating a mysterious symbol connected to an enemy known as a parademon (who technically shouldn’t even be there before the arrival of the big bad, but whatevs). Along with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who is still mourning her lost love a century later, they begin to put together a team to fight a coming enemy known as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who is set on destroying the world because he is just Evil (with a capital “E”). And possibly because he is hunting down the animators in charge of his crappy facial animation.
Bats and Wonder Woman recruit the eager Flash (Ezra Miller), the reluctant Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and the suspicious Cyborg (Ray Fisher). The five heroes work together, break a bunch of stuff, and go off to save the world.
Snyder’s dour filter is still felt, but there’s a lighter tone injected on top of that, probably thanks to Whedon. There are plenty of dark and dull looking backgrounds and sets, and some of the costumes are needlessly complicated (especially the Flash and Cyborg); there are also a handful of dark subplots that drag on the story, all of which are Snyder staples.
The bad guy is also woefully underdeveloped and feels like an afterthought. He just kinda shows up now and then for a fight, drops some boring and serious dialogue that adds very little, and then pisses off until the next time. He’s not particularly scary or interesting, his design is drab and dull, and – almost politely – he only attacks places that are mostly uninhabited, so the stakes feel low.
Juxtaposed on all of that are sections with elevated colors and lighthearted banter added in that feel very Whedon-esque. It does lead to a slightly disjointed feeling at certain points, but consistency isn’t really the big issue.
It’s hard not to compare Justice League to Avengers, and not just because they are both superhero films connecting combined universes (and both involved Whedon), but because by their nature they have to follow a few similar guidelines. If anything, Justice League makes Avengers look even better in comparison, just on a structural level. It’s easy to see where Justice League got it wrong by seeing where Avengers got it right.
The characters in Justice League are more or less interchangeable in terms of their impact on the story. Where in Avengers each character served a purpose, in Justice League you could replace most of the characters with another DC superhero and not miss a beat. Part of that is down to the plot, which is… well, it’s not great. To be fair it’s not bad either, but it’s just dumb and uninspired. There’s a bad guy that wants to destroy the world, and the good guys need to beat him up. That’s pretty much it. Everything else that happens is in service to that simple idea.
There are also countless plotholes, and the climax also has one major problem that retroactively makes everything that came before it feel somewhat pointless. But calling that out in detail would be a spoiler. The finale is just a little too easy. There’s also the marketing of the film. Big moments are hidden from the trailers but are spoiled in promo art, and there are several scenes that were seemingly cut. That’s not all that uncommon though.
One saving grace of Justice League is that the characters are mostly entertaining. Wonder Woman is the heart of the film, a late change brought on by the success of her solo movie, even though Batfleck probably has the most screen time. Aquaman has an interesting background and motivations that will be explored in his solo movie, while Cyborg is the least developed but one of the most charismatic heroes. Flash is basically the comic relief, and he is depicted as being new to his powers – which makes sense, given that he should have been able to defeat pretty much every enemy single-handedly, with the possible exception of Steppenwolf.
Justice League offers nothing you haven’t seen before, and it doesn’t have any real style to separate it from others. The threat is weak and dull, and the WB mandated running time of under two hours may have been a mistake, as more development was needed. It does potentially set up some interesting future stories, but hoping that WB can build on that potential is optimistic at best.
Justice League Review Conclusion
Justice League exists because it has to in order to launch other films. It’s one a step on the way to other things rather than the end goal in itself, so ultimately it feels disposable. The characters come off well enough to justify their future solo films, but only just.
The good news is that it never really hits the levels of bad that Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad did, so maybe WB is moving in the right direction. But that’s a big maybe.
Justice League is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 110 minutes.