Since this is the first review that will be featured on “Late to the Game”, I will warn you that I am completely biased when it comes to Batman. For goodness sake my reviewer name is “Darkmovienight”, so I’ll just make sure you know that right off the Bat.
Also, I have to admit, I have a problem with reviewers: we really have no right to tell you what is good or what’s bad. Be it food, films, hotels, or even where to get your bi-monthly colonoscopy! What I feel the job of reviewers (mostly known as “critics” because they are critical of things) is to let you know what went on (I mean, I really feel that the “Doctor” who performed my colonoscopy should have cleaned the scope before he put it down my throat) and if there are any pitfalls to what you might experience (shouldn’t I have been anesthetized as well?).
Owning that, my job today will be to let you know my thoughts on “Justice League” and then you will decide if it’s a film worth your time and money. I won’t give you a rating and you definitely won’t see my thumbs. You’re going to get my impressions of the actors in their roles. Probably learn my thoughts of visual effects in general. I have it on good authority that you’ll have some notions how I feel on the story. Lastly, I’m going to tell you one thing: if you want to see “Justice League”, then go see “Justice League”!
The first thing everyone is asking about “Justice League” is how does it compare to “Batman vs. Superman”? Well, that’s a touchy subject, did you like “Batman vs. Superman”? A lot of people went and saw it (as I imagine many of you did) and it was a polarizing film for fans everywhere. And will I say, “Justice League” will become another Warner Bros. film to split the fanbase.
Why is it going to split the fanbase? It’s because everyone has their own version of these long lived and beloved characters. For instance, when I think of Batman and the Joker, I think of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. You might think of Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. “Justice League” is Zack Snyder’s idea of who the Justice League is and how they would respond to the crisis at hand. This being the only incarnation of the League committed to film, I find it hard to believe anyone else will see the Justice League differently.
Let me take you back to 2013, when the DC Extended Film Universe began with “Man of Steel“. We got what many called an “emo” Superman. And then, even worse, we got a “killer” Superman. I have my own thoughts on “Man of Steel” and how it was handled or if it created the “DC Murderverse”, but for the sake of your eyes, I’ll just say that someone with this face below did not make an easy decision:
As that film ended, the thought of Superman changed. Not many enjoyed watching Superman be sad or kill Zod. Even having two SUPER HUMAN entities battling in a massive city setting that happens to cause massive collateral damage was a surprise to many. I don’t know, maybe it was the spectacle of it all that fooled many into an odd outrage by watching a fictional city being destroyed by fictional characters.
Then I spirit you to San Diego Comic Con later that year. It’s a beautiful July, I was married just the month before, all things were as they should be: super. In the glory of Hall H, during the Warner Bros. panel, Zach Snyder was extolling the excellence of a film that was being conceived and written at that very moment. A film that would later be the talk of everyone who loved comics, superhero films, or had just lived on Planet Earth over the past century. I could tell you, but the presentation was just so wonderful, I’ll let Zach himself help explain things:
Yeah, it’s hard to imagine at that point, with the excitement you see and hear from EVERYONE in that room (and pretty much anyone at their computer), would come one of the most divisive Superhero films of all time: “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice“. Again, audiences expectations were sky high. THIS would be the film that would blow everyone away. “Man of Steel” forgotten, all there was from that moment on – “Who would win? Batman or Superman?” Well, I’ve brought you this far, so come to 2015 with me will you?
Basically the answer is no one won. Especially not Zach Snyder & Warner Bros. You even have to feel bad for Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill. Granted they knew what they were getting into by portraying, arguably, the most well known Comic Book Superheroes of all time. They hype was real, opportunities were had, but nothing was executed well. And I LIKED the movie. The cries of “DC Murderverse” & “Batman doesn’t kill!” were heard around the world and on the Internet in every discussion board or sub-Reddit. All I can say is that Batman is a perfect specimen of human, the absolute peak of physical strength, fighting abilities, and mental awareness. Plus the guy throws razor sharp projectiles in the middle of combat in which he “incapacitates” multiple individuals, all while defending himself from gun fire and a barrage of blows from at the very least 15 separate combatants. First, do you realize Batman has NEVER accidentally nicked a jugular vein or put out an eye which went into the brain with his Batarangs. Ok, suspend belief, I can do it, still don’t think it’s realistic in comic book land. Secondly, all of the goons Batman “knocks out” are dead.
So, honestly, the complaints people had regarding “Batman vs. Superman” were pretty ridiculous. But, whatever, we’re not reviewing “Batman vs. Superman”, I just want to underscore that the complaints regarding that film really effected “Justice League”.
We could talk about “Suicide Squad” and what you thought of how Jared Leto portrayed The Joker, but I’m going to say that had little effect on “Justice League”, but the last film I want to discuss is, in my mind, the greatest Superhero film of 2017, is “Wonder Woman“.
“Wonder Woman” was the film Warner Bros. desperately needed to keep their fledgling Cinematic Universe alive. Not only was it a beautiful film, but it had heart, more so than films without a badass female Superhero. Fierce, tense, action oriented, funny and just plain entertaining, “Wonder Woman” rocked the world in 2017. This was the ray of light for Warner Bros. and their approach to making the DC Superhero films.
This is what really lends me to my feelings on “Justice League”. This was the most reactionary film of all time. When I said there were “Too Many Cooks”, I didn’t just mean Warner Bros., Zach Snyder, and Joss Whedon…I meant the entire DC/Comic Book fandom. All of those discussions regarding the films above lead to how “Justice League” was updated before being released.
What is absolutely clear was that the three new additions to the DC Film Universe were there to set a tone completely different from what came before. I’ll put them in order of appreciation and effect of the film.
- Aquaman – portrayed by Jason Momoa:
The first thing established about Momoa’s Aquaman is not only he is a complete badass, but he a philanthropic badass. Bringing food to a village that’s remote (for reasons) and it’s where Bruce Wayne finds him. The recruitment spiel doesn’t go as great as Bruce would have liked, but we get an awesome shot of a shirtless Aquaman walking into freezing water and it accepts him like everyone in the audience does. Aquaman is a true foil for Affleck’s Batman. They become buddies later on and eventually embrace the weirdness of a guy dressing like a Bat and another one going into battle with a “pitch fork”. Momoa does more than just fulfill his contractual obligation.
- Barry Allen – portrayed by Ezra Miller:
Ezra Miller’s turn as the fastest man alive has a lot to live up to. With a hugely successful TV series on the CW and probably everyone’s favorite portrayal of a speedster coming from Evan Peter’s Quicksilver in the latest X-Men films, it’s almost not fair to ask Miller to wow the audience. Still, Miller’s charisma is on full display here. Definitely being brought in as the comedy relief. I believe he steals every scene he’s in, but so often they make Barry Allen seem like someone who hasn’t interacted with humans much in his life. It’s different take on The Flash (which he’s never called), and almost every line of dialog is hilarious. Again, people thought “Batman vs. Superman” was humorless, well, everyone, meet the humor in the Justice League.
- Cyborg – portrayed by Ray Fisher:
This role is a little odd and it plays into something I’m going to discuss later on. While Bruce is the one attempting to put the League together, he assigns “The Cyborg” to Wonder Woman. After some initial angst from Cyborg towards his father Silas Stone (portrayed by the wonderful character actor Joe Morton) for bringing him back to life, he plays Morpheus from the Matrix with Diana. If you’re not familiar with this particular Superhero, the long and short of it is Victor Stone, his actual name, was a young man involved in a fatal (or near fatal, depending upon which form of canon you go by) and his father, a scientist, merges him with what’s called a “Mother Box”. Yeah, this explanation is going to get weird (and why we love comics!) and completely bonkers. Mother Boxes are the MacGuffin of “Justice League”. They are power and when Silas Stone merges one with his son Victor, he becomes Cyborg. I’ll talk about the story in a bit, but Cyborg has a very limited role in “Justice League”. He’s well known by the DC faithful, but he’s more or less forgettable in the film sadly. Used more as an Iron Man look-a-like to the masses.
- The Trinity – Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman (Affleck, Cavill, and Gadot respectively): *MINOR SPOILERS*
You’ve seen all of these actors before and you have an opinion one way or the other. All the boxes are checked here: Superman comes back to life (you knew it had to happen and if you are surprised, then I really want to watch you view “The Empire Strikes Back”). Wonder Woman is cool, beautiful, and poised. Then Batman is a total badass, wait, no, he’s not. Remember how everyone cried when Affleck’s Batman kicked ass in “Batman vs. Superman”? Well, they pulled a full 180 and made sure that Batman didn’t kill, well, almost anything. They really seemed to neuter Batman in this one. Again, very reactionary and disappointing in my opinion. No wonder why Ben is looking for a “Graceful and Cool Exit” to the role.
All in all, the cast did just fine, some better than others, but everyone does their job. Interestingly enough, this was my favorite portrayal of Cavill as Superman. He hits his stride as the Man of Steel and is put front and center with a smile on his face. Plus a hidden mustache cameo makes things even better.
I already told you about the magical MacGuffin called “Mother Boxes” which are pure energy and apparently almost orgasmic in nature for the villain of the film, Steppenwolf. Seriously, I have not heard someone say “Mother” in such a creepy way since “Psycho”. It really was uncomfortable to watch and hear.
Anyway, after a Lord of the Rings style story introduction, which we get to see a Green Lantern (neat Easter Egg), we’re told that the three Mother Boxes on Earth are separated one given to
Elves Amazons, Dwarves Atlanteans and Men. After the past is explained, our new heroes are ready to take down Steppenwolf (or crap their pants as Barry Allen mentions).
All of the usual Superhero film tropes are on display, especially for a “Team-Up” film. There is the recruitment. The battle where the bad guy gets the upper hand. A team argument, although this one was punctuated with a clever use of the Lasso of Truth to much comedic effect (I have no doubt that was written by Whedon). Also the vulnerability of Batman is on display. His “mea culpa” for his role in the Death of Superman is genuine and having Wonder Woman right there with him makes it all more believable.
Before major events occur and things are teed up for the final battle, a couple of beautiful homages are given to Superhero films of the past. These came in the form of the film’s score. Both John Williams’ “Superman” theme and Danny Elfman’s “Batman” theme are inserted within the updated score of “Justice League”. It was an excellent touch and for those listening, a very nice treat.
When we get to the climax of the film, it’s honestly a whole lot of fun. The action was exactly as up tempo and fantastic as you’d expect and with each member of the League getting their moment in the sun. There is a but coming…
Other than Val Kilmer’s perfectly toned ass above, the big but comes from the peanut gallery director-ship: the entire final battle occurs in the middle of nowhere with the peril of only a very few innocents. The effect just diminishes the full impact of the battle. There just isn’t that “the world could end” feeling. Everything seems contained to a very remote area of Russia (I think?). Still, enjoyable, but without the stakes being incredibly high, something is just diminished. And that’s a shame.
Good lord the visual effects were terrible. I have no clue which Middle School Child was chosen to do this film, but they should be forced to wear a motion capture suit the rest of their natural life.
I cannot stress how bad the VFX was in “Justice League”. When I said that image above was the best shot of Steppenwolf, I was not lying. Any time the camera shows his face, you are just absolutely reminded of a hand puppet. And Steppenwolf isn’t the only victim – Cyborg looks like a Terminator endoskeleton, but without the brilliance of James Cameron’s stop motion work. It gets slightly better at some points, but there is a reason no major effects studio is attached to this film, the blame is spread out everywhere. I mean, the Bat-Suit they had on Affleck was ill-fitting. Who let’s that pass??? I know it’s the costumers fault, but jeez, talk about details being missed.
There is also something that I just can’t quite wrap my head around: during the film, it’s shown that the world is in mourning the Death of Superman…but didn’t we watch two whole films where the Human Race either hated his guts and wanted to turn him over to hostile aliens or let a vigilante and a psychopathic Mark Zuckerberg attempt to murder him. So I just don’t buy anyone missing Superman that much.
As much as I enjoyed watching “Justice League”, it could have been so much better. You absolutely get some great performances out of the actors and can tell they’re having fun. “Justice League” did the impossible really, bringing the Justice League together and giving them enough rapport with each other to believe they’re a team. If you can make it past the horrid visual effects, odd story choices, and the film being dictated by the critics, you’ll have an enjoyable experience. And at the moment, this is the only way to see the Justice League other than in comics or animation. That’s not really a ringing endorsement is it?
My little friend here is going to be the face of the last part of all reviews. When a film ends and there is an extra sequence or scene, that’s called a “Stinger”, just a quick “tag” at the end to get your emotions going. I’m not going to review any that were in the film, I’ll just tell you if it’s worth while to sit through the credits or not. In “Justice League’s” case, you absolutely have to hang around. You get one dream scenario and one intriguing hit at the end. They have a one-two punch that will make you shriek for glee and also leave you wondering just a little bit.
I’m also going to use this section for anything I forgot to say. It’s like when someone insults you and you don’t come up with the right comeback until a month later and they’ve already taken your dignity and lunch money (no experience, purely hypothetical).
In this case I’ll punctuate the review by telling you not all of them will be this long. Mainly I had to setup the scenario in which you’d understand why I felt the way I felt and how you should interpret that on your own. But I do have one or two assorted musings not worth a full paragraph:
- The pairing of Barry Allen and Cyborg presented more glee than I anticipated. They have a scene together that is so macabre and funny it comes off as brilliant. Again, I think Mr. Whedon had more than a hand in writing that scene.
- Only one Green Lantern and they don’t do much with him. You just see someone using the Power of Will to smash Parademons until Steppenwolf kills him. I totally loved watching the ring immediately get up and fly away.
- Did I mention that Zeus was in this??? So we had Ares in “Wonder Woman” and during the exposition of Steppenwolf’s first attempt at conquering Earth, the Gods of Olympus make their selves known by helping the Amazons, Atlanteans, and Humans drive him back.
- Jack Kirby’s Fourth World – if you’re extremely familiar with comics, you will have no trouble following everything going on and Steppenwolf going on about his “home planet of fire” or the “Old Gods” and “New Gods”. There is even a “sneeze and you won’t hear it” moment when someone mentions Darkseid. All of these creations came from legendary comics writer Jack Kirby when he moved over to DC Publications. It’s just a really dense lore to throw at an audience and expect them to swallow. For those of us who know, it just passes by like the Anti-Life Equation in the night…