Justice League (aka Justice League Mortal / Justice League of America) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Similar to Batman v. Superman, Justice League is a duel of clashing forces. I’m not talking about the superheroes, but rather the battle between Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, two screenwriters fighting for control of a DC Comics ensemble picture. Snyder wants to continue with the dark and blunt themes he established in Batman v. Superman, while Whedon intends to inject a campy sense of superhero silliness that made his vision of Marvel’s The Avengers such a success. They clash significantly as the Justice League film stumbles and sputters into a troubled and somewhat pleasing adaptation of Super Friends, even if that wasn’t what the aim of the film was. If there was an aim at all.
Snyder’s vision of forcing DC Comics content into his films has remained intact. Only a few minutes into the movie, Batman (Ben Affleck) is duking it out with a Parademon and tracking clues about the mysterious MacGuffins of the otherworldly Motherboxes. Sure, we’ve seen glimpses of them in Batman v. Superman, but could we at least catch our breath with a bit of introduction? No time! The film’s villain Steppenwolf is already here, arriving in Boomtubes with more Parademons. What are Boomtubes? There’s no time to explain that! If he collects all three boxes and combines them, he’ll turn the planet into an apocalyptic wasteland for the coming of the New Gods. Who are the New Gods? That’s a time-wasting question for a two-hour movie!
The Justice League needs to be assembled and quickly. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) has the super speed to become The Flash and the autistic need for friends to join without a shred of hesitation. Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) already has the mostly-robotic body to become Cyborg and has limited time to come to terms with his new body and an unknown digital language. Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is somewhat reluctant to humanity’s plight to join up as Aquaman but seems pretty easy to win over with his frat-boy eccentricities for battle. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), having already had her film introduction, has been primed for centuries and more than ready to join the League, spending her spare time cleaning art and foiling terrorists.
For rushing so quickly through many of the introductions, a lot of scenes lack the charismatic boost the Avengers films had from patiently building a superhero franchise. The movie is in such a rush for the big team-up that it blazes through cliches of heard-that-before speeches and silly quips ripped straight out of the Whedon superhero writing handbook. This goes double for the bland and uninteresting villain of Steppenwolf, a CGI creation of melty skin, horned armor and end-of-the-world babble so dull I’m surprised the heroes didn’t call him out for being such a snooze to hear.
Where the film does work, surprisingly, is in its spirited zip for the storytelling and the abundant nuggets of teamwork. Consider the moment when the League realizes they’re going to need Superman for this big fight and need to revive him. How they do this, I will not spoil, but it’s such a ludicrous idea that it feels true to the weird logic of the comic books. Once Superman (Henry Cavill) finally joins the League, the film eventually starts to find its groove, as if the Man of Steel has finally awoken from his downer coma and become the sunnier superhero we’ve been longing for. There’s a brilliant moment during the climax where Superman and Flash take to the streets of a ravaged European village to save civilians; The Flash rushes a family-filled car to safety, only to see Superman in the distance lugging an apartment’s worth. A genuine smile came across my face with the inclusion of their bet to see who is the fastest in a scene that finally earns the joy of its quipping. And when the time comes to battle Steppenwolf, there’s a twinge of giddiness I felt for watching The Flash zip around Steppenwolf while Superman uses his freeze breath to disable the villain and Wonder Woman picking up her sword to slash his weapon to pieces.
The DCEU still hasn’t found the firm footing that was more present in Wonder Woman, but there’s some hope for the future of the Justice League. It’s still a bit clunky with character and dry with villain schemes, but it’s still pretty impressive to watch this franchise slowly pull itself out of mediocrity, edging closer to the Justice League movie I wanted. Just look at how Snyder’s handling of hero climaxes has improved: he’s moved on from hundreds of civilians being murdered in a city to the lame excuse of everyone evacuating a town, to now having heroes protect civilians from harm. It took him three whole movies, but he finally figured it out; superheroes need to be heroic and not just punch the bad guy really hard.