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Justice League – Movie Review

Justice League - poster by Autumn Rain TurkelHoo boy. I’ve not made any secret to anyone who knows me that, Wonder Woman aside, I have not been at all impressed with DC Extended Universe. In fact, I actively consider Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad to be among some of the worst superhero movies I’ve ever seen. So Justice League was not exactly high on my expectations platter. But, since I make it habit to watch every superhero movie that comes out, good or bad, I felt I had to at least give this a chance.

And I’ll give it this. It’s a big step up from the rest of the DCEU (again, Wonder Woman excluded). Unfortunately though, just because I didn’t outright despise it doesn’t mean I think it was a very good movie. It has good moments, no doubt about that, and there wasn’t anything that outright pissed me off like those other movies. But ultimately, I just found it kinda meh. Not terrible, not all that good, just meh.

Now, to get this out of the way first, I have to talk about the awful CG. For those unfamiliar with the behind-the-scenes production nightmare of this movie, Henry Cavill, who plays the curiously-absent-from-the-marketing Superman (Did anyone seriously buy he was going to stay dead?), grew out a moustache for his role in Mission Impossible 6 and was contractually obligated to keep it throughout the filming and the marketing of the movie. Unfortunately, that clashed with the schedule for Justice League’s many reshoots. As such, rather than have Superman spontaneously grow and lose a moustache between scenes, the VFX department decided to simply CG the moustache off his face instead. Why am I bringing this up, you ask? Because it looks absolutely awful.

Seriously, I saw a bootleg screenshot of Clark’s uncanny-valley-looking face making the rounds on Twitter and my immediate thought was, “Hah, that really looks terrible. But it’s probably just one bad shot. I’m sure it can’t be that bad.” Then the movie started, we got our opening Superman scene and my thoughts went to, “Oh, Oh Clark no. Oh no no no.” It looks baaaaaaad. Really bad. Like ‘opening stages in a Monster Factory episode’ bad. And this is coming from someone who was fine with CG Tarkin and Leia. Sure, there are a few scenes where Supes looks okay, but I honestly think there are less of those scenes than there are of him looking terrible. This was clearly a rush job and it shows.

Justice League (poster 2)It’s kind of a shame, honestly, because Superman is so much more well written in this movie and Henry Cavill finally really gets a chance to show off his charisma in the role. Seriously, forget flat brooding Superman, this was the sort of thing I was waiting for ever since Man of Steel. Right from the opening scene he feel like the sort of character he should’ve been all along. Charismatic, friendly and inspirational. Hell, he was so good in this movie I’m honestly disappointed there wasn’t more of him, that’s how good he was here. But damn if his face doesn’t look bad.

That said, I will give the moustache CG this. There are some scenes where Supes looks fine, which is a lot more than I can say about Steppenwolf, the main villain of the piece. He is the epitome of the generic disposable comic book bad guy and a disappointment all round. At least Malekith the Accursed, the much-maligned villain of Thor: The Dark World, looked like he was actually there most of the time. Christ, Doomsday from Batman v Superman felt like he had more personality than this guy. Honestly, the action in general was kinda disappointing. There were only a couple of fights I really liked all that much, specifically the Amazonian fight and, of course, the Superman fight. The rest just felt like grey noise.

Okay, now that I’ve spent half the review complaining about moustache CGI, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of why I think this movie does and doesn’t work. First of all, on the positive side, the film cuts down on a lot of the Snyderisms that plagued Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Which means no obnoxious editing, no convoluted motives and, most gratifyingly of all, no pseudo-philosophical gibberish designed to sound deep without any actual meaning. Thank merciful God. Even the plot, which I’ve heard a lot of people derive as too simple/exposition filled (which I to some degree agree with), still feels like an improvement over the convoluted mess BvS’s story turned out to be.

On the second positive side, there’s actual characterisation to go around for our heroes this time! Yay! Each character feels consistently written and, like, you know, an actual person! Which makes a biiiig improvement over the ‘Who needs actual characters when we have brooding?’ philosophy of MoS/BvS. And, indeed, there are a lot of really great little character moments between the cast scattered throughout the film, which I have to give a lot of kudos for. Even little relationships that I really didn’t expect to enjoy, like Cyborg and Wonder Woman.

poster by Lee Bermejo

So, why doesn’t it ultimately feel like it comes together? Well, I think it comes down to three big things. First of all, while I did mention there are a lot of great little character moments in the movie, ‘little’ is kind of the key word there. Most of these great character moments barely extend beyond a single scene and, despite clear set-ups for a character arc in many of them, none of them really follow through and go the distance. Honestly, I can’t think of a single character beat that lasts throughout the movie instead of a couple of scenes at best. Which is disappointing because, as mentioned, some of them are really damn good.

The second issue, and this may require a bit of an explanation, is that . . . it kinda felt like the team came together a bit easily? Yeah, there were a couple of teething difficulties at the start, but once everyone is properly joined up, they’re more or less on the same page for the rest of the movie (minus mild disagreements over a couple of actions and the obligatory ‘we’re not a team’ moment). And, to be honest, that’s kinda dull. Good drama needs good conflict, after all, and God knows Steppenwolf ain’t going to provide any of that. I hate to make the dreaded Marvel comparison here, but part of what made The Avengers so great was that after the initial gathering of the team, the Avengers didn’t really get on. They fought and squabbled and while some of that was exacerbated by Loki, it was also a large part due to their personalities and aims naturally clashing. Hence why it’s all the more affecting when they put aside their differences and team-up for real in the climax. The Justice League never really has that and, as a result, their big team-up moment isn’t nearly as powerful.

Justice League - poster by Mike MahleWhich brings me to my third issue. This movie really needed to wait until the solo movies had come out. Seriously, they spend so much time setting up the origins of Aquaman/Cyborg/Flash and then recruiting them onto the team that, while they manage to spare enough time to create a solidly grounded character for each of them (except maybe Momoa who gets kinda neglected and has a truly awful exposition-packed scene with Amber Heard), they don’t get enough time to dedicate to the actual team dynamics. Aka, the most fun stuff of a team-up movie. Guardians of the Galaxy worked as a single-movie team-up because it managed to use its team dynamics to help establish and develop characters by the way they bounced off one another (in part thanks to the conflict between them). But this movie doesn’t try to be GOTG, it tries to be Avengers. And you can’t be Avengers while trying to fit in three separate origins. You just can’t.

To sum up, like I said before, this movie is not terrible. There are things to enjoy and compared to its non-Amazonian counterparts in the DCEU, it’s practically a work of art. But, despite all of that, I can’t really call it a good movie either. It tries, but story-wise it feels like an unfinished jigsaw, the CG needed another year or so of work and, ultimately, it never really lives up the hype and scale that the first ever Justice League deserves. If you’re absolutely desperate to see these characters on screen for the first time, then sure, give it a shot. But if you’re looking for a good time at the movies, just go see Thor: Ragnarok again instead. Seriously, that movie is great.

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