Monday, 20 November 2017

Movie Review: Justice League

Justice League is fun, it's a film I'd happily watch again - but the mooted issues *are* there (story's very thin, villain indeed sub-par, pacing odd in the middle). In fact, there's so much wrong with it, it's a minor miracle that this has turned out a perfectly serviceable popcorn blockbuster. All of the League are top drawer, it's very enjoyable, and they (finally) do Superman, ahem, justice.

It has quite a few big problems that make it quite messy overall, and lots of little niggly problems, but it is fun, it is very entertaining, disappointing opening weekend aside, it could be a great springboard for the WB/DC films to really build from.

They must do MUCH better, but with both Superman and Batman substantially shifted away from the frankly horrible Snyder/Frank Miller takes we've been saddled with up to now, there's reason to believe that will come automatically.

The much-reported 'big' problems are very much there: Steppenwolf is pretty poor, the plot is waffer thin, and being cut to fit a round 2 hours is both a blessing and a curse.

Steppenwolf is quite badly botched, forgettable and generic, mostly because (1) he doesn't need to be CGI at all, and (2) he's never properly connected to Darkseid and Apokolips, his 'plan' is very vague and he acquires the mother boxes far too easily.

You have to suspect that this is in part due to the original plan being for this to be a two-part film, with Darkseid the villain in the 2nd half, maybe he would've popped up at the end of part 1 as the cliffhanger.

They were clearly teasing Darkseid in Batman vs Superman, but here they abandon all that. Steppenwolf utters Darkseid's name once, not in front of the League. When Wonder Woman tells the legend of Steppenwolf's 1st attack, no mention of Darkseid. When Steppenwolf is defeated... zilch.

This badly undermines what the threat is and what the deal with the motherboxes is, hence Steppenwolf himself never really stands a chance. The reason this isn't *such* a big problem, though should be reasonably obvious.

This isn't a film where a well developed villain is necessarily needed or even wanted. The focus - quite rightly - is on the League getting together. And here, so much extra work is needed than in Marvel's first Avengers movie.

This is a problem of DC/WB's own making; they shat the bed, and now they have to lie in it - so they have to introduce 3 new heroes, and bring one back from the dead. No way could they possibly have got Darkseid right in the film this had to be.

Don't forget, they've spent 2 pretty poor and unrewarding films, and 4 years, making us wait for Superman as the finished article. So a plus point: FINALLY we get to see the "true" version of him that you've read in comics and seen in other media.

Once he's back from the dead & recovered, Superman is a straight up hero who doesn't hesitate to roll up his sleeves and do some proper superhero-ing. It helps just that his suit is that much more colourful, and of course use of the Williams theme is punch the air stuff.

This is definitely a realignment; if this is how he's going to be from now on: smiling, decisive, a team player, with a suit that's properly blue not "priest-socks" blue, with boyscout lines just the right side of cheesy, then yes, consider Superman fixed.

Time will tell if the good will they pissed away on MoS & BvS can ever be regained, though. That kind of character arc works on TV or a couple of issues of a comic. It's completely inappropriate for movies.

The fact that Snyder, and WB, thought they could get away with punishing audiences for 2 films/4 years before serving this character correctly has been a monumental mis-step in my book. YMMV, of course.

There are a few negatives on Superman, and his supporting characters, though. The biggie is the CGI'd-out 'tache. OMG that is ropey a.f., who on Earth signed off on that? Someone thought they could just get away with using the smudge tool and then an anime style mouth on top?

For those that didn't know - After initial shooting, Cavill left to join production of Mission Impossible 6, for which he wears this 'tache.

When WB needed him back for reshoots, Paramount only agreed on condition the 'tache stayed, WB cockily announced they'd just CGI it out. I'm completely with Paramount on this - just not their problem, why should JL reshoots delay production of MI:6? Of course, after this, Tom Cruise knackered his knee and MI:6 has been delayed anyway!

It's in more key scenes than you would expect, too, like virtually *all* of Cavill's scenes, so that, with at least 3 isolated character scenes that are clearly Whedon inserts, means WB's claims that the reshoots weren't *that* extensive are absolute bull.

This leads me to wonder if Snyder did in fact shoot Superman's resurrection with the famous black suit, as Cavill had teased - because it ain't in the finished film at all, sadly. This is one of the "open goals" I mentioned as being missed.

You can see why it's not there, though. It wouldn't fit with the method of resurrection used in the film, so the only time to do it is while he's in recovery, needing to absorb solar radiation to power up.

The trouble is, there isn't enough room in the story for that to happen without shoving in another half hour to delay the finale, and bloody hell you wouldn't have wanted this to have become the slog that BvS was.

Justice League's first third zips along in a way that probably buys the last two thirds enough good will to offset the weaker and messier bits they contain, with scenes noticeably kept very tight.

There's a clumsy cross-fade between scenes of Bruce Wayne travelling in Iceland where you can practically hear WB bosses screaming "get on with it, faster, faster!"

So once this section of the film is done, and it comes time to bring Superman back, the film almost grinds to a halt before having to sluggishly heave itself into the CGI battle of the last third.

So in quite a fundamental way, DC/WB gave themselves a mountain to climb by locking the return of Superman into Justice League. It does Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg no favours coming in without solo films behind them either. They do succeed despite this, but are underserved.

The whole DCEU's been crocked from the start cos WB were so desperate to catch up with Marvel, they skipped putting the work in. Justice League hasn't been earned as Avengers was, and they f*cked up their Cap (Superman) and shoehorned their Iron Man into his sequel.

Wonder Woman, whilst not without some relatively small flaws (CGI denouement, WWI Germans ≠Nazis) was mostly brilliant, and seems to have led to some big shifts, some public, some not so public, behind the scenes and on screen.

But Justice League is not a continuation from Wonder Woman, it's a sequel to BvS. It's much - MUCH- better than BvS, but a lot of what was great about WW is missing. We're back with Snyder, so the plot is wank, and most female characters - WW included - suffer as a result.

Gal Gadot is once again terrific as Wonder Woman, but right from her first scene, half the shots are up her skirt or creepily centred on her leather-trousered backside.

In some scenes she's reduced to a "shit, how do you write a woman" maternal role, geeing up Cyborg or tutting at the "children... I work with children". (BTW that's almost certainly Whedon, not Snyder - that's straight out of Buffy).

Wonder Woman now has her own "BvS course correction". Snyder rowed back on the destruction of MoS by retconning it as the reason Batman thinks Superman is a problem. WW has to weasel out of the stuff in BvS re: 'walking away from humanity' as the character would never have done.

By the end of Justice League, she's back in the public eye, inspiring people once again. Basically where she was at the end of her own movie. Again, we can move forward from here. But those scenes are there because an error needed fixing, not because they serve this film.

Probably the oddest course correction we see in the film is Bruce Wayne's insistence that "Superman was a beacon of hope". He clearly wasn't watching the same version of Batman vs Superman that I saw. He *should* be right, and that's why that line is in Justice League, but it flies in the face of what we've been presented with previously.

Of the other women in the film, Mera fares well, toughing out Steppenwolf in an action scene and bollocking Aquaman in a scene that seems to (probably quite correctly) pitch Atlantis in the same territory as Branagh's Shakespearean Asgard.

I've read a fair bit of early 2000s and New 52 Aquaman comics, and have to say Amber Heard was exactly how I always imagined Mera - but yes, this could have been meaningless to others. No doubt she just comes over as "Aquaman's girlfriend". Ugh.

Unfortunately it ends up a bit daft as it's the same scene where Aquaman has his rapid change of heart after having told Bruce Wayne to naff off just a few scenes back. He's just seen what Steppenwolf can do with his own eyes, to be fair, but the script undersells this.

Similarly it isn't followed up well: Aquaman says he'll need something from Mera, next time we see him, he has Atlantean armour & trident, without ever coming across like any kind of pay off. Wouldn't want it laboured, but it's an example of undercooking in the script.

So circling back to issues with Superman, Lois Lane is a major casualty of this film. It probably gets away with it because she's mostly incidental to the plot but the idea that post death of Supes she becomes a shit journalist is truly awful.

Of course she should grieve and she'd be inhuman if that didn't affect her motivation at work in some manner, but look, this is just not Lois Lane, and Snyder's Lois never has been. Which considering Amy Adams is a superb actress takes some bloody doing.

Snyder's Lois is not the strong, stubborn, determined, unstoppable woman we should have. Amy Adams is absolutely capable of playing that. What we have here is a lost little girl who's nothing without her man. Vomit.

When Superman does join the fray for the final battle it is pretty joyous. Finally, proper Superman has arrived in the DCEU; Cavill was absolutely on the money when he touted this.

So Superman fares well despite not being in half of the film, never wearing the iconic black suit and his face looking like melted wax in too many close-ups for comfort. That's quite the feat, actually. His mid-credits scene with The Flash is just lovely stuff.

If they'd done the black suit, given him longer hair & a beard, he could've just worn a fake beard over the offending 'tache. They didn't even need to have him shave before the end, just make his last scene him bouncing his laser vision off a mirror to shave or whatever!

Wonder Woman does okay, the aforementioned issues aside, she's properly heroic and always capable in a fight. The Flash is a loveable nerd type that gets mostly comedic lines but brings much needed heart and relatability to the DCEU. Ezra Miller is hugely likeable as The Flash, but this is a take much closer to Tom Holland's Spider-Man than any version of the Flash.

Cyborg was MUCH better than I expected, full credit to Ray Fisher. Like The Flash, he's introduced well and gets a pretty good 'journey' (hard to call it an arc in so brief a time). Tortured but very sympathetic. More than earns his place. Does he need a solo film, though? Nah.

As Aquaman, Jason Mamoa does a great job but his character seems to have needed that prior solo outing much more than the other new heroes; a few scant lines have to set up his awkward relationship to Atlantis.

He's gruff and boisterous, but although he hides it better than Cyborg, obviously has his own demons. Unfortunately the film has to toss his story out in a few lines between he and Mera that could be easily missed.

Of the League this just leaves Batman. Don't care what anyone else thinks, Affleck is great, both as Bruce Wayne, and as Batman. In Justice League, he's the grimly determined leader, who recognises he's not really a people person but is focused on the task in hand.

Like Superman, he's much closer to his "true" comics self than the Frank Miller style dumbass easily tricked by Luthor's machinations in BvS. He's the tactician, analyses problems & points out Steppenwolf doesn't stand round debating ethics when a critical choice has to be made.

Batman stalks and battles a Parademon at the start of the film in a scene that you can well imagine as drawn by Jim Lee, as he attempts to fight crime across 2 cities in a post-Superman world. It's nowhere near as noticeable as with Supes, but again this is a crucial fix.

IMO they have Superman back on track, so they *should* be easily able to improve from here. What happens next with Batman seems a grey area, though!

So it's a shame if Affleck really is looking to exit sooner rather than later and maybe even before the solo film he was once down to direct. That said, although Affleck would rock a solo film, his older Batman may start looking increasingly out of step with the League.

Was surprised this was even signposted in the script (line about 'not being able to do this much longer' after taking a beating), but it did highlight that we have the new 3 just starting, immortal Wonder Woman making a fresh start, and Superman reborn, alongside a post-retirement Batman.

But what to do next? Keep Affleck as retired Bruce Wayne and cast a Terry McGinnis in time for JL2? Or recast Bruce Wayne (perhaps at the end of the mooted Flashpoint movie)? Apparently Matt Reeves wants Jake Gylenhaal, who did get down to (IIRC) the last 6 when Bale was cast.

So anyway, the film does so what it says on the tin, and gets those 6 DC characters united as a group. Provided the Aquaman and The Flash movies don't drop the ball, this *should* all be pointed in the right direction now.

Willem Defoe as Vulko is cut from the Atlantis scene(s) and Kiersey Clemons as Iris West was also cut. But Billy Crudup's Henry Allen is back in after it'd been said he was cut, in 2 small scenes in which he's very good and quite affecting. They *can* go from here to Flashpoint IMO.

Justice League does very much stand as its own film, but (at least for me) it's often hamstrung by having to work against constraints imposed by bad decisions from earlier films (mostly just Man of Steel & BvS, to be fair).

DC Comics are different from Marvel comics in tone, style and approach, so it's not simply the case that these films needed to become more like the Marvel films. I do feel like quite a lot of critics simply won't accept superhero films that aren't absolutely in the Marvel mould.

I don't really believe there's such a thing as anti-DC bias in reviews, but a certain British reviewer lost my respect when trying to claim that Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin is a better film; that's lazy and childish.

This won't be popular in certain quarters but I genuinely think WB went badly wrong in appointing Zack Snyder (1) at all & (2) to make MoS as something happening in the same universe as Nolan's - by then ended! - Batman trilogy. BvS doubled down with a Frank Miller Batman.

This actually makes it an even greater shame that Justice League is taking the drubbing it is, because despite *all those things* I've been waffling on about - it is very entertaining. Maybe I even like it a bit *more* because of what it manages to do against all the odds.

So just a few more thoughts to wrap up. The last scene before the credits is oddly limp, despite the (rightly) optimistic positive thrust it's aiming for. The 2 post-credit scenes are enormous fun. The last seems to indicate some future plans which would be great fun too.

And finally on the Green Lantern(s). Some unknown Lanterns cameo in the telling of the legend of Steppenwolf, but no Lantern joins the Justice League here. On the one hand I can see they would have thought it was probably just a character too many for this film.

Again, not a failing of this film's making, but this film is the one that suffers (a little bit) by that absence. It would've been great to have had a Lantern in the mix for the formation of the League and it's only not happening because of the general state of the DCEU.

Steppenwolf's line from the trailer about the world not being defended - no Kryptonians, no Lanterns...? Not in the film. The Lanterns' presence would've explained how Steppenwolf's return was prevented for thousands of years before Superman arrived.

In the finished film it seems Steppenwolf is back specifically because Superman died - but what about those thousands of years before he arrived on Earth? It'd have made more sense if in fact Steppenwolf had been kept at bay by Lanterns until now.

The Green Lantern could've been locked up most of the film, maybe started communicating with Cyborg part way through?, but freed just ahead of the final fight, joining the League to take down Steppenwolf. Don't think it quite works (probably steals focus from Superman's return) so maybe he could have arrived at the start, reaching out to Batman and Wonder Woman?

I dunno, I kind of feel like there was and wasn't room for a Green Lantern here. I'm less confident of WB getting a standalone Lanterns film right, I guess. Though with Snyder gone & Geoff Johns apparently taking more control, hopefully at least the fundamentals would be right. I'd definitely want extra League members for Justice League 2, a Lantern, probably Shazam, I guess. WB really need to get more female/POC heroes kickstarted.

Getting the right personnel in for Justice League 2 is going to be CRUCIAL. The DCEU has been almost uniformly (Wonder Woman aside, and even that was by no means perfect) appallingly written, that is a MUST to be fixed.

I'd certainly be more confident of Justice League 2 being better directed as long as it's not Whedon. Frankly, they should probably just give it to Patty Jenkins, but not sure how schedules between WW2 & JL2 would fit, so who knows?

To end - I'm massively conscious this comes across as a very negative review. It isn't meant to be, I actually loved it (7/10 maybe?), and would happily see it again. Most of its major problems are ones taken forward from its predecessors & which it resolves.

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