Nine years ago, we were greeted to a fantastic opening shot of a glass skyscraper. As the camera moves, we could see the entire city that was Gotham. Now, in Justice League, the opening shot is again of Gotham City. Except now, the city is darker, grungier, and grimmer. Oh, and instead of thieves in clown masks, we get black-orange aliens attacking the city.
That’s one of the good aspects of the movie: the feeling that the times are truly changing – and not for the better. And without Superman’s help, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is left with a much scarier world than he ever thought possible. So that’s sort of the plot of the movie: Batman is left fighting off parademons on his own, with occasional help from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). To help fill the gap, Bruce enlists Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller) to fight off the parademons and what is revealed to be their leader, Steppenwolf. In the comics, this big baddie has a backstory and a motivation, but this is the movie, and in the movie, none of that matters, because, well… there is no backstory, and the motivation? Steppenwolf wants to destroy the world. Riveting. So Steppenwolf and the Justice League start fighting, with the Justice League being beaten down quite badly. Bruce brings Superman back to life in a similar fashion in Age of Ultron, where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) uses dangerous technology to create an artificial intelligence. In Justice League, Wonder Woman even acts as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) by objecting to Bruce’s actions. But either way, Superman is brought back to life. They eventually join together and beat up the bad guy, then skip off on their merry way.
Upon viewing this film, it becomes extremely easy to discern the pros and the cons of this film.
The writing in this film is mediocre at best and irritating at worst. The amount of jokes crammed into specific time frames bog the film down, similar to those insipid innuendos that plagued Wonder Woman during the boat scene. The screenplay is also unnecessarily either vague or chock-full of exposition. If the screenwriters could find middle ground, the screenplay would be perfectly acceptable. And then, there’s the plot. Quite a lot of time is used to establish characters. The character development scenes are perfectly fine, if not slightly clunky at times, but this causes the plot to feel extremely rushed. The bare bones of the plot are, again, oddly similar to that of Age of Ultron: a team forms together to fight the big bad, find out that they are outmatched, so they summon a being that can give them the upper hand, they fight the big bad again, and they win. Simple, but too much so.
The CGI is almost as bad as Suicide Squad (one of the worst films ever put out by DC) in the sense of how overly-done it is. It’s not so bad at first. Sure, Cyborg’s costume is a bit over-stylized, and the explosions here and there are a bit too excessive, but nothing horrendous. Until, that is, you reach the big final battle. In it, Steppenwolf turns the sky red (to signify apocalyplse, I suppose) and these massive, giant, purple tentacles start shooting up from the ground, creating fissures and cracks in the earth. A large dome of energy is also created, giving another chance for overblown CGI to take over the screen again.
However, despite all the flaws, the positive aspects of the film make it worth watching, at least once. The character development is impressively thorough given the lack of time. Each character feels different, with an inherent uniqueness about them that causes their presences together onscreen to evoke a sense of intrigue from the viewer. The film also does a great job of displaying how the heroes’ pasts have come to influence themselves, as well as their futures. One particularly good actor is Ray Fisher, who brings an intensity to his performance that makes me almost excited for the Cyborg solo film. Ezra Miller, while slightly annoying, fares excellently when he is called upon to perform in a heart-to-heart scene. Ben Affleck truly does give the film a sense that the time is changing, that a revolution is occurring, as he brilliantly shows how much Batman has aged, and how the world around him (Batman) has changed. But Batman hasn’t. Gal Gadot is fun and entertaining, as always. Jason Momoa is a slight exception, though. While Momoa’s acting is perhaps not the issue, as his performance based on the material he was given, it is undoubtedly annoying. Aquaman’s character is by far the least developed. Rather than being shown to have complexities and an interesting backstory, Aquaman is merely shown to be an irritating, beer-drinking frat boy.
Justice League has its moments, and the ambition and heart inside of it beats loud and clear. It is hard to say whether Wonder Woman, which is considered to be the best film of the DCEU right now, is actually better than Justice League. Because after all, Wonder Woman may be more competent, better directed, and more skillfully written than the Justice League, but the most frustrating part of Wonder Woman is how safely it plays. Wonder Woman, to put it simply, is well… simple.
Justice League, while unable to match Wonder Woman in certain areas, still is able to put on such a grand spectacle that, for a moment, you completely forget about all of the issues and appreciate the film for what it is. And that deserved praise.