I love that Danny Elfman composed the score for Justice League. His original Batman theme from 1989 is sprinkled in a few places throughout the film, and it gave me goosebumps to hear those classic cues in a film I never thought I’d hear them in. We also get a taste of John Williams’s original theme from Superman: The Movie for a brief moment, as well as the incredible action theme from Wonder Woman that we all love. The music in this movie gave me chills, as did a few other fan moments in the film, because I’m a fan and that’s what happens when you’re a fan. I think fans will have a pretty great time with Justice League for its fun action and for the simple fact that we get to see five of our favorite heroes joining forces and fighting evil together. It’s actually pretty awesome to see.
The structure of the film as a whole, though, is unfortunately a mess. I enjoyed small portions at a time, but the drama bored me, and that’s due to some very sloppy storytelling and a lack of focus in the first half. Similar to last year’s Batman v. Superman, Justice League has several different beginnings. During the entire first act, almost every sequence seemed like it could have been starting the film. It keeps introducing new characters and locations, which makes sense as this is an ensemble superhero movie, but that just reinforces my opinion that DC rushed into this way too quick. Unlike Marvel, who had an origin movie for basically every Avenger, DC threw half of its character introductions into one movie, and it’s extremely rushed.
Let’s talk about a few of those new characters, because I have my positives and my negatives with all of them. The Flash, AKA Barry Allen, is played by Ezra Miller, who I’ve loved in everything I’ve seen him in. He’s proven to have quite a bit of range as an actor, but here he shows off possibly his best side, which is a charismatic sort of comic relief character. He’s consistently hilarious in the film and manages to never be annoying, and his quips and one-liners added a lot to the lightheartedness that the film was going for. He still contributes to the team, though, in a very interesting way. He’s a naive and inexperienced kid, kind of like Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War, and it’s fun to watch him grow as a person and as a hero while he fights off the bad guys.
Cyborg and Aquaman are given a little less development than Flash, which may disappoint viewers who were looking forward to seeing them. Both Ray Fisher and Jason Momoa are good in the roles, and we get to see the characters show off their awesome abilities, but that’s about it. They aren’t given much backstory and we don’t find out that much about them as people. With Flash, we learn a little bit about his personal life and get hints of some emotional conflict, and Cyborg has a bit of that as well, but Aquaman gives us nothing. I didn’t know a thing about who he actually was by the end of the film, and he didn’t make me too excited for his standalone movie we’re getting next year.
There’s also a new villain in Justice League, Steppenwolf, who is quite possibly the worst aspect of the film, story-wise. He’s a rubber-looking CGI creation with, once again, no depth whatsoever. He’s just a big baddie who wants to take over the world and be all-powerful, and all we learn about him comes from Wonder Woman explaining it to us via flashback. He’s not threatening as a bad guy, very weak as a character, and his appearance is regrettably comical.
After a choppy setup, the film was able to gain momentum by the climax, but by the time it got an idea of how to streamline the story more, the finale was one big splat of CGI vomit on the screen. The CGI all around is actually pretty bad. Computer effects have advanced to the point where we can animate pretty much anything, and some movies take advantage of that in a good way. When action blockbusters use CGI as the entire film, though, the result almost always looks like a video game. Wonder Woman is easy the best DCEU movie that’s come out so far, but most will agree that the worst part of that movie is the chaotic, effects-heavy climax. The battle extravaganzas that take place, specifically the finale and Steppenwolf’s introduction earlier on Themyscira, can be fun but they’re extremely over-bloated and the set pieces feel inexcusably artificial. There isn’t a tangible sense of danger and it doesn’t feel like the characters have real objects to interact with, so as a result, the stakes don’t feel very high at all.
I also feel the need to mention the CGI that was used to digitally remove Henry Cavill’s mustache. He was shooting the next Mission: Impossible movie at the same time, and was forbidden to shave, so they used computer effects to make him appear clean-shaven. The way his mouth moves is unnatural and his plastic-looking face sticks out like a sore thumb. Superman is cool, though, and his re-introduction (not a spoiler) was pretty entertaining. Fans of the character will particularly enjoy his powerful return and the contribution he makes in the latter half of the movie.
The point where I feel Justice League got a hold of its story was about the beginning of the third act. It’s easily the most amusing section of the film, mainly because it’s a lot more cohesive than the rest of the story and it focuses on the action, which is what we come to movies like this to see. Still, though, there are elements sprinkled in that take away from the fun. It keeps cutting back to this nameless family in a foreign country defending their home against invaders, and there’s no explanation as to why we keep following them. We don’t see enough of them to care, but we get just enough to question why they are a part of the movie.
Warner Brothers apparently forced the filmmakers to cut the film down to less than two hours, so the running time is right around that even though the original cut was much longer. It definitely shows in the rushed exposition of the first act and the jumbled story, and that’s likely the biggest reason Justice League feels so all over the place. Director Zack Snyder also had to leave the film at the end of production due to the unfortunate death of his daughter, and Joss Whedon took over to oversee post production. I don’t know how much of an impact this shift had on the final product, but what I do know is that the movie didn’t turn out great. I can’t really say I was disappointed, though, because I wasn’t expecting much after the underwhelming marketing. I must reiterate, fans will likely have a blast seeing these iconic characters and being a part of the action. I can’t look past the many flaws in the plot for that, though. The excuse that it’s “just for the fans” shouldn’t be an excuse for poor storytelling.
— Camden McDonald