🍿✍🏾 ***SEMI-SPOILER-FREE*** IMPRESSIONS OF: JUSTICE LEAGUE -
- Okayyy...... It's not really a train wreck. A minor derailment, maybe. Up front, I reckon I liked about 45 to 50% of this movie, and maybe that percentage will rise given the chance to screen it again when it arrives on home video. Films do tend to slow down the second time around, allowing details and whatever nuances previously missed to be perceived in a more comfortable and leisurely setting. But, a closer examination can also yield even less favorable results, so... That's how that goes.
• Yes, Superman is in this movie. We have to get that out of the way. Cool? Splendid. On we go.
• The opening song by Sigrid, playing over an introductory montage grated on my ears, sad to say. Not a good start.
• The effort to acquiesce to some of the skeptics (fans and critics both) with a decidedly lighter tone yielded some very clumsy attempts at comedy. And once again, forced laughs are the ingredient some of us must suffer so that the rest of the audience doesn't risk boredom. While each of the heroic characters takes turns delivering the joking one-liners and quizzical reactions, none of the actors really demonstrate any great proficiency at it here. Ezra Miller's Barry Allen/Flash is saddled with carrying the bulk of the comedy relief, which only irked me no end. Clearly, this is not my preferred version of the character, as The Flash is reduced to a lonely dork of a kid with lousy social skills. With all the advance promotional peeks, I did receive fair warning about this character, but I held out hope that he might work better for me in proper context. So much for that. Another unfortunate fact is that I've seen better examples of super-speed characters on the big screen by now. Basically, super-slow-mo is a clichéd solution at this point. Adding a bunch of lightning effects doesn't help make it fresh. What else ya got? Obviously, this Peter Parker-esque Barry Allen kid is supposed to be raw, just beginning, so they go for the crappy, cobbled-together super-suit made from trash. But in explaining that the purpose of that ugly bulky suit is to protect Barry's body from friction burn-up, it begs the question of why he still leaves portions of his face and his eyes exposed. The more you explain little things, the more little things you have to explain. Late in the film's climactic battle, Flash is able to super-speed push a Russian family in their pick-up truck for miles to safety. But unless he suddenly also acquired super-strength and durability, how was he able to do that? He's super-fast, not super-strong, right? As for that poor Russian family, I felt they wasted far too much screen time on those characters, never developing them sufficiently for me to care what happens to them. I can't even recall their names, if these were mentioned. Sloppy editing exacerbated the problem (sporadically returning to their oddly stagnant peril), and I concluded that the time spent with this family could have been better utilized elsewhere.
• Over Ambitious Digital Effects, yet again. These modern action flicks increasingly rely on CGI as a saving grace. But the lesson Hollywood needs to learn is that bad CGI has become easier and easier to detect. Any shortchanging in this area, any cost-cutting shows up on the screen, and it shows up BIG-time in JUSTICE LEAGUE, from the central villain (performed by Ciarán Hinds), to so many of the fight sequences featuring our key characters. It was pointed out to me ahead of time that they had to resort to CGI in order to cover up the growth of beard on actor Henry Cavill in two bookend scenes (the result of late reshoots where Cavill returned, but had to refrain from shaving because of his commitment to another film). It's conspicuous enough to be recognized if you're looking for it, and then it does look weird.
• The product placement was every bit as glaringly annoying as the bad CGI. Sure, they spent a lot of money building special Mercedez Benz vehicles exclusively for this movie. Well, they definitely got their money's worth by giving these cars enough glamor shots to rival the USS Enterprise in a Star Trek flick. I get it, already! Nice ride! Keep it moving, please.
• The Steppenwolf villain is as one-dimensional as the Hela character in THOR: RAGNAROK. The difference is-- Steppenwolf isn't HALF as alluring as Cate Blanchett's Hela. It's a real dilemma in an action/adventure movie (or any movie, really) to fail to properly present and develop the bad guy, since it's the antagonist who needs to be the engine spurring the protagonist(s) and the overall plot. Unleashing a maniac who simply seeks to destroy the world can be BORING without the presence of a sufficiently entertaining personality. The solution is usually found by allowing the villain to tell us what his/her motivations truly are, along with giving us a solid understanding of the method of destruction, the dire consequences for which we are compelled to root against him, to CARE. In this movie, I was never once impressed by Steppenwolf. But this was also true of Ares in the WONDER WOMAN movie, even though that film at least made the effort to explain the god of war's lame motivations. Oddly enough, I think a better job of this was done with Michael Shannon's General Zod in MAN OF STEEL, despite that movie's other issues. Indeed, I rank this DCEU movie below MAN OF STEEL. Right now, JUSTICE LEAGUE hovers just above BATMAN vs. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, and roughly even with WONDER WOMAN (which I feel is highly overrated).
• Something else that bugs me about this DCEU entry involves the renowned rivalry with the Marvel Movies... As loath as the DCEU is to copy or to be perceived as copying the MCU (even though this was inevitable), they are doing just that with ever-increasing frequency. Beyond emulating Marvel's successfully lighter tone (a capitulation to the intense criticism), there are other elements that stick out like several sore thumbs on some freakish hand. Suddenly, those often-clever post-credits extra scenes made popular by the Marvel Movies has been shamelessly appropriated by JUSTICE LEAGUE. Added to this, certain character traits and roles have been swiped. Iron Man has been split between The Batman and Cyborg, where insanely next-level tech and gadgetry are blatantly reflected, while Tony Stark's rash recruitment of Peter Parker/Spider-Man is replicated by Bruce Wayne with young Barry Allen. By the way, I hated that the Batcave didn't even remotely look like a Batcave in this flick. It looked more like a Stark Industries basement warehouse. And the whole aircraft-rising-out-of-the-river? Yeah, Marvel already did that in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Come on, guys.
• However, most alarming is the storyline that looks to be building towards a "götterdämmerung" style climax for this DCEU film series, a climax all too similar to what the MCU happens to be doing. In the MCU, the all-powerful artifacts being sought/guarded are the Infinity Stones. Here in JUSTICE LEAGUE, it's a clunky collection of Mother Boxes. It's all just too similar, and that makes it tiresome, at least for me. Yet again, though, as far as the grand finale, Marvel looks to get there first. I don't know. The aim to make the DCEU as different as possible from the MCU was a good idea. I just think that they fumbled with the approach, initially going too dark, dreary, and realistic. But steering towards a "twilight of the gods" crescendo in both the MCU and DCEU could be the death knell for the superhero movie genre, as fatigue finally takes hold of the audiences as well as the story potential. We'll see. Maybe I'm being too pessimistic. I do that sometimes.
• While this point has been belabored, it was a most solid strategy by Marvel to have first presented their key superheroes in their own individual features before uniting them in a splashy crossover event. That was most logical and effective. It gave us the benefit of getting to know the players, and developing whatever affinity for them (along with a delightful suspense) so that we care what happens in the joint adventure. JUSTICE LEAGUE has the added burden of hastily introducing three key superheroes (No, the BvS cameos don't count.), along with their supporting characters, AND a major super-villain. In the first AVENGERS movie, we already knew what Loki was about, and so they could hit the ground running. In JUSTICE LEAGUE, we essentially get sketches for Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. Mera (Amber Heard) looked intriguing, but she only gets a cameo. I thought Billy Crudup was interesting as Barry Allen's father, but again, just a cameo. Same thing with the fantastic Joe Morton, nearly wasted as Cyborg's father. Perhaps most egregious was the brevity of screen time given the great J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon (but it's an inescapable fact that Simmons was so much better as J. Jonah Jameson).
• I like Jason Momoa. But not as Aquaman. Nope. That's a swing and a miss. And even as this underappreciated-and-much-maligned sea-based character, Momoa's acting skills in this film left a lot to be desired. And can't they at least have him kick his feet, or make him LOOK like he's swimming? Instead, he just whooshes through the water like a humanoid torpedo missing a propeller. Or maybe he just-- fly-swims?
• Coincidentally keeping with the aquatic theme, the biggest surprise for me was Ray Fisher. MISTER Ray Fisher, if you please. This guy impressed me. In what little they gave him, I observed a most enjoyable screen charisma, and he definitely made the Cyborg character captivating. Very nicely done. I still hate that character design, but that looks to change next time out. As it is, Victor Stone looked better wearing the sweatpants and hoodie.
CURIOUS AND NAGGING QUESTIONS -
• Now, this has bugged me since the end of BvS, and the death not only of Superman, but of Clark Kent... Going forward, is he no longer Clark Kent? If so, then his secret identity is most assuredly blown, and all his loved ones are at risk. In fact, they play it rather loose with the secret identities in this film. At the top, during a fairly nifty rooftop sequence where Batman uses a burglar as bait for a flying space-bug/zombie (a burglar who was a bit too articulate for my taste), he openly addresses Alfred by name over his comm system as the burglar clearly listens in. A bit of earnest investigation by that surprisingly intelligent burglar could yield up Bruce Wayne's secret. And later on, Wayne openly reveals his Batman identity to Arthur Curry/Aquaman as they engage in a bit of cold banter in front of several fishermen villagers. Are we to assume that the language barrier was enough to safeguard his secret here?
• Once again, I was reminded of the sheer futility of the Amazons, as they charge into battle with primitive spears, swords, and archery weapons. This is one instance where swiping from Marvel would seem a mandatory no-brainer, allowing the Amazons to actually possess a superior technology or magic of some sort to make them at least more formidable in a modern world, like Marvel is doing with the Black Panther's hidden kingdom of Wakanda. One might assume Wakanda to be relatively primitive, a third world nation, yet it is advanced beyond expectation, beyond the dreams of the outside world. THAT'S what the Amazons should be, in my opinion. THAT'S an idea worth stealing, isn't it?
• And regarding the history of the Amazons and Wonder Woman in this relatively new version, how bloody old IS Diana, then? In her own movie, I got the impression that she was born only a little more than 100 years ago, since we saw her grow from a 5 year-old (presuming she aged at the same rate that humans do) to a young woman before she became a superhero. Yet, in JUSTICE LEAGUE, when one Amazon warrior claims that some sacred beacon hadn't been used for 5,000 years, so it wouldn't be understood as a signal to anyone in the outside world, Queen Hippolyta confidently states that only Diana would be able to do so. HOW? Unless the queen clued her in on it from some ancient book, Diana should never have been alive yet to have ever seen that flaming beacon before, yeah?
Anyway... I think the Amazons are a hot mess.
• Overall, I don't think JUSTICE LEAGUE is devoid of all redeeming value. Despite the predominantly awful costume designs, the spotty characterizations, the lackluster musical score (Sorry, Danny!), and the unfortunate density of the clunky plot, there are still some scenes possessed of genuinely sensitive heart. Lois (Amy Adams) and Clark share a sweet reunion scene together, as do Clark and Martha (Diane Lane). And I like the arc shared by Bruce Wayne and Diana, even if the reason for it doesn't really work. There's a crucial friction derived from the events surrounding Superman's sacrificial death, even though that was all ostensibly resolved in BvS between all parties involved (before and after Superman fell). So, it's a bit contrived to have it resurface and boil over here. Still, we get a couple of pretty cool fights as a result.
• The appearance of the two iconic musical themes for Superman and Batman (composed by John Williams and Danny Elfman, respectively), themes that certainly qualify as anthems, somehow feels as if they are being exploited, as a bone tossed to the disgruntled purist fanbase. It's excessively conciliatory in this context, where once that beloved music was rejected in favor of charting new courses for these two characters, including musically (under Hans Zimmer). The classic music is essentially resurrected now in a desperate attempt to curry favor in conjunction with this resignedly lighter, more hopeful tone. Even so, if you're gonna DO that, you need to do it bigger than you did. OWN it. That music retains all of its inspiring and invigorating power. Instead, you half-assed it, Danny.
• And therein lies the key phrase to sum it all up: Half-assed.
JUSTICE LEAGUE is supposed to be nothing short of SPECTACULAR. EPIC. It is, at long last, the first official adventure uniting the greatest superheroes ever created on the big screen, a collection of true superhero templates! This is the one that was supposed to BLOW all the others AWAY! The history of these DCEU movies is a pitiful mix of okay and mostly mediocre. And their recent steps in a new direction are wobbly at best. That ain't good enough. They're LIMPING when they should be running by now, preparing to leap high and soar. I hate to keep comparing score cards, but in less than 10 years, Marvel has given us no less than 15 movies. In 4 years, WB/DC has only managed 5. And where Marvel has been hitting doubles, triples, and a few singles and homeruns here and there, the DCEU has hit mostly bunt singles, a double credited as an error, with a controversial homerun that may have hit the foul pole.
In my view, JUSTICE LEAGUE is yet another dirty double, but it should have been a clean homerun that felt like a huge grand slam.
Thanks for reading, and as always, Your Mileage May Vary!