Movie Review: Justice League

Following a handful of superhero efforts that ranged from passable to more than lackluster, Warner Bros. and DC Comics aimed to finally deliver their most ambitious and demanding feature in this year's Justice League. Backed yet again by Man of Steel and Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder, the team-up feature set to rival Marvel Studios' Avengers property was easily one of my most anticipated projects to send off the year of 2017. Even while polarizing reviews painted the film as another failed effort by DC, no doubt a victim of the editor's cutting board, I found the latest superhero event to hit the big screen a much bigger surprise than I initially thought. While the film might be easily bogged down by another cliche villain who aims to destroy the world, the effectiveness of its viable cast and its ounce of humanity and hope managed to make Justice League a fun time worth the price of admission. 

After the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the world mourns the death of its unsung hero in Superman (Henry Cavill). Among them is Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who feel the pangs of guilt after watching the Man of Steel die at the hands of Lex Luthor's monstrous creation. With their guilt now matched with an uneasy dread for a greater threat already at their doorstep, Wayne and Prince set out to find others like them, powerful and willing fighters to join a valiant alliance. As the looming threat of alien warrior Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) seeks to bear down on the team, which includes the likes of speedster Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and the king of the seas Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the age of heroes is made anew in the profound and everlasting shadow of Superman.

While it might have taken me nearly a month to finally see DC's latest live-action effort in Justice League, my eagerness to witness the next step towards success for the Marvel rival never seemed waver. With the superhero genre already filling the year with emotional send-offs, daddy issues in space, and gladiator fights, Justice League looked to be an ambitious player seeking to add something worthy to a year already chock-full of superhero spectacle. Even as the shadow of the lackluster effort of last year's Batman v Superman, as well as David Ayer's Suicide Squad, loomed over the release of the team-up event, the promise of Justice League to be just as satisfying as this year's Wonder Woman brought me into the film with an ounce of optimism.

That optimism, which worked to smooth over at least some of the uncertainties I had about the film -- from its rush to construct a team-up adventure as monumental as The Avengers to its conflicting tones after losing its director at the on-set of post-production -- left me feeling a lot better about the final film. While the film no doubt has a number of issues, many of them stemming from what made DC's past projects hit the fan, the team-up effort remained an exciting attempt at bringing the comic-book heroes together for the first time on the big screen. With a brisk pace bringing us to the action of the film sooner rather than later, and a lighter tone sending up a more approachable superhero narrative, Justice League quickly became a far more enjoyable film, despite its obvious flaws.

Perhaps learning a few things from the missteps of Dawn of Justice, which piled far more onto its story than it needed to make for a confusing mash-up of unresolved plot points, one of the things most evident from Justice League was its runtime. Far shorter than both Dawn and this year's Wonder Woman, the team behind Justice League were seemingly going for a different approach this time around. While director Zack Snyder is known for his lengthy narratives, yearning to fill his stories with as much exposition and visual splendor as possible (especially in his comic-book adaptations), Justice League felt a bit more restrained in its storytelling. Possibly due to the involvement of writer/director Joss Whedon, who took over the film during post-production following the untimely death of Snyder's daughter, the film felt much more streamlined than any DC film prior. For better or for worse, to me the film ultimately felt more cohesive in that it didn't drown the viewer in over-exposition (for the most part) and established its newer characters at a far quicker, and more efficient pace.

With the film facing the far more difficult challenge of establishing a team of heroes in two hours without the aid of prior origin films for those beyond Superman, Wonder Woman, and for the most part, Batman, Justice League did managed to present its characters in a ray of hope and humor that mostly made up for their quick introductions. While the cast of the film was ultimately led by the demanding performances of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck's Batman, the newer players of the film did leave their marks on the story in their respective ways. While Ray Fisher's outcast teen-turned-robot Cyborg and Jason Momoa's sarcastic sea dweller Aquaman sent up effective performances that garnered more than a simple chuckle, one of the performances that most surprised me was Ezra Miller's charismatic turn as speedster Barry Allen. While I'm partial to Grant Gustin's at times melodramatic version of the character on the CW show, Miller's fluent chemistry with the rest of the cast propelled him beyond simply a comic-relief, into a character that hopefully gets his due in DC's proposed Flashpoint adaptation.

While DC and Warner Bros. hoped to finally bring their most popular superheroes together on the big screen, after teasing at a much broader universe in Batman v Superman, one of my biggest hopes for Justice League was for them to finally make me like their version of Superman. While 2013's Man of Steel presented a step forward for the character as the first member to grace the screen at the on-set of the DC Extended Universe, Snyder's gladiator showdown in Dawn of Justice painted the Kryptonian hero as more of a one-dimensional villain than anything else. With Justice League promising the (spoilers!) return of Superman from the grave, I wanted to see just how Snyder and Company would handle reviving their superhero centerpiece. To my surprise, despite subtly butchering Henry Cavill's face with blots of CGI, the film managed to paint an entirely new portrayal of Superman, one full of hope and determination rather than a slim veil of compassion. While the contrived revival of Superman with the aid of the mysterious Motherboxes and Flash's electrical touch might not have been entirely nuanced, nor was his first interaction with the team in an odd fight to calm an enraged Clark Kent, everything following that left me with an ounce of hope that Superman could finally be likable and feasible to root for in a realm of bleakness and dread.

In the end, while the DC Extended Universe might still have a few more kinks to work out as they move towards building a cohesive cinematic universe, Justice League was a stilted step in the right direction. While it might not reach the coherent thematic appeal of Wonder Woman, the collaborative effort between directors Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon managed to deliver a fun-filled superhero adventure that left me feeling hopeful for the future of the franchise. Introducing a slew of compelling faces that work to propel their respective characters beyond their comic-book titles, Justice League balanced its promising cast, as well as its tonal differences, the best it could to give fans an enjoyable yet flawed team-up event.

I gave Justice League a 6 out of 10 for its compelling cast of superfriends, its streamlined storytelling that delivered what it needed in due time, and its promising ambition in establishing a unified superhero franchise, slowly but surely.  




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