As I collected my ticket stub from theater cashier, I asked how long I could sit through the movie before being denied a refund. Thirty minutes, he replied. Boy, am I glad I stayed. To be quite honest, I was sold in the first ninety seconds. The film begins with cell phone video of Superman (Henry Cavill) being interviewed by two earnest children after saving people from a burning building. After humoring them through rapid-fire questions, a kid asks him what he most likes about planet Earth. Superman looks into the middle distance and smiles.
Justice League, the latest entry in the DC Expanded Universe (DCEU), has had its fumbles on the way to the silver screen. Those most likely to read a review such as this probably already know the backstory. It was first a two-parter, then it was one movie. Director Zack Snyder had to step aside, due to a family tragedy, and Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in for what Marvel Producer Kevin Feige would call “additional photography.” Before Whedon came aboard, reactions to early cuts were negative to say the least (a rumor called the original movie “unwatchable”). It boggles the mind how a movie like this was able to remain coherent after significant changes to the story.
The film’s plot is messy and a bit murky. I’m reminded of Suicide Squad’s problems with deleted scenes and reshoots. Something’s different, but you’ll never know for sure what it was. Of the bad scenes that remained, Snyder’s fingerprints were apparent. There’s a difference between having a mature tone and simply being dreadful. Only horror movies should leave you with dread. Movies with capes, less so. I wondered if some of the more… “bad” special effects were creative choice or a symptom of spending far too much money on reshoots.
Whedon knows how to handle a team. We don’t see his favorite character get inordinate amounts of screen time, because even if he had one, he knows what the audience wants to see. There’s a welcome amount of color added between the trailers for this film and the final product, and it makes a difference. Superman’s cape and Flash are scarlet, not maroon. Weather can differ from rain and overcast. I also enjoyed the tiny musical cues from the original Batman and Superman movies, something I can’t see Snyder indulging in.
As usual, Gal Gadot continues to shine as Wonder Woman. As the frontwoman for the only critically acclaimed DCEU movie, Gadot represents the hope her character looks for in Superman. Gadot is to the DCEU what Superman is to the world. I was worried about the casting of Ezra Miller as the Flash, but he had me chuckling throughout the film as the kid who doesn’t quite know if he belongs. Similarly, Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is an outsider who likes being an outsider. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) could have had more screen time, but we can’t have everything. Now let’s discuss Batman (Ben Affleck).
I was quite frustrated to see how the Batman was handled in Batman v. Superman. It went beyond my contempt for his bloodthirstiness. Besides from the Metropolis scenes, he didn’t seem to care about those around him. In Justice League, Batman spends most of the film with the cowl off. Here we get not just the intimidating Dark Knight, but a rough man who’s just trying to do some good. In one of my favorite parts, Flash confesses that he has no idea what to do. Batman responds, “Save one person. Then you’ll know what to do next.” The performance was solid enough that I managed to tune-out the voice in my head that was comparing his new silver Batman suit to George Clooney’s from Batman & Robin.
I’ve heard others call this film a step back from Wonder Woman, and they’re technically correct. This movie has had quite a few missteps. By all means, I should be the film’s loudest detractor. But I’m not. The next Justice League movie will learn from this movie’s mistakes. The DCEU will learn from this movie’s mistakes. Justice League is like a Goth Kid from high school who goes to ask out the Prom Queen. On his way over he trips and falls, but he gets back up and asks her out. And she says yes.
For a movie: 6/10
For a DCEU movie: 9/10