Bruce Wayne/Batman: He was more human than I am. He lived in this world. Fell in love, got a job, despite all that power. The world needs Superman. And the team needs Clark.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
DC has done well in recent years to distance itself from the failure of its attempt at creating its cinematic universe thanks to Wonder Woman, Shazam, Aquaman, and Joker all of which have succeeded critically and financially as their own separate films in their own separate universes with unique stories to match that don’t need to be a part of the DCEU. It seems in many respects DC is moving on from this failure. The one remnant of it is the 2017 movie Justice League. Director Zack Snyder had to step down mid-production due to a family tragedy and was replaced with Avengers director Joss Whedon who is very much an opposite to Snyder’s approach on superheroes. And while it was seen as okay at best (compared to other DC movies) when it came out in the past two years it has not aged well. However with rumors of Zack Snyder having visions of his own cut of this movie have circulated (and even though I believe them to complete bull) I decided to take a look at this movie.
The story involves Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) who having been inspired by Superman’s sacrifice during the events of Batman v. Superman enlists the help of his ally Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to recruit a group of heroes including Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) to take on a new threat known as Steppenwolf.
The problem with the change in directors really shows right off the bat with the movie’s tone. It’s often stuck in limbo between Whedon’s more light-hearted and humorous tone and Snyder’s more serious, dark, and gritty one and as a result the best of the movie isn’t brought out in either.
Another (obvious) problem is that given that this is a major superhero team-up movie and this is the debut for THREE major members their backstories are rushed with exposition leaving little time to get invested. But hey Marvel characters like Black Widow, Hawkeye, and others didn’t have their own solo movies either through the decade of the Infinity Saga but they’ve proven to be well-received among fans given the unique interactions they’ve shared with other characters in other movies like Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, Civil War, etc. But here the talks among these characters in learning about them is more or less the same and as a result it’s not easy to get invested. Not only are there quite a few plot elements from Batman v. Superman that were retconned here but also there’s little weight or tension to the overall story. For instance, we do get Superman back eventually but unlike Endgame where we knew we were going to get the snap victims back after Infinity War and they come back better than ever willing to fight for Earth together having lost (for them) mere minutes ago, this resurrection serves no real way of furthering the story. If anything, it creates more of a dilemma.
The cast is mostly mixed. Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot do have legitimate chemistry. It feels like something out of the Justice League cartoons. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman really showed what DC can do with the character on the big screen and that solo movie (which I’ll get to one day) while not flawless definitely did well to follow through. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg while you can sense the feeling of sadness in his performance, he is really not given much to do.
If you want to understand my comparison about this movie’s version of Flash vs the TV show take a look at this scene here where Barry talks to his dad in prison here first
Now take a look at this scene when Barry visits him in prison to tell him he has a chance to save his mother
Then there’s Ezra Miller as Barry Allen (anyone else notice that they completely discarded the Bruce dream in Batman v. Superman). A lot of people like this portrayal of Barry Allen. Yeah…I don’t. Maybe it’s because at the time (and still even now) we had Grant Gustin’s portrayal of character on the CW Flash TV show and even at the show’s worst Gustin does so well in conveying the emotional and humorous moments when it comes to those around him and defining his character. But they take a try way too hard at humor with this character which already fall flat due to the tone but his humor like most of the humor in this movie have the same problems: They don’t always know what kind of joke they should tell or when to put it (and yeah I’d be lying if I said Marvel wasn’t guilty of this too). All in all the team doesn’t always feel like a legitimate team.
Then there’s a matter of the special effects and let’s get the obvious elephant out of the room: Due to filming Mission Impossible 6 Henry Cavill was unable to shave his mustache and as a result Warner Bros had to CG his mustache out. And man, it is as awkward as you’ve heard. Cyborg also has a very odd look to him as well. And Steppenwolff well is rendered to the equivalence of a video game character and his motivations are weak to match. The same can be said about the rendering for the Flash’s running.
Despite all that I’ve said I don’t think Justice League is one of the worst superhero movies of all time. It does in some respects stray away from the problems of previous DCEU movies. But is just so unfocused in its overall story. It doesn’t do much in making the heroes unique on their own or together. And I don’t think the Snyder Cut is going to change any of that. Despite the ending telling us there’s gonna be “room for more” this whole thing just feels like the end rather than the end of a beginning. And DC has shown that without the pressure to create a shared universe they can do well. Whether they have the trademark humor or not. Whether they use Marvel’s style in their own way or do something entirely different.