Inspired by Superman’s sacrifice, Bruce Wayne sets out to form a team of super-powered individuals tasked with protecting Earth. When an ancient evil returns, determined to bring together three mysterious boxes of unimaginable power, it’s up to the newly formed Justice League to stop them at any cost.
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Ciarán Hinds, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons
Run Time: 120 Minutes
Release Date: Out Now
For all its millions taken at the worldwide box office, there was plenty wrong with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; whether it be the lack of humour, the laughable and meme-worthy ‘Martha’ moment or so many other things wrong with that movie, the future of Warner Bros.’s DC Universe wasn’t looking rosy…that was until Wonder Woman came along. With strong reviews and an astonishing $821 million in worldwide takings, Patty Jenkins’ movie restored lost faith in the Universe and gave new hope that all was not lost, while also – and more importantly – establishing a dominant female superhero and leader of the eventual Justice League team. Heading into Justice League, and with the worldwide goodwill gained with Wonder Woman, expectations were cautiously middling-to-high for the ultimate superhero team-up, with Batman and Diana Prince herself coming out of Dawn of Justice looking to find metahumans to form a team in the wake of Superman’s apparent self-sacrifice.
In the eyes of many observers of the comic book movie war – though the question remains of whether a war truly exists when Marvel Studios have been building toward their ultimate superhero team up for the last decade compared to Warner’s four – this was when DC and Warner would have to get it right; with Batman and Wonder Woman teaming again, and Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg all making their big-screen debuts, and a certain Man of Steel obviously not dead, this is where things had to go right. With solo movies for Bats, Flash and Aquaman all lined up, this was not only a continuation of a burgeoning universe, but also a launching pad for those entrusted with the future of the DC movie franchise.
All of a sudden, that future doesn’t look so promising. Simply put, there is a lot wrong with this film.
Let’s start with the runtime; reportedly originally coming in a little under three hours, it ended up being trimmed down to two hours, and while that seems better than having to sit through another laborious three hours like Dawn of Justice, what we ended up with is a movie built on rushed scenes, an even more rushed villain and a plot that felt like so much was missing. Indeed, I almost want to see the film that didn’t make it to the final cut. Considering this movie was introducing three characters – four, including the villain – who we haven’t met on the big screen before (aside from very brief cameos in Dawn of Justice), backstories giving us a little history on these people, explanations of how they came to be who they are etc., would be the least of expectations. Instead, they are just there, with little-to-no explanations, no flashbacks to speak of, nothing to give us anything to emotionally invest in. Momoa’s Aquaman is in desperate need of fleshing out, and would likely have received that if the alleged memo from Warner bosses didn’t come down demanding a reduction in the film’s running time. His character just shows up, says a few things, swims a bit and fights. We don’t get much of an insight into his motivations, his persona, nothing. Same for Cyborg, though we at least find out how he came to be. Outside of that, however, he is another one in real need of an extended cut or a solo movie released before this. Fisher’s performance is fine, however, it almost feels like the film doesn’t want him here, but is obligated to include him for the team aspect.
In the case of The Flash, thankfully, Ezra Miller’s performance is so intoxicating, fun and likable that you immediately gravitate to him and find yourself willing to ignore the lack of backstory or anything. At last check, Flashpoint is high on Warner’s priority list of upcoming movies and it would be very wise for that to remain that way. Miller is a breath of fresh air, much in the same way that Gal Gadot was in BvS, and the hope is that his own solo movie can do the same sort of thing, though maybe not in numbers, that Wonder Woman did. And speaking of the Amazon warrior, her appearance here is one of the main causes of frustration, and inevitably it is all to do with the script and not Gadot herself. After her solo film, the character was coming into Justice League primed as a natural leader, however coming out of this film it feels like such a wasted opportunity. She has the best moments in the movie, yet doesn’t come out of it any stronger than when she went in. Essentially, this world’s first superhero is relegated to just one of the team. Certainly, Gadot deserves better than this, or at the very least needs Patty Jenkins to direct all future films featuring her character.
So what of Batman? Now painted coming into this as a changed man, overcome with humility after watching Superman’s sacrifice, he is completely different to how we last saw him in Dawn of Justice. Unfortunately, different isn’t necessarily good, as Affleck joins the rest of the cast in being let down by a shoddy script. Honestly, this feels like a swansong for Affleck here, as it seems more and more likely that by the time The Batman rolls around our latest iteration of the Caped Crusader will have long hung up the cowl for another actor to step in. He clearly took the failures of Batman v Superman personally and based on early reviews for this one, it doesn’t look good for his future with Warner. And that’s a real shame, as by and large he has done little wrong in his performances in the black thus far. However for someone who doesn’t need to be dressing up for movie roles, there are only so many times a film he stars in can be slated and criticised before he realises that there are plenty of other things to do; Batman was meant to be a redemption, a way to finally bury the memories of Daredevil. Somehow, in a way, this is worse.
And last but not least – when it comes to the heroes anyway – we get to Superman. Over the last two films he featured in, we have been given the impression that the Man of Steel is…well basically, kind of a d*ck. His wanton disregard for human life and destruction is well-documented, but here he is presented – in death, initially – as a paragon of virtue, a man whose sacrifice for the greater good is to be admired. At the very least, this, at last, gives Henry Cavill the chance to showcase some of the personality and humour that we have always known to be there but never been given a chance to show off due to the limiting restrictions in his Superman character. Unfortunately, any good work that Cavill does bring is offset with some horrific CGI work around his mouth area; you know the story, Cavill was working on Mission: Impossible 6, with full ‘tache, when he was recalled for Justice League reshoots. Contractual clauses meant that the facial hair in question could not be shaved off, so instead, Warner took the decision to digitally remove said mustache. The result is some very distracting special effects that render Cavill looking nothing like himself and somewhat unsettling. If only that was the only case of bad CGI…
Yeah, that villain. His name is Steppenwolf. How did he get that name? We aren’t told. Why does he need the three plot-advancing Mother Boxes? We don’t really get told that either. Ultimately, we are left with what may well be the worst bad guy in a comic book movie yet, and considering Marvel’s well-documented issues with villains, that is some benchmark to reach. The rendering of the character is amateur, certainly not what you would expect from a film with a $300 million budget. And it isn’t just his look that lets him down; while he is involved throughout the movie, at no point is there any suggestion that he will actually do anything. His story arc across the movie as a whole is so underwhelming; it plays out more like a regular episode of a comic book TV series, in which the bad guy is introduced but you know the good guy will come out on top with no real concern. Again, for a movie which is supposed to mark a monumental moment in this particular cinematic franchise, that’s unforgivable.
I have to mention the work done on this behind the camera as well. Obviously, the tragedy that befell the Snyder family that led to Zack exiting the movie was sad and of course, everything else takes a back seat. In his absence, Joss Whedon came on board and reshoots aplenty came – as well as the aforementioned Cavill ‘tache issues. The biggest problem with this is that whatever of Snyder’s movie survived, combined with Whedon’s reshoots and alternate takes on things have resulted in a movie that has two separate identities. In fact, it feels like a movie that doesn’t belong to anyone. Whedon’s famed preference for humour (see: The Avengers) is clearly on display in several scenes, while others could not be more Snyder if they tried. Surely at some point, someone at Warner sat down and actually watched the finished version, if they did they would have seen what we all have; a film by two completely different people seemingly not working in conjunction with each other. And consequently, the film and the actors involved have suffered greatly.
As with all films that are part of an extended universe, the question that is always asked is “Was [insert film name] better than [insert film name]?”. In this case, is Justice League better than Batman v Superman? In some ways, you have to say yes; the flashes of Wonder Woman that we do get are worthwhile, while Miller excels as Flash. In other ways, however, you have to say no. In fact, given that this was the team-up movie, the culmination of the last four years, and it came and went with barely a horrible CGI whimper, you have to say that this is disappointingly worse than Dawn of Justice. The directorial issues didn’t help, of course, however, we are dealing with experienced stand-in directors, an experienced movie studio, and scriptwriters that should know better. Despite all of that we still get this.
This won’t be the end of the DCEU, of course, as there is still too much left on the table for the plug to be pulled completely. Flashpoint needs to happen, and with Miller in the red suit, the faith is there that something positive can come out of that. Wonder Woman won’t be too harmed by this, but you feel that’s only because of the hard work put in by Gadot and Jenkins already. There is potential for Cyborg and Aquaman, though there is a lot of work to be done by the respective directors, casts, and crews on those particular projects. This may very well be the last time we see Ben Affleck done the cape, while Cavill still has at least one more Superman appearance left in him.
So no, it is not all she wrote with Warner’s ongoing road to movie franchise success, but it is one hell of a pothole.