November 16, 2017

DC Punches Back with Justice League

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I’m writing this review disappointed and I’m surprised to say it’s not with the movie. To be totally honest with you I was ready to cash in this review (not that I’m paid for these). In a lecture today the professor said the specifics of the slides wouldn’t be on the final so like any upstanding, journalistically-ethical Cornellian I totally checked out, ripped a page out of the back of my notebook and hammered out my opening paragraphs. I had this whole thing written where I compared the Marvel and DC matchup to a football game where DC was being forced to throw it deep on first down. I expected DC settle for a field goal with Justice League after Wonder Woman put them squarely in the red zone. Both unfortunately and happily, I’ve scraped that intro because, wait for it: this movie was actually good.

Yeah! I know right?! Despite how much I was expecting to, I can’t trash this film.

In my defense though, why wouldn’t it be bad? I didn’t love Man of Steel, Suicide Squad was a hot mess and, though I think it gets a bad rap, Batman v Superman had serious problems (“Martha!” “Why did you say that name?!” ahahahaha I mean how stupid was that, right?).

Wonder Woman was awesome but I chalked that up to solid directing and heavy focus on well motivated and acted characters. The film wasn’t written to be an anticipation builder for “DC’s Avengers” but rather to be an outstanding film in it’s own right. Justice League didn’t look to be that kind well-focused film — three of the six main characters hadn’t even been introduced to the universe yet, four if you count the main baddie! It’s production saw a change at director, extensive rewrites and reshoots and an earth-shattering mustache controversy.

On top of all of that, the studio felt the need to mandate a sub-two-hour runtime, so the movie came in at a cool hour and 59 minutes. With everything the movie needed to do and all the in-production drama, I viewed Warner Brothers’ mandate as a Godsend. After all, why would I want to endure more of what I assumed would be a bad movie?

Everything I liked about the earlier DCEU movies was largely carried over here and they fixed a lot of what I didn’t. For example, unlike Batman v Superman, this movie didn’t look like it was shot in a “gritty” Instagram filter. Justice League, as we’ve come to expect from these high budget films, is absolutely beautiful and surprised me with its brilliant flashes of color. I also felt the dialogue improved drastically when compared to the prior movies, but still wasn’t great.

Despite all the hate I’ve heard towards the “Batfleck” casting decision, I think Ben Affleck has excelled twice now as Batman. Batman V Superman’s shortcomings were due to the rushed writing and muddled storyline, not Affleck’s portrayal of the caped crusader. Unlike some Bat-men, Affleck exceeds in both halves of the role, showcasing Wayne’s unique psyche and the Bat’s terrifying power and intellect. I maintain the warehouse scene in Zack Snyder’s earlier film is the best Batman action ever put to film, surpassing even that of Christopher Nolan’s exquisite trilogy. That excellence in action is continued here across all characters — Justice League’s fight scenes are hard-hitting and masterfully choreographed, and that’s nowhere more apparent than when Batman’s in the fray. I especially like how in this film they explored Wayne’s social “failings” in his disagreements with other members of the team. Bruce Wayne’s life is anything but usual, and the writers on this film did a great job of coaxing Affleck into a performance that reflects that.

I’m just gonna put this at the beginning, Gal Gadot is perfect as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. She’s fierce, witty and stunningly beautiful. Everything you loved her for in her titular film on is display here and the audience gets to see behind the Amazon’s put-together exterior as she continues to struggle with the death of Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman (2017). Like Affleck’s, Gadot’s fight sequences exude strength and speed. I generally liked how Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne squabbled throughout the film. Though it wasn’t executed perfectly (at times it felt forced), I liked that the movie at least tried to explore the idea that not everyone on the team would be on the same page immediately. If nothing else, Justice League gave Gadot’s already well-developed character even more depth and she continued to be a bright point in the previously-subpar DCEU.

To talk about Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), I’m gonna have to “spoil” something, so consider this your warning for the rest of the paragraph. Whether or not you’ve seen the film I actually want you to do this: raise your hand if you’re surprised Superman comes back to life. Good? Now if you’re four years old, first of all, congratulations on reading this far and second, put your hand down. Of course Superman comes back! Hell, his “not an S” hope symbol is on the poster so I took some issue with the movie trying to make the audience believe we might see a Justice League adaptation without the famous Kryptonian. That aside, Henry Cavill is another brilliant casting choice (that’s gonna be a recurring theme—I think all the heroes in the DCEU are pretty perfectly chosen). Similarly to how you might be forgiven for thinking Thor was based on Chris Hemsworth, Cavill has a way of making me believe he is Superman. My problem with Superman is that kinda makes the rest of the gang obsolete. When the dude wakes up he literally beats the shit out of the rest of the group. Though part of my issue, watching him see the Flash then hitting Batman with a “do you bleed?” might’ve been the most badass sequence I’ve seen this year. Maybe the idea is that for the Justice League to work they need all their members but I didn’t get here. Superman is kind of “game breaking.” Despite all that, like I mentioned, Cavill’s Superman is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. It’s only in the comedown from the film that I even conjured up this gripe. There were a couple times where Superman had the whole theater going crazy and I’m excited to see Cavill again, sans-mustache, in Shazam (which will come out in 2019 assuming DC can stick to their schedule). Finally, although Justice League features very little Clark Kent, I’d be remiss to not mention that I’m loving Amy Adams (Lois Lane) in just about everything lately.

Aquaman (Arthur Curry)/Cyborg (Victor Stone): Here’s where we get into the “new” characters: Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher). I was pretty psyched when I heard Game of Thrones’ Khal Drogo was playing Aquaman, and Jason Momoa lived up to my expectations. Similarly, I thought Ray Fisher was solid as Cyborg, though his CGI looked a little wonky on occasion (the cybernetic portion of his face looked more like an elaborate mask than a part of his body to me). While both characters looked cool in their action scenes and develop their own unique and witty rapports with the rest of the team, we got very little backstory on either character so I can’t say all that much about either of them. Aquaman’s set to get his own film in 2018, with Cyborg’s following in 2020, so I suppose I’ll update you all then.

Barry Allen and the Flash (Ezra Miller) are almost two distinct people. Not that Barry’s personality changes when he puts on the all-too-technical suit, but that his two lives are different enough for the audience to give a rat’s ass about normal-speed Barry Allen. To be totally honest, I don’t care about Diana Prince’s job as a museum curator. Bruce Wayne even acknowledges that the alien Superman is better at “being” human life than he is. As for Aquaman and Cyborg, like I said earlier, we get very little exploration of their backstories and Clark Kent, apart from about five minutes of non-Superman screen time, is almost entirely absent from the film. Barry, on the other hand, is a delight and is my favorite part of the movie. He’s just hysterical! I’m a huge fan of The Flash TV show and was worried Ezra Miller wouldn’t fill Grant Gustin’s shoes to my liking. To my pleasant surprise, he did! He was perfectly diminutive and gut-bustingly self-aware and though there’s currently no standalone Scarlet Speedster movie scheduled, I’m hoping we see him pop in and out of the universe in the coming years.

Though his famous humor isn’t absent when Barry Allen dons the suit, I do have issues with his costume design and CGI of The Flash. His suit just looks too serious for the character. I get that changing it to reflect his humor would probably make it stick out to severely from the rest of the gang but to an extent his humor does the same thing. Additionally, I just don’t know why the animators decided to make him run the way he does. I can’t really describe it to you but he doesn’t even look playfully silly, he kinda looks stupid (though I’m a fan of the switch to blue lighting), which is a bummer for an otherwise awesome character!

This is where I’m gonna out myself as not being a comic reader, but I’d never even heard of this guy Steppenwolf before he appeared in the film. My ignorance was a problem because, though I’m sure it’s better flushed out in the comics, I really had no clue what this guy’s motivations were other than “destroy the world with these three boxes.”  Sure, he, his parademons and the hellscape they tried to create looked great in terms of CGI, but the cronies lapsed into feeling like that generic army of practice dummies for our heroes to be mildly inconvenienced by on their way to fight the boss. And even then, the final fight with Steppenwolf was somewhat anticlimactic. For me, Steppenwolf served as a fine entry level team-up movie villain and, to be fair, I can’t even remember who the bad guy was in the first Avengers. He did mention Darkseid, who we can now pencil down as the villain in the Justice League sequel, but other than that did very little to further the DCEU story arc in his own right other than being a unifying evil for the good guys to rally against.

All my gripes with Justice League can be attributed to the fact that DC has been playing catchup to Marvel since Man of Steel. To present, Marvel’s had 17 films spanning back to 2008, all of them incorporated into the MCU. Compare that to DC’s five over four years and you can see why some of the DCEU’s exposition feels rushed and forced. So while it might be somewhat excusable, the writing of these films up to this point has lagged behind Marvel’s standard. Positively though, despite some definite issues in the script, the newest film shows that DC is capable of slowing down and simply making a good movie.

After the now mandatory two post-credit scenes (the second of which was actually surprising and awesome), my friends and I couldn’t wait to talk about our favorite parts and that simply doesn’t happen with bad films. If I can compare this to boxing, Wonder Woman was DC getting off the mat and Justice League is one hell of a cross. It’s increasingly seeming like we might be gearing up for a future where the two comic behemoths can go toe to toe regularly, and that’s a future I’m excited for.


Nick Smith is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].