Justice League is the Alex Smith of Superhero Movies

Justice League Plot Summary:

In the wake of Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death, an ancient being (Ciaran Hinds) from another world returns to Earth in search of Mother Boxes, which will enable him to transform the planet into his home world.  Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) must enlist other powered beings in order to stop this world ending threat.

The ironic part about Justice League is that the very first scene is actually the best moment of the entire film. That was perfect. It was a way to give audiences what they’ve wanted from DC on film, but also stay true to what they’ve done previously. It also very much felt like a Zack Snyder scene, but in an unexpected way. From that point on, it’s not all downhill, but Justice League is certainly peaks and valleys. Here’s the thesis statement on this film: It was better than I thought it would be, but still succumbs to all the fears I had.  At the end of the day, it’s fine.

Justice League reaffirmed everything I ever felt about superhero movies: I prefer them in individual films. Whenever one of these heroes was by themselves, I felt greatly invested.  Whenever they were on screen together, it still worked, but they became a little less interesting. While the team up aspect is a mixed bag, the one element Justice League delivers on is that I want to see future projects with all these characters. The cast delivered.

Let’s start with the guy I thought was going to be my favorite, then I got a little worried, but now he’s awesome: Aquaman. Arthur Curry is a grouchy, whiskey drinking, bitter pessimist. I love this guy. They clearly lock in on Curry’s abandonment issues and play up the fact that he’s a loner. Jason Momoa nails it. There’s a moment where he just slams a drink on the bridge as he stumbles into a big wave. The look on Momoa’s face is a classic “I don’t give a f**k.” At times, it’s appropriately funny, but there are moments where you genuinely feel for the lug. If you’re coming into this not knowing anything about Aquaman though, they breeze through the Atlantis shenanigans pretty damn quickly.  If you’re an average observer, that’s got to be confusing.

The other guy who took me totally by surprise was Cyborg. They’ve really found a gem in actor Ray Fisher. The first scene with Cyborg encapsulates this character perfectly. He’s talking to his dad, played by Joe Morton, debating whether or not he’d rather be dead than the shell of a man he’s become. All this while trying to understand a body and language he can’t possibly comprehend. Fisher captures all this in his voice within seconds. He also has one line at the end that beautifully sums up his character arc. I absolutely want to see a movie with this guy.

That brings us to easily the fan favorite. Barry Allen, aka, the Flash. What can I say? He was fantastic. Ezra Miller played the awkward, smart ass teen to perfection. This was simply just an enjoyable character to watch. All his lines pretty much hit. His first scene was flawless. Not only do you get one of the best laughs in the film, but you also get the emotional core with his dad (Billy Crudup) being falsely locked away in prison. They don’t over play this kid, which is smart.

The character who was shockingly given the least amount to work with was Wonder Woman. Maybe it’s because we just saw her in her own movie, but she didn’t stand out as much as the shiny new toys. Having said that, Gal Gadot can now play this character in her sleep. She carries everything about Diana superbly well.

She was also the one character who was strengthened by the team environment. Her back and forth with Bruce Wayne was riveting, especially when they were at odds. They also give her some good meat when it comes to why she doesn’t see herself as the leader of this team. That fit Wonder Woman like a glove. Arguably the best scene in the film was an exceptionally brilliant moment between her and Aquaman. You’ll know when it happens.  That was genius.

This brings us to the criticisms. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Batman yet. This is where my arrogant Batman fandom comes into play. I’m sorry, but Batman does not belong in a Justice League movie. It felt off. Way off. The first time we see Batman is wrestling with a CGI bug. This is stupid. It’s Batman. We also see him dive into a giant transformer. That sucked. And while I don’t want to over react to this, Batman had way too many one-liners, I’m sorry. It wasn’t a complete travesty, but Batman got a little too jokey for my liking.

While Batman didn’t hit, Bruce Wayne did. Whenever Affleck was out of costume, he felt more like the character from BvS, but clearly changed after his encounter with Superman. His back and forth with Jeremy Irons’ Alfred was still great, and there’s some good character work as he recognizes he’s not the one who can lead this team, declaring Clark the better man. That’s always been a Batman trait. Affleck continues to honor the character well, but this characterization wasn’t an inch as complex as the man he played in BvS. Sorry, everyone.

Speaking of BvS, I’m not spoiling anything by telling you Superman is in the movie, alright!  I continue to love this iteration of Superman, despite the painfully obvious effort to move him back towards the more traditional version. Credit to Henry Cavill, who continued to add complexity to the character, even if it wasn’t on the page. Superman did have some great lines though, especially with Batman. I said it after BvS – when these two meet again in Justice League, their moments will mean more because of how harsh BvS was. I was right.

Outside of the heroes, there isn’t a whole lot to praise about this movie. The villain, as expected, was utterly pathetic. Yup. It’s the most generic “I have a giant weapon and will smash the world, ROOOOOAARRRR!” bad guy you will ever see. You can hem and haw about Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor all you want, but at least he had a personality.

While the backstory of the mother boxes was somewhat fascinating, this was pathetically standard. There’s a big energy thing they have to control or whatever, I don’t know, who cares. Where you can tell this film was rushed was in the CGI and special effects. Putrid. The action bored me to tears. They don’t even do anything cool with Flash’s speed. The dialogue and interaction between the heroes was much more interesting. I honestly would have preferred a movie where the Justice League just talked.

The last fifteen minutes really tested me. This is where you can feel the studio making decisions. They go out of their way to make everyone smile, laugh and show bright colors to over compensate for the darkness of BvS. It’s embarrassing. What was also embarrassing was Danny Elfman’s score. What he does with some of the music cues, especially in regards to Superman and Batman, really pissed me off. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say this – I hate fan service.

At the end of the day, I feel comfortable in calling this movie okay. The acting and dynamic among the main cast propels this to a solid watch. Again, and I know I’m in the minority, but I wanted to see the movie that would have been had everyone liked BvS.  You can say what you want about that movie, but it aimed high. This aims for “please just be okay!” To its credit, it achieves that. If for nothing else, they at least established strong characters for solo movies. Please. I’m begging you, Warner Brothers. Just make those.

Justice League. It happened. We saw it. It was fine. Let’s all move on with our lives.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better Than “Meh”)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.


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