Review: "Justice League" (2017)
Title: Justice League (2017)
Genre: Superhero/Sci Fi/Action
Director: Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon
Stars (primary actors): Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Ciaran Hinds, and Henry Cavill.
Bias: Sooooo much baggage with this film.
In A Nutshell: The absence of Superman (Cavill) has left the Earth vulnerable to threats from beyond, leading to the return of an ancient evil – Steppenwolf (Hinds). Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck) realizes that this is a threat too great for the remaining heroes to face on their own, and sets out to form a team to fill the void and defend humanity.
The Critique: So, about that baggage. Generally speaking, I try to approach each review from the position of “What is this movie trying to be, and to what extent does it accomplish that?” This is why, for example, a movie like Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) gets an A- from me, while the far more ambitious and thematically rich film Mother! (2017) got a B-. Justice League is a challenge because it’s purpose is, arguably, less about being a film and more about being a product – one that corrects from the approach taken begun in Man of Steel (2013) and continued (far less successfully) in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016). It’s a course correction even more than Wonder Woman (2017) was, in that it’s unable to exist as its own film (and isn’t really meant to). Therefore, whether it successfully course corrects and whether it’s an entertaining superhero film are very different questions. And all of that also doesn’t get into the expectations of the audience, particularly with the troubled and public production history of this movie.
Let’s start with the film as a product. For those worried that Justice League would continue down the increasingly dark path set out in MoS and BvS, those fears should be allayed. The filmmakers have clearly gotten the message (aided by the success and reception of WW) and embraced the fun. Perhaps even more than that, each character in the film has an arc that centers around hope and inspiration. Additionally, the DC cinematic universe has finally fully introduced their major players, and presumably can move on from trying to catch up to Marvel in that respect. There’s, admittedly, a lot to unpack in all of that, but I’m going to leave it to a longer article. Suffice it to say that Justice League does what it set out to do in a way that’s not always pretty but gets the job done.
Now, as to the secondary question of whether it’s a good/entertaining film, I’m going with “sort of” as my response. Wonder Woman (Gadot), as expected, is the strongest part of the film and the one character that 100% works. Batman is Batman (kind of a dick, kind of a badass), and Aquaman (Mamoa) is doing a thing that I’m not entirely sure works for me, but makes the character fun to watch. Flash (Miller) and Cyborg (Fisher) each have actual character arcs and they move from point A to point B with a sort of deliberate efficiency by the end of the film. The villain/threat is also in this movie (but if we’re not going to hold that sort of thing against the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we can’t do it here, either). Everything is very by-the-numbers and formulaic, but the formula is “fun superhero movie” and it works on that level in the same way that Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) does, and with the same flaws, as well.
I recognize that all of that doesn’t really sound like a ringing endorsement, and it kind of isn’t. But I did like the movie and found it surprisingly entertaining (far more than it had any right to be, given its Frankenstein-like construction – the editors and Joss Whedon deserve a lot of credit for managing to assemble something this coherent and watchable. See Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four (2015) for an example of how badly it could have turned out). If Justice League becomes a sort of base-level of quality for the DC films, I’m totally okay with that.
Reverse Shout-out: This section usually spotlights something especially great or interesting about the film, but I’m flipping that here to address my biggest problem with something that otherwise works – Wonder Woman. If you ever need more proof of the vastly different ways a strong, female character can be executed by women and men, take a look at this film and Wonder Woman. In both movies Wonder Woman is strong, independent, inspirational, beautiful, and a bad-ass. However, I can’t think of a moment in Patty Jenkins’s film where I feel she was sexualized to the extent she is here. Not only is she wearing revealing or tight-fitting clothing quite often as Diana Prince, but the camera regularly subjects her to the male gaze, focusing on and drawing attention to her body in a way that the former film never did.
To Go, to Rent, or to Netflix: A rental is probably fine. Usually big spectacle films call for a theatrical viewing, but there’s nothing visually compelling about the movie that crosses that threshold.