- Dull, lacklustre plot
- Iffy structure, not knowing whether to concentrate on the recent death of Superman or the imminent invasion from Steppenwolf, and lacking a middle act
- Boring villain with a generic ‘end of the world’ situation
- The Amazonian costume controversy is understandable and inexcusable
- Mostly great actors help us fall in love with these crazy, larger-than-life characters – in particular gorgeous Gal Gadot as everyone’s favourite and scene-stealing comic relief Ezra Miller
- Henry Cavill’s Superman is still a weak link and arguable a pointless inclusion in this film
- Action set pieces are exciting, well-filmed, kinetic and with excellent CGI
- Visually stunning
- Light-hearted tone and funny moments give it an edge over some other DC films
I feel guilty starting this review with a comparison, but it’s very difficult to talk about DC’s team-up superhero movie without comparing it to Marvel’s equivalent. Back when the first Avengers movie came out back in 2012, there was a palpable excitement… so why isn’t it the same for Justice League? Like Avengers it’s a big blockbuster superhero team-up movie, the first culmination of a series of films, with no scarcity of promotion. But while Marvel built up a fan base and strong foundation of five good films introducing all the characters for Avengers, the DC films have not; in fact the current DCEU has let us down 3 times out of 4 and only introduced half of the members of the titular Justice League, with Wonder Woman currently the saving grace of the entire franchise. Already they don’t have our confidence that they’ll deliver a good movie – yet hope springs eternal, as goes the saying. So, is the first ever live-action film of Justice League any good and does it exceed our expectations? Thankfully it absolutely exceeds expectations, solidly placing it in the upper half of the DCEU series so far. Though not perfect and certainly flawed, this is a fun, enjoyable and exciting film that promises better things to come from DC.
Following on from the events of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the world is left vulnerable and unsure without Superman (Henry Cavill) to protect them. However with the arrival of Parademons and big bad guy Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) stealing the Mother Box from Themyscira, Wonder Woman/ Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and Batman/ Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) are on the case, assembling a group of metahumans/ superheros to team up and save the world; enter Aquaman/ Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), Cyborg/ Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) and Flash/ Barry Allen (Ezra Miller). Cue lots of CGI fight scenes, jokes, comic book references and cool team-up moments to make the fans cheer. But can the Justice League achieve their goal without Superman…?
Comic book plots occasionally have a tendency to be slightly complex and convoluted – not in this film though. On the contrary, the plot here is so simplistic to the point where it isn’t really important at all. The Mother Boxes are extreme McGuffins and when you think back on the film, the story isn’t really what jumps out at you. In fact, more than that, the story is forgettable and just a bit dull. There are no twists or surprises (unless you were really naïve enough to think that Superman wouldn’t be in it…) or any fear or suspense at all. On top of this, there’s a very confused structure, where in the first half it’s as though the film can’t decide whether it’s about the world coping after Superman’s death or if it’s about Steppenwolf’s plan to conquer the world. It all feels a bit mixed up and results in some scenes seeming out of place and boring in comparison, slowing down the pace of the film. It also feels as though the story was very light and we miss a middle. With a decent start and end, the middle does tend to waffle a bit; though there’s a fun fight scene, there’s not much else, resulting in a bit of a rush towards the finale. This is a shame as the middle section could really help us get to know the characters and give them room to grow – as well as improving the plot and giving it a chance to develop.
As light and dull as the story is though, the fun rarely comes from its plot; the best parts without doubt lie in its action and characters. The former, however, lacks potency because there’s no threat at all within the story. Yes, the fight scenes and set pieces are amazing; there’s a variety of action, well-choreographed fights and a kinetic energy (especially when all characters are working together) that brings an exciting energy to the film and is a joy to watch. However there’s rarely a feeling of doom when the only vulnerable characters in any danger are a rather obscure and irrelevant Russian family as token civilians who are easily saved – no one else is ever in any peril and so the stakes really don’t seem particularly high.
Still despite this, it really is difficult to care when the action looks this good. As with each and every Zack Snyder film, though he doesn’t often make good movies, you can always count on them excelling in the eye-candy department and Justice League is no exception – this is certainly a film that deserves the full IMAX 3D experience. With impressive CGI, thrilling action set pieces (where slow-motion didn’t irritate me for once!) and wonderful costume design (particularly for Aquaman) this is an absolute treat for the eyes and there’s lots to enjoy just in aesthetics. Sadly though, it’s not all good news; there are frequent scenes where the use of green screen is painfully obvious, standing out amongst all the other good CGI; and it looks like the recent controversy surrounding the more scantily clad Amazonian warriors had a right to come up – considering these costumes are supposed to act as armour to protect a warrior during fights, these costumes are ridiculous and nigh-on pornographic. It’s a shame that while Wonder Woman took one step forward with regards to sexual equality, Justice League took two steps back.
Still the highlight of the film is certainly the characters, since they really make it. All of them mix well, their interactions together being a high point and each of them remaining unique and interesting with their own brand of comedy. I can’t help but wonder how much of the lighter tone and comedic moments were down to Snyder or Joss Whedon who completed directing duties for the film… Newcomers Aquaman, Cyborg and Flash hold their own and can easily stand next to current favourite Wonder Woman. Jason Momoa brings a comedic version of ultra-masculinity to Aquaman which fits really well and Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen is certainly the comic relief that was needed in the DCEU, fully personifying all the comic book enthusiasts in the cinema and easily encouraging a whole audience to laugh. Gal Gadot continues being perfect as Wonder Woman, bringing so much more than her beauty to the role, but being an inspirational, kick-ass female character that stands out as one of the best in the film. Ben Affleck seems to be more comfortable as Batman than in his previous outings and certainly shows promise. Amy Adams as Lois Lane and J.K. Simmons as Lieutenant Gordon are criminally underused considering their talents, yet despite brief appearances they make the most of their screen-time. The only weak link in the cast is Henry Cavill who still can’t hold a torch to Christopher Reeve. Too often dry and wooden with only a couple of facial expressions, it’s such a shame that we’ve yet to really see Superman develop a personality; and in comparison to his fellow teammates in the Justice League this problem stands out as a stark contrast. If anything, his appearance made little difference to the story and perhaps the story would have been the same (or maybe better) without him…
The other weak link of the film is certainly Steppenwolf, the villain. As said in Kingsman, some films are “only as good as the villain” and the villain here is certainly a let-down. With very little character or personality, Steppenwolf here just appears as a random, generic bad guy threatening to conquer the world. His ‘evil plan’ is dull and simple, easily thwarted and is of very interest. Considering the roster of characters DC have at their disposal it seems strange and disappointing to have chosen this to be the Justice League’s first threat.
Despite their recent wobbly track-record, fortunately the first live-action film of Justice League is not the disappointment so many dreaded. Leaps and bounds ahead of the first three films but certainly not as excellent as Wonder Woman, Justice League suffers from a lacklustre plot, iffy structure and painfully generic, boring villain (not to mention the Amazon costume controversy). However, luckily we have great actors playing lovable characters, wonderfully exciting and kinetic action set-pieces and a more light-hearted tone with comedic moments that gives the whole film a unique personality. Though not all critics may like this film, this is certainly a crowd-pleaser and, at last, it feels like DC are on the right track.