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‘Justice League’ Keeps The World And Itself Safe (Movie Review)

In a different part of the multiverse, I’m sure there’s a time where a Justice League movie would be the most anticipated movie event of the year. Not having dealt with bad reviews for previous films, internet backlash, and furious debates among comic book fans, this alternate timeline would see director Zack Snyder and co-writer (and substitute director) Joss Whedon coming together to make the ultimate superhero film. That’s not where we are, however, and while our universe’s Justice League does manage to deliver the goods, it feels more like another addition to a crowded marketplace than a new high-water mark for what this kind of blockbuster has to offer.

With a history nearly as complicated and complex as some of the current DC Comics arcs, I have no reason to expand on where things are with Warner Bros.’ superhero cinematic universe. I can point to Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman to provide some optional supplemental reading though. For Justice League, what matters is having an understanding of where this franchise is going.

The initial attempts to bring back Superman has backfired. Rather than developing an enjoyable new take on the character, he’s dead before we even got a Justice League movie. With a mixed fan reaction, this big team-up film is less of an epic culmination that provides us with the endgame Snyder had initially imagined and more of a clashing of ideas to make for a rousing sendoff, as WB and DC make a turn towards a different direction. It’s a bit of a shame, as I may have had my issues with Batman v Superman, but I admired both its look and the ambition. For Justice League, both of those qualities seemed to have been traded in for something safer.

Months after the defeat of Doomsday that also led to the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) finds himself in need of other warriors who can help protect the world and provide hope. Batman needs this to honor the message he realized Superman stood for as well as hold back the armies of Parademons coming to destroy the world. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is already on board, but they will need more. Thanks to the teaser trailers left behind by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) in the previous film, the search is on to find other enhanced individuals and become the team (or league) that is needed to stop an ancient threat known as Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds).

Speaking to one of the best aspects of Justice League is how it left me with a desire to see more of these heroes. Coming in at under two hours without credits, this is a lean film, and while extended introductions to Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) are fun, it feels like we don’t get enough time with any of them. That is the benefit of getting solo adventures beforehand, as that approach could have built to a grand epic bringing together Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg. With this film, there is a satisfaction to seeing all these heroes in one place, but with almost no time to explore this group any more than what’s needed for the sake of plot, there is a sense that we’re in a rush.

That doesn’t take away from what the actors bring to the table, though, as this is a likable cast to watch. Newcomers Miller, Momoa and Fisher are all in good form. The later may have the most self-doubt, but I was impressed with how much the look of Cyborg felt like a real burden, as opposed to a CG mess. It doesn’t hurt that Fisher finds the humanity in a character who is becoming less human as the film goes on, helping to inspire others when it comes to heroism along the way (honestly, he’s complicated). Meanwhile, the earnest joy found in Miller and the macho angle brought by Momoa do well to create distinct and enjoyable personas. There’s another late arrival as well and the attitude he brings further emphasizes the fun to be had by seeing all of these super folks together.

Additionally, Gadot continues to shine as Diana, with some careful introspection centered on being a leader and how to come back from the depths, following her time spent dealing with Ares and Steve Trevor during her previous big adventure. It’s Affleck who ends up coming up short. Despite getting a considerable amount of praise, it seems like his gruff attitude in Batman v Superman was dialed down to make way for a lighter touch. This alteration may reflect the character’s arc, but it also feels a bit off as far as what Batman should be bringing to the group in this atmosphere.

There’s a looseness to Affleck that can be seen with the supporting players as well. Perhaps this could be attributed to the mashing of filmmakers. With various rumors about the amount of reshoots this film went through once Whedon took over direction for Snyder, there is a rhythm found in the banter and momentum of the film that has its fits and starts. Amy Adams and Diane Lane are fine in their limited moments, and Jeremy Irons continues to bring a charming dry wit to Alfred, but character actors J.K. Simmons and Joe Morton, among others, feel less impactful by playing things a bit too broadly.

Given how the film is strictly focused on one easy-to-follow plotline, it means getting characters with few layers. So between that and the many hands on this movie, I see why things are this way but find concern with how personality has been traded in for a general idea on how things are supposed to be. The fun-in-the-moment action is abundant, but there is also another generic CG villain, as opposed to something wildly polarizing, but at least interesting, like Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. It also means losing out on the more interesting details that make the film more than just a pile of ideas comic fans expect to see in a DC team-up movie.

I mentioned how Justice League comes up lacking in a few areas and it is true that a particular touch is missing. It may have been frustrating to see Batman v Superman grapple with way too many ideas for its own good, but it also felt like it was trying to be about something more than just superheroes having a major showdown. For this movie, it’s all down to basics. Unite the league and throw them into battle. It is thankfully not overdone (the final battle is almost too easy, as opposed to overlong), but the intrigue that comes from merely seeing characters having relatable, human-scaled scenes with each other are mostly absent. The film gets right down to business but lost much of its soul in favor of more uncomplicated fun.

There’s also a sense of loss in the visual department. Fabian Wagner’s camerawork doesn’t evoke the sort of feeling I got from Batman v Superman, which, at many times, felt like Alex Ross paintings come to life. Some action moments shine, such as a battle involving the Amazonian warriors and many of Flash’s slo-mo moments, but the film, as a whole, feels more constricted this time around and the world never really feels in peril. Major set pieces are confined to some pretty simple spaces and many of the group interactions always feel closed off to whatever soundstage was being used that day. There’s strength in seeing the group speak with each other, but finding the League talking with Commissioner Gordon on a rooftop for a change felt like a relief. Still, the film is not without its larger purpose.

With a mission statement that has clearly shifted, Justice League does have its heart in the right place. This movie is about bringing the good in the world together and preserving hope. That concept takes a more physical handle on that sort of message, but compared to the doom and gloom from last time, involving the shining beacon known as Superman no less, this film has a light touch with a simple but effective idea of what the world needs. Combined with the sense of comradery shared between the cast and the overall effectiveness of a superhero film with no fat on it, there is enough to recommend as far as having fans enjoy a set of the most famous superheroes in the world being awesome together.

If anything, my issue comes down to how Justice League doesn’t have a chance to feel unique anymore, as seeing a teaming up of superheroes on film is commonplace at this point. A better movie would make up for that by giving us more than just a coat of DC Comics paint over a familiar story. The stars do a noble enough job to make us want to see more of their versions of these characters working together and on their own, but the film has little more to offer than playful banter and a decent attempt to mash together the distinct styles of different filmmakers. If Warner Bros. is redirecting the ship for their next set of DC films, I look forward to what another Justice League movie will look like on surer footing. For now, I’m satisfied with the ride, even if it is a reasonably safe one.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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