Review: ‘Justice League’ (flawed escapism is served)

Passable — that’s all you really wanted to know, right?

As the fifth movie considered part of the DC Cinematic Murderverse following Man of Steel, When Batman Met Superman, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman, the Justice League at last arrives, unites, and… justices! In a world without an Emo-Man (Henry Cavill), Batfleck (Ben Affleck) risks his Fortune 500 status and his secret identity to recruit warriors for battle with help from WonderGal (Gal Gadot). His dossier includes AquaDrogo (Jason Momoa), String-Art Flash (Ezra Miller), and Phantom of the Iron Man (Ray Fisher). Together they must band together against super-henchman “born to be wild” Steppenwolf — looking like the little brother of Surtur the fire demon while sounding like Liam Neeson — and an army of retrofitted dragonfly-winged Chitauri that survived the Battle for New York in Marvel’s The Avengers. Can DC cut straight to a group film, introduce three new characters with abbreviated origin stories, and still make up for that BvS monstrosity mashup?

It’s no secret DC aka Warner Bros. has been gunning for the Marvel aka Disney’s multi-phase success-story film franchise — not because they want to torpedo it but because they want to make those kinds of bucks, too. While the MCU took a cautious approach starting with Iron Man and building to The Avengers, DC couldn’t wait and rushed head-on into throwing everything at the wall looking for stick-ons. Anyone watching box office numbers and social media the last few years knows it’s been a mixed bag trying to please the DC fanbase and produce must-see tent pole flicks that casual fans will flock to. Under pressure to repeat the surprise hit of Wonder Woman earlier this year and doing damage control over Dawn of Justice’s complaints and missteps — never mind switching directors from Zack Snyder to Joss Whedon — can anything hitting the big screen achieve all of these goals? The last time anything like this was tried, Superman Returns was the result…

… and that’s essentially what we got, only a little more fun without the Mama Lois Super-baby. Whatever director Snyder’s original vision for Justice League was before taking leave over a family emergency, Joss Whedon’s directorial injection of Marvel experience appears to have tempered that image, maybe for the best. The theatrical cut looks like what it is: two films by two people edited together as best they could. Had this been a purposeful collaboration, maybe it could have been completed seamlessly, but between overuse of video game-quality CGI and shifting gears from low to high and back again with little transition, it’s a jarring cut. In spite of everything, it isn’t bad — a step in the right direction. Viewers who’ve watched the previous films will notice callbacks, actual continuity, and even — gulp! — character development. It appears that all of our flawed heroes had lessons to learn, and clearing that slate to start fresh following Justice League without a reboot — achievement: unlocked.

It’s clear that decent casting choices were made for the main heroes. Superman’s death became something of a catalyst, prompting Batman to be less murderous, Wonder Woman to be become more active, and for others to step up and take more responsibility upon themselves. Momoa’s Aquaman is a bit too much dude-brah in the trailers, but that’s because every instance of it was crammed in there. With lowered expectations, Justice League is surprisingly watchable, as if the studio is begging for forgiveness, even pulling in Bat-composer Danny Elfman for a worthy film score.

That said and in addition to the nits already picked, there were plenty of poor choices as well. We get it: Gal Gadot is easy on the eyes and kind of amazeballs to watch, but the slo-mo buttshots, thigh-views, and pelvic close-ups are a bit obvious — like Batnipple-obvious. And why is it that every epic DC battle sequence is set beneath a hellscape apocalyptic sky that looks like Hellboy is about to step into frame? Plus we seriously need better bad guys — even Marvel has figured that out — and why are we even bothering with secret identities anymore with all the bystanders listening in on covert conversations? There are… other problems, but let’s keep things as spoiler-free as possible before the comments.

Better than Suicide Squad and far better than When Batman Met Superman, it’s still not as good as Man of Steel and not even in Wonder Woman’s ballpark. It’s third out of five, but audiences probably won’t mind a bit of semi-forgettable popcorn-flick fun escapism and the promise of better things to come. You’ve got a good thing going here, DC… keep smiling — don’t blow it.

Three skull recommendation out of four skulls


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