Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead. The fight with Lex Luther’s (Jesse Eisenberg) monstrous Doomsday creation has left Earth defenceless. Sensing that vulnerability, intergalactic terror Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) travels through space to claim the mysterious ‘mother’ boxes. Only Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and a league of heroes stands in his way.
Zach Snyder is a controversial creative presence in the expanded DC universe. “Man of Steel” unnecessarily re-imagined Superman as an angst ridden and flawed intergalactic refugee, ready to kill his foes and ignore the potential collateral damage. The follow-up “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was an ambitious attempt at a course correct for what was originally considered as an expedited foundation story for a DC cinematic universe. The story heard the chorus of fans and viewers yearning for a Superman who was a beacon of hope and altered another foundational DC text “The Dark Knight Returns,” to draw Batman out of the shadows to hold Superman to account for his actions. While the overwhelming critical reaction to “BvS” was one of distain, the fundamental flaws derive from Snyder (and writer David Goyer’s) misconception of the Superman character. In fact the Ultimate Edition of “BvS” is able to lean further toward not only our Kryptonian protector but Smallville’s most successful journalist.
“Justice League,” yearned to finally realise a vision that satisfied the creators and the fans. Snyder’s family tragedy (his daughter committed suicide) resulted in him stepping away from the project when the principal photography had already been completed. A larger and vastly different film awaited review, editing and potential reshoots with Snyder at the helm. Joss Whedon came to “Justice League” at a time of great need for both Snyder and Warner Bros. Studio. Whedon was appointed director and script re-writer and took Snyder’s raw materials and crafted the finished product, a more palatable vision for the studio. Whedon is a filmmaker whose track record is successfully incorporating a diverse group of unique character voices to make a cohesive ensemble. “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly” were years of sharpening that episodic samurai sword and “Avengers,” saw his potential cinematically for creating the Marvel cinematic universe’s phase one finale.
“Justice League” is a mutant. DC had been accused up until this point of doing everything possible to ape Marvel and resorting to bringing Whedon onto the project, despite the circumstances, was the ultimate stretch to steer their own iconic team to box office, critical and gushing fanboy glory. However, Whedon is anchored to a specific staring point. He’s forced to accept a lot of what has already been established in Snyder’s vision and in the previous films and steer it towards his own outputs on the other side of the fence – so to speak.
Whedon brings characteristic snappy dialogue but, for the sake of forced chemistry, basic character logic appears to be lost. There’s a scene that unfolds between Cyborg (Fisher) and Flash (Miller) as they manually exhume Clark/Superman (Cavill) from his grave. Why would a guy who can manipulate his body into a cybernetic tool not just ‘go go gadget’ himself into a bobcat and get digging? Likewise, why in Doomsday’s name would Barry Allen dig at normal pace if he doesn’t have to disguise his powers? Baffling stuff. The mandates don’t stop there; “Justice League” had to sound familiar; enter Danny Elfman to incorporate his iconic Batman theme and John Williams’ iconic Superman theme. There had to be some key “fan” moments to crawl as a mewling distraction from the lack of cohesive story and the absence of a figure worthy of the mightiest comic book team up.
Gal Gadot is of course a highlight as Wonder Woman / Diana. We’re spoilt to have two big screen outings from her in one year, and yet, there’s something off. The throwback world established in Patty Jenkin’s outstanding origin story “Wonder Woman” earlier this year had energy and vibrancy that is completely muted in “Justice League.” Ben Affleck’s performance as both Bruce Wayne and Batman in “BvS” left a significant impression that equally tantalised audiences for more individual films. Affleck’s Batman feels like he’s checked out this time, biding time for an inevitable and often speculated replacement. Henry Cavill is finally rewarded with those Reeves “Superman” moments; but they play like moving photoshoots rather than something earned. Momoa’s grunting brute take on Aquaman is fun, if kind of baffling. Ezra Miller’s Flash is a thread of joy, which gets to play the kid inside this funhouse, thrilled to be there. His infectiousness can’t turn the ship around. Ray Fisher does a good job as Cyborg, a fascinating but underutilised concept and character in this mess. And yes we did see that your dad (Joe Morton) is the same guy who invented Skynet in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.”
Ciarán Hinds’ Steppenwolf is a CGI lackey that barely registers a hiccup throughout the entire film. Guising Hinds’ booming voice and stern features in digital wizardry is a waste of an outstanding actor who has the ability to stand alongside Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood” and hold his own. Henry Cavill’s digital moustache wouldn’t have been able to stand up to an in the flesh Hinds.
“Batman v Superman” (especially the Ultimate Edition) is a vastly better movie than “Justice League.” There’s a saying that rings true discussing “Justice League,” ‘a camel, is a horse designed by a committee.’ This abridged, apologetic tale attempts to bind Snyder’s original (and flawed) vision like binding a small girl’s foot. It looks right, with minor moments of joy that leap out at you pleading for approval. When you take off the bandage however, you see the twisted and grotesque remains of a grander vision squeezed into a perceived ‘fan’ checklist. “Justice League” needs saving from itself; perhaps by Snyder’s original vision.
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio (screenplay and story), Zack Snyder (story) and Joss Whedon (screenplay)
Ben Affleck ... Batman / Bruce Wayne
Henry Cavill ... Superman / Clark Kent
Amy Adams ... Lois Lane
Gal Gadot ... Wonder Woman / Diana Prince
Ezra Miller ... The Flash / Barry Allen
Jason Momoa ... Aquaman / Arthur Curry
Ray Fisher ... Cyborg / Victor Stone
Jeremy Irons ... Alfred
Diane Lane ... Martha Kent
Connie Nielsen ... Queen Hippolyta
J.K. Simmons ... Commissioner Gordon
Ciarán Hinds ... Steppenwolf (voice)
Amber Heard ... Mera
Joe Morton ... Silas Stone
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