Main cast: Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince/Wonder Woman), Ezra Miller (Barry Allen/Flash), Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman), Ray Fisher (Victor Stone/Cyborg), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), JK Simmons (Commissioner James Gordon), Ciarán Hinds (Steppenwolf), Billy Crudup (Henry Allen), Amber Heard (Mera), Joe Morton (Silas Stone)
Director: Zack Snyder
You may have heard the behind the scenes story of Justice League by now. Filming was only halfway done when Zack Snyder had to step down from directing due to a family tragedy, and they roped in Joss Whedon to take over. Mr Whedon is given a co-screenwriter credit, but the story was that he made a lot of reshoots and rewrites with the approval of DC Films, who just wanted a film in the DC Extended Universe that makes lots of money, and the result was a very expensive film to make. This movie is a Frankenstein’s monster cobbled together by two different directors… and it shows.
One problem that always plagues Justice League is that, if we take into account all the superheroes, Superman still makes them all irrelevant and obsolete. Over the years, Aquaman had been given a massive power upgrade and he is no longer that dolphin-kin that gets captured and needs rescuing every 30 minutes while Wonder Woman also received a huge boost in terms of her strength, powers, and flight ability. Some other superheroes also received similar upgrades, but why do you need two or six of these while Superman alone can do what they do, and more? In the past, contrivances were always made to ensure that Superman would be away or somehow indisposed, only showing up at the climactic moment to da-da-da-dum the bad guys into the floor. It is the same here, but at least this time, they have a valid excuse.
Following the events in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman is dead. He comes back here, of course. No, that’s not a spoiler, silly – Henry Cavill’s name is just below Ben Affleck’s in the main billing, and I hope you don’t think that he’s coming back to play a balding homeless man or something. So yes, he comes back, but only in the second half of the movie, and even then, he has dead-induced amnesia, ooh, so he really joins them only at the climax of the fight with the baddie. See? Problem solved. Wonder Woman and Aquaman really kick ass here in a twosome of rear-bruising goodness, but naturally Superman has to show up to wiggle his fingers in order to help them smash the baddie. Unfortunately, the resurrection process doesn’t restore Clark Kent’s hairline or get the movie people to buy Henry Cavill a sexy wig.
Anyway, in this movie, we have a villain, Steppenwolf, who looks like a refugee from Snake Mountain. He once attempted to conquer Earth with his army of parademons, only to be defeated when humans, Atlanteans, Amazons, some Green Lantern folks, and gods all came together to fight his army. In his retreat, he left behind three powerful “mother boxes” that apparently contain great powers to shape planets and such. The humans, Amazons, and Atlanteans each take one to hide them away. Now that Superman is dead, the boxes somehow flare to life, and in the process, summon Steppenwolf and his army to reattempt his conquest of Earth.
In Gotham, Bruce Wayne is troubled by the increasing emergence of creatures that he would later learn to be the parademons, and decides to step up his efforts to recruit other superheroes in order to protect the Earth from what seems like an invasion of ugly, mean things. Meanwhile, Steppenwolf shows up in Themyscira to recover their mother box, and while the Amazons put up a valiant effort to keep the box away from him, they aren’t successful at all, causing Hippolyta to raise a warning beacon to Diana. She and Bruce reach out to two youngsters: the emo Victor Stone whose recent fatal accident caused his father Silas to use the human’s mother box (don’t ask) to rebuild him into some half-machine, half-human cyborg, and Barry Allen, a teen who tries to proves his father’s innocence (the man is in jail for murdering Barry’s mother). Oh, and there’s Arthur Curry – this version of Aquaman is the surly, rebellious prince with mother issues, who just wants to be left alone to do his thing. Eventually they all come together, but as I’ve mentioned, they need Superman as he’s far above their league when it comes to breaking things and injuring people.
I never imagined I would say this, but here it is: I find Zack Snyder’s handprints in this movie far more appealing than Joss Whedon’s. It’s quite obvious where one left off for the other to step in: both men have very different styles, so I get whiplash when the generally more restraint Justice League folks suddenly start wisecracking like drunk buddies on a Friday evening in every scene, regardless of context. It is fine for Barry to do that haw-haw-haw thing non-stop, as he’s the designated comic relief, but both Victor’s and Bruce’s sarcasm prior to the Whedon takeover is dry and more acerbic. After the takeover, the two start doing that haw-haw-haw thing too because Mr Whedon apparently doesn’t know how to do things any other way. He’d Buffy’ed the Avengers and now he can’t help but to Buffy up the Justice League too. Also, the second half of the movie sees some sloppy, rushed turns of heart and haphazardly raised issues designed to culminate in cheap “Awww!” moments – again, hallmarks of Mr Whedon as seen in those Avengers movies. All of a sudden, Bruce thinks of Superman as the hope and beacon of humanity, while Diana is the skeptic – shouldn’t it be the other way around? All of a sudden, I’m told by Diana that Bruce blames himself for Superman’s death. Nowhere up to that point that the movie suggests this. I only know because characters bring it up in a heavy-handed manner, so that they can all hug or bond or whatever after the heart to heart talk. The whole thing is just too cheesy for me.
The first half of the movie, though, is very watchable. It’s very similar in tone to the previous disastrous movies helmed by Mr Snyder, but with a stark difference: this half is what happens when he reins in his self-indulgent tendencies, and the result is very tight, gripping, and coherent. All characters get solid amount of screentime to flesh out their personalities and powers, much to my pleasant surprise, as I initially expected Bruce and Diana to hog the limelight. They all have their archetypal roles: Bruce is the pragmatic and determined leader, Diana is the heart, Barry is the comic relief, Victor is the stoic brain and techie of the team, and Arthur is the rebellious too-cool maverick. Nonetheless, these characters are all fun and likable in their own ways. Ben Affleck often looks like he has PTSD from the critical reception of that movie while filming this one, but he has good chemistry with Gal Gadot. Actually, there is solid chemistry among the entire cast, which makes the movie on the whole a blast to watch.
The villain is a standard “built up to be so muahahaha strong only to be killed with a whimper” stuff, unfortunately, and the plot is full of logic holes. It is also a lazy plot, with an over reliance on Superman as the savior of the day, which I feel downgrades the other Justice League members considerably into “good effort, but not enough” level. Still, even as the second half of the movie reduces these superheroes into one-liner machines that are almost a parody of themselves in the early parts of the movie, Barry is an impressive kind of hero, elevating Flash into someone more than just some speedster, while as I’ve mentioned earlier, Aquaman and Wonder Woman fighting side by side is a sight to behold. Batman… well, the movie kind of playfully pokes fun at him as the only Justice League member without any superpowers, but he comes off as a dedicated, tireless crusader that shows a softer side to the people he comes to trust and care. This Batman is less murdery and sinister as the guy in that movie, while still retaining much of Bruce Wayne’s trademark brooding mug. I like him, I like Ben Affleck as him, I just wish there is a more gradual and believable transition from that Batman to this one. Right now, this Batman is a different fellow from the one in that other movie. As Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry… hot. Ray Fisher is solid too as Victor Stone – while in many ways his angry black young man character is quite the stereotype, the fact that he is a jock who is also a brain is a kind of subversion of tropes in itself. Plus, Victor’s developing rapport with his total opposite Barry is cute to follow.
At the end of the day, Justice League is not amazing, but it is not awful either. It actually has its moments of asskicking. In many ways, it feels like a persuasive apology for the drab and joyless Man of Steel and the disastrous Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It is a reassurance that Zack Snyder can deliver if someone reins in his nonsense. I just wish they’d found someone more similar to Mr Snyder’s style to step in, because Joss Whedon ends up making this movie feel far more bipolar than it should be. Still, nice job considering the circumstances behind the scene – I actually find myself looking forward to more movies in the DCEU.