Thursday, November 23, 2017

Film review: Justice League

My plan to review movies seems mainly to be running along the DC Extended Universe set of films, because I love these characters very dearly, and some of the films, namely Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman, have been amazingly excellent. So I was waiting for Justice League with great anticipation. I was afraid to expect something wonderful, but hoped it wouldn't be as bad as Suicide Squad. The announcement of Joss Whedon's involvement troubled me, as he specializes in the kind of snarky banter that makes the Marvel movies so unimpressive to me, and he's one of the many Hollywood liberals unable to avoid spewing vitriol for a single moment since the last presidential election. I held on to hope, but deep down expected mediocrity. Turns out, my deep down expectation was correct.

Justice League

In short:
On my first viewing,

How good is it: Basically decent and fairly entertaining, dragged down by lame writing including political preaching, unremarkable cinematography, banal music; and more than anything, paling in comparison with past installments.

For whom do I recommend: Not suitable for children under around 12-13 due to foul language. I don't really recommend it, but it's an okay superhero movie for light entertainment. And of course, it will be a necessary part of this story, which I hope will get better again.

I'm placing the cut further down than usual on this review, because I have a particular piece of criticism for a scene that's a spoiler. (Albeit one I think everyone has guessed.)

The writing is full of that snarky, sarcastic Whedonian banter that I dreaded. Worse, there's political signaling, with wicked white males threatening a saintly female Moslem storekeeper and out-of-nowhere preaching about climate change. That's mostly at the beginning, however, and can be forgotten once the plot gets going. I had expected the worst offender in the snark department to be the Flash, played by Ezra Miller, but he was actually pretty funny, well balanced with serious moments involving his incarcerated father, as well as his interaction with Batman.

Ben Affleck's Batman was once again outstanding and the best part of the movie. A core part of the character, especially seen in the eighties and nineties comics but rarely seen in adaptations, is that Batman is extremely sad and extremely kind. While given a few poor lines in this film, Affleck still conveys this sadness and kindness better than any other portrayal I've seen, and the only one I haven't seen is George Clooney. The scenes where he instructs a panicked Flash on what to do in his first battle and where Wonder Woman tends to his dislocated shoulder are gems.

Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher, was okay, with some interesting characteristics. He could have used more energy and variation in his delivery.

The character that most disappointed me was Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa. The film can't seem to make up its mind whether to make him a gregarious, jolly fighter (as he is in Batman the Brave and the Bold); a grim eldritch warrior (as he is in Justice League Unlimited); or a loner lighthouse seadog (as he is in Throne of Atlantis); and he wavers uncertainly between all three. His scene with Mera in Atlantis is awkward and confusing, with backstory unnaturally shoehorned in when they should be talking about the monstrous conqueror who just attacked.

Said monstrous conqueror is Steppenwolf, voiced by Ciaran Hinds and played by a poorly-textured CG behemoth. I was greatly looking forward to a big screen portrayal of Jack Kirby's New gods, so brilliantly foreshadowed in Batman v Superman. I still have hopes for Apokalips and Darkseid himself, but Steppenwolf was quite unimpressive. He had no memorable lines and was not frightening.

But the thing that, more than anything, deprives the movie of the solemnity and emotional power of the previous films is the music. I do not know why they switched from Hans Zimmer to Danny Elfman, but it was a disastrous decision. Instead of Zimmer's throbbing, character-driven thematic tapestry, we get repetitive, forgettable fanfare that is just like any other Hollywood action flick. Scenes that could have been powerful are not, because the music contributes nothing.

I have one more evaluation of a particular sequence, which is spoilery and so below the cut. Overall, it was okay, but could have been so, so much better.

The return of Superman, one of those surprises that everybody knows is coming, is both one of the best and worst parts of the film. Bruce's arguments for it are fascinating and revelatory from a character development standpoint. Then after Superman is alive again, you know convention demands the team will have to fight him, and that segment is extremely impressive, with a perfectly-done moment of great alarm and excitement when the Flash's speed, an effect well-shown throughout, is ineffectual against the Kryptonian. Batman's stolid selflessness also shows here. But the next sequence of Clark's revival is terribly inadequate.

Lois is catalyst for Clark's recovery from whatever problem was making him violent, but it is not at all conveyed what that was, how it was affecting him, what he went through and how she makes him better. All we get is standing around in corn, kissing, and some more snarky jokes. After the clarity of emotion in scenes of the Kent farm in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, now there's nothing. Just utterly conventional hugs, smiles, and lame gags. Good music would have certainly helped, but still. Quit the snarking for one minute, please, and let us know what was wrong with him and how the woman he loves made him better! That could have resonated so well with the themes established in Wonder Woman too!

If I could change one thing about the movie it would be changing it to Hans Zimmer's music. If I could change two things, it would be that and these scenes of Clark's recovery. It was just a undefined okayness. It should have been a resurrection.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I haven't seen the film yet, but I suspect that you are largely right. Joss Whedon does his his best work , I think, when he is in some way (beyond the contractual) personally committed. That's why Firefly is probably his best. And when his commitment is primarily story-telling and character development, he seems to forget the Social Justice claptrap. I suspect he is also actually more of a Marvel person in his own character than a DC person. The snarkiness arises naturally from the wisecracking that was built into some Marvel characters from the start (particularly Spiderman). No one in silver age DC made wisecracks to the degree that some Marvel characters did. I can't see any good reason to bring Whedon and Elfman into this franchise.