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REVIEW: “Justice League”

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It’s a hero team up that has been more anticipated than maybe even The Avengers for the big screen, and now we finally have it. For the very first time the Justice League has come together in theaters for the much-anticipated fifth installment in the DC Extended Universe with the best of the comic book company’s many heroes joining forces to fight a new evil threatening the planet. So far the DCEU has had a tough time finding its footing and the inevitable comparisons to the Marvel Cinematic Universe haven’t helped. The team up film fans have waited years to see may not be the spectacle everyone had hoped for, but it’s a step in the right direction in my humble opinion. So how good or bad is this film? Well let’s take a look. Here’s my review of “Justice League”.

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“Justice League” follows the events of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” as Batman hunts down creatures called parademons who have been showing up more regularly on Earth. With Superman dead the world has begun to shift to a more fear-filled place lacking their symbol of hope, allowing for the alien soldier Steppenwolf, portrayed in CGI by Ciarán Hinds, to make a return to a planet he once tried to conquer, with the fear-feeding parademons by his side. Steppenwolf attempts to locate three Mother Boxes, each trusted into the hands of the Amazons, Atlantians, and humans respectively, to bring them together and terraform Earth into a hellish planet. To stop him Batman, played again by Ben Affleck, and Wonder Woman, once again played by Gal Gadot for the second time in 2017, bring together the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), forming the titular team of metahumans to defend the earth while Batman is forced to come to grips with his guilt over the death of Superman.

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There’s a lot to discuss with this movie so I’ll try to be brief, but detailed and also know that this review, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, will not delve into one specific aspect of the film that may be a great surprise for those unfamiliar with the course material or who really have a issue seeing the obvious coming from a mile away. Anyways the first thing that needs to be said about “Justice League” is it’s really not a bad movie. The DCEU has stumbled more than its succeeded, but it seemed to find its footing with “Wonder Woman” earlier this year and this movie seems to help keep that pace. The problem is that “Wonder Woman” truly was a far superior film. “Justice League” was set up to be an epic team up, however what we got was a pretty generic, if enjoyable, superhero romp that pretty much follows the book to the letter.

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Because of the duel directing responsibilities of Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, who relieved Snyder after a family tragedy, the film actually has an interesting mix of darker tone and levity. The characters are funny and banter well and the camaraderie and believable relationships between all of its heroic leads makes “Justice League” a very easy watch. Some reviewers found that the unintentional melding of the two different styles of Snyder and Whedon was a detriment to the film, but for me it actually worked. It allowed the movie to shift when necessary, with the heroes being intense and focused in battle scenes and lighthearted and likable when they’re off duty. There’s a lot that doesn’t work, but for me this change in tone and the shift from a darker feel to a more colorful presentation all worked well and counteracted the more negative aspects of the project.

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As I said the cast really shines in this film and it all starts with Bruce Wayne, the Batman, played again by Ben Affleck who is still the most likable Batman for me on the big screen to date. Despite some pretty cheesy lines in the script Affleck continues to make Batman his own here and remains the confident, cool, and collected hero we saw in previous films while also showing his age and the damage, both physically and mentally, recent battles have created. We also get to see Batman struggle with guilt and his insecurity as a leader making for a pretty deep and relatable Dark Knight that we’ve really never seen before without making the story all about Batman. The caped hero was one of the highlights of the divisive “Dawn of Justice” and that continues here. The opening scene where Batman battles a parademon feels like a real Batman conflict in the same way that the warehouse battle brought us a truly great Batman fight in the prior film. It’s little things like that that make “Justice League” enjoyable despite its many flaws.

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The rest of the cast can’t be overlooked and I’ll try to be concise in my assessment here because there are a lot of them. Gal Gadot is dashing as always as the second in command of the League, Wonder Woman. She’s more confident and wiser now than we saw her in her stand-alone film in 2017 and she gets a lot more screen time and deserved focus than she did in “Dawn of Justice”, probably due to the success of her own movie. As for the rest of the League Ezra Miller is a standout as Barry Allen, aka the Flash, and serves as the primary comic relief of the film. Ray Fisher is a more serious and insecure Cyborg still trying to understand the limits of his abilities and come to grips with his new life and Jason Mamoa makes Aquaman cool (for those familiar with the character’s legacy you know why that’s a big deal) as a moody tough guy who serves as the source of sarcasm and attitude in the group.

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All of these actors come together to present very complete superheroes and when you think about it that’s exactly what this movie needed in order to work. These heroes actually translating well to the screen was essential to “Justice League” and every one of them are fantastic. The actors own their roles and work very well off of each other and honestly just seeing them interact makes for great viewing and watching each of them present their different advantages and strengths in battle is a joy to see. In terms of on-screen portrayals this film gets it right and the changes that are made feel more necessary to add personality and likability as well as a bit of a modern touch to each hero. The best part, every hero feels needed and significant with none of the five League members coming off as forced entries in the franchise despite their rushed inclusion in the DCEU.

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So you might be asking why this film has gotten so many bad reviews if the actors do a pretty good job. Well that’s because despite the actors being all in, the script and story left a lot to be desired as does the film’s main villain. I have to admit I didn’t know a lot about Steppenwolf going into “Justice League” and I kind of felt like I still didn’t after the movie was done. Steppenwolf felt like a strange character, an all powerful being who could take on anyone in a fight but for some reason always refused to finish a battle as he sought out the three Mother Boxes. Not only does Steppenwolf feel like a hollow villain with no real method to his madness, he looks pretty odd too with no inspiration to his design and an overuse of CGI making him feel unrealistic and rather unthreatening to say the least. Yes, he has power and he does put up quite a fight in the League’s first encounter with him, but despite Ciarán Hinds’ best attempts to give the villain personality and significance he just comes off a a generic “I’m going to rule the world and have the ego to prove it” bad guy that we all know will fail and I’m pretty sure you can predict how. Now it is fun to see the League take on Steppenwolf and the parademons several times in the movie, but you could have swapped him for any other 9-foot villain with an axe and it would have been just as good…or bad depending on your perspective.

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In terms of story the film lacks that special something to truly make this an epic. There’s not a lot of substance. It’s a setup and concept we have already seen and there’s really nothing here to make “Justice League” feel like anything special. It tries to reach new heights, but it takes few chances giving us superhero cliché after cliché to try and satisfy the lowest common denominator among the legions of viewers who will no doubt make the film a success. The truth is though I didn’t completely mind it. I truly enjoyed seeing these heroes on screen and even though it didn’t feel like the stakes were as high as they should have been I didn’t really care. Just the fact that our heroes were finally together taking on a foe with great power was enough for me and while Steppenwolf was forgettable and the script and screenplay were bland as ever, “Justice League” still felt like a fun ride and a solid comic book movie. It’s just not the epic wonder of a project deserving of this massive hero team up that we were promised for years.

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So in the end “Justice League” is kind of like your standard genre novel as odd as that might be to say. What I mean by that us it’s the same old story we’ve read over and over again, but you know what? If the story is fun and enjoyable to experience it doesn’t matter how predictable it is or how bland it might seem. We’re still going to experience it and in the end, while we’ve seen it all before, it’s still worth the time. An enjoyable book is enjoyable no matter its clichés and “Justice League” is a decent film despite its flaws simply because it takes everything we’ve already experienced and makes it work with characters we’ve always wanted to see coming together played by actors who truly dedicated themselves to bringing said heroes to life. There’s a lot wrong with “Justice League”, but what’s right about it is enough to make for a decent, if generic, superhero action adventure worth embracing. It’s a continued step in the right direction for the DCEU, even if it doesn’t take that giant leap the franchise really needed to earn its legitimacy. If you’re a fan of these characters you’ll probably enjoy it even a little bit, but if you’re trying to find a reason to embrace this series this entry probably won’t do the trick. It’s just good enough to work, but not good enough to reach its full potential. Still I found it a fun ride worthy of recommending.

 

 

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