Justice League (2017) (Review)

Justice League represented a shot at redemption for the troubled DC Extended Universe: after an incredibly rocky start with a financially-underwhelming Man of Steel and the critically-thrashed (and rightly so) Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, their fourth instalment, Wonder Woman, was a complete success in almost every sense of the word. It was the first time both audiences and critics raved about the DCEU and it provided hope and optimism as they approached their most ambitious project yet, the all-star Justice League. Was Wonder Woman's course correction a sign of brighter times ahead; or was it simply a blip that only delayed the inevitable downfall of Warner Bros' superhero universe?

With the world mourning the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), the Mother Boxes reactivate and Steppenwolf, along his army of Parademons, hellbent on conquering and remaking Earth, return to finish the job they had previously failed. Deciding that the world needs further protection, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) decide to assemble a team. Barry Allen, Flash (Ezra Miller); Arthur Curry, Aquaman (Jason Momoa); and Victor Stone, Cyborg (Ray Fisher) make up the Justice League, a new age of heroes fighting for the world.

I do wish I could stand here and say/type that Justice League is a good film. Wonder Woman really impressed me and showed startling signs of a reformed DCEU. What's more, the superhero genre has experienced a truly excellent year, with every release - from Logan to Thor: Ragnarok - a new and fresh rejuvenation for a genre I consigned as doomed last year. But it's not. It's messy, jumbled and ultimately disappointing, hindering the momentum for the Universe heading forth and stranding it, once again, on rocky ground.

Justice League's own production history has been strained, with director and DC spearhead, Zak Synder, exiting the project due to family tragedy. Joss Whedon, of Marvel's Avengers fame, replaced Synder in the post-production process to polish it off, subsequently reshooting a number of scenes and set-pieces in an attempt to deliver a more coherent final product. Except, the film is so haphazardly assembled, like two separate films have been unflatteringly and unwillingly spliced together to represent a more unified whole; unfortunately, said merger has resulted in a poorly-edited and poorly-paced film with no clear vision. It falls apart at the seams and you can pick out the reshoots from the base scenes with ease, and the two competing directorial styles clash terribly rather than compliment and slot together nicely.

Whether or not the weak storytelling is an unfortunate consequence of a frenzied assembly line, or whether it was simply poor to begin with, it disappoints in almost every way. While Justice League's writers would have certainly benefitted from more time to introduce our heroes and develop the lacklustre villain, I don't know whether I could have sat through more, quite frankly. It begins surprisingly strong, establishing an atmosphere of societal unease that is all too familiar, scored fantastically by Sigrid's Everybody Knows - but it drops like a rock for this point on.

 Chris Terri and Joss Whendon's screenplay fails to convey any sense of enthusiasm or energy, with poor-plotting and execution of its brash set pieces, which appear more like an awkward obligation than a source of genuine excitement or an indication of growing threat. There's no narrative progression or escalation and little structure, all merging into one indistinguishable mess, contributing to the oddly flat atmosphere that pervades throughout. As is now common, the villain is pitiful and weakened further by poor CGI and his background is an empty canvas I actually don't care to fill in or explore. The stakes are staggeringly low at such an important point in the superheroes' arc, with no emotional consequence or weight in sight.

Superman's return deserved to be rip-roaring triumphant, no matter how much we expected it - but its pedestrian and unsubstantiated execution elicit an 'oh' rather than a 'woah', resigning the Last Son of Krypton to yet another underwhelming, blasé appearance. There's no care in anything the film tries to do, as if they are despondent in trying to craft characters we genuinely care about, simply delivering another exercise in getting from A to B. Justice League should have felt like an event, a towering achievement and lap of victory as we head for the next phase; instead it feels like a complete slog, an obligation for both the film-makers and the audience, because we need to know what Wonder Woman's doing when we turn up for the sequel in 2019.

As inferred, the direction is flimsy at best with some glaring continuity errors and severely lacklustre visuals. Failing to learn from the franchise's previous mistakes, the finale descends into a climax suffocated by woeful CGI - but rather than drowning in drab and gloomy scenes like Dawn of Justice did, Justice League confronts you with garish and clashing colour palettes. It's all well and good injecting some colour and excitement into your aesthetic but it feels forced and needless; for unknown reasons, act three is drenched in red hues and smog, with the cinematography lacking the grand scale of the admittedly bold superhero showdown last year. Aside from some fine visuals in the opening of act one and some visual flair during scenes between Kent and Lane, everything else is shoddily constructed and composed.

Maybe the most damning thing about Justice League though is how tiresome it is. I was so hoping the film would supply the franchise with enthusiasm and vigour - particular towards Batman and Superman - or be, at the very least, fun. But only very briefly does it manage to become something you can actually enjoy and elsewhere it's an utter slog. It's astounding that a $300 million picture can be as tedious as Justice League is for a good portion of its runtime - notably, the third act. It is dull beyond belief when the team aren't together and it fails in keeping the audience engaged throughout, surely the very basics in blockbuster film-making.

Through the sheer will and commitment of the cast, the film does spark some enjoyable moments - mainly contained within the group's glowing dynamic. Gal Gadot once again steals the show here, with a loveable performance that allows Wonder Woman to shine again, even if she feels more restricted by the team dynamic than you would like. At this stage, she's the only one I can honestly say I care about. The ever-talented Ezra Miller is often a joy as Barry/Flash, despite contending with some clunky dialogue and the script's strained attempt at humour. Ben Affleck is fine but hardly commands while Henry Cavill's Superman continues to be a disappointment.

On their own Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher's heroes aren't quite enough but within the group they balance the team and pad it out effectively. Whether I'd be interested in a solo outing is another question but they are hardly a drain on the resources and could become something worthy of your time with a better creative team behind them. Poor Amy Adams is held hostage here again and while she is given a few nice moments, she is completely under-utilised and I can't wait for the day she frees herself of the poorly-characterised, flat and weak Lois Lane.

Danny Elfman's score is serviceable but rarely memorable, lacking the weight that would elevate the bigger, supposedly grander moments to more impressive heights. Highlights includes brief glimpses at the far superior Wonder Woman score and the trailer-friendly Come Together which instals the film with at least some excitement. Everybody Knows is a fantastic choice to help open the film and establish the tone earlier on.

By default, Justice League is the DCEU's second or third best, but that says more about what came before it than the quality of this all-star attempt. Oddly flat and lacking conviction or emotion, it is hindered by poor storytelling, editing and pacing. Justice League sees two different films ungraciously fighting for the spotlight but neither of them win - it's simply a distracting jumble that's poor without being downright awful.

The cast are great individually and even better together, with some flippant humour and lightness present, displaying at least some sign of the franchise evolving, gravitating away from the doom and gloom of Dawn of Justice; at the moment though, it is still lacking in its execution and balance. Despite my love for Wonder Woman, I have been burnt one too many times by the DCEU to care at this stage. Is this the final straw? It'll take a lot (or the Wonder Woman sequel) to convince me otherwise.

"You can't save the world alone", the Justice League marketing affirms - yet, Wonder Woman single-handedly saved the DCEU earlier this year and in one fail swoop, Justice League has sent it crashing down again without completely putting it out of its (and your) misery.


Summary: Justice League is a messy, tiresome and slap-dash attempt at an all-star superhero film, lacking the conviction, emotion or unified vision to become anything more than a missed opportunity and colossal disappointment. I give up.