‘Justice League’ Review


Our Rating

Mother Boxes6

The greatest superheroes in the world (who aren’t the Avengers) team up…

With his faith in humanity restored after witnessing Superman’s heroic sacrifice, Batman sets about forming a team of the greatest heroes on Earth, so as to better protect the planet from the most dire threats. One of which has just arrived in the shape of the monstrous Steppenwolf

Well this has been a long time coming. Considering the strides Marvel have made in recent years with getting their characters to the big screen (not counting the properties owned by other companies), it does seem a bit odd that it’s taken DC so long to do the same. Now, at this point you may say “but Metalhead, you’re talking crap, there’s been loads of films featuring Batman and Superman over the years.” And you’d be right. The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel have graced the silver screen many times over the decades, and wearing many faces, but, and discounting one throwaway reference to Superman in 1997’s ‘Batman & Robin‘, they’ve never shared a film. Of course, all that changed last year with ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice‘, Zach Snyder’s massively divisive hybrid of a sequel to ‘Man Of Steel‘ (2013) and an attempt to kick-start a DC cinematic universe in the same vein as Marvel’s. Criticised for being gloomy and pessimistic in its tone (for instance, Ben Affleck’s Batman has no issue with killing, something of a departure from the source material, while Henry Cavill’s Superman was just a moody bugger) and overlong (although ironically the extended cut is a better film), the film did at least score highly in one area, namely introducing the concept of many heroes in this world. Alongside brief cameos from The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman, we were treated to the full bells-and-whistles big-screen debut of Wonder Woman, in the shape of Gal Gadot. It’s no secret that Gadot stole the film from her more well-known co-stars, while her solo outing earlier this year was a huge success, both commercially and critically. Now obviously ‘Justice League‘ has not happened based solely on the success of  ‘Wonder Woman‘, as this is a big property that’s been on the cards ever since ‘Batman V Superman‘ was announced. And it makes sense that that’s what they would be building up to. The Justice League, in their many and varied forms, are DC’s heavy hitters, the biggest of the big guns. Usually comprised of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and an often changing cast of supporting characters, all of whom bring their own strengths to the team, they’ve been the cornerstone of DC titles for decades, and continue to do so, as DC moves from the ‘New 52‘ years into the current Rebirth‘ project. And if you’re thinking that this is the first time these legendary characters have been brought together on the big-screen, well you’d be right. And wrong. Allow me to explain…

Way back in the dark mists of time (1997, to be precise) CBS Television attempted to introduce the ‘Justice League of America‘ to TV audiences via a feature-length TV movie, that was intended to be a pilot for a series. Made on the cheap and shot in Canada, which also helped to keep costs down, this version of the team is made up of Green Lantern (Matthew Settle), The Flash (Kenny Johnston), The Atom (John Kassir), Fire (Michelle Hurd) and The Martian Manhunter (David Ogden Stiers), who guides the team telepathically. Later they’re joined by Ice (Kimberly Oja), Fire’s long-time comics counterpart, as the team battles a fairly ropey villain in The Weather Man (Miguel Ferrer). Written by Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton, who display very little evidence that they’ve ever read a comic book, the film is, and this is being polite, a bit rubbish. Although the cast do give it their all (particularly the much-missed Ferrer, who never gave anything less than 100%), the sheer cheapness of the whole thing makes it difficult to watch. The special effects are z-grade at best, the costumes would shame even the most half-arsed cosplayer and the lack of the afore-mentioned big guns (presumably for cost reasons) is slightly jarring, particularly as this team is supposed to be saving the world. Needless to say, the movie wasn’t a success, and the TV series didn’t materialise. Despite this pretty horrific setback, the Justice League have had some sort of presence, on TV at least, for the last 16 years or so. Much of this has been in the medium of animation, with Warner Bros. producing almost 100 episodes of ‘Justice League‘ and ‘Justice League Unlimited‘, a rather splendid show that began in 2001, and that featured just about every major and supporting DC character, both hero and villain. There have also been numerous straight-to-DVD animated movies, many of which are excellent, featuring the league and its many spin-off teams, while Warner Bros., perhaps learning the lessons of CBS’s spectacular failure, have created numerous TV shows, including ‘Smallville‘, ‘Arrow‘ and ‘The Flash‘, which have proved to be much more successful showcases for these characters. In fact, as things stand at the moment, considering the current success enjoyed by the television ‘Arrow-verse‘ (dreadful name), You may find yourself wondering why make these movies at all? Especially when Marvel have the whole thing sewn up so tightly. Money, to put it simply. As Marvel, and now Disney, continue to creak under the weight of their phenomenally overstuffed bank accounts, it’s perfectly understandable that Warner Bros. would quite like a piece of that action. After all, they have the characters, and lots of talented people ready to bring them to the screen. Have they succeeded in ruffling Marvel’s feathers? Not exactly…

Once upon a time this would’ve been a very different piece. Despite the naysayers (and they were many), Zack Snyder was the man tasked with bringing this vision to the screen. It makes perfect sense when you think about it as, despite the issues with those movies, it was Snyder that was responsible for ‘Man Of Steel‘ and ‘Batman V Superman‘, and a common narrative style ran through both of those movies. Early word from ‘Justice League‘ suggested that things would lighten up a bit, but that the film would still be unmistakably set in the same world. However everything changed in March 2017 when, with the film still in production, Snyder stepped away from the movie entirely to deal with a family tragedy. I’ll not go into detail here, as it is not my place to comment, but the decision was undoubtedly the right one for him. At the time, amidst speculation about the future of the production, Warner Bros. appointed Joss Whedon, who’d already brought the first two ‘Avengers‘ movies to the screen, to complete the movie. This led to further speculation about what form that would take. Would Whedon simply complete the film as scripted, or would he start over? The answer seems to be a bit of both…

The first thing that strikes you while watching ‘Justice League‘ is that it feels like you’re watching two movies at once. You certainly get the gritty, moody realism that Snyder seemed to be aiming for (quite why you’d make a ‘realistic’ superhero movie is beyond me, when the whole concept screams escapism), but it sits rather uneasily alongside a fair bit of much lighter material that can only be the work of Whedon (it’s often overlooked that as thrilling and exciting as it was, ‘The Avengers‘ is also very funny). It’s no secret that many movies, big and small, require reshoots as they creep towards completion, and so it was the case here (Incidentally, it’s unlikely that reshoots will ever be as jarring to the eye as some of those on display here, in particular several involving Henry Cavill. You may or may not know that Cavill has a role in the upcoming 6th entry in the ‘Mission Impossible‘ franchise, and for this role was required to grow a moustache. When he was required to return for ‘Justice League‘ reshoots Paramount, for reasons best known to themselves, flatly refused to allow him to shave it off. This means that it some scenes, Cavill has a weird blurry effect on his top lip, where CGI has been used to obscure the offending facial hair. To put it bluntly, it looks f@*%ing ridiculous, easily on a par with the appalling wig Kate Mara sported in ‘Fantastic Four‘ as a signpost to an obvious reshoot, and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.), but you’re still left with that nagging suspicion that Whedon has changed things a fair bit. For instance, it’s very noticeable that certain scenes from the trailers are nowhere to be seen (one involving Alfred and a mystery character is particularly annoying), while some of the characters end up somewhat short-changed in the ‘character development’ department. When you have familiar, popular characters who’ve cemented a place in pop culture over may decades, then that’s less of an issue. But that description can’t be applied to every character on display here.

It almost goes without saying that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are icons of popular culture, instantly familiar to moviegoers around the world, with no introductions needed. Of the three actors occupying these roles, it’s fair to say that Gadot is the one who seems to be having the most fun. After her brief turn in ‘Batman V Superman‘ and her solo outing earlier this year, the Israeli star inhabits Diana Prince and her heroic alter-ego completely, so much so that you simply can’t imagine anyone else in that costume (with all due respect to Linda Carter). At the same time Cavill, who’s screen time is limited for obvious reasons, does well with what he’s given, although, blurry top lip aside, there’s no arguing that still looks the part. And he smiles a lot more in this one, which can almost certainly be laid at Whedon’s door. So it falls to Affleck to be something of a disappointment. Its’ been reported in some places that Affleck is looking to leave the cowl behind, and at times you could be forgiven for thinking that he already has. To me, Affleck has always suited the role of Bruce Wayne more than that of Batman, and his performance here suggests he agrees. As Wayne, travelling the world and assessing this new threat that has appeared out of nowhere, he conveys the frustration of a man with seemingly unlimited resources that may count for nothing in the long-term if he can’t begin to trust his new allies.

As Batman, despite the suits and toys and vehicles, he just seems bored, tired even. You won’t find yourself desperate for the return of George Clooney, it isn’t that bad, but something approaching the effort of Christian ‘raspy voice’ Bale would’ve been appreciated (he’s nowhere near Adam West and Michael Keaton, but we already knew that). Considering the importance of this whole endeavour, the other heroes who make up this incarnation of the League need to make an impression, and for the most part they’re successful. The Flash, played by Ezra Miller, is probably the most recognisable, thanks in no small part to the success of the TV show (currently on its fourth series). In fact, that show is so popular that there was a concerted effort by fans to get its star, Grant Gustin, cast in the movie in place of Miller. I, for one, am glad it was unsuccessful, as it would’ve robbed the film of a genuinely great performance. Miller is full of manic energy, seemingly revelling in his powers while at the same time suffering from self-doubt, which only seems amplified in the company of his new, more experienced teammates. Even then, he can’t help reacting like a fanboy at a convention. His child-like glee at seeing the Bat-Symbol for the first time was a highlight of the trailer, while is unbridled joy at being allowed into the Batcave is also wonderful to behold. Miller grows into the role over the course of the film, and by the end is much closer to the Flash we know and love, and it would be great to see him occupy the role for many years to come. Aquaman, on the other hand, is an altogether more intriguing choice for the line-up. For years treated as something of a joke by DC comics, in recent years he’s undergone something of a reinvention, mainly focusing on the fact that, taking into account the fact he talks to fish (part of the joke to many comic fans), he’s an immensely powerful badass. Although drawn as blond-haired and blue-eyed, the producers decided to go in a different direction and, as if to emphasise the fact that they were trying to rehabilitate the character to a degree, cast the resolutely not blond-haired or blue-eyed Jason Momoa. Momoa simply does what he does best, i.e. playing himself, and his Aquaman (Arthur Curry to his friends) is a whisky-swilling, heavily tattooed alpha male who, despite a reluctance to join the league, proves to be invaluable when the shit hits the fan. He’ll be back next year in his own solo adventure, which will be an interesting watch. Alongside these guys, the Cyborg (Ray Fisher) feels a touch under-served, and it seems like he was the biggest loser when it came to the editing process. While footage from the trailers hinted at a lot more back-story on display, instead all we’re left with is a few vague mentions of a promising football career derailed by fatal car accident, and Joe Morton as his scientist father, a man torn between love for his son and the lengths he’s gone to to preserve his life, and the guilt that those actions have brought on. While Cyborg proves essential to the Leagues plan to save the world, and certainly proves himself capable as a hero, the basic grimness of the character is at odds everyone else (more evidence of the Whedon / Snyder footage split) and a tiny bit more information about his origins wouldn’t have gone a miss.

Like all comic-book movies, the villain of the piece is just as important as the heroes. Although all members of the league have a rogues gallery to draw from, to bring this team together you need someone big and powerful enough to threaten the entire planet, and again DC has characters like that. So why they’ve chosen Steppenwolf as the main bad guy is something of head-scratcher. At one point ‘Justice League‘ was planned as a two-part ‘event’ movie, and it’s believed that Steppenwolf’s appearance here is a holdover from that plan, as the first part would have seen him arrive on Earth and lay the ground work for the subsequent arrival of Darkseid, a mega-powerful cosmic warlord and the biggest of DC’s big bads. With that plan now seemingly jettisoned, we’re left with the deeply underwhelming, and all CGI, Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds, totally blameless). Although it’s made clear early on that he’s also extremely powerful (although his main power move seems to be just jumping at people with a big axe), and he’s backed by an army of very unpleasant-looking Parademons, his character is so underwhelming that you just never believe he will succeed. It also doesn’t help that, although he did appear in ‘Batman V Superman‘, in a brief scene that would’ve established both his existence and the potential threat he posed,  the scene was removed from the cinema cut (it was restored to the extended edition), so any context for his sudden arrival on Earth (and the involvement of Lex Luthor) is missing. It’s also worth noting that Steppenwolf himself is quite an obscure character, and could not be considered part of the mainstream (other than being a DC character), which adds another layer to his basic crapness. Other characters fare slightly poorly as well, with only Alfred (Jeremy Irons) making much of an impression. Already established support, such as Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) pop up to remind everyone that they still exist, while new incarnations of established favourites make their bows, the most notable being J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon. Hopefully they get more to do further down the road.

If it seems like I’m being rather negative, I should stress at this point that I did enjoy ‘Justice League‘. Despite the odd feeling of essentially watching two films at once, the whole thing rattles along at a fair old pace, the plot is basic but straightforward and easy to follow (although it loses marks for introducing concepts, such as ‘Mother Boxes‘ and ‘Boom Tubes‘, and then not explaining them properly) and the effects are excellent throughout. Yes it’s heavy on the CGI (that top lip is a problem), but what comic-book movie isn’t these days? Unfortunately the flaws are also rather obvious, the deeply disappointing villain being the main one. The knowledge that there is a lot of potentially more interesting footage out there somewhere is also irritating, as is the knowledge that we may never see it (as far as I’m aware a decision on an extended edition has not yet been made). As a comics fan this film provides basically what I’m looking for, a new look at some established characters while introducing some new ones. As a film-fan, however, the flaws are a bit more noticeable, but shouldn’t stop people enjoying the movie anyway. Whether this results in an extended run of movies, like those Marvel types, is another matter entirely. Although Aquaman is due out in 2018, and a Wonder Woman sequel is in pre-production, other movies will almost certainly depend on the box office success (or otherwise) of Justice League, and that’s far from guaranteed. One way or another, we’ll know soon enough…


About author


Long-time fan of all things geek-related. Comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, Warhammer, video games, mythology, you name it, I probably like it. This also extends to pro-wrestling and heavy metal, hence the name. Particular loves would be the Star Wars sage, Game of Thrones (books and TV), Judge Dredd, Assassins Creed, and many more. Born and raised in Essex by parents who have broadly supported these passions over the years, so much so that they now share many of them.