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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie Review: Justice League

Review by Sean CW Korsgaard



Years from now, when we’re digging through the wreckage of the DC Extended Universe, the question about Justice League won’t be “Where did it all go wrong?”, but “What didn’t go wrong?” If months of toxic behind-the-scenes chatter, sacking the original director, and massive reshoots weren’t your first clue, Justice League is a complete train wreck.

True, the movie is better than Batman v. Superman or Suicide Squad, but that doesn’t make it good by any measure. Diarrhea is better than hemorrhoids, but it’s still a messy, unpleasant pain in the ass to have to sit through. So too is Justice League.

Justice League opens sometime after the events of the death of Superman, with Batman and Diana (who still has not been called Wonder Woman) seeing signs of a possible alien invasion and deciding to gather a team of other heroes to help fight it off.

Meanwhile, the villain Steppenwolf is leading his army of bad CGI parademons to collect the three Mother Boxes, because reasons. In the comics, they’re pocket-sized supercomputers, but in Justice League, they’re just yet another macguffin in a DC movie that shoots a giant sky beam and threatens to end the world.

Justice League has the daunting task of—in under two hours, including credits and two long post-credit scenes—bringing Superman back from the dead, introducing Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg for the first time, touching on who Steppenwolf and the New Gods are and why they’re a threat, and bringing the heroes together to fight him. As a result, the movie more or less rushes through all of this, dropping the ball on every front.

The big advantage Marvel had by introducing each of the Avengers prior to The Avengers was, aside from free advertising, they could spend the team-up movie actually focused on the team-up. Justice League suffers heavily, because among other reasons, there are such precious little stakes involved here.

The other grave issue is that it’s painfully obvious there have been some massive reshoots and editing done to Justice League. Putting aside some of the most obvious tell-all signs this side of Kate Mara’s blonde wig in Fan4stic [The 2015 remake of Fantastic Four - ~ed] —Ben Affleck is noticeably fatter in some scenes, several scenes with Wonder Woman had to be reshot around Gal Gadot’s pregnancy belly, and Henry Cavill’s upper lip was redone in CGI to erase his Mission Impossible mustache—you’ve also got issues like almost the entire first act being cut to the point of nonexistence, whole subplots are brought up once never to be spoken of again, and there is just some awful expository dialog to fill the gaps.

That’s without touching on more basic failures of Justice League, be it that the two-hour run-time still feels like a drag, or the script is full of rapid-fire “comedic” banter that somehow flubs every single time.

The cast certainly doesn’t help matters much. It becomes immediately obvious why there is so much talk about replacing Ben Affleck as Batman, because the only way he could have phoned-in his performance more is if they’d replaced him with his stunt double halfway through the movie. Henry Cavill may have second billing, but Superman gets maybe 5-10 minutes of screen time in the movie. You can tell a lot of those reshoots were focused on Wonder Woman, given how much screen time Gal Gadot gets, but she does precious little with any of it. For those of you who liked the Amazons in Wonder Woman, they exist in this movie mostly to wear leather bikinis and get axed by the dozens. About the only good performance in the movie is Jeremy Irons as Alfred, and that’s because most of his performance is just offering snarky commentary about whatever’s going on in the movie.

The newcomers are hardly any better. Jason Momoa, as this fratboy version of Aquaman, proves yet again that he has all the screen presence of a muscular table lamp. If next year’s Aquaman is supposed to set the future course of the DCEU, let’s hope he brought more to the table there than he did for Justice League. Ray Fisher had never been in a movie before he was cast as Cyborg, and it shows, made worse by the fact that 95-percent of his body has been replaced by appallingly bad CGI. For the curious, yes, he says ‘booyah’, and no, he did not earn it. Neither Momoa nor Fisher get much in the way of character development or motivation, as with the short run-time we have, Justice League never has the time for it.

Worst of the bunch though is Ezra Miller, who as Barry Allen (the movie never calls him The Flash) is essentially forced into being the movie’s designated comedy relief, which is unfortunate, because he wears out his welcome almost immediately. His very presence is a painful annoyance; he doesn’t manage to earn a laugh the entire movie. It doesn’t help that he also looks awful, and all his big moments have been done better before elsewhere, be it Quicksilver in the X-Men movies or the ongoing Flash TV series. If there was ever any doubt that perhaps ignoring the hit Flash TV show—with a likeable actor, better costume and special effects, and an existing fan base—may have been a mistake, it dies by the fourth or fifth time Miller opens his mouth.

Even how the movie botches the Flash pales to the fact it delivers probably the worst comic book movie villain in years, maybe ever. Putting aside the fact that Steppenwolf is now the third or fourth time the DCEU has had the villain be a generic CGI tall guy who looks like he was pulled from a PS2 game, he has absolutely zero presence or menace throughout the movie. The giant space cloud from the Green Lantern movie a few years back was a better bad guy than Steppenwolf is here. Aside from assembling an impressive pile of dead Amazons in the first act, he gets a few lackluster fight scenes and spends the rest of the movie prattling exposition. Maybe he would have been a far different villain had they kept the original plans for an immediate sequel in which Darkseid shows up, but they didn’t, and what we’re left with is just pitiful.

Chin up though, Steppenwolf. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor still manages to be the worst character in the entire movie, and he’s only in Justice League for just over a minute.

Which brings us to the direction and style of the film, and I use those words in the loosest sense I can, because Justice League has precious little of either. For starters, there is zero excuse for a movie that cost somewhere north of $300 million dollars being this hideous to look at. The CGI in this movie would have been an embarrassment ten years ago, much less today. There is no excuse for a movie this big to have special effects that look worse than the Arrowverse TV shows, or editing this choppy, or CGI so jarring at times it actually gives you pause. The movie is filled with awful moments like that: one that comes to mind is when we actually see the fake muscles falling out of the Batsuit in one scene. If this is what we got after replacing the director and doing expensive, extensive reshoots, what was Justice League like before?

I’m not going to make the obvious parallels between Justice League and The Avengers, partly because they’re obvious, and partly because at this point, the DC Extended Universe isn’t even in the same sport, much less the same league, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there is one that needs to be brought up. The Avengers was an event before it happened, awe-inspiring to watch, and a milestone after it happened. Of all the failings of Justice League, the biggest may be that there are people who have waited their entire lives for this movie, and in the end, this is what they got. A movie greenlit to impress shareholders, designed by a boardroom, and filmed in as mercenary a fashion as they could. There isn’t an ounce of ambition in the entire film, nor a drop of passion, and it shows. The Avengers was a game-changer. Justice League never bothered to take the field.

If months of bad press, including Warner Bros. already talking of rebooting the DCEU and concerns that it will open lower than Thor: Ragnorok won’t deter you from seeing Justice League, I doubt my words of warning will. All the same, it must be said: Justice League is one of the worst movies of 2017, a disappointment on every level, a disservice to generations of fans, and a dishonor to 70 years of source material. Everyone involved with its production should be ashamed, and anyone who held onto the hope of a good movie has a right to be angry.



Soldier, scholar, writer and freelancer, Sean CW Korsgaard is a US Army veteran, award-winning journalist, and freelance writer. Read more at: www.korsgaardscommentary.com

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