My preferred version of the Justice League is the 90s animated series. Coming off the spectacular Batman the Animated Series, and the decent Superman animated series, the Justice League combined several heroes together to take on the dangers none of them could face alone. Eventually the show turned into Justice League Unlimited, adding an almost infinite number of heroes. The storylines were interesting, the characters were well developed, and the show did tackle some difficult issues.
In terms of DC live action movies, Zack Snyder has so far been in charge, resulting in a dark, gloomy, morose version of the characters you thought you knew. Some liked it, more didn’t, and now – after one Superman movie, one Batman/Superman movie, one Wonder Woman movie, and one horrifically terrible Suicide Squad movie, we are given the Snyder-verse version of Justice League.
The movie opens with an odd choice – which will not be the last one – of Superman (previous to his “death” in BvS) being “interviewed” by what sounds like two preschoolers for their podcast. He takes a ridiculously long time to answer a couple of questions, and then looks hopefully out to the distance.
We then pop back to present day, and see that the entire world is mourning the “death” of Superman. There are black flags with his logo on all the world’s biggest monuments. This overwhelming sense of sorrow causes three long-hidden ‘Mother Boxes’ to awaken and reactivate – they are basically alien super-computers. The Mother Boxes awakening lead to the arrival of Steppenwolf, who comes to earth with the goal of gathering the three Mother Boxes, uniting them, and using them to terraform Earth into Apokolips.
Batman is batmanning in Gotham, using random thieves and punks to elicit enough fear to summon Parademons, which he has started to notice are gathering. Apparently they feed on fear – and when you explode them, their inside goo leaves a three-box pattern on the wall where they were (what?). Batman decides it’s time to get some help.
Meanwhile, Steppenwolf heads to Themyscira, for the Mother Box that the Amazons are hiding. The Amazons put up an amazing fight, but lose the box. They then decide to light the ancient warning fire in the Parthenon, so that Wonder Woman will be aware the invasion is underway. With their timeline moved up – Bruce and Diana agree to talk to the other ‘meta-humans’ on their list (Arthur Curry, Victor Stone, and Barry Allen). Bruce heads to Iceland to talk with Curry, who is perfectly happy just rescuing local fisherman and drinking a lot. He’s not interested in helping, and tells Batman such.
Diana reaches out to Victor Stone, and since he’s recently been turned into a Cyborg by his father’s tampering with the technology of one of the Mother Boxes, he’s hesitant to join up – after all, everyone thinks he’s dead. He agrees to help Diana electronically, since he can hack anything anywhere. Of course, once Steppenwolf kidnaps his father to find the Mother Box, Victor is in. Bruce is far more successful with Barry Allen, who practically jumps at the chance to join them.
Steppenwolf heads to Atlantis – and in a battle with Mera and the other Atlanteans, he takes the Mother Box from them. Mera tells Arthur it is his duty to find Steppenwolf to return the box, so he goes, after requesting an armor and weapons upgrade from her.
Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Cyborg get information from Commissioner Gordon that Steppenwolf is hiding in the sewers, so they head down there to rescue the kidnapees, and battle him. Aquaman shows up to help them not drown, and they end up losing Steppenwolf, but saving the Box and the kidnapees. This leads some of them to reason that they will need Superman to continue this fight, and that they can revive him with the combined action of the Mother Box and the Kryptonian ship that is still on the ground in Metropolis from when Zod crashed there and Jesse Eisenberg used it to create a monster. They dig up his body, take it into the ship, and float it in the water while Flash electrifies the box.
This leads to a confused Superman bursting out and taking on the team for a few minutes until Batman busts out the ‘big guns’ and brings in Lois. Superman flies her away to Smallville to quietly contemplate things, and decide he’s actually happy to be back, and will help the League. While all this is happening, Steppenwolf gets the last box, takes it to Russia, and begins combining the three to change earth to Apokolips. The League heads to Russia to face him and prevent his plan. Afterward (spoiler alert – they win), Steppenwolf gets banished back to whence he came (I imagine Darkseid is displeased), and the heroes set out doing more heroing. Aquaman sets out for Atlantis to face the responsibilities he’s been shirking; Cyborg decides to help his father, Flash gets a job with Central City PD, Wonder Woman steps into the spotlight as a hero, Clark Kent goes back to work, and Bruce and Alfred talk about renovating Wayne Manor with enough room for a group of heroes to meet.
Honestly, it’s better than just about anything else in this universe – except for Wonder Woman – but that’s a really low bar. Let’s start with the positives:
- For the first time, the movie is mostly lighter and colorful; not just literally but figuratively as well, there is much more humor in this one.
- The action scenes are pretty great, in particular the fight with the Amazons at the beginning, as well as the flashback to the first battle Steppenwolf had here on earth thousands of years ago.
- The cast is wonderful, and I really enjoyed all the scenes of them interacting, which creates hope for future movies.
- The score is wonderful because some of the traditional themes of the heroes return.
- There was one moment I really loved – Bruce tells Alfred he needs Superman because Superman is more human than he is. This speaks to the core difference between the two (which I’ve always attributed to the love and care of Ma and Pa Kent in most versions – rewatch Smallville to see this done in a beautiful way), that Superman is the light and the hope; whereas Batman is the fear and the darkness.
- I also really appreciated that once Superman joins the final fight, he doesn't solve everything on his own, he works together with the rest of the team to win.
Now, some of the many negatives:
- Zack Snyder is listed as the director of the movie – but he did have to step out due to the death of his daughter, and Joss Whedon stepped in. There really could not be two more different directors in tone and style, so the differences in the Snyder portions and the Whedon reshoots are pretty obvious. In particular because in the reshoots, Superman has a digital upper lip. If you haven’t heard about this yet – Cavill is working on Mission Impossible 6 for Paramount, and Paramount refused to let him shave the mustache to do Justice League reshoots for Warner Brothers. So they had to digitally remove the mustache – and it looks terrible. It's the first shot of this movie, and it looks terrible.
- Also - the entire world is mourning the loss of Superman, however, with the timelines of the previous two movies with him in it - he seems to only have been supermanning for about a year, maybe less - why would the whole world be mourning him? Unless I missed some montage of him saving people all over the world in BvS.
- Steppenwolf is a weak villain, mainly because he is entirely CGI, and that still causes me to tune out a bit. I don’t see why he couldn’t have been a dude in a suit.
- The plot is a struggle. The entire process of reviving Superman was total and complete nonsense. If the real Ma Kent was around, she would have known that you just leave him in the sunlight for a while. But here - there is a scene in which they dig up his grave, and then have to dip him in the weird water inside the ship.
- Steppenwolf's plan, I get that he needed to bring the Mother Boxes together, but the convoluted way the heroes get around to figuring it out and battling it is just ridiculous.
- The fight sequence at the end of the movie is interesting, but it is way too much CGI, and the ‘terraforming’ bits make almost no sense: What are those tendrils? Why is there a bubble? Why, when it stops, are there alien flowers blooming?
- I appreciate the shorter run time, but honestly, there were still a few things that could have been cut – we didn’t need nearly as much time with the one Russian family, which I sure was supposed to humanize the peril, but didn’t work.
- A minor thing, but everyone played just a bit fast and loose with the secret identities - calling each other by their real names in front of all kinds of bystanders.
- Ben Affleck plays Bruce Wayne; and either by choice or happenstance, seems far less interested this time around. Like I said, I really appreciated the moments of him understanding his own inabilities, and that could be an interesting direction going forward.
- Henry Cavill plays Clark Kent and he is actually better in the second half of this movie than he has been in any other movie – he’s finally getting to the Superman we are all used to, light, bright, a symbol of justice and hope, with far less brooding.
- Amy Adams plays Lois Lane, and she’s just fine. I did enjoy that she was the thing that brought Superman back to focus.
- Gal Gadot plays Diana Prince, and again – she’s wonderful, but has a bit less to do here than in previous movies. I did get a little tired of other members of the team focusing on her looks. That would be some Synder influence.
- Ezra Miller plays Barry Allen and he does provide the most humor and lightness in the movie. The running looked awful, I don’t know if that’s because the TV show does it so much better, or if Miller’s running style is just odd.
- Jason Momoa plays Arthur Curry, and again – he’s just fine, a little annoying, but I think that plays well to the character. The Aquaman standalone movie is finished and should be out next year some time, and I am looking forward to it.
- Ray Fisher plays Victor Stone, and had some of the most interesting bits in the movie, terrified of his new powers, and feeling lost and alone. I look forward to more of him as well. And yes, he does get to say Booyah, which Cyborg says often in other versions.
- Jeremy Irons plays Alfred, and while the care and paternal relationship is still there, Irons brings in more of the partnership aspect than some previous Alfreds. He’s even casually wearing military pants on one sequence.
- Diane Lane plays MAAARRRTHHHAAAAAA, and really has next to nothing to do in this one. At least she’s not giving even more terrible advice to Clark.
- Connie Nielsen reprises her role of Queen Hippolyta just enough to battle Steppenwolf and light a fire to warn Diana.
- J.K. Simmons plays J.Jonah Jameson, I mean Commissioner Gordon, who had a wonderful little scene next to the bat signal to give the heroes some information.
- Ciaran Hinds plays Steppenwolf, and the voice was wonderful and some of the lines were great. Still not sure why he couldn’t have been in amazing prosthetics and costuming instead of being entirely CGI.
- Amber Heard plays Mera, and will have more to do in the Aquaman movie. Here, she just made a bubble to talk to Arthur, and reminded him that his mother was queen, so maybe he should stop bumming around the ocean and step up.
- Joe Morton plays Miles Dyson, I mean Silas Stone, and he’s still messing around creating Cyborgs even though he should know better.
- Billy Crudup plays Henry Allen, who is around long enough to tell Barry not to come see him, and then get really proud of him when he gets a job.
Overall, it is fine – it really is. It’s not terrible, and it certainly has some entertaining parts. It’s not fair to compare it to Marvel movies, it really isn’t – but if you asked me the main difference, I would say that this movie lacks heart. You just don’t care enough about any of the characters to be invested in the story, because it feels like no one behind the scenes cares enough about them either. It certainly is a step in the right direction, and gave me some hope for their upcoming movies.
5 out of 10. It’s better, but still not great. Simultaneously gained and lost points for the post-credits sequence. That Eisenberg performance was better than the previous movie – but still not Luthor. Also, not sure Deathstroke would be interested in forming a League – or more accurately, a Legion. I wanted Black Manta and Cheetah to step up behind Eisenberg as he was talking.
Bonus - here's the LAMBcast review of Justice League that I joined to discuss the movie with other LAMB reviewers! https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2017-11-21T23_33_19-08_00