Not so wonderful follow up to ‘Wonder Woman’ in DC cinematic universe

Photo by Justice League The Movie

By Erik Jimenez

Let’s get the rankings out of the way first. In the DC extended universe, “Justice League” is better than “Batman v. Superman” and “Man of Steel,” nowhere near as good as “Wonder Woman,” and is about as good as “Suicide Squad,” though if I had to choose, this gets a slight edge because it feels more coherent story wise. Pretty much what I was expecting at this point with these films.

For those of you that don’t know, “Justice League” went into production when they got the bad news that its direct predecessor “Batman vs. Superman” (which was made by most of the same people), originally assumed to be a guaranteed success. Instead, it opened as one of the worst reviewed films of its year, thus causing a studio wide panic at Warner Bros.

Most notably that it was supposed to be TWO movies and at some point, became just the one for now. The original director, Zack Snyder, stepped down from post-production owing to a family tragedy, leading to the film being finished by another filmmaker, Joss Whedon of “The Avengers” fame, leading to still more drama involving massive reshoots and more rumors of drastic changes to tone, story and pacing as its studio attempts an in-motion course correction. So, no matter how good the film was going to be, there was nothing that could’ve stopped “Justice League” feel somewhat like a mess. In fact, it’s a straight-up miracle it isn’t a bigger one.

After the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) and his newfound ally Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) assemble a team of heroes and outcasts consisting of The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Bruce Wayne brings the team together as he knows of a coming alien threat called Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), who leads an army of Parademons on a search for three ancient items called Motherboxes that are scattered across Earth. But eventually, Batman realizes that to fully combat this threat, he will be needing Superman more than ever to save the planet.

The film is a decidedly mixed bag, and a majority of the positives feel as if they’ve come from Whedon’s end, while the bad and by that, I mean “really bad” clearly come from Snyder and WB when they were coming up with the film. But that doesn’t mean Whedon doesn’t have any blame on himself either. While it’s nowhere near as bad as “MOS”, “BVS” or “SS” were, it’s also a thousand times less interesting due to Whedon scaling back and cutting out all the bizarre gonzo bad decisions that characterized its predecessors, but keeping all the boring corporate Hollywood bad decisions.

On the acting side of things, Gal Gadot is still fun as Wonder Woman, though she’s given very little to work with here. Superman is the best thing in the film and that is mainly due to most of the scenes with Cavill being done by Whedon, and as a result, freed by the grasps of Snyder, brooding bore of a being that we had in previous film, Cavill is free to give a performance that is reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s Superman (a.k.a. the best Superman). It almost makes you wish for Cavill to return so he can play this version of Superman for a full two hours. Ray Fisher also has presence that keeps Cyborg from being a dull.

The rest though, ugh. Outside the Batsuit, Affleck looks like he’s literally eyeing the exit, Flash is a whiny, annoying, weightless Millennial and Aquaman started off as likable in the beginning, but becomes far too silly as the film goes on that I questioned if this character was even supposed to be the same Aquaman from the comics.

I’m glad that they are taking risks with the source material by doing different interpretations of the characters, but you still need to take the original characters seriously. Also, Ciaran Hinds’ Steppenwolf is easily the WORST villain/character in the entire DC franchise now.

The visuals are also shockingly bad-looking in a lot of spots. If you’ve seen the first wave of trailers compared to the most recent, you can already tell this was originally meant to be slightly more in line with Batman V. Superman’s color palette and has been color-graded and retouched into a COMPLETELY different look.

The problem with that is that things like costumes, sets and props are designed around how they’re going to be shot and lit, so the level of tampering on display here has the effect of highlighting how artificial and stagey it all looks. Although, some of the action beats are well staged, even though they don’t mean anything.

The thinking on the post-production side here clearly seems to have been that releasing a dud is preferable to risking another disaster, and that basically means that you’re watching a film where everything that wasn’t a joke, an action scene or a character striking a dramatic pose for their merchandising stills just doesn’t exist.

Functionally, Justice League is the cinematic equivalent of a cheap fiber supplement- it has no taste, no texture and it’s mainly designed to pass harmlessly through the plumbing and kind of make you feel like you saw something.

3 stars out of 5

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