When the world is held under catastrophic threat by Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds) and his army of Parademons, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit more superheroes including Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to help save the day.
The journey for the big-screen version of Justice League has been a long, bumpy ride that stretched way back ten years ago when Mad Max director George Miller once attached to the project. Back then, it was known as Justice League: Mortal which would feature D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Armie Hammer as Batman and Megan Gale as Wonder Woman. But then came the writer’s strike, which resulted in subsequent production delays. The movie was eventually abandoned and the initial summer 2009 release date failed to materialise altogether.
Fast forward to 2017, the long-gestating Justice League has finally arrived. But it was not without its own behind-the-scenes problem as well. It all happened when original director Zack Snyder forced to step down due to family tragedy and Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron) took over to oversee the movie’s post-production as well as subsequent expensive reshoots. While reshoots are commonplace in most big-budget Hollywood productions, the fact that Justice League gets trimmed down into a 2-hour running time bothers me the most.
For a superhero team-up movie that needs to develop Batman and Wonder Woman as well as introduce The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, how is it a 2-hour movie even considered sufficient? Sure, Bryan Singer has once proven that he could achieve an effectively-told ensemble superhero movie under two-hour length (104 minutes, to be exact). While I really wish the studio head’s (business) decision from Warner Bros. to shorten the movie’s length could prove me otherwise, the end result isn’t as hopeful as I wanted it to be. Don’t get me wrong. Justice League is not an outright bad movie, but it wasn’t particularly great either.
But after the critical and financial success of Wonder Woman earlier this summer, I’m positive that the studio has finally headed to the right direction following the terribly mixed results of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad last year. Yes, I may have been one of the minorities who actually enjoyed the critically-divisive Man of Steel a lot.
Back to Justice League, it was obvious this 2-hour version looks like a dumbed-down superhero team-up movie made accessible for general audiences. Even the plot is nothing more than your garden-variety premise involving “a group of superheroes team up to defeat their common enemy from an impending doom”. Then, there’s the weak point about Steppenwolf. Although Ciaran Hinds is an inspiring choice, his role as the movie’s main antagonist feels cartoonish and doesn’t even look intimidating enough. And for a movie that focuses on a large-scale invasion, the stakes are surprisingly low.
The CGI is also a mixed bag, while the climactic finale where the Justice League team take down Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons feels both rushed and messy. This got me thinking. Has it become somewhat a habit for a DCEU movie to mess up the third act? It already happened in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and yes… even Wonder Woman. Another issue here is Danny Elfman, who replaced Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL for the music score. On paper, Elfman seems like a worthy replacement. Besides, who could have forgotten his memorable score in Tim Burton’s Batman back in 1989? Unfortunately, his work here is awfully generic to the point he needs to rely on a few callbacks to his own Batman theme.
Fortunately, not everything is hopeless in Justice League. It was a relief to see Zack Snyder made the right choice of ditching the handheld style seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in favour for a more stylised approach, complete with his signature slow-motion action sequences. The only flaw here is that some of the action sequences tend to frame in a tight close-up shot.
Although the plot originally written by Chris Terrio is mostly a letdown, the additional screenwriting input by Joss Whedon does save the movie from being a total disaster. If you are familiar with his work in the past, Whedon’s snappy dialogues and some of the lighthearted moments are thankfully on point. The characters, particularly the interactions between the Justice League team members, are blessed with the kind of bouncy vibes that isn’t all doom and gloom for a change.
Now, the cast. Ben Affleck is adequate enough as Batman and it’s nice to see him let loose once in a while. Gal Gadot, who made such a great impression in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and again in Wonder Woman, continues to display her winning charm in this movie. As for the newcomers, both Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher shine in their respective supporting roles as Aquaman and Cyborg. But it was Ezra Miller who surprised the most with his scene-stealing performance as Barry Allen/The Flash.
Even though Justice League is far from a great superhero team-up movie, it still does its job as a decent piece of blockbuster entertainment. Remember not to leave your seats yet as there will be a mid-credit and a post-credit teaser.