Following the death of Superman, Batman (Ben Affleck) has suspicions that Earth is suddenly vulnerable to an attack from aliens now that our greatest protector is gone. To that end, he and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) set out to recruit other super powered heroes to stand guard against such an impeding invasion from intergalactic despot Steppenwolf. As a prelude to destruction, Steppenwolf is searching the planet for three objects of power known as Mother Boxes. But as he and Wonder Woman struggle to get their team to work together, Batman begins to conceive of a plan wherein he could use one of the Mother Boxes to restore Earth’s greatest champion.
Justice League is a film that genre fans will be debating this week, next month and for some time to come. The film’s fractured production – with original director Zack Snyder leaving to attend to family issues leading to fan favorite writer/director Joss Whedon stepping in to oversee an extensive period of reshoots – will have many dissecting which filmmaker contributed what to the final product. While that is a worthwhile discussion to have, we are still left with what to do with the stitched together Frankenstein’s monster of a film we are left with. To wit, Justice League is a far better film than it has a right to be. It’s not a great film, but it does managed to be at least entertaining in moments and tell a story that more or less hangs together.
That is not to say that there isn’t evidence that film traveled a rocky road from shooting to silver screen. There are indeed many scars evident from the reconstructive surgery that Justice League has undergone. Those scars are most evident in the jarring editing of an early scene. We see Bruce Wayne looking for Aquaman, aka Arthur Curry, amongst the patrons of a bar in a remote Nordic fishing village. Bruce enters the bar and in the space of a cut he has moved from the doorway to across the room, addressing the patrons. Suddenly, Arthur is there, replying to Bruce, though the film has not previously established him in the room. We don’t even see Arthur emerging from the crowd, he’s just suddenly, magically present and chatting away. The result just feels sloppy.
Justice League bounces around alot in the beginning, moving across the globe and even under the sea as we are introduced to our heroes. The problem is that the film doesn’t really take the time to establish for the audience each new locale, leaving us potentially disconnected from what is happening. Eventually, things settle down a bit from there, though the film stumbles at another moment featuring the return of a character. This should have felt awe inspiring and triumphant, but instead felt somewhat perfunctory and thrown away.
The big problem is that as a film, Justice League doesn’t have any real ebb and flow. Things happen in rapid, steady succession without any time for the audience to absorb what has happened before the film moves on to the next point in the story. It has a lot of ground to cover and you better be up for getting through it all as quickly as possible. The executive mandate to have the film come in at exactly two hours in length is most likely to blame here and if the film was allowed to come in a few minutes longer it would have a bit more room to breathe and flow better.
On the plus side, Ben Affleck is allowed to add a bit more depth to his character and Gal Gadot manages to give some life to an underwritten character arc for her Wonder Woman. The film also manages to establish the three new heroes joining the group as actual characters and not just quick cameos in other franchise installments. Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Ezra Miller as the Flash especially seem to be enjoying themselves, and that makes one anticipate their inevitable solo films all the more. Also, seemingly enjoying himself for what looks to be the first time is Henry Cavill as the newly resurrected Superman.
Is this the best of the Warner Brothers DC Comics superhero films? No not by a long shot. That distinction is still held by this summer’s Wonder Woman. But Justice League does go a long way in striking a better tone for the overall franchise. It’s a good zag back from the dismal tonal zig that Snyder had brought to the previous films. And dare I say it gives one hope that future installments will be even better.