Familiar problems hold back an otherwise solid entry.
Justice League is in an interesting position – it has big shoes to fill, after the phenomenal success of Wonder Woman, but it doesn’t have very much to live up to in terms of DC’s other team-up movies. It’s no secret Suicide Squad was trash , and Batman v. Superman was an unnecessary, grim affair. In this context, Justice League is a success. It got (kind of?) the job done, delivering a mostly watchable, enjoyable, if forgettable Superhero flick in the process, proving that fun, not Suicide Squad level dourness, is the key to a good team-up movie.
The plot is easy and holds your hand – good!
In the wake of Superman’s death, the world is in mourning – the newspapers lament his passing, and we get a funeral/global sadness sequence complete with heartbreaking music and dramatic, sweeping establishing shots (Zack Snyder has always had a flair for the…everything, right?). In the midst of this mourning, a great evil comes to earth, the conquerer of worlds, the taker of universes –
(Ha-ha! Just kidding. It’s this guy -)
Steppenwolf, a distractingly digital demon-puppet-looking thing, comes to earth with his army of bug-aliens to kill and conquer. Seems a little stupid, right?
Given the idiotic level of pointless complexity the other DC films have been given, this movie sorely needed something as simple as a Demon and his bug army, out to destroy the world. It works.
As Steppenwolf (very slowly) makes his way around planet earth, looking for his three “mother” boxes, Bruce Wayne and Diana (very quickly) recruit for a super-team to defeat him.
All of this is very straightforward and very easy to follow, which serves the film’s advantage. It’s when we get into the nitty-gritty than some stuff starts to get exposed – the relative quick-throwing together of the team means that some characters feel incomplete and hollow. Flash’s backstory is flat and un-compelling, and Cyborg’s is typical and predictable (he, in general, tends to be the weakest link throughout the film). Aquaman’s has potential, but it still flounders in the rushed aspect of the story.
Seeing the Justice League together is genuinely awesome.
This movie rides on the coattails of its moments – the compelling ones, the funny ones, the honest ones. Save Wonder Woman, this film has by far the most moments that work of any DC film. The notes that missed by a mile in previous films only missed by a few inches in Justice League, or they actually hit! Credit it to Joss Whedon’s touch, the cast, and the studio finally lightening up the mood.
The only problem with this, however, is that the fact that we have some shining moments to hold on to means there’s a lot in between that brings the film down. The action sequences are still infuriatingly bad, the dialogue in some (non-Whedon, I assume) scenes is laughable, and half of the cast seems superficial. When the film focuses on its side-heroes, it falters, only to be brought up again by scenes that include Batman and Wonder Woman (Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot truly raise their scenes in the film out of mediocrity).
Perhaps the biggest overarching issue of the DC films that not even Wonder Woman could escape is the excessive, narcissistic, bombastic, unnecessary, disgusting, pulverizing, every-other-bad-adjective use of CGI. The fact that the film often looks like a giant video-game, and that every climactic battle sequence in the universe thus far has spiraled into an unwatchable CGI slugfest. Millions of dollars are spent on the digital effects, and they still somehow manage to look weirdly fake. They still haven’t found a way to escape these problems (I don’t know…may just don’t do it? Choreograph a fight scene? Maybe?).
An exceedingly workable, “OK” movie
All of this combines to make a movie that sometimes very watchable, a few times very un-watchable, and often somewhere in between. The characters make sense and fill their roles in the plot, but don’t do anything compelling enough to raise it beyond typical action fare. All of this is a step in the right direction, though, for a franchise that just 8 months ago felt like it might collapse.
See it? Skip it? My first ever “up to you”.
If you love the characters, I’d say it’s worth it.