‘Justice League’ MOVIE REVIEW: Dynamic DC Team-Up Offset by CG Over Substance

Image credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment

For some, highlighting DC‘s failings has become an automated response to their cinema releases, and I am tired of the same old rhetoric. “Marvel do it better” (Yada yada yada). “Man of Steel was bad.” (Yada yada). “Batman v Superman was awful.” (Yada). And “Suicide Squad… let’s not go there.” So thank goodness for Wonder Woman, the beacon of light and the saving grace of the franchise thus far.

So, here we are and all that has passed finally culminates in Justice League, the long awaited assembly of DC superheroes who band together to save the world – and at a welcome 119-minute running time. Where Man of Steel and Batman v Superman suffered from bloated durations, Justice League is a much less arduous sitting; the DC movie universe has given us one less reason to whinge.

Image credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment

Following the events of BvS, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is faced with a new foe by the name of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a supervillain whose sole objective is to conquer everything… like, seriously, that’s it. He just has an insatiable penchant for conquering. With the help of Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman, with Gal Gadot reprising the role), Wayne pulls together the first members of the Justice League, which includes Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). As Steppenwolf attempts to gain control of three mother boxes – cubes that hold overwhelming power to heal or destroy – the League must find the strength to bring their enemy down.

Zack Snyder returns to the director’s chair and makes a conscious effort to deliver a character-driven adventure, whereby the surrounding peril serves purely as a means to bring the team together. With a simplistic narrative allowing Snyder to explore each of the characters, he has given himself enough flexibility to grant them equal screen time without them being tokenistic. As such, with the aid of co-writer and Marvel defector Joss Whedon, he has presented a reliable cast of superheroes and showcased their abilities nicely. Their dynamic as a team is strong, and most of the film’s joy is had in their personal interactions.

Affleck heads the team with a vulnerable authority, emphasising Batman’s lack of superpowers and giving him an unexpected sense of humanity. He keenly shares the screen without the need to dominate it, and he embraces the pack mentality. Gadot resumes her Wonder Woman role with ease and, again, proves to be the most rounded of DC’s cinematic characters. She takes charge alongside Batman and guides the others with a compassionate style of leadership, never allowing a “boys club” mentality to manifest itself, while conceding to a cheeky tone of frivolity. Miller, Momoa, and Fisher fill their roles nicely, providing adequate performances and never outbidding each other on screen time.

Image credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment

Sadly, the film comes undone with a rabid and overzealous obsession with digital effects, and whenever the film strays away from the characters the CG-fueled action is piled on… heavily. True to form, much of Snyder’s style threatens to override the substance, which almost costs the film all of its credibility. With a clichéd supervillain without a reasonable purpose, commanding hordes of giant mosquito-like extraterrestrial minions (known as Parademons), the movie spirals into a Saturday morning cartoon tone, with the action unfolding like an episode of Big Bad Beetleborgs (a poor man’s Power Rangers, for the non-90s kids out there). It gets messy, to say the least.

I really want to like DC’s extended universe, and with Wonder Woman keeping my interest piqued, my attention is still hovering. Justice League falls slightly short, but it manages to still work because of Snyder’s/Whedon’s legitimate attempt to recalibrate the franchise with stronger character dynamics.

THE REEL SCORE: 6/10

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Glenn Cochrane resides in Melbourne and is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association. He is the creator of FakeShemp.Net, contributes to various publications, and works creatively with American director Albert Pyun. He recently hosted a series of promotional videos for CBSi and Netflix, and has a weakness for 80's cinema. You can find him on IMDB and through his own personal website: www.glenncochrane.com.