Oh DC, you’ve managed to do it again! What I mean by that is now, for a third time, the DCEU has put out a movie that feels far too soon. There should have been a proper Man of Steel sequel before Batman v Superman. There should have been a solo Batman outing before bringing his rogue gallery to life in Suicide Squad. Justice League feels the same type of incomplete, the result of a panicked studio banking on name appeal instead of following the vision and direction established in Man of Steel.
There’s a sort of desperate nature to how badly Warner Bros. needs something besides Wonder Woman to hit, but they are handling things in an incompetent manner. The biggest problem with Batman v Superman was the editing- the R-rated Ultimate Cut of the film felt like a far more complete movie, even if it required a 3 hour investment. The dark tone was a welcome alternative to the bright, fun. yet ultimately inconsequential, nature of the average Marvel film. Quite frankly, it felt nice to watch a comic movie of that scale that didn’t cater to entertaining children. We got to see Bruce Wayne doing real detective work, Superman portrayed as something less than infallible, plus the badassery of Wonder Woman. I was terribly disappointed at the overwhelmingly negative reception BvS received, but even worse was the ripple effect it had on the films going forward. The well-publicized Suicide Squad reshoots were to brighten the atmosphere and introduce a stronger sense of humor. Had they put that kind of effort into the villain instead, maybe we would have gotten a more coherent film. The same problems occurred with Justice League and, while it’s certainly a good time, there’s still far more in the potential than in the execution.
It’s a shame that we’ll never see the version of Justice League that Zack Snyder intended to show us. Before I dive into what worked, it has to be said that Justice League might be the worst example of editing I’ve seen in theaters. It’s fairly easy to pick out what was initial and what came from reshoots, and it is painfully obvious where scenes were removed for time. The 120 minute run time, a foolish mandate by Warner Bros. still trying to overcompensate, just isn’t enough when presented with a team up film in which half of the team have not been properly introduced. We’re expected to care and be all in with characters we don’t know, and an extra 20 minutes could have helped in developing them. There are some visual issues, some of the effects look unfinished (Superman looked far crisper four years ago) and a few of the sets appear to be made on more of a CW series budget than that of a $200 million blockbuster.
Now that I’ve got the bad out of the way, let’s take a look at what worked, starting with the cast. It’d be a missed opportunity if this is the last outing of Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman without a solo film. He seems to have a grasp on both sides of the coin, something previous versions of the character on film weren’t able to balance. Gal Gadot doesn’t miss a step coming off the heels of her stellar solo film, she seems to have a hold on this character very few saw coming when the casting was announced. This is the second time she steals the show in a group outing, the writers and Ms. Gadot really know the character and that doesn’t seem to change no matter the surrounding circumstances.
Henry Cavill has what is, essentially, an extended cameo, but this is the third time I’ve enjoyed his take on both Clark and Superman. Ezra Miller managed to win me over with his portrayal of the Flash, a character I’ve never really cared for in the past. He harnesses enthusiasm and nervous energy enough to make Barry relatable as a hero. Jason Momoa is a badass and he makes Aquaman into one as well. Unfortunately, we don’t really get a grasp of his skills, history or motivations beyond a few thrown in lines of dialogue. The big plus is that I’m sold on seeing a solo Aquaman film, which is something I absolutely would not have said in the past. Finally, Ray Fisher probably has the hardest acting job as Cyborg. It can’t be easy turning in a solid performance relying on only half of your face, but he manages to do so nicely. Series regulars Amy Adams and Diane Lane are criminally underutilized, but it’s still nice to spend a little time with Lois and Ma Kent.
Another plus is the villain Steppenwolf, played by Ciarán Hinds. Sure, it’s another oversized, special effect reliant baddie, but his motivation is clear and he feels powerful enough that taking on the League isn’t an exaggeration. The parademons introduced in Batman v Superman serve as worthy henchmen and a hint at Darkseid sets up big things for the future. The action sequences are exciting, a bit less intense than Batman v Superman, but they manage to showcase everyone’s abilities well.
All in all, there’s a lot to love and a lot to be left desired in the finished product of Justice League. Going forward, Warner Bros. needs to take a step back and trust the talent they hire to tell the stories they want to tell. Overall, the micromanagement of the series is becoming far more of an Achilles heel than the mixed reactions of the public.