director: Zack Snyder & Josh Whedon (Uncredited)
writers: Chris Terrio & Joss Whedon
starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller
genre: Action | Comics
released: 16 November 2017 (Australia, Germany & Greece), 17 November 2017 (USA)
The best thing that could be said about this film is that there wasn't anything to hate about it and thankfully there wasn't any hype going into it. So, the mediocrity that we were all fed was somewhat acceptable, as we expected nothing more or less. However, that still doesn't mean that DC are off the hook, who instead of sticking to the Snyder vision and improving on it, went the Marvel direction of silly jokes, brighter tone and end credit easter eggs. Making the divide between DC and Marvel films even greater not only financially, but now also creatively.
Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) taking the bulk of the guilt over Superman's (Henry Cavill) death in 'BvS', decides with Diana aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to form a team to counter the threats the world may face without him. This is just in time when Superman's death started a chain reaction of events, where the world will be invaded by alien creatures in search of powerful artifacts hidden on the planet Earth.
Right of the bat, we have to mention that while the plot and villain chosen were generic, it did make matters easy in bringing all the heroes together to fight for a common cause. The issue was that by the end of the film it was easier done then said. With the villain being easily beaten, with no real repercussions for anyone of the characters and also no hint at what is there to come (not counting end credits scene). One also could make the argument that this was a good move for the future the DC films because jumping the gun plot wise such as with 'BvS' you could only make matters worse. Also, most of the problems with the film don't come from the characters or plot, they all more or less come down to timing for some of the story developments, effects, change of style and presentation of the exposition.
It's amazing that while 'BvS' & 'Man of Steel' had devastating issues that many of us could not forgive, they at least had a raw emotion to them and a core narrative propelling them forward. In addition, they also had great effects, music and performances. It didn't matter that the characters were on paths that made no sense or acted in ways uncharacteristic to the source material or that they were super long films. We all still wanted to see that path, with moments that did greatly shine on an individual basis. Here the villain as mentioned is generic, highly CGI portrayed and the mythos around them and the mother-boxes is eerily 'LOTR' similar and never of any real interest. At one point in the film Wonder Woman is giving the Galadriel speech to Batman and its difficult not to see the parallels and laugh at them.
However, I do want to put a giant emphasis on the effects and look of the film as its strange to why exactly they look so subpar. Now this could be attributed to a small amount to Snyder's departure (link) and the change of tone in the film. From a dark and dour universe to a slightly more upbeat one, because of the change of director. But, even with that there is still way too many red flags in terms the overall quality of the film and to attribute them all to this change would be a mistake. Not to mention that its widely known that DC with their last films have panicked to change things last second for fear of a box office bomb.
But, in regards to the main villain of the film Steppenwolf who lacked any detail or natural presence on screen, is almost the perfect example of why this film failed. As the production were so detached with what would make it a better film and were in turn detaching their actors from each other (more on this in the next paragraph). This is a main villain that should have embodied fear in the rest of the characters and awe to the audience, but instead was a glorified lackey. One reason for this is the bad writing, but more than that is the effects and the choices made for how to portray the character on screen. As you can accept B-Movie villains who ham it up and even in a production that ultimately with the change of director wanted to be exactly that. Instead, neither does he have moments to be silly or even to be menacing. He just is a villain that happens to get to places at the right time and is invading Earth just cause.
Back though to the issue of the production and how they portrayed the character on screen. Which was to select a highly qualified actor in Ciaran Hinds and to surprisingly let him play the part in motion capture. However, never actually occupy a scene with a fellow actor psychically on set. As all the main actors never had the chance to exchange dialogue with him until after the film was shot. This mistake from the production created an environment where the lack of interaction with others must of not helped their performances or the overall tone of the film (link). Not only that, compare this to the new 'Planet of the Apes' series that all have on set motion capture scenes with interaction of the main characters and with the result of audiences completely buying the fictional reality. Here not for a second do you feel a give and take between the villain and the heroes and even worse is that if he did motion capture the character, why did he look so badly designed and animated on screen? How is that we can go to the 'Apes' films or even go back to 'Jurassic Park' in 1993 and be astonished at the sight of Dinosaurs and Apes and then witness Steppenwolf and be mind boggled at lack of craftsmanship. As there was more facial movement and recognition with the Hulk in 'Thor 3' than this guy. However, not all the film's effects mind you are this disappointing. The minion flying bugs weren't that badly animated in comparison. Although, most of the film's effects are still a letdown and another great example is the scene where Aquaman is stopping flooding water in the sewer (worse water effect than Pixar's 'Finding Nemo' from 2003). Also, bear in mind that this is a multi-million dollar blockbuster that is selling you on big effects and set pieces. Which makes matters worse when you find out that they spent money to digitally remove Henry Cavil's mustache from the film, but not on Steppenwolf's face craftsmanship!
MAJOR SPOILERS will be mentioned.
Next to the abysmal effects and "colorful" cinematography has to be the choice of where certain events were placed in the film and how alternatively, elsewhere would have made more sense. First, it was almost a certainty that Superman would return and most guessed it would have been this film. As if anyone saw the trailers it looked like some crucial part of the film was missing, plus many elements crucial to the plot felt absent. The question with his return was not when he would come back, but more how and why. However, it ended up that his return wasn't the biggest issue, it was the timing in the film that is questionable and the fact that certain things didn't follow after the fact. As you could have done one of three things with his return. First, not bring him back and have the Justice League be a team without him and battle Steppenwolf in order to prove themselves. Two, have Superman come back at the very end due to the Mother-box waking him up too late, so their is a late twist and some suspense. Three, do exactly what happened in the film, but with something extra at the end. Which could have been Superman following Steppenwolf into the portal to confront his true master Darkseid. Then there would have been the great big secret of the film for more to come later in the series, while also getting an intense brooding moment of animosity between Superman and Darkseid, but it seems DC/Warner didn't think that far ahead and that is worrying.
In regards, to the characters and how they were handled individually. It must be said that the character that was unknown and most risky of them all Cyborg, may have been the best character out of them all. The performance by Ray Fisher is minimal with traces of charm and pain that works based on his character being a unison of robot and flesh. As he doesn't know the full extent of himself yet operationally, but also let's say spiritually. With his chemistry with the rest of the team being great and in particular with the Flash who is his joking buddy, while Wonder Woman being his mentor and guiding light. The weakest of them all was Batman with with the machismo and vengeance in Ben Affleck's performance from 'BvS' being absent this time around. Batman is now low key, with many big moments in the film being played down and Bruce Wayne the character seeming not invested in the events to his full capacity. All this must stem from Ben Affleck's performance and it's rare in the film do you see him making an effort to either impress or play off one of the other characters. Which is not surprising when you read the recent reports of Ben Affleck wanting out of the DCU. Next is Wonder Woman who didn't shine as much as she did in her own solo film or carry the mystique and action of 'BvS', but at least had some touching moments with Cyborg and Bruce Wayne. Flash on the other hand was handled perfectly in terms of the exact time given to his personal story to balance out the superhero action. The issue was that because he was the comic relief of the film, it seemed that they pushed him to be too goofy at times. As if they were saying to the actor to ham it up constantly and because of this we never saw who Barry Allen was beside the goofiness and baggage of him having his Dad in jail. He pretty much was a cardboard character despite of having a great backstory. Which makes you question why they made his character into such a loner, weirdo that just eats pizza and makes awkward jokes. As there is so much more to this character and evidence enough is the 'Flash' TV Show. Finally, there is Aquaman who works as the surfer dude, but had effects that didn't help him out at all, while his backstory was kept to a bare minimum and also was lukewarm in delivery.
Another place where the movie disappoints is in its musical score. The loss of the composer of 'Man of Steel' & 'BvS' Hans Zimmer is felt greatly and its another case where the change of director changed too many aspects of what the film was originally intended to be. Junkie XL which might not have been the best pick for the film's composer originally was replaced by Danny Elfman. Who we all admire for his past work and signature scores. However, he is quite the jump from Zimmer in tone and style and DC should have thought through more the decision of transitioning the series to a more brighter future in such a way. As there isn't much to love with Elfman's score and the honest truth is I barely remembered it after the film. Nothing about it jumps to you and the only thing you will remember is the Wonder Woman theme which is a godsend and a slight cue of his old Batman theme that creeped in there. Furthermore, if you take a moment and check out his score on YouTube you will see that it isn't terrible, but not noticeable in the film or as memorable as the previous films scores or his own past work.
Also, they are other things noticeable in this film compared to the previous DC films that should be mentioned. One for example is that while the Justice League is running around saving the day and Steppenwolf is wrecking havoc. We never hear a peep from the world governments in concern to this or from the U.S. government on the Justice League entry on the Krypton ship or the grave robbing of Superman's body. Add to that we never get the world's reaction to Superman's return. It seems like the film was more focused on that one narrative that it forgot that other factors could be affected by it and that these heroes do live in a living breathing world. Luckily, this is still a comic book film and kids will not even notice these little things.
'Justice League' was mildly satisfying at times, but in the end uneven and still inadequate to be fit for mass market release due to the various issues in the film from sub par effects, drastic change of tone and generic plot and villain. This is not an anti DC dig and by all means Marvel isn't perfect, but something is not going right in the house of DC with the amount decisions made solely based on panic and the lack of planning compared to their competitors.