Justice League – Film Review by David Minogue
Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
Cinematography by Fabian Wagner
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, J.K. Simmons, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, Ciarán Hinds, Diane Lane
One of the aspects of modern superhero movies is the assumption by their filmmakers that audiences have already seen the previous movies depicting their characters. Such is the case with the release of Justice League which follows on from the previous events presented in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). When Marvel’s The Avengers was released in 2012 it was the sixth film in the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was preceded by stand-alone films for four of its main superheroes; Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. The DC Extended Universe series has to date featured five films in total of which only two have been stand-alone character films. The DCEU began in 2013 with the release of Man of Steel which introduced Superman once again in cinema. It was directed by Zack Snyder whose style and tone also dominated the look of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Due to a personal tragedy in his life Snyder did not direct all of Justice League and the director of The Avengers Joss Whedon helped complete this film. Snyder is given sole director credit in Justice League but aspects of Whedon’s style and tone in his writing and direction that helped make The Avengers a success can be witnessed in parts of Justice League.
Justice League is the second DCEU film released this year following the financial and critical success of Wonder Woman which grossed over $821 million at the international box office. A second stand-alone Wonder Woman film is due in 2019 once again directed by Patty Jenkins whose own style of filmmaking differed substantially from Snyder’s. Justice League was originally going to be almost three hours long but has now been reduced to two hours. It begins with a reference to Superman and then quickly places Batman and Wonder Woman in separate action scenes. It then establishes the alien military leader Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) as the villain and his quest to find three mother boxes located around Earth. Once again power and world domination are the ultimate goals of the antagonist. Bruce Wayne/ Batman (Ben Affleck) works with Diana Prince/ Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to assemble a group of superheroes to fight Steppenwolf and his army of flying insect like Parademons. The Flash/ Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Aquaman/ Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg/ Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) all featured in cameo roles in Batman vs Superman. In Justice League their back stories which all involve their individual relationship with a parent are briefly introduced. Each of these newer characters would have greatly benefitted from having their own origin stories told first in separate stand-alone films. A huge part of the excitement about The Avengers was having all of the superheroes in one film.
Without Superman the onus is on Batman to act as the leader of Justice League though it is obvious in this film that Wonder Woman could easily assume this role. Never in any depiction of Batman on screen has he been more reliant on others including Alfred (Jeremy Irons) to save the day. The tropes of various Batman films including the Batcave, a Batmobile and the Bat signal all feature but there is no real sense of thrill in their depictions. In both the MCU and DCEU series of films it is the villain that is often the least successfully depicted. Thor: Ragnarok got its villains right recently with Hela and Surtur but Steppenwolf is less successful. Part of this is because the Parademons are more frightening than he is. They each look more like a villain Spider-Man would fight against in a Marvel film. The other reason is that Steppenwolf never looks anything but CGI even though he is ably voiced in a performance capture role by Ciarán Hinds. One of the great things about the Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) films, when they were first presented on screens, is that when a civilian was in danger the audience often felt they were that person on screen. In 2017 peril is still being depicted by a child saying the word ‘Papa!’ as is the case of a random family placed in the middle of the film’s narrative.
The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg all individually make more than enough of an impression to justify their own stand-alone movies with Aquaman the first to be released in Christmas of 2018. If any actor looks like he was always meant to play a superhero it is Jason Moama whose physicality dominates the screen whenever he appears. Because of the storyline he is out of the water for a lot of the film so it will be thrilling to see him in his proper domain next year. As ever much of the action sequences are fight scenes but there at least two that are stand outs. There is some truly awful dialogue in this film but that point can be applied to many films in the superhero genre. Justice League is the result of the merging of two directors ideas of how superheroes should be depicted on screen. It is not progressive in the way that Wonder Woman was but even with its flaws it is still pure escapist cinema.