Review: Justice League (Spoilers)
Directed by Zack Snyder with re-focusing and re-structuring in the hands of Joss Whedon, Justice League tells the story of heroes coming together in a post-Superman world to fight Steppenwolf, an evil, earth-conquering hellion whose appearance may bring to mind Tim Curry’s villain from Legend.
Opening scenes can tell you a lot about a film. While they might not make or break a film the way a bad ending can, they do establish the tone and can clue you into the experience you are about to have. I find it best to keep the number of opening scenes down to a minimum with a singular focus that gets the ball rolling, and no matter what you do, don’t have multiple scenes that make the film feel like it’s starting over multiple times in row, which is the first ten minutes of Justice League in a nutshell.
The film has three major opening scenes and right off the bat, something feels weird. Entering Justice League, we are greeted by Superman, a new Superman, same actor, different personality. This first scene, a found footage flashback filmed from a mobile phone, was clearly a late minute addition, a supplemental “band-aid,” if you will, filmed during the reshoots in order to tell the audience, “Hey guys! You shouted, we listened. Here is is the Superman you want!” Ultimately, the scene doesn’t quite work, because it just feels like the added scene it is, simply tacked on to the start of the film with little finesse. And after it passes, the film simply starts over again. This time, it’s a scene with Batman, which is followed by, you guessed it, another opening scene, the opening title sequence.
The arrangement of these scenes are quite awkward and very telling of the changes made in post. They simply don’t fit together, editorially nor thematically, at least in their current order. Superman’s scene is altogether superfluous, but it might have worked had it led directly into the main titles, which focuses on a world without Superman. Having said that, it feels like the film was supposed to jump right into the main title sequence, right after the Warner Bros. and DC logos. (It just has that feel.) Batman’s scene, on the other hand, is amazing, but it belongs after these scenes, not sandwiched between them. This is definitely consistent with the first act of the film, maybe even the entire film as a whole, as you definitely get a sense that a lot of scenes were shuffled around and/or completely changed, with new ones sprinkled throughout.
There are a lot of clues to suggest the film went through many changes on its road to get here. When it was first announced, it was called Justice League Part One and presumably had a cliffhanger or suggestive ending that led us into the second part. The title was eventually dropped, but not too long after, a teaser poster was released. It featured Auquaman holding his triton and used the slogan “Unite the Seven.” (At no point in the final film are there seven members of the Justice League…) The trailers also included a lot of scenes which aren’t in the film and there were a lot of rumors suggesting Superman would return to life evil, just like Pet Semetary, as Barry Allen suggests in the film. And it just happens that Henry Cavill’s Superman is the biggest indicator of editorial discourse throughout the film.
During the time of reshoots, Cavill was filming the sixth Mission: Impossible film, in which his character dons a mustache that he couldn’t shave for Justice League’s reshoots, so Warner Bros. commissioned a CGI upper lip and once you see it, you can’t unsee it. This is in nearly all of Superman’s scenes, but, and this is very telling, it isn’t evident in for most of a scene where, let’s just say, he isn’t very fond of our heroes. Interesting, very interesting…
It’s also worth noting that the Knightmare sequence from Batman v Superman (which plays more like a flash-forward than an actual nightmare) heavily suggested a darker turn for the Man of Steel in this film, ultimately resulting in something that would require the Flash to go back in time and warn Bruce, an element that doesn’t play out in this film, which considering how my curiosity was piqued with that foreshadowing, I’m genuinely disappointed it never came to be. Although, to be fair, in this film, Batman does use the “key” Barry mentioned in his warning.
You may have noticed that I’m focusing more on the editing and the reshoots than any other aspect in the film. That’s because these elements had a significant impact on my experience with the film. In an interview with The Washington Times, producer Charles Roven suggested they only reshot 15 to 20 percent of the film, but anyone who has ever edited knows just how big of an impact 15 to 20 percent can make.
CGI mouths aside, I did have a blast with the characters. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen is awkward and amusing, delivering humor without turning the film into a parody. Jason Momoa brings a level of rough, drunk charm to Aquaman, a character who appears to have a lot of fun doing battle, saying phrases like “I dig it!” and “My man!” Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is in a way tragic and sad as a man who was brought back to life by his father and doesn’t know what he is or what he will become. Gal Gadot charms us again as Wonder Woman. I have a feeling her version of the character will live on forever just as Christopher Reeve’s has with Superman. Of course, I really do enjoy Ben Affleck as Batman. Hopefully, we will get another definitive outing with him as the character before he departs from the role. I also like Cavill as Superman. You could really see hope in his character during Man of Steel, which was tested by a hopeless world in Batman v Superman. I would’ve loved to have seen Snyder’s original intention for the character in this film. It’s very clear there was an arc for Superman, a character’s journey with a destination that we will no longer see. However, he does show he can be charming as the all-smiling Superman for Whedon’s version of the character. But Superman is so much more than smiles, even in Richard Donner’s version. (Coincidentally, Donner never got to fully realize his journey for Superman, as his fingerprint was mostly removed from Superman II.)
Making a return to the DC universe is composer Danny Elfman, whose reprisal to the world of Batman is something I’ve been looking forward to since he departed the character along with director Tim Burton and actor Michael Keaton. His iconic theme does make a comeback, unfortunately it is brief and drowned out by the sound effects. He also retools John Williams’ Superman theme for a cameo, which struck my heart for one particular moment. Elfman also composed a lively theme for The Flash television series from the 90s, but created a new theme here, one that is fairly good, but oddly similar to his score from Ang Lee’s Hulk. Elfman is still a good composer even to this day and his score is serviceable, if not pleasant to the ears, but the thing is, if i were to be honest, it’s on the average side and rarely comes to life during the film the way his old scores did. The thing that made his classic scores so great, the thing that makes any composer great is that you could hear his personality in his music. I miss the eccentric, quirky styles of Danny Elfman’s past. Get your oogie boogie groove back, Danny!
All in all, there seems to be two different visions for Justice League clashing against each other narratively, editorially, stylistically, and tonally: Snyder’s, which is darker and more narratively and thematically driven, and Whedon’s, which is audience driven, one that is stylized in visuals and one that is stylized through dialogue, one where Superman is a darker character with flaws and one where he’s a more jovial, heroic character. But neither visions are fully realized, but instead copy n’ pasted together to form an incomplete thought.
If I were to be completely honest, I much rather would have seen Snyder’s vision, good or bad, completely realized, with a helping of Whedon down the road with his Batgirl film. And considering the lackluster box office, the after-thought pandering (and money spent in doing so) didn’t even pay off. So it might as well have been Snyder’s version.
The tough thing about reviews is sometimes the experience sounds more negative than it really is. I did have fun with Justice League, I swear, and I do think it is worth seeing. If I were to gauge it’s placement using other films, it’s on the level of Superman II and Batman Forever, flawed, but fun.