WHAT’S THE DEAL: Super friends Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) team up to battle supernatural baddie Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) in order to save the world, courtesy of director Zack Snyder (and a dollop of Joss Whedon) at the helm.
WHY SEE IT: We’ve been waiting for this superhero moment for what seems like an eternity: A live-action Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and even Cyborg (with a tease of the Green Lantern corps thrown in for good measure) fighting the bad guys side by side on the big screen. Marvel’s AVENGERS got there first and showed us how it could be done, so just to see it finally happen with DC’s most influential comic-book heroes is a pretty damn cool achievement that was way overdue.
JUSTICE LEAGUE — compared to Zack Snyder’s last two DC entries, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and MAN OF STEEL — is mercifully more generous with humorous one-liners and a lighter tone. BvS was an especially dark, somber affair, and credit for the Zoloft boost this time around likely goes to the creative injection of AVENGERS director Joss Whedon, who stepped in to punch up the script, finish the film, and reshoot a percentage of scenes after Snyder had to bow out due to a personal tragedy. Now, our heroes poke fun at each other and display self-effacing qualities (I especially enjoyed the moment in which Momoa’s mysterious Aquaman gets surprisingly open and candid, only to discover that he’s been sitting on Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth). New additions such as Miller’s semi-goofy Flash and Fisher’s complicated Cyborg get plenty of moments to strut their stuff, and a resurrected Superman even has a sunnier disposition, something sorely lacking in Cavill’s other two broody-face films. I also enjoyed Danny Elfman’s rousing score, which incorporated a taste of his original Tim Burton BATMAN theme and paid homage to John Williams’ SUPERMAN theme, adding a familiar flourish to the overall proceedings.
THE FLICK FLACK: Now that the world’s finest superheroes have finally assembled (several years after Marvel came along and stole DC’s thunder with their shared cinematic universe), the long-awaited JUSTICE LEAGUE movie really should be amazing, but it is sadly a creative disappointment. Admittedly for me, it’s difficult to measure this film on its own merits when it lives in the shadow of the AVENGERS’ phenomenal success and feels a bit like a copycat. Similar to Disney’s JOHN CARTER box-office mishap a few years back, JUSTICE LEAGUE is an intellectual property with top-rate genre credentials that was there first (in print), but the movie adaptation came way too late, years after other artists mined its influential ideas and delivered similar, sometimes superior products.
I wanted to love this movie. It has considerable, capable talent involved. Yet there’s a slapdash feel to JUSTICE LEAGUE; it comes off as rushed and half-baked. The pivotal moments in which these characters come together to fight their common enemies — the real reason we’re watching in the first place — should send a tingle down our spines, like the snippets on display in the film’s trailer; instead they are unexceptional, and too consistently devolve into a frenzied blur of CGI-overload. And this super group deserves a villain truly worthy of their union, but the all-CGI Steppenwolf (surprisingly unconvincing motion-capture work) has no distinctive personality — his every threat bromidic, his every punch lacking kinetic weight, his army of Parademons seemingly disconnected from his direct command. After experiencing JUSTICE LEAGUE I should have felt exhilaration. Instead, I just felt numb. These beloved superheroes from my childhood deserve better, and I can only hope that they get their cinematic justice one day soon.
NOTABLE NOTES: Compared to Marvel’s AVENGERS franchise, Warner Bros. could have been first out of the gate with a JUSTICE LEAGUE film, a compelling project that was ready to go in 2007 with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD director George Miller at the helm. Now that would have been epic. But the studio pulled the plug at the last minute thanks to a combination of rewrite requests before a Writer’s Guild of America strike, complications regarding the Australian shoot location permissions, casting competition with WB’s established Batman and Superman franchises — big and small screen — and so on.
Titled JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL, the film had incredible costumes and props by Weta Workshop and was intended to be filmed using motion-capture tech. It had some intriguing casting choices, with Armie Hammer as Batman, D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Common as Green Lantern, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter. The story focused on Batman’s creation of a robot army intended to keep the peace, only to have a deadly AI revolt on his hands. Sounds a lot like the plot of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, doesn’t it? Except this DC movie was planned for release almost a full decade before that Marvel sequel. Alas, JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL was never meant to be. And though that film project died an unfortunate death, we will still reportedly get to see much of the work that went into it, as a documentary about JL: MORTAL is in the works — similar to THE DEATH OF ‘SUPERMAN LIVES’: WHAT HAPPENED?, the film about Tim Burton’s aborted Superman film starring Nicolas Cage.
MORE INFO: http://www.justiceleaguethemovie.com
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