Movie Review: ‘JUSTICE LEAGUE’ – DC continues its path to recovery

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

JUSTICE LEAGUE

Rated PG-13, 119 minutes.
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben AffleckGal GadotJason MomoaEzra MillerRay FisherHenry CavillAmy AdamsDiane LaneJ.K. SimmonsJeremy IronsAmber HeardConnie Nielsen and Ciarán Hinds

Despite the critical and commercial success of WONDER WOMAN earlier this year, the DC cinematic universe still has a lot of healing to do. After the lukewarm MAN OF STEEL, and flat out dumpster fires that are BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and SUICIDE SQUAD, fans of DC Comics will pretty much accept anything mildly decent with open arms. Fortunately for them, JUSTICE LEAGUE is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Set shortly after the events of DAWN OF JUSTICE, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) is determined to make amends for the loss of Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) by tracking down the so-called “meta-humans” of the world to form a team of heroes and stand in the way of the evil Steppenwolf (a motion captured performance by Ciarán Hinds).

The cast is nothing short of a dream team. Affleck’s turn as the caped crusader in DAWN OF JUSTICE was arguably one of the more likable aspects of a deeply troubled film, and the same can be said here. Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in full force with the glowing confidence of having been in the only good movie of the franchise thus far. Gadot once again proves that she was born to play this part and simply shines in every scene. Additionally, Henry Cavill finally finds his footing in the role of Superman and truly feels like the beacon of hope the world needs.

Newcomers to the team include Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Of the three, Ezra Miller steals nearly every scene with his childlike wonder and awkward social graces as The Flash. Always one to break the tension regardless of whether or not it’s the best time, Miller brings a much needed sense of humor and levity to an otherwise dreary story.

Aquaman and Cyborg are certainly enjoyable for their live-action debut, but are easily the least developed of the group. Aquaman is given some opportunities to flesh out his character to more than the “tough guy” of the group, but in the end, feels somewhat underdeveloped. Cyborg’s main conflict is his lack of understanding in how to control his powers, which is never really resolved in a way for the audience to understand. This is just another example of how previous standalone films for these characters would have made all the difference.

The film is at its absolute most fun when we see the League working together. Moments of confusion as to what exactly is going on are few and far between, in spite of some often under-polished computer generated images. Zack Snyder has always been a visual director, and he is clearly in his element when the fists start flying.

Audiences who felt Hans Zimmer’s musical score for BATMAN V SUPERMAN was regrettably uninspired will be thrilled to hear that BATMAN (1989) composer Danny Elfman knocks it out of the park with JUSTICE LEAGUE. Without diving too deep into spoilers, Elfman’s score is brimming with references to existing hero themes from multiple composers that will leave fans grinning from ear to ear.

For those who have not followed the chaotic behind the scenes saga of the film, it’s important to note that  Snyder chose to exit the project during its final months of production due to a personal tragedy for him and his family. With extensive reshoots still needed and nearly all of the editing still to be finalized, writer-director Joss Whedon (THE AVENGERS) was chosen to come in see it through to the end.

Since news of the shift in directors dropped, there has been one glaring question on everyone’s mind: Can you tell what parts are Snyder and what are Whedon’s? The answer turns out to be somewhere between “yes” and “no.” There are some scenes that have Whedon’s signature brand of cheeky humor written all over them. But outside of two or three minor gags, the transition is relatively seamless.

JUSTICE LEAGUE is by no means without flaws. Some of Whedon’s contributions are not able to stick the landing. There does come a point when a hero punctuating an action scene with a snappy one-liner begins to border on obnoxious. Additionally, the villainous Steppenwolf is rarely given moments to earn his status as a world dominator. Sure, he is a formidable foe for the heroes on screen, but ultimately amounts up to be little more than a generic CGI comic book bad guy who wants to rule the universe because “reasons.” Say what you will about 2013’s MAN OF STEEL, but at least Michael Shannon’s General Zod had some depth.

JUSTICE LEAGUE is not perfect, but it is a darn good step in the right direction. Its story is weak and forgettable, but the film is saved by its thrilling action beats and genuine sense of camaraderie between its characters.

Grade: B+

JUSTICE LEAGUE opens nationwide on Friday, Nov. 17.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.