written by Kate Spencer
So this bat walks into a bar and says to a fish, “Hey, what do you call a fish with no eyes?”
The fish replies, “There are many species and subspecies of fish without working eyes so it’s difficult to categorize them under a single name.”
The bat leaves and they don’t become friends.
It’s no secret that so far I’ve not been a fan of the DCEU. I felt that Man Of Steel didn’t adequately get any of its characters, and I’ve already said what I thought of Batman v Superman. However, while I didn’t get a chance to review Wonder Woman, I thought it was a really great film and I’d rush to the theater to see a sequel. Wonder Woman seemed to be the DCEU course correcting – colors were brighter and more vivid, scenes weren’t five- to ten-minute exposition dumps or philosophical ramblings, and the lead character was actually fun and heroic. Then the trailers for Justice League came out and they actually looked decent, so I went into this film cautiously optimistic.
Here’s what I got: the film is an editing nightmare, the reshoots and two different directors with two vastly different goals are evident, the special effects aren’t great, the villain is weak, and the plot is like something out of a Transformers movie. Buuuuuuut most of the Snyder-staple exposition scenes are gone, the heroes actually act heroic and smile, the colors are brighter where they need to be, and while some parts drag a little, the film never outstays its welcome.
…I think I might like Justice League.
I’m being completely honest when I say that. For its faults, Justice League is making an earnest attempt to listen to fans and critics to fix some of the more glaring faults of Man Of Steel and Batman v Superman. This is a film I would watch again. Maybe not as enthusiastically as Wonder Woman or one of the old Christopher Reeve Superman films (yes, even Superman IV), but if it was on TV, I wouldn’t change the channel.
This film is far from flawless, though. From a technical standpoint, this thing is a disaster. The fingerprints of the reshoots are all over the movie, from scene-to-scene continuity, shot continuity and…well, I’m going to talk about the Superstache. I think at a certain point they realized how expensive the movie and its reshoots were getting, so Warner Bros. just said “good enough”. It’s unfortunate, sure, but none of the stuff I’m about to get into was a deal breaker for me. The other merits of the film shone through, and as was the case with Thor: Ragnarok, the feeling Justice League left me with was the one which heavily influenced how I felt overall. In both cases, that feeling was joy. The little girl who grew up reading comic books got to see the Justice League together in a live action movie, and that was enough in the end.
From here on out, I’m going to be talking major plot details as I go into what was good and what was bad, so if you want to stay relatively spoiler-free, stop reading here. There aren’t any big surprises, but if you don’t want major spoilers, this is the time to bail.
There was one thing that simultaneously saved this film and added a ton of glaring mistakes to it, and that was the extensive reshoots. I would love to sit down with the filmmakers and place a $100 bet that I can pick out what was reshot because to me, it’s glaring. I can even tell you which scenes were mostly done by Zack Snyder and which were done by Joss Whedon, just because I’m that familiar with their work and style. The more dialogue-heavy scenes which feel like they’re supposed to elicit some kind of emotion but typically drag on a bit long are Snyder (like the conversation between Lois and Martha at the Daily Planet), while stuff like Aquaman awkwardly going on about his feelings for several minutes until someone tells him he’s sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso are so Whedon it hurts.
Other times, it’s continuity between shots like Aquaman noticing alien blood on his hand and his glass at a bar, then in a wider shot the blood is gone. There are also minor things like someone’s hair changing between shots in a scene or other tiny things that make shots not quite match up. One of the more bizarre edits is when the League is trying to decide whether they should resurrect Superman and Batman mentions Steve Trevor to Wonder Woman which earns him a shove. Something feels off about the way they go from that to immediately moving back to their original places to continue the conversation. It’s as though scenes weren’t reshot so much as shots themselves were added into scenes.
There’s also a problem with setup and payoff. The film starts with cell phone footage of Superman talking to some civilians and they ask him what his favorite thing about Earth is, and it cuts off there. Sounds like a setup for Superman to later say what he likes most about Earth, right? Nope, never happens. There’s also a family living near the main villain’s lair who fear for their lives as Parademons patrol outside. In one scene, their little girl raids a nearby cupboard for a can of bug spray. Later on, we see her holding the bug spray again. Oh man, she’s going to spray that in a Parademon’s face, isn’t she? She’s going to save Flash or Batman from one of them with bug spray, isn’t she? Nope. Never happens. The bug spray disappears and the little girl only plays a minor part in the finale in that she and her family are rescued by the Flash.
I’ve put it off long enough – let’s talk about the Superstache. Henry Cavill was filming Mission Impossible 6 at the time he was called in for Justice League reshoots. Either per his contract or just Paramount thinking it would be funny, Cavill couldn’t shave a mustache he was sporting for the MI:6 role. So it was on Warner Bros. to find a solution, and their solution was to digitally remove Superman’s mustache. And it looks awful. Gloriously awful. Conan O’Brien has had more convincing “live via satellite” interviews with Bill Clinton than this effect. Some of you may have seen the closeup of Superman where the mouth looks really off. Let me tell you something, it looks much worse in motion. Strangely, that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of Justice League…and if I’m being honest, it probably added to it. There are other bad effects, but none had me trying to suppress giggles every time they were on-screen. I’m not sure which I would have liked better: what we got, or if they had left the mustache in with no explanation at all.
The other major flaw of the movie is the villain. Steppenwolf just isn’t very menacing or interesting to look at. The Parademons are more visually interesting, and frankly Steppenwolf looks like an unfinished effect half the time. His scheme is collecting three Mother Boxes to conquer the Earth because an army of Amazons, Atlanteans, humans, and gods stopped him the last time he tried it. He attacks Themyscira and Atlantis to get two, but the third eludes him because it’s in a much less fortified lab, so he just kidnaps scientists and janitors who work there to…ask them about it? Also he’s weirdly obsessed with the things, often speaking to the boxes in reverence and talking about “Mother!” I don’t know if anyone is going to care enough to make it a meme this time around.
Anyway, the heroes get the third Mother Box first and want to use it to resurrect Superman. So we’ve got a MacGuffin which the bad guy wants so he can destroy the world, but the heroes are going to use it instead to resurrect their dead leader and…wait. This is Transformers: Revenge Of the Fallen, isn’t it? I joked that the plot is like a Transformers movie but it really is the second Transformers movie. Oof.
There’s a lot that I liked though, and while those elements may not have been done perfectly, there’s some real effort there that I appreciate. Apart from some minor friction here and there, the League works together pretty well. The biggest conflict (aside from Superman initially not being in his right mind) is the scene I already mentioned with Wonder Woman shoving Batman, and they talk it out later like normal people. There’s also a part of the finale where Superman and Cyborg are trying to shut down the Mother Boxes. Superman says he doesn’t plan on dying again, then when they succeed they’re both knocked to the ground in pain and Superman jokes about wanting to die while Cyborg tries to figure out why his non-existent toes actually hurt. It’s a fun moment which adds much-needed levity to the dire action-packed finale. Plus, it’s just nice to see Superman smiling. I have no idea whose smile they CGI’d onto his face, but at least he’s smiling.
Another part I really liked was the first major confrontation with Steppenwolf when he’s got a bunch of hostages. Flash is new to the hero thing and feeling overwhelmed, so he doesn’t know what to do. Batman tells him to just save one person and he’ll know what to do next. And that’s what Flash does – he goes in and rescues one hostage. Then he goes back for another and another and another. They don’t make a big deal of it, but what they were going for is obvious, and it came across as an earnest moment of a person taking those first steps towards being a hero.
We don’t spend a lot of time with individual League members, but there are definitely seeds sown for their solo films. Aquaman’s conflict is being a man from two worlds who doesn’t quite fit in either. The Flash is dealing with a wrongly imprisoned father. Cyborg is trying to figure out how much human is left in him. Batman is trying to be a better hero in what are probably the twilight years of his career, and Wonder Woman is finally stepping back out into the light to be a hero for humanity again. Superman doesn’t get a lot of setup for his new direction, but I imagine it would be something along the lines of rejoining the world of the living and embracing his second chance. All of this is the opposite of what The Avengers did – taking characters already established in their own films and then putting them together – but this sort of works too. We’re given just enough of each character to set them up to go their own way without bogging down the movie with too many individual character arcs.
I don’t usually pay attention to a film’s score unless it’s something really noteworthy or licensed. A proper score enhances a scene without being overbearing or drawing too much attention to itself. On occasion, a good enough melody can stick with the viewer and become as iconic as the character the song is meant to represent. Many of us think of John Williams’ theme when we think of Superman, with its notes that seem to soar into the air. When someone mentions the Batman theme, my mind goes to Danny Elfman’s 1989 Batman theme which stirs images of the Batmobile rumbling across dark Gotham streets. I can’t think of any theme in a modern superhero movie that embodies the characters as well as those two. It’s fitting, then, that not only does Danny Elfman compose the music for Justice League, but he makes use of both of those memorable themes. The most noticeable is the Superman theme, which comes in after the character’s resurrection when he’s not quite himself and he’s fighting the League. There are notes of Williams’ score in there, but they turn sour and even a little sinister, adding to the unsettling and disturbing nature of Superman attacking his allies.
Be sure to stick around during and after the credits. There’s a mid-credits scene with Superman and Flash which will put smiles on the faces of a lot of comic book fans. The post-credits scene has one of my least favorite parts of the DC films so far, but it introduces another character and sets up at least one future film.
Financially, the future of the DCEU doesn’t look so good, but this movie actually gives me hope that they’re going to turn it around. I can only hope that moviegoers will give the franchise another chance, because they’re building up to something that could be great. If the solo films for Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, Batman, and the others in the pipeline continue the upward trend along with the tone set by Wonder Woman, then that will make the next Justice League movie all the better. Let’s just hope they get it right the first time without resorting to reshoots.
Kate can be reached on Twitter @WearyKatie.