I should probably start this review off by saying I legitimately enjoyed Suicide Squad and I am also a documented Batman V Superman Director’s Cut apologist. I felt that version of BvS, while not perfect was definitely a much stronger vision even at its unwieldy length. The intended cut not only patched a few of the many plot holes, it also attempted to do something genuinely different than what we saw currently in the MCU, create a darker universe aimed at older comic book fans capitalizing on Snyder’s take on Watchmen. The problem is Warner got cold feet before BvS’s release, and trimmed the film down in an attempt to soften some of its sharper edges for a broader audience. That continual second-guessing has strangely gotten us this far with the DCU’s most ambitious and most troubled film to date Justice League.
Due to a family tragedy director Zack Snyder stepped down shortly after completing principle photography on Justice League, with Joss Whedon taking over the project. Whedon not only oversaw 3 months of “massive re-shoots” he would also be writing new scenes to hopefully bring his Marvel Magic to the DCU.
Justice League picks a few months after BvS with Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince recruiting meta-humans for their superhero dream team as the world is still reeling from the loss of Superman. With their protector gone Steppenwolf appears on Themyscira, to begin collecting Mother Boxes, so he can unleash the Unity and cleanse the earth of its inhabitants. Fans who sought out the extended cut of BvS, got to see a peek of Steppenwolf meeting Lex Luthor in the Kryptonian ship, which foreshadowed this invasion. There are 3 Mother Boxes on earth, one was given to the Amazons, one was given to the Atlanteans, and the final one was given to man. As Steppenwolf collects the boxes the Justice League has to learn to come together against an unbeatable common enemy to retrieve the cosmic artifact back from the bad guy. If this sounds familiar it’s basically the plot of the first two Avenger films that Whedon directed.
The film has no less than three origin stories to contend with and probably one of the most forgettable villains to take on a superhero team to date. The film’s first two acts feel listless on screen as Batman and Wonder woman go through the motions trying to accomplish something we already know is going to get done thanks to the spoilery trailer. One thing that is overly apparent watching the film is what in Justice League belongs to Whedon and what belongs to Snyder on screen. Super clever superhero quip, one point to Gryffindor! Superhero glances off and silently broods, definitely a point for Slytherin! The cinematography when it comes to Gal Gadot is the dead giveaway where Whedon loves to point the camera at Gadot’s face and has her covering up with a cape while in costume, Snyder sneaks an upskirt in and just fills the frame leering at her in tight leather pants.
Its something I think that after a character became a such symbol of empowerment in these troubled times, you might be a little bit more aware as a director in how you objectify her on screen.
The film simply limps along in the first two acts connecting the dots between the moments we recognize from the trailer as we witness the end of the DCU on screen. Once we get into the third act the film actually gets kind of fun as we see some great action sequences as the team takes on Steppenwolf, who never really stood a chance anyway given he has zero character development in the film’s two hour runtime. Jason Momoa was a great Aquaman but we sadly only got one “YEAH!” in the entire film. Flash was the living mouth-piece for Joss Whedon and Cyborg was strangely the most complex and interesting character in the film. My favorite character development coming from BvS was Batman is no longer simply trying to hook up with Wonder Woman. Instead they share a friendship built on admiration giving me one of my favorite moments in the film and one more point for Gryffindor.
So what would have made this film better? Maybe ditching the villain altogether? Maybe they could’ve made Cyborg the “villain” of this film. His story was more interesting than Steppenwolf’s anyway and they could have peppered his struggle with the undertones that something bigger was on the way. The film could have then been about bringing him over to the good guys while the team learned to work with one another while still giving us an intro to the Mother Boxes that birthed him. It would have still given them a reason for the third act revival of Superman, which was a surprise to absolutely no one and would have made that moment when they finally all stand together all the more satisfying.
Justice League ultimately is the end of the DCU as we know it. Given the final product, I think that Snyder was probably pushed off the film in a move that seems to be more the norm than the exception these days for bigger tent poles. While an Aquaman film and another Wonder Woman film are already in the pipeline, expect more shake ups and developments after this film fails to deliver even pre-Ragnarock Thor numbers. Say what you will about Snyder, the film’s biggest weakness is its lack of a clear vision, since it feels very much like dueling directors. Justice League is everything that was wrong with Warner’s comic book house of cards that has finally toppled over. Now the obvious question is given how this film’s already tracking to perform, what will they do next?