Directed by Zack Synder
Screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon; story by Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons
Zach Snyder’s Justice League should not work. And, let’s be clear, it doesn’t work as a whole. I’ve struggled with this film because it takes so many risks given the turbulent recent history of the DCEU film series that this film needed to fit a specific mold. It almost reminds me of a high-stakes game of poker, where you don’t want to show the opponent your fold card, yet you still flinch.
And, if it didn’t follow on the heels of some of the more dramatic previous entries in the series, that wouldn’t be a problem.
League picks up immediately after the events of Batman vs Superman. The world mourns the loss of Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) bears that guilt. As Gotham City weathers strange attacks from insect-like figures, Batman begins to piece together an impending doomsday attack for which he alone cannot fight. Following a brief introduction in BvS and her own film earlier this year, Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) offers her support in assembling the Justice League.
Towards the end of Batman vs Superman, Mr. Snyder gave us a sequence in which he introduced us to the future members of the Justice League. At the time, I thought the sequence was an effective way of giving us a quick intro without potentially spoiling each of their future character-only entries. Had Mr. Terrio and Mr. Whedon stuck to that sequence as a basis for this film, I probably would have respected the first half of this film.
As it is, Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) are all left to have an extended re-introduction. It gives each of the character’s extended introductory an opportunity to establish their emotional vulnerabilities as well as their functions on the team.
Mr. Terrio and Mr. Whedon also use the first hour to reintroduce Wonder Woman as well as Batman; something that wasn’t entirely necessary from a story perspective, but it does work to show just how broken Superman’s death left all of our characters and how well Mr. Affleck could play ‘vulnerable’. Jeremy Irons as the venerable Alfred Pennyworth, continues to offer his brazen consul and is a source of amusement throughout.
The screenwriting duo interweave establishing story elements for the second half of the film in between the remaining introductory moments. As we build our League, we get to witness Mr. Momoa’s dry wit with his deadly serious nature, something we got in spades with The Bad Batch. I did get a sense of déjà vu as they use similar elements from Man of Steel as Kal El tried to blend into the world around him to introduce us to Aquaman.
Ms. Gadot’s welcomed return as Wonder Woman is framed through the tense sexual overtones briefly presented in BvS. The characters’ sensuality is a good match for Bruce Wayne’s tough exterior, something that comes through more as a result of their acting than the story. Some of the drama between Wonder Woman and Batman felt unnecessary, but served the needs of the story.
Cyborg’s story was the least interesting aspect of the film. We got to see the majority of his creation in BvS when his dad, Silas Stone (Joe Morton, in another déjà vu moment) used the Kryptonian power to rebuild his son. Mr. Fisher’s acting through the CGI implants was fine, but unremarkable, because the story’s dangers for his character and those that surround him were rendered moot.
Mr. Miller’s The Flash was the true ‘hold-card’ of this deck and required the biggest exposition, as we learn about he and his past; a broken individual much like Bruce Wayne became after his parents were felled. The difference here is that Barry uses his humor to try and break up a tense situation, something that plays to Mr. Miller’s strengths as an actor. Most of the humor works, even if it becomes tiresome towards the end of the film; a limitation of the film’s story, not of the actor’s work.
If it seems like I’m focusing this review on the character development, it’s because this is the best aspect of the story, and yet, it its own worst enemy. Midway through the story, a tonal shift occurs that wrecked the flow. It gets recovered in the end, but the recovery is marred by a well-structured, but cheesy special effects-heavy battle.
I think back to Leonard Cohen’s, “The Stranger Song,” in which he belts out “Ah you hate to see another tired man Lay down his hand Like he was giving up the holy game of poker.” In the final analysis, the League prevails through adept acting and very solid character moments. However, Mr. Terrio and Mr. Whedon showed their fold card: we focus too much time on the character moments and not enough time meting out Justice.
2.5 out of 4 stars