VOD film review: Justice League (2017)
Ivan Radford | On 02, Apr 2018
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Ciarán Hinds
Watch Justice League online in the UK: Netflix UK / Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“I’m putting together a team of people with special abilities…” That’s the sound of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), and DC, attempting to assemble the Justice League on the big screen. “Stop right there, I’m in,” comes the rapid reply from Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), aka. The Flash. You’ll agree with the first part of that sentence.
It’s taken five years for DC to bring about its superhero crossover, one year more than the period between Marvel’s Iron Man and the first Avengers movie, but it’s a sign of how shaky the franchise is that it feels like a lot shorter. Man of Steel paved the way for a modern take on Superman (Henry Cavill), which led to a fallen-God-like figure in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – an epic battle of titans with its feet in Gotham City and its head in Greek legend. But Zack Snyder’s mythic approach to the comic books has, all too aptly, often fallen short of his own ambitious reach, whether due to an underwhelming CGI climax (Man of Steel) or a bloated screenplay (BvS). Superman being killed off at the end of Dawn of Justice was a warning sign in itself that these weren’t the most cohesive building blocks for a long-running franchise.
That sense of things being rushed continues into Justice League, but it’s testament to Snyder (and Joss Whedon – who stepped in to complete reshoots and rewrites, following a real life tragedy for the Snyder family) that the movie actually assembles its main heroes in a confident, entertaining way. The Flash’s eager excitement, fanboying over the other heroes he meets, is a welcome antidote to the glowering presence of Affleck’s Wayne, while his rich man swagger is also neatly offset by the natural physique of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, a rebel with a trident who may or may not be able to talk to fish. With Gal Gadot once more on typically winning form as Wonder Woman, the result is a well-balanced ensemble of larger-than-life characters. (The only weak link is Cyborg, a half-human, half-robot created by a father trying to keep his son alive, played with commitment by Ray Fisher but mostly used as a plot device to operate machinery.)
While Justice League assembles its own army well enough, though, the problem is what to do with them once they’re together. The reason for their uniting? Steppenwolf (not the rock band), a vengeful god who wants to wipe out Earth by sticking together three magic boxes. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a bad guy try to destroy humanity and he’s as dull and tedious as his plan sounds. Ciarán Hinds tries to invest him with a moral code, but his motion-capture performance only winds up being a generic bunch of pixels, lacking any kind of weight or interest.
That means Justice League is left floundering to generate tension, and the script’s attempts to fill that gap only winds up opening even more plot holes. In one scene, Superman is an all-American charmer, but in another scene, he’s a demi-God without compassion, a transformation that happens seemingly at random. And there’s no accounting for the moment when our heroes actually leave said magic boxes completely unattended so that they can be quickly stolen behind their backs. All the while in the background, composer Danny Elfman jumps between themes to try and get some consistency; although it’s nice to hear the old Burton Batman theme get an airing, it only adds to the mish-mash tone of the whole affair. It’s the same with the dialogue, which peppers the movie with light-hearted quips – fine in itself, but completely at odds with the Very Serious mood that has defined this run of DC flicks from the off.
There are some nifty moments involving slow-motion, and some solid action choreography and creature design, but this is an underwhelming, uneven effort, even after the wobbly build-up that has proceeded it. Descending into a CG-heavy climax with a forgettable enemy, this is a step up in many ways for DC’s current movie output, but a missed opportunity to get this shared universe back onto the same page. The ambition is top flight, but you can’t shake the feeling that Justice League is lower-tier superhero entertainment.
Justice League is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription. It is also available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.