For Warner Bros., the stakes for Justice League were supposed to be high. It was meant to be the tentpole piece of the studio’s year, but the unpredicted successes of Wonder Woman and It meant that they need not worry about the movie being good. And without that pressure, the movie could have been so much better.
Instead, what we get is a movie that doesn’t even get to be itself. We see several glimpses of genius in some amazingly crafted set pieces, but as a whole, the film is plagued by inconsistent pacing and editing, and sullied by one of the poorest soundtracks in comic book movie history.
Justice League is a direct sequel to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and follows Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) as they prepare to defend the world against the cataclysmic threat of Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and his horde of parademons. To do so, they must unite a ragtag band of metahumans.
And that brings us to our first problem…
The movie was apparently forced by the studio to work within a 2 hour time limit (including credits). This arbitrary decision was just one of many overreactions to criticisms, but this was arguably the most egregious.
Justice League rushes through the introductions of the three new superheroes, and their story suffers for it. Despite being first alluded to in Batman v Superman, the fact is, we have little time to truly get to know the Flash aka Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Cyborg aka Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman aka Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa).
As a result, the Flash is often reduced to a dorky quipster, whose awkwardness is played for laughs. Cyborg’s wonderful opportunity to be the heart and moral compass of the team is lost among many other moments much less valuable.
But perhaps the one who loses out the most is Aquaman, who never really gets a chance to be more than an unsympathetic jerk throughout the movie’s short runtime.
A lot of these editing decisions echo the failings of the Batman v Superman theatrical cut, which is so subpar compared to the much more coherent Ultimate Edition. One can only mourn the undoubtedly many great character moments left on the cutting room floor.
But there are still many great character moments
One feels compelled to hold tightly to the scenes which truly work. There are some excellent set pieces throughout the film, moments both grandiose and intimate, that often set DC Extended Universe apart.
Many of these moments are presented with the visual genius of director Zack Snyder, who manages to frame them in some of the most striking cinematography. It’s easy to imagine stills from many of these scenes turned into posters and postcards, while snippets of the movie will be used in gifsets and video clips ad infinitum. The strength of the visuals is such that they often don’t need context to be appreciated.
Some of these scenes have made their way to the film’s final trailer – such as the moment between Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Clark Kent (Henry Cavill).
In fact, Lois is one of the best parts of Justice League
In Batman v Superman, a future version of Barry Allen returns to Bruce Wayne, insisting “It’s Lois! Lois Lane! She’s the key!”
And in many ways, she truly is the key to all the best moments of Justice League. Though it is unfortunate that Lois does not have as much agenda and purpose as she did in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, she nonetheless still brings some necessary gravitas and grounding to a movie that often finds it hard to connect itself to the real world.
The scenes with Amy Adams continue to build the emotional core of the DC Extended Universe, ensuring that audiences will always be able to connect in some deeper way to the franchise.
Unfortunately, because of the film’s weird pacing, these moments eventually remind us that Justice League proves to be less than the sum of its parts.
Two very different directors, one very bad mistake
Essentially having two directors (though only Snyder is credited), Justice League is never the ideal movie. However, the odd combination should save it from the most extreme of criticism.
Apparently reshoots by Joss Whedon caused the budget for Justice League to hit $300 million, with additional photography costing as much as $25 million. Regardless of your perspective of Whedon and Snyder, this turns out be a good thing.
Fans of Whedon will have find enough of his contributions to believe that he saved the franchise… with more of the his same schtick.
On the other hand, fans of Snyder’s vision will get to enjoy enough of his work to feel like his vision isn’t totally lost. The DC Extended Universe remains on the same trajectory it’s always been and that keeps it fresh and unique amidst a very crowded space.
But one of the film’s most unforgivable mistakes is hiring Danny Elfman as an unexpected last-minute replacement to Junkie XL. The veteran composer’s decision to recycle his 1989 Batman theme into the soundtrack is peak self-indulgence.
But it is the use of John Williams’ iconic Superman theme in a particular scene made me wonder if we were in Bizarro world (pun totally intended). The rest of the soundtrack is unengaging drivel and actively weakens the film’s iconic moments.
We may never know the real reasons why Junkie XL was replaced at the last minute, but the decision to replace him was one of the worst mistakes of the movie.
Warner Bros. ultimately has to take responsibility for the decisions made in Justice League
For better or for worse, there is no one more culpable for the result than the studio executives who created so many hoops for the movie to jump through. The debate will forever rage on if these decisions were good or bad, but ultimately, the studio should simply be relieved that Justice League will do just enough in cinemas to keep the DCEU going