Sunday, November 19, 2017

Justice League "Spoiler-Lite" Review

Was a really hectic day at work this past Friday, that I barely realized I was in the clinic past my clock-out time (and that was without any breaks at all). On my way home, about 5.20 pm, I just decided to check on the timings for Justice League, which my brother had assured me would start playing at the theaters as of Wednesday. Lo and behold, there was a 2D showing at 6.30pm at the Junction Cinemax. The way I figured it, even with the nasty Friday traffic on Ngong Road (Both ways!), I could still make the trip in about an hour, and, even with all eventualities, be able to watch the movie. I cut it pretty close, but I made it right on time.

So, pretty much taking its cue from Batman V Superman (BvS), this story plunges us into the DCEU's version of "The Death of Superman" storyline. The introductory sequence is very reminiscent of the title sequence from "Watchmen", serving as a sort of dirge that shows how the world has been shaped by the events of Superman's death; it has pretty much sapped most of humanity's hope, basically starting off some major doom and gloom as if a sort of doomsday clock has gone off; and, suddenly, something begins to feed off of that gloom: enter Steppenwolf and the parademons. Batman and Wonder woman are tasked with ushering in a new age of heroes by bringing together the other (until now) incognito and disparate superheroes to form a team.

I won't lie: I've been guarded about the hype surrounding this movie ever since the DCEU jumped off on Man of Steel and followed that up with Batman V Superman. Invariably, this discussion will involve a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) comparison, but with good reason. The animated division of DC has been very good at producing wonderful animated movies, some of which have already captured (very well) some of the classic stories that are just now being translated to the DCEU. You need look no further than "Superman: Doomsday", "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns", "Batman: Assault on Arkham", Wonder Woman (2009) and "Justice League: War" for direct comparisons to Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and even Justice League. Some might argue that in this regard, the animated movies have done a better job of telling the stories.

A lot is happening in this movie: there's the back story to the mother boxes, a war pitting many earthly forces against an unwelcome invader (who isn't entirely repulsed), and then we're also getting more fleshed out introductions to 3 of our heroes who only had the smallest of cameos in BvS.

  1. Aquaman, as shown from the trailers, has built up a following of sorts, and has indulged in heroics; he has the trident in his possession, and he interacts with Atlantis to some extent (at least they won't be going the "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis" way). 
  2. The Flash is in his pre-police force phase and is living off the grid. By all accounts, he has the suit, but he's still a nascent superhero whose greatest feats have consisted of pushing people out of the way, and gunning it. Suicide Squad had that segment where he encountered Capt. Boomerang; don't know if that's a DCEU continuity issue, or if the old Capt. isn't considered one of his greater rogue gallery entries - only time will tell.
  3. Cyborg is as fresh as they come. BvS gave us the impression that he'd already been formed prior to the Doomsday fight, but here he seems like a relatively recent creation. (I don't exactly know if it's a continuity error, but this time with his creation, there's a bit more of his human components than we glimpsed in his prior BvS creation). Wouldn't exactly qualify as an exact Justice League: War iteration, but he's pretty close. The artificial intelligence from the mother box continues to reshape him, and at times, neither he nor his teammates are fully convinced of which side he's truly on. Seemed like they mixed in his character with quirks from Blue Beetle.

First off, let's start with the positives: Ben Affleck's Batman is still a joy to watch. He's a tad less jaded than he was in BvS and a bit more philanthropic. Though, this time around he's dealing with disposable parademons, so we don't know whether he's totally rid himself of the ruthless killer instinct he displayed in his previous incarnation towards humans. And now this is where I insert a SPOILER-LITE portion in this review: they have finally done Superman justice. You'd have to have been living under a rock or skipped all press related to this movie to think that Superman wouldn't be a part of the League. Anyway, for the first time in 3 movies, they've finally latched onto the things that humanize Superman; heck, he even gets away with making a joke or two. Gone is that depressed sullen character from MoS and BvS, and here we finally have a hero worth his title. But don't let that fool you, once he brings the godhood, he is bad-ass. His first interaction with the Justice League establishes that there really is none of them that is a match for him (which pretty much blows the BvS characterization out of the water). Overpowered he may be, but that is what Superman has always been.

Despite all the one-liners and seemingly one-dimensional character of Aquaman, I actually enjoyed his presence on the team. He has a gruff exterior and he pretty much tells it like it is. You feel like he profits the least from having a seat at the table with the League (a role which was usually reserved for Batman in the animated Justice League), but he sticks it out and comes through for the team.

I'm also happy about the course correction that the DCEU seems to be making. Trying to make all their movies with a paintbrush of seriousness that should ideally only be reserved for Batman has truly complicated things. For one thing, it has totally ruined Superman thus far. I mean, the space refugee, last of his kind shtick was really too much. He's humanoid looking enough and mostly benevolent that they should never have had to turn him into a depressed golem. This was probably because of the depressing influence of Jonathan and Martha Kent in the DCEU more than anything else.
I don't know if this was a Joss Whedon decision or if it came from Zack Snyder himself, but it was welcome to have the heroes joke around and smile. After one unfortunate thumping, hearing Batman complain about "something definitely being broken" was hilarious. The extreme end of this humour is brought on by Barry Allen (The Flash); because he's such a newbie, he comes off like a nervous wreck, and they use his discomfort to inject humour into a lot of his situations. Unfortunately, sometimes it lands, and other times it doesn't. Maybe once his rookie-ness wears off, we might get a more balanced representation. Lastly, thank God that Lex Luthor Jr. was only restricted to a post-credits scene; his wrongness for the role has never been in doubt, and for the love of life, I hope they never find an excuse to shoehorn him into any further league movies. Maybe they could find a way to resurrect his dad and kill Jr. off permanently

On the negative side, this movie feels like it would definitely have profited from being slightly longer. Between the past exploration of the war, and the introduction of some of the heroes, things feel a bit rushed. Going the "Age of Ultron" route of letting special characters develop organically within a movie that is already chock full of other pre-established characters and storylines is a recipe for disaster. I want to relate to them, get invested in them, but I feel like if the writers had decided to kill off these under-characterized heroes (a la Quicksilver), I'd shrug it off as nothing meaningful. I would definitely have cut out most of Lois Lane and Martha Kent's scenes in this movie, because, with few exceptions, none of them were pivotal to the story.

The movie also does get a bit CGI heavy in some instances. Don't get me wrong: the speed force is a beautifully rendered alternate reality of wonder, and a highlight of the film. Granted, the big baddie and his minions are CGI creations, and so is Cyborg, some real world environments could've helped out. I heard one critic praise the Themyscira war scene, but the CGI was a bit too jarring for my tastes. Steppenwolf and the parademons were rendered well, but Cyborg is 50/50. There's just something very uncanny valley about the way he looks while walking out of a plane, and when his head is viewed from the side in quick cuts. It's probably something they'll have to firm up before they decide to put him on screen again. As for Superman's upper lip and the CG-deleted 'stache...well, I actually didn't notice it in the movie, so that's that.

There's also one very glaring issue. (Spoiler Lite again!) The movie only seems to highlight the plight of one family in this far flung area where bizness is going down. Then by the time things are climaxing, the situation has changed (turns out there might have been more people in that area than we were led to believe). I mean, seriously, even Justice League: War did it better. All those parademon numbers needed to be repopulated, and sadly, that means a lot of humans ended up being carried off and converted. They could've actually shown us some of this stuff to up the stakes. Dunno if they felt the ratings would have been switched up if they showed us something that graphic, but it would've made the movie more satisfying.

In this case, I feel certain that a Director's cut would actually improve the movie (that's not always the case: watched the BvS one - was still a disaster). Now that they've finally gotten the League out of the gate, they need to slow down and develop their iconic characters. They've got the time and a worthy stable of characters and storylines to keep us entertained for years to come. I definitely wouldn't recommend them choosing an iconic storyline like "The Flashpoint Paradox" this early in the game, but then again, it's their money to throw away (again and again).

I'm 50/50 on this movie, a bit confused about whether it did what it set out to do. I'll give it a B and maybe give it a second watch on another occasion.

God Bless.

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