For the sake of full transparency; it's a little hard for me to review this film. I love DC. Batman is my favorite superhero. For a person like me, who has been reading comicbooks for nearly a decade, who breaks for impulse buys in clothing stores when they put the superhero shirts up front, and who stays up late texting several people at once about any piece of media involving these fictional characters, writing an unbiased review is difficult. I don't want to give the film any breaks from a critical standpoint simply because I'm seeing my heroes come to life. For a while I even considered giving the film two different scores, one as a critique of what I believed it to be as a film (cinematography, score, editing, etc.) and one as how I felt about the movie personally (did I like it, how I felt the characters were represented, and what emotional response it pulls from me as a fan towards this particular brand of media). Ultimately I have decided to try an integrate both with a disclaimer; if you watched Justice League and you didn't like it then that's your problem. Trust me, I have access to Rotten Tomatoes just like anyone else, I see the criticism. If you think the narrative was clunky and it could've been longer, you didn't like the score, you felt it was trying too hard, the villain was forgettable, or anything else the echo chamber of the splatter green rotten section filled with 50 something year olds who can't believe their beloved 5 star low budget 2.5 hour drama favorites are being utterly annihilated at the box office by the likes of Ben Affleck brooding, or Ryan Reynolds in spandex making dick jokes, might say then fine. I'm not going to apologize for this movie. If you want arguments for all that I recommend any DC forum right now. No, I'm not going to spend this whole review telling you why the critics are wrong and you should give it a chance in spite of other reviews. I'm going to spend this review telling you why I loved this movie and you should go see it because there's a chance you might love it too. At the risk of what credibility I have with readers I'm going to come right out with it: As a critic of films and a fan of DC I loved Justice League.
The film starts out by setting the tone of the world after the passing of Superman in Dawn of Justice. People have seemed to lost what hope they've had. The imagery is a stark contrast to such scenes as Superman being surrounded by people at the day of the dead celebration, or the people on roofs during a flood reaching up to him, and of course there's a parallel for the political climate of the real world today. The story kicks up pretty fast, parademons are appearing in random cities across the world including Gotham and no one can so much as sneeze in Gotham without Batman being on the case. He doesn't get too far interrogating these soldiers but he recognizes their ranks as scouts and realizes that this means another alien invasion is on the way. Meanwhile the motherbox the Amazons possess activates and the villain Steppenwolf comes through a boomtube and raises hell forcing the Amazons to light ancient signal fires in defeat hoping to get in contact with Wonderwoman across the globe. It works and Wonderwoman teams up with Batman in an attempt to pull other meta-humans together to defend the Earth.
That's the bare bones of the plot, the movie is really more driven with characterization than anything, but I didn't mind. To me it wasn't much different from the Marvel Method honestly, and it followed in tone as well. What I truly appreciated about this movie was how true to the comics it stayed with the characters and above all the dialogue. This has some of the best dialogue in recent memory as far as comicbooks go, although there is an argument to be made that you'd have to actually be aware of the world inside comics to get what they're saying. To elaborate a little, the small things they would be saying in scenes are amazing to people who are fans of the characters. Flash has a bit about the speed force, Cyborg talks about how his mechanics work and change, Aquaman mentions his relationship with the Queen of Atlantis, and so on. Beyond this, The actual timing of what they're saying is fantastic as well. I honestly think this is one of the best incarnations of Superman we've ever had so far. In between punches he would smile and say lines straight off a comic panel, or from the animated series, or his video games renditions, it was seriously uncanny how hard they nailed moments like these especially with him considering how little screen time he receives. If your favorite version of Superman is PostCrises big boy in blue, you are in for a real treat.
I think the real scene stealers this go around belong to Flash and Aquaman. Aquaman was great at the beginning if you know anything about his character and how he typically feels about being a team player, and he has some funny moments as well, specifically one involving the lasso of truth The narrative puts him at an early start to his career, but not an inexperienced one. He's used to doing battle, he has a very good handle on his powers, and he does have some form of relationship with the denizens of Atlantis, however he is not their king. A good friend and I actually had a long speculator talk on where we thought he was exactly in his life,p and we're very interested to see the Aquaman movie now. The best we can figure, He's had some form of interaction with Atlantis however turned away from them because of his relationship with his father, however his father recently died around the time Justice League begins. This leaves him in a weird place in his life where he's not exactly a team player, but not because of an obligation to his people. Whatever the case is, Jason Mamoa is great as Aquaman. He's really got some of the best scenes in the flick, The above mentioned lasso of truth being one, a great underwater fight, and general rock and roll whiskey chugging baddassery are all a part of this characters revamp away from his super-friends renditions.
When it comes to funny however, the award definitely goes to Barry. Ezra Miller was really a great casting call for the Flash. It becomes pretty obvious early on that he'll be the comedic relief, but I never found his delivery forced or contrived. He had a genuine sense of bewilderment that really carried well throughout the film and I think this is largely complimented by the movies timeline. This is a pre-sceintist Barry Allen. In fact this is literally just starting out Flash and Barry. He's just finished school and has not began a life as a forensic scientist, and has never encountered an actual villain (barring Captain Boomerang) as the Flash. To put it in his words he's simply "pushed some people and ran away". This works really well in this narrative because it makes his innocence and at times lack of self confidence believable. He has largely no real fighting ability he's just much, much faster than everyone else. He's also a very comicbook Flash, he jobs a lot, again this is covered because of how inexperienced and new he actually is. For those not in the know, jobbing means he should be able to do something or beat someone very quickly and decisively but doesn't the plot needs him to fail. In this movie, it usually applies to the parademons because he's fast enough to clear a myriad of them but he's prone to going to fast or becoming distracted at high speeds and the losing his footing because he's not used to really opening up and going as fast as possible while being under fire.
If you know anything about how Cyborg is in his origins then you know how his character is in this film. He's the newest to his powers out of all the members and is still very self loathing coming to terms with his man vs machine reality. He also has a complicated relationship with his father for conducting the experiment on him to save his life and turning him into what he is. The film goes into a little about his life before the accident however I will say this, if anyone really needed a solo movie coming into this film, it was probably him. I think out of everyone he should've been fleshed out the most because general audiences don't typically know too much about him and it's a shame to put him in an ensemble when a personal movie can cover a lot of ground narratively speaking. Another reason I say this is because of how great Ray Fisher actually is as Cyborg. It's like straight out of a Wolfman Teen Titans comic. If you're a fan of the Cartoon or the comics you'll be a fan of Cyborg in this film because they really nail his character in terms of personality, ability, and he plays arguably one of the most if not the most important role in the film. Without him they lose. Period. Also if you're a fan of the Teen Titans you're in for a really good easter egg at the end of the film involving him, and yes, oh yes, there is a "Booyah"!
One thing I really appreciated about this movie and I think is something really special to this film in particular is the power scaling. Man they really nailed this aspect of the characters. Everyone hits according to their weight class. Steppenwolf is established as a real big heavy, he's just a powerhouse tank of destruction and it really gives the team problems as most of them are more acrobatic and rely on speed. Wonderwoman at the start of the movie really shows off her speed capabilities and consistently hits hard through the movie. Aquaman hits correctly (thank god) which may surprise some people who are only familiar with his super friends rendition. This guy packs a serious punch. Batman in this plays a lot more of the tactician his audiences may be very familiar with, however that's not to say he doesn't play a role in the combat, quite the opposite in fact. He's got some new toys that may delight some of his really not afraid to open up on prademons with his advanced weaponry ("I didn't bring a sword"). The tech Batman brings to the table really compliment Cyborg although he was one of the smaller swingers in this film. He could hold his own, but it wasn't until the end of the film where he really gets a good upgrade. Again, I would really love to see a solo Cyborg film. The Flash is fast. Really fast. He makes people who are fast look not fast. his running sequences were some of the highlights of the film for me, as well as his fight with a certain somebody that really had me on thee edge of my seat. Concerning the Flashes combat prowess, I really hope to see his relationship with Batman come to fruition as he has almost no actual martial prowess to speak of and this really shows when he meets someone who can keep up with him. A little training with Batman both as a scientist and a warrior could very well see the Flash who villains come to fear. So without ruining too much more of the plot as I mentioned above Superman is in this film. Once again I'll say it, This is Superman as everyone knows him. He's got the speed, he's got the power, and he's the big blue boyscout. This was honestly the best I've ever seen him so far in DC.
I won't say too much more about the plot itself except that it is very typical superhero plot, Go beat the bad guy, save the world, etc. Honestly I didn't find this one to be too annoying with it's stakes which is weird but allow me to explain a little. Normally I do find the idea of every superhero movie being about some world ending threat annoying and wish the stakes were more localized in movies such as Logan or Deadpool. To an extend, I could've done without this aspect, however this film was much more character driven than plot driven and not in such a superficial way as seen in Suicide Squad. By the end, the characters still had their qualms about eachother, it wasn't like they were the tightest family ever after knowing eachother for like two days. They were more like work acquaintances. I digress. The point I'm trying to convey is that even though the stakes were something we've seen time and time again, the movie didn't revolve around this idea on its own. Instead I found it to be more personal for each member of the team. For Wonderwoman it was about what it means to step up and be a leader, for Batman it was how to step back and play with others. Aquaman and Cyborg needed to trust others period and for the Flash it was about a sense of belonging to a group of like minded people who weren't afraid to stand up for what they thought was right (side note this was a great parallel with the words he has with his father). It was because of this element of the film that I found it to be much more enjoyable through a basic premise than I normally would. It helps that I like the characters beforehand as well, but I would make the same argument for the reason I enjoy Avengers as well, and if I told you I liked Ironman or Thor before that movie my nose would grow a few inches. I do not believe it is the narrative that is clunky in Justice League, as narrative is the actual sequence of connected events (and calling that bad would be saying the story itself doesn't make any sense), but rather that the key struggle against which the protagonists are set against is typical.
There are some thing wrong with Justice League. I think the strongest arguments to be made are the criticisms against its stakes (again, not the actual narrative) and score. Concerning the score, I believe this suffered most from a combination of sounds all at once vs the actual songs or timing. For example, I really enjoyed hearing the original Danny Elfman, and thought the more modern tracks had a fantastic place in some scenes, however there were times where explosions were mixed with the score and it came off as cluttered. I didn't mind hearing Elfman's score combined with Hans Zimmers, however I would've like to have heard just one or the other separately at some point. Those two critiques aside overall I believe the movie works. Also its beautifully shot, which honestly comes as expected of its director, who say what you will about him, Snyder knows how to frame a shot and make some real eye-candy, and I think that goes hand in hand with a comicbook movie. As a fan of comicbooks I really loved it, and there is something to be said in that it will have a stronger impact for those interested in that medium more so than general audiences, however I would not go so far as to call the film bad or unenjoyable if you're not into that as deep as others by any means. DC really takes a step in the right direction with this one, and I believe the issue with the stakes will be corrected in the sequel given the final scene of the movie. That is to say, they have a chance to make it more personal and less end of the world if the heroes lose. Overall Justice League is a fun ride, filled with laughs and heart, and very character driven. This film really feels like they know thee history of the characters they have and understand each ones individual motivations. It will definitely leave you wanting more from each of them in a good way, and I'm excited to see what comes next. If you're looking for a superhero flick to wrap up the end of this year, Justice League comes highly recommended.