Justice League Isn't Completely Terrible...

Going into Justice League, trying my best to remain optimistic, I felt like a jilted lover being brought back into a toxic relationship as I waited for the opening credits to start rolling. “Will Zach Snyder just hurt me again? Will it just be like before? Will this make Batman Vs Superman look Oscar-worthy?” Nothing could make BvS look Oscar-worthy but Suicide Squad won one (Best Makeup) so I felt prepared for anything at this point.

What I wasn’t prepared for though was the impact that the change of directors would have on Justice League. Back in May, Zach Snyder left the film to deal with the death of his daughter, leaving Avengers 1 & 2 director Joss Whedon to step in. Originally meant to only be taking over post-production, two months of reshoots followed. Whilst the circumstance leading up to it is tragic, Justice League being finalised under the helm of the SS Whedon has added something unique for DC’s cinematic universe. The film as a whole is nowhere near perfect, there being as many negatives as there are positives. However, for once in recent memory, I didn’t leave a Zach Snyder-directed film with a regretful sigh. I was smiling. Not because the overall film was great, as it definitely wasn’t. It was because you could make out a rough and foggy take on the joyous direction this franchise could go.

Nonetheless, what shouldn’t be a part of this direction is the 7-foot pile of bland that is the film’s villain, Steppenwolf, a big baddie God-monster man bent on terraforming the Earth into a hellscape by joining three magic cubes. This is all the while being assisted by his faceless army of CGI demon men. The plot is as thin and generic as Steppenwolf’s character itself. With no specific motive explained for his actions accompanied with the one emotion of having the face of a computer-generated smacked arse, Justice League’s villain is nothing more than a boring blank canvas to be highlighted over by its heroes.
For franchise continuity, there's even a couple of issues there. Remember at the end of BvS when the dirt over Superman's coffin rises slightly at the last second? Yeah, that ends being nothing to do with his reintroduction at all. You'll notice in Justice League how everyone remembers Superman as a hero, even though that subject was a subplot of major controversy in BvS: some praising him but some also calling him a public menace and a danger. Wanting to correct the low points of BvS is fine but to completely gloss over them and expect the audience to forget is poor writing.

I loved any scene involving all of the Justice League members together, enough to compare them to my nostalgia towards these heroes in other media. This isn’t the case during the first act of the film though, only being a bit of a dull lumber, jumping around each individual’s story to set them up and propel them into the plot. It’s mainly just for dropping shallow exposition in CGI that doesn’t seem worth its multi-million dollar budget. By the time we finally got to the second act, the entertainment's actually started and I was having fun seeing all of these heroes together. Ezra Miller’s Flash was the highlight, always lighting up a sequence as soon as he’d open his mouth with a quip laced in social awkwardness. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was a welcome return of badass-ery. Ben Affleck’s Batman is still the BatFleck the majority of us love. Jason Mamoa, or should I say Jason MaBROa, as Aquaman was alright, having some decent moments but we could have used more time to really connect and enjoy the character. The same goes with Rictor Fisher as Cyborg, whose arc felt way too rushed over in order to accommodate the film’s two hour run-time. 

Action-wise, it’s pretty good entertainment-wise but nothing special. What is special though is the change in tone which stands out when the characters are just talking and interacting with each other. It’s light, full of banter and unlike Zach Snyder’s other DC films, not every shot looks like depression incarnate. It’s, dare I say it, fun.
A lot of this comes down to the Whedon reshoots. It’s been reported that apparently only 15-20% of Justice League has been altered under Whedon’s direction. Honestly, I don’t believe that for a second. Whether it’s to do with Warner Bros wanting to maintain fan confidence in Snyder, or Joss Whedon doesn’t want to deal with heaps of demand calling him to take over future films, this film is so Whedon-esque, it sometimes felt like I was watching the first Avengers film again. With the Flash for example, there are scenes from the trailers which you can tell have been reshot, some extended to add more of that sweet, amusing dialogue (“what IS brunch?!”). There were one or two one-liners that I never even thought Batman would say.

All of that is an understatement though when we look at the treatment of Superman. Obvious yet hilarious CG-moustache removal aside, this is the best we’ve seen of Henry Cavill’s Superman. The fact that every one one of his scenes were reshot are a part of that. Not only is his reintroduction the best part of Justice League but the character seems to be finally done right. Actually being similar to the warm, slightly witty beacon of hope the character’s known for, Cavill at last seems like he’s fit into the role and having a merry time with it. There’s a delightful Christopher Reeve quality to it. Even his costume's a brighter blue now, as it should be! Not to mention the height of whole film is an encounter between Superman and the Flash just after his reintroduction in the second act. You’ll know when you see it. It’s incredible.
That’s what sadly added to the disappointment a bit. Superman’s return and the events that came with it are the best of Justice League. It’s obvious whilst watching. If you can tell that’s the case, you’ll know what’s to come from what’s left of the storyline: saving the world from the underdeveloped villain and standard CGI army. So much CGI. When the march to the big battle started, I didn’t see the heroes walking towards the stage for an epic final battle, I saw them walking towards a load of green screen. It felt so obvious, the escapism was almost washed away, with the mindless entertainment and satisfying humour being the saving grace.

Final Thoughts 

I wouldn’t watch Justice League again, not in its entirety anyway. Skipping the drawn out and sluggish first act almost entirely, right to where the amusing entertainment ultimately starts, possibly skipping again by a few minutes later on when Batman and co start fighting the CGI baddies. That generalisation of how I feel about the clash of tone is almost a metaphor for the clash presented by the two different directors. If assumptions about his actual larger contribution to the film are correct, I’d basically cherry pick anything that I’m certain was Joss Whedon’s doing. As a whole, it’s a tonal mess but I can’t help but have a soft spot for the extensive enjoyment I had after passing the 40-minute mark, feeling like Whedon just didn’t have time to fix everything running up to it.

Being like a diamond in the sandpaper-level of rough, Justice League is mindless entertainment, the last two thirds of which are done right: being sandwiched between humour and a lighter tone. Instead of being drenched in the dark, serious and gritty for the sake of differentiating itself from Marvel, like in the other DC Snyder films, Justice League embraces what it’s like to be a fun film, despite the flaws which Joss Whedon’s intervention was unable to undo.

Be sure to stick around for the post-credit scenes. They’re the best out of any superhero film in the last ten years. Period. 

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