JUSTICE LEAGUE

dir. Zack Snyder (reshoots dir. Joss Whedon)

reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki

At the moment, I’m in a pretty wonderful screenwriting class led by mass communication professor Virgil Bakken—if you’ve got a script in you somewhere, consider giving it a go some time in the future. It’s under the MASC umbrella.

In this class, one of the most notable philosophies we were taught about screenplay writing is to avoid telling stories like “This happens, and then this happens, and then this happens…” and instead aim for something along the lines of “This happens so this happens, and since that happened, this happens…”

In short, don’t write a boring linear progression, make everything connect and flow and work to achieve a desired emotional reaction.

With that said, let’s get into the new DC Extended Universe film.Batman (Ben Affleck) fights a guy and then an alien “scout” pops out to fight Batman. Then Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) fights a bunch of bad guys with a bomb. Then Batman goes to meet Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Then we meet Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and his dad. Then Batman meets The Flash (Ezra Miller). Then the big bad guy Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) is re-born to be wild in Amazonia. Then Wonder Woman tells us who Steppenwolf is with a video game cutscene. Then they try to recruit Cyborg but he says no. Then Steppenwolf takes Cyborg’s dad. Then they all fight Steppenwolf and then everyone comes together as a team. Then they all try to figure out ways to beat Steppenwolf. Then eventually Superman (Henry Cavill) comes back. Then they all fight Steppenwolf again.

That’s basically how the movie plays out, there isn’t much substance connecting the thens. This movie will really test your ability to enjoy a movie that falls back on the less desirable screenwriting approach stated above. For all I know, there actually could’ve been more substance to it, since they made a point to heavily reshoot and rework this movie about three or four times over its production cycle.

But given it was first a full-blown Zack Snyder project without Joss Whedon on board, probably not.

The terrible setup movie for this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was a full hour longer than this movie and had the same knack for just having things happen without much to connect them, but the difference is that movie had an obnoxious air of unwarranted self-importance that it never earned. This movie thankfully sees Zack Snyder stripping away the pretensions that made Man of Steel and Batman v Superman chores to watch.

Instead, what we have is a movie that wastes very little time in setting up its big, dumb, loud action scenes, leaving its three new heroes with just enough key character development to make them work for this two-hour slamfest.

It panders to the characters’ built-in fanbases in a way that would make sequels to decade-old comedies blush. In the soundtrack, Danny Elfman not only quotes John Williams’ iconic Superman theme, but even his own theme to the 1989 Batman in places meant to elicit maximum fanboy howls.

Superman almost gets in his whole “truth, justice and the American way” spiel, but he stops before he could potentially alienate (heh, get it, ALIENate? cuz he’s an alien from Krypton? very cool) foreign markets. Cyborg even gets a “boo-yah” in there, to the surprise of no one.

Those aforementioned moments of fan pandering are among the many that feel more like Joss Whedon’s handiwork than Zack Snyder’s— see also whenever the movie is jokey or has more of an Avengers feel. This especially comes through with The Flash, where you could count his serious lines throughout the whole movie on your fingers.

Apparently Snyder was even taking in more influence from Whedon before he had to leave production over a death in the family, so he could at least meet Whedon halfway when Whedon took over the film’s direction. This helps the result blend a bit more seamlessly, but tonal whiplash between the franchise’s previous direction and this movie are still evident.

Props to Whedon for turning that cringey “do you bleed” line from Batman v Superman into an entertaining moment, at least.

Now hold up a second! Maybe you aren’t here for things like character development, you just want to see the action when the team comes together and drops a bombshell on the big baddie Steppenwolf. This movie is hoping you aren’t, so it’s got you! There’s plenty of lively, bright, satisfying action sequences here with a well-orchestrated teamwork dynamic. This is especially true in the third act, when Momoa finally gets his turn to shine as Aquaman and rides that pony for all it’s worth.

The problem with them, unfortunately, is that half of them look like video game cutscenes— the CGI is just awful for a movie that had hundreds of millions poured into it. That isn’t limited to just the action sequences, there are way too many awful green screen shots where people are just standing around and they’re all distracting.

Steppenwolf, who is a fully CGI character, is not just the worst example of this, but he’s also one of the blandest, dullest superhero movie villains in recent memory. Hela may have been an unengaging and generic villain for Thor: Ragnarok, but she’s got nothing on Steppenwolf— he doesn’t have Jeff Goldblum to fall back on, for one. He also reminded me of the unnecessary big bad at the end of Wonder Woman, in that he looks like a character out of Warcraft.

I’ve been throwing plenty of shade this movie’s way, but at the end of the day I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. Zack Snyder has always been a fantastic visual director, but it’s only when he leaves his pretensions at the door that his movies become well-rounded. Thanks to Whedon’s intervention, this movie achieves that result.

The rapport between the characters feels more genuine and earned than it ever had in Batman v Superman, where all of the quips felt unnatural and crowbarred in to conform to the Marvel formula. Not every joke in the movie works, but plenty of them do thanks to the tonal shift from previous movies.

Is the movie “deep”? Nope. Then again, neither were the movies that preceded it. It’s a popcorn muncher for the Thanksgiving season and little else.

In a nutshell, where previous entries in this universe were aimed at dour, grumpy, downtrodden adults and edgy Hot Topic kids, this movie is aimed at eight year olds. In this universe, I’m fine with that.

Wonder Woman is still the better movie by leaps and bounds, mind you, since it found a balance between the two disparate tones this universe struggles with and effectively conveyed the message of hope they’ve been aiming for. Still, this is the second best DCEU movie, for whatever that moniker is worth.

Are you okay with being pandered to for two hours? If you aren’t normally, could you make an exception for something like this? If you can, you might find that this movie does justice to your wallet and your time.

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