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Justice League ••• 1/2

Starring: Ben AffleckGal GadotJason Momoa
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: Chris TerrioJoss Whedon
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: November 17, 2017


Scott, can our review do justice to the latest DC franchise film?


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, our review is in a league of its own — which may or may not be a good thing. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Batman (Ben Affleck) hanging a hoodlum upside down from the side of a tall building in Gotham City. The hoodlum’s fear attracts a man-sized flying insect that Batman captures and it self destructs. Batman fears that with the passing of Superman (Henry Cavill), the galaxy knows that Earth is vulnerable to attack. He reaches out to Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot) for help, but she is reluctant to get involved. The two go in search of other heroes to help them in the coming attack.

The main villain is Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who has lain dormant for thousands of years and now is hellbent on acquiring unlimited power from three mother boxes scattered around the globe. Batman and Wonder Woman know they’ll need to assemble a team, and so they find and recruit Arthur Curry as Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen as The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Victor Stone as Cyborg (Ray Fisher). When it becomes clear that they cannot defeat Steppenwolf without Superman’s help, they hatch a plan to resurrect the man of steel from his grave.

Scott, aside from this summer’s Wonder Woman, this is the best of the DC Extended Universe movies. But that’s not saying much. The film takes its time assembling its team of superheroes. To its credit, there are a number of scenes with heartfelt talks between characters. This is a welcome difference from the other films in this series (probably thanks in large part to a rewrite by Joss Whedon who is well-known for his character building).

The weak point in this film, as in most of the DCEU films, is the villain, This guy was just pure evil bent on the destruction of Earth for no reason other than he is cranky. And he’s not even the mastermind – the “motherbox” is apparently even bigger and badder than he is. If Steppenwolf is boring, then the motherbox is even worse. We don’t really know anything about it or its powers. And when it starts taking over the Chernobyl-like facility, all we see are scary black weeds. It’s hard to get invested in a villain that is mainly invisible.

Greg, slowly but surely, DC Films is finally acquiring an understanding of how to make a good superhero movie. You’re right about Joss Whedon’s fingerprints being all over this screenplay, and his influence gives this film a nice human touch. There’s also a concerted effort here to make superhero movies fun, an insight that Marvel figured out long ago.

In fact, my main criticism of Marvel superhero movies is that they are comedies with occasional dramatic moments. With Justice League, I see an attempt by DC Films to create a superhero movie that is a drama with occasional comedic moments. This latter approach works better for me, giving DC Films an edge once they master the formula, which they are close to doing.

There are other problems with DC Films. Among them being the poor quality Computer Graphics Imagery (CGI). The CGI in this film resembles cartoon drawings. Steppenwolf looked like a low-res XBOX 360 rendering. I’m stunned since it cost a reported $300MM to produce.

This is a good batch of heroes. Wonder Woman is more than just eye candy. She’s still reeling from the loss of Steve Trevor over 100 years ago. And she is a superior warrior as exposed in the opening scenes. Young Flash is entertaining as the newcomer to the scene. Cyborg, however, seems to have just the right superpowers that are needed at any point in time. But he is dealing with the man-vs-machine problem. Aquaman is hyper-masculine in what appears to be DC attempting to overcome the “lame” factor (YouTube.com). And then we have Batman, who has no real powers except, perhaps, leadership. Finally, Superman is back from the dead and he is more powerful than the rest of them combined.

The CGI didn’t bother me; in fact, I thought there was a cool, cruel, complexity to Steppenwolf’s look. The relevant flaw to me resides in the uni-dimensionality of this villain. Pure evil is rarely interesting, as you point out, Greg.

The transformations in this film were notable, beginning with the resurrection of Superman. We all knew it was coming, and they did a nice job of portraying his physical and mental transformations. Batman’s greying hair reveals that his physical decline is inevitable, unless of course they replace the aging Ben Affleck with a younger actor. His fragility makes him more of a liability than an asset to the team. Flash is portrayed as a young kid who provides comic relief, and his is a coming-of-age transformation story.

Justice League is an improvement over previous DCEU films. This “coming together” segment justifiably spent most of its time collecting the heroes into an ensemble and less time with the actual battle of good vs. evil. It’s not a terrible film, but DC has a long way to go to catch Marvel. I give Justice League just 3 out of 5 Reels.

The ensemble curated and led by Batman is a good group. They have, after all, been cultivated over decades since the launch of DC in the 1930s. It’s clear that Wonder Woman is the breakout star of the DCEU, rivaling the entertainment value of both Batman and Superman. I give these heroes 4 out of 5 Heroes.

You pretty well covered the transformations. Wonder Woman seems to have accepted the responsibility for saving the world that she hid from since the death of Steve Trevor. Cyborg is growing into his status as a superhero. Flash is still coming-of-age and is also finding his place in the league. I give these transformations 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movies: Transformations: Heroes:

For me, Justice League was not merely an improvement over previous DC Comics Films; it represents a triumph. Finally we are treated to a film with some heart and soul behind the capes and masks of our DC superheroes. If Marvel films give us superhero tales that are comedies, DC Films would be wise to continue making dramas sprinkled with comedic elements. There is an appealing simplicity to Justice League that gives it great entertainment value. I give the film 4 Reels out of 5.

I agree with you, Greg, that we have an impressive group of superheroes who engage in lively banter and enjoy sizzling chemistry. The ensemble must work together and overcome daunting obstacles to defeat Steppenwolf, and several of them must undergo significant transformative change to do so — Superman, especially. I give this super-crew a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5 and their transformations a rating of 4 Deltas out of 5.

Movies: Transformations: Heroes:

1 Comment

  1. Patrick Smith says:

    This was a nice review. One additional transformation I noticed is the Wonder Woman’s transition into the leader of the group. It was her decision to rescue Batman when he was clearly going get killed. I don’t know if this leadership role exists in the comics canon or simply a reflection of current sensibilities, but both comic book universes have been lacking strong female leaders. Wonder Woman certainly represents that.

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