It is basically impossible to write a review of Justice League 2017 that isn’t on some level about the behind the scenes debacle. We all know the story. Zack Snyder was fired. Joss Whedon replaced him. Whedon’s tyrannical behavior was so wretched stories about it would lead to those abused by him speaking up and he’s unlikely to work again. Reportedly 75% of the film I’m reviewing was reshot and recut. It is definitely not Zack Snyder’s cut. It is less a movie than the Richard Donner cut of Superman II that used footage from auditions. It is a scrap pile cobbled into film shape.
But with all that said, the film I’m looking at is…fine.
Yeah I’m not calling this great or even good, but Justice League: The WB Cut (as I’m calling it because it’s a studio product) is a watchable, even at times decent film. It has moments that shine. It has character beats that work. There’s a few good turns. It’s okay. It’s just not in the top 5 movies with the words Justice League in the title.*
The plot is as classic superhero as it gets. A villain comes to Earth seeking magical devices that will allow his leader to transform the Earth and destroy it. The Justice League forms to stop him. There’s a big showdown. I can’t imagine a more quintessential plot. This is in the broad strokes The Avengers as well.
Since nobody ever defends this film, I really do want to note what works here. The action is really very good here. If you’re looking for solid superhero fights, you’ll get them. The parademons are classic style mooks, throwaway villains. Of course I love the cast of characters here. Hard to argue with a Justice League with this lineup. It moves well. It’s a fast film at 2 hours. And it does the bare minimum. It’s a Justice League movie. If you wanted it you got it. It’s good enough.
:deep breath: But good enough isn’t.
Yeah I’ve tried to get my nice words out fast so I can really vent. Because this is a movie that frustrates me deeply. It should be so much more than it is. It was a nice November morning at the movies but it left no dent in me. When it was over I wasn’t mad but I didn’t really have a reaction. And that’s not how a Justice League movie should be. I could barely breathe with glee after The Avengers. I shrugged at Justice League. And it’s not like I’m way more a Marvel guy than DC. I’m pretty neutral! This is a watchable movie but it failed to scratch my fan itch.
Look, of course a giant reason is this was a debacle BTS and it shows. We talk about Henry Cavill’s CGI mouth a lot and rightly so but there are so many other signs. Some of the reshoots are sub fanfilm level in production. A scene where Batman faces a parademon looks shot on video. Lighting changes within scenes giving away what was reshot. Ben Affleck sleepwalks through it. Whedon’s rewrites were blatantly slammed together in a rush. It is indeed a mess.
But we’re not going to pretend that’s the whole issue. God knows movies have been held together with less and Rogue One went through as many issues but ended one of the peaks of Star Wars. No, I fear we have to be honest and say this movie’s issues are far, far deeper.
For starters, the movie lacks a good villain. I know Marvel is often slammed for quality of villain not matching the film but that’s not really true. Marvel’s villains usually match the films 1:1. It’s not an accident Loki, Killmonger, and the mad titan Thanos are both the favorites and in the best movies. Steppenwolf? He doesn’t cut it. He’s as faceless as the Parademons. There’s no personality to match the bold ones he faces.
Then there’s a big issue. Much of the film is about resurrecting Superman who should never have been dead in the first place. Doing a Justice League movie without Superman for the majority of it is like a rock song without guitar. It can be done I’m sure but it’s an essential element and you’re frustrated it’s not there. When Superman is in the film, it does catch the fire you hope for. And I’m sorry but that’s on Snyder whose ideas are, well, what we know of his grand plan, it’s fascinating but I’m not sure if it’s right for this material. We’ll get back to this in two weeks.
But my big issue with this movie is entirely on the existence of the previous film. There are moments that are meant to make us get excited with glee and there is no bigger one than the meeting of the big 3 in DC. It’s in BvS. The big battle where they unite? BvS. They even face a more iconic foe in that film, facing Doomsday. Not the meh of Steppenwolf. All the big moments that made The Avengers sing are in this universe but they’re mostly in that film. The new members of the JL we meet don’t remotely have the weight of those three. Hell there’s more excitement in the two Barry Allens meeting in Crisis on Infinite Earths than here.
What you have is a mediocre film that is the bare minimum but shows why no that is NOT enough. It does the job but it leaves you feeling like you should’ve had far more. It’s Justice League. It should have been JUSTICE! LEAGUE!
Next, we”ll see if it actually is.
*Justice League: The New Frontier, Justice League: Doom, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Justice League: Starcrossed, and Justice League vs Teen Titans are better.