I’ve seen Justice League before… it’s called The Avengers. The comparison is inevitable. While some might say that it’s unfair to compare the two films, I believe this connection is stronger than ever. For Justice League to be compared to The Avengers is high praise, but the similarities bring down Justice League when looking back on how others have succeeded. And that statement is even more baffling when you take a look at the journey behind the scenes.
Justice League director Zack Snyder completed filming and was deep into post-production when tragedy struck in the Snyder family in May 2017. Snyder decided to step down from the project, leaving Joss Whedon to handle the rest of the post-production duties. For those who don’t know, Whedon is also the director of The Avengers and had a completely different vision, resulting in extensive reshoots to change some of the dialogue sequences and the overall tone of the picture. This leads to the main problems of the film.
The film fights with itself to decide if it wants to be a serious, epic picture or a light-hearted romp in superhero land. The camera work, the dark colour tone and the overly used slow-motion fight sequences create a serious atmosphere meant to be seen as a world-ending threat, whereas the quippy dialogue and character interactions give an atmosphere that should be fun and bright. This mix is unnatural, making the technical aspects look overly dramatic and the light-hearted dialogue look out of place. This is obviously due to fact that two directors worked on the same film, both with completely different styles and ways of storytelling that don’t mix well at all.
The other main problem with Justice League directly involves the storytelling Whedon implemented into the film. How do I know that it was Whedon? Because the storyline is The Avengers to a “T”. A god-like figure arrives on Earth to gather a cubed artifact that threatens to destroy the world. After much infighting, this threat leads to the formation of a superhero team to save the world. Which movie did I just summarize? If it wasn’t obvious, that was a rhetorical question. And Whedon didn’t stop there. The superhero archetypes are almost exactly the same.
Batman/Iron Man is a genius, billionaire playboy whose arrogant personality leads to the most tension within the team, but is there to hide their self-doubt. Wonder Woman/Captain America is the old-fashioned and empathic leader of the team who was left behind by time and is haunted by losses in their past life.
Aquaman/Thor is the ruler of a faraway kingdom who arrives to the team late into the first act with their frank and selfish personality.
Cyborg/The Hulk is the outsider who wrestles with their inner pain and their inherent passion to help others. It seems like, in the short timespan he had, Whedon referred back to what he has done before.
The problem comes from how defined the characters are. In the Marvel films, the characters are strongly developed and act in the ways they should. In Justice League, they are not defined in the slightest and change their traits between scenes. One notable instance of this is when The Flash mentions how inexperienced he is at fighting, but in the next fight sequence, he’s in the thick of battle with no hesitation. What is the point of watching this team grow if we have seen it before, and done with more depth and entertainment value?
There are other problems as well, though not as fundamentally severe. Ben Affleck, who plays Batman/Bruce Wayne, acts as if he is going through the motions, bringing no depth in scenes that rely on the character’s commitment to certain beliefs. If he cares so much about the beacon of hope that was Superman, then why does he look like he couldn’t care less?
The villain, Steppenwolf, played by Ciarán Hinds (Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones), is so cliche and boring with his generic “destroy the world ‘cause it’s mine” motivation. It’s so weak I don’t see why they bothered to give him any desire to do anything at all. If you want the audience to care about what’s happening, show that the threat is real and developed, not generic. Also, a filter is put over the villain’s voice which makes him barely understandable at times. Smaller things like occasional poor-looking CGI, continuity errors and bad line delivery (often from Affleck) take place as well, adding to the mess of this film.
But even though this film is a mess, I left the theatre with positive thoughts; even though the humour didn’t mix with the overall tone, the humour itself was great. It comes from the characters’ personalities rather than random situations. And other than Ben Affleck, I was surprised by how excellent everyone else is in the film. The highlights for me were Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman with more heart and depth than any other cast members, and Ezra Miller, who plays The Flash with such grace and passion that I truly believed he is a socially awkward teenager who can also run fast. The music, arching back to 1989’s Batman and John Williams’ Superman score, brought joy and added necessary emotion to scenes. One fight sequence in particular is absolutely spectacular and proves when the film sticks to one tone, it can be something truly special.
Overall, this film is a step in the right direction to find success in the superhero genre. With a singular voice and vision behind these films, they can be excellent. The problems come when too many cooks are in the kitchen. Though in these circumstances it was inescapable, DC needs to decide on a singular vision for these films and stick to it, so their future movies can become something that matches Marvel’s cinematic universe. It’s just a shame what happened to Justice League because even though I left the theatre with hope, it was the same hope I felt while watching superheroes save New York City five years ago.