Thursday, November 23, 2017

Justice League - REVIEW

The big DC cinematic universe dream moment has arrived. Of course the obvious questions are... Does it live up to our long held expectations? And for sheer rivalry reasons, how does it stack up to Marvel's Avengers?

For many reasons, Justice League does not land with the same impact that the first Avengers did. This excitement has obviously been tempered by the fact that for years audiences have already been spoiled by both ensemble and standalone superhero films. One of those was 'Batman Vs. Superman' which also starred Wonder Woman in a major supporting role. So in a sense we've experienced DC's 3 biggest properties together with glimpses of others to come and adapting a major Superman event. So DC fans already got a big taste prior to the coming together of any league.

What also lowered fan expectations have been the mixed reception to many of DC's previous outings. Some were well received such as the recent Wonder Woman. Some failed critically like Suicide Squad. And then there are the mixed bag of items such as Man of Steel and Batman Vs. Superman. But on which side of the scales does Justice League balance?

As it turns out, Justice League is fairly decent entertainment, and one would sigh in relief that this didn't turn out badly. Of course... that's certainly not anything praiseworthy, and one feels inclined to give it a pass more as a matter of a course correction for the DC cinematic universe than for being anything highly remarkable.

With Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman already developed in the previous films, and DC and WB rushing to get to the ensemble route without taking the time to develope each major Justice League member with stand-alone films, the three newcomers - Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg all get the emphasis over Batman and Wonder Woman, and of course Superman, who is deceased.

That's not to say there isn't any new development for the trinity. Superman's loss is felt throughout the world, which leaves it increasingly vulnerable in his absence. Crime is on the rise, and an alien threat also begins to slowly invade Earth, alerting Batman who had a glimpse of the future where this would occur. Batman, feeling responsible for Superman's death and therefore the fate of the world, takes it upon himself to try and collect a group of powerful heroes. Seizing the conveniently revealed collection of data he seized from Luther, he and Wonder Woman, who also shares as much screen time with Batman, head out to recruit them. Meanwhile, the alien invasion takes a major step forward as a villainous being known as Steppenwolf arrives upon Earth in search of three artifacts that when brought together could lead to the destruction of the world.

If the plot sounds similar, then you might recall it as being very much like The Avengers where Loki is likewise trying to get a hold of another fantastical object in order to open a gateway to an alien invasion of Earth. And likewise, Nick Fury is attempting to bring a team of super-powered people together to prevent this from occurring. Avengers director Joss Whedon has also stepped up to finish Justice League on behalf of director Zack Snyder's departure due to a personal family situation.

But where Justice League falls short is precisely where Avengers succeeded. With each character already having their own previous films, more attention is paid to developing their own personal situations which creates additional conflict when the team attempts to get together and which made for a more complex film.

Justice League has to spend time introducing us to 3 new major characters with glimpses of their backgrounds that are all too brief, leaving much unexplained (of course ideally to be developed in future films), and with a convenient plot device that forces them together. Well at least Aquaman and Cyborg are reluctant, whereas Batman had the Flash on board at "hello."

That's not to say we won't enjoy their presence. All three newcomers make a good impression. Aquaman, with his suave wild rock-star makeover makes him the resident bad-ass. Cyborg, lamenting his half-man half-machine condition is a brooding mistrustful pessimist. And who is likely to be the audience-favourite is the Flash, purely for comic relief, due to his talent for thinking faster than those around him making him a socially awkward fast talking witty jokester. But the Flash is also the most human element of the cast, being inexperienced at combat and naturally afraid to take on the superhuman threat they are faced with. He feels like he's being the weakest link there despite Batman being the guy without superpowers.

So each with their peculiar personalities make for great banter, and they each pull their own in a situation. However, we don't have enough time to delve deeply into their origins, or their lives, only receiving bits and pieces that are sub-plots saved for other films and don't really contribute to the overall theme of the movie we are watching. The plot of the film is pretty simple and straightforward, and points of convenience bring them together. And overall it's a competent film, and it's fun to finally see these DC heroes together. But after audiences have been spoiled by several superhero ensemble films already, Justice League fails to raise the bar or do anything to set itself apart.

Also of note is that the stakes were higher with far more spectacle in DC's own previous films. Man of Steel practically levelled Metropolis. Batman Vs. Superman had the Dark Knight facing off against Superman and had a more interesting villain in Lex Luthor and climaxed with the death of Superman. Wonder Woman had a World War to fight. In terms of scale, nothing in Justice League matches those events. Steppenwolf's plan to destroy earth pales greatly in comparison to what General Zod did in Man of Steel that it almost seem laughable. The Avengers hit with the impact that it did precisely because the scales were raised in terms of what our heroes were up against compared to their individual outings, and thus we could feel the necessity and the grandeur of them coming together to face it. Justice League, in comparison, feels like a step back. The alien invasion is much smaller fare compared to Man of Steel. And Steppenwolf is small fry compared to Doomsday, and neither is Steppenwolf any sort of intelligent or cunning mastermind compared to Lex Luthor or Aries. Heck, even the members of the Suicide Squad faced a greater threat compared to their level and had more intricacy in its story.

Thus Justice League could only be viewed as a positive in the sense that it feels like a 1st episode of many more chapters to come, and because we finally get our fill of seeing our favourite DC heroes together on screen. The film looks great, we have many wonderful pose shots, the stereoscopic 3-D conversion is also quite good, and there are many other surprises that I won't spoil and are best seen for yourselves. But one nice nod I'll point out are the return of the classic themes from both Elfman's Batman and John William's Superman woven into the background score. There are of course the expected mid and post-credits scenes for those of you planning to stick around.

Justice League is certainly nowhere near the best of the cinematic universe lot from either side of the DC/Marvel spectrum. But it's thankfully not the worst either. It's just something like a very fun better-then-mediocre movie that in many ways would've actually been much much better received way back in the day if only DC had decided to lead with this one instead of Man of Steel to kick off their cinematic universe, and then worked backwards branching out into individual films. But due to its late arrival, the competition before it, including coming from members of its own team, make it it own worst enemy.

But on the bright side, if we imagine Justice League to be the beginning of DC's phase 2, then things are looking up.