Justice League Review

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You can’t save the world alone.

DC Comics has some of the most iconic characters of all time. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have been around since the early 20th century. Seeing the three together in a film was but a dream until last year with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. With that film, the idea of the Justice League forming on the big screen started to become a reality. The DC film universe started with the fantastic Man of Steel, and then we got Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman. These films, aside from Wonder Woman, have proved controversial in reviews, especially BvS (the theatrical version isn’t terrible, but the Ultimate Edition propels it into being a stellar film). Justice League brings the light of Wonder Woman into the darker world of BvS. Zack Snyder’s style has proved decisive with many. I think his work is underrated, and honestly his films have delivered some of the best action scenes. Justice League lacks the deepness of BvS/Man of Steel, and doesn’t have the great writing of Wonder Woman. It is however an extremely enjoyable story of heroes coming together.

The core story of Justice League is Batman realizing there’s a grave threat on Earth, and only a combination of special people can stop it. Meanwhile, the death of Superman continues to be felt throughout Metropolis, and the rest of the world. I particularly liked the opening scene, which was a flashback of Superman talking to kids after a small disaster. It was brief, but it reminded viewers what kind of a hero Superman is. The tone, scenery, and music in the montage scene afterward show the effect of Superman’s death. There’s a genuine sadness as a great hero is no longer among the people.

Superman returns toward the latter half of the middle act. Since I just brought him up, let’s discuss the iconic hero. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the character has been met with positive reception in previous films, though fault has been placed with the directing for making Superman a “brooding” character. This is mainly felt in Batman v Superman, where it’s hard to find him smiling at all. After watching the Ultimate Edition and thinking back on Man of Steel,  it’s easy to see what Zack Snyder was going for. He didn’t make Superman automatically the hero we’ve come to know and love from the comics. Rather, there’s a journey that takes place and eventually culminates in the hero’s death. Now in Justice League, Superman is a man reborn and the result is the hero we know.

When Superman tells Steppenwolf that he’s a fan of justice, the viewer knows things are about to get good. Henry Cavill delivers the definitive Man of Steel. His dialogue is reminiscent of the Superman from The Animated Series. Superman appears the least of all the heroes, but his presence is felt the greatest. It’s a little sad also because the viewer begins to think how much more exciting the film could have been from the start if Superman wasn’t saved for over halfway through.

The first half of the film centers on Batman and Wonder Woman, then together they get the team going. Ben Affleck delivers another great portrayal of the Dark Knight. It’s interesting because we see Bruce Wayne as a man changed because of his encounter with Superman in Dawn of Justice. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to shine. One of the most fun scenes was her rescuing the hostages at a bank. (We get to see her reflect bullets in a scene straight out of a comic book.) Wonder Woman’s inspiring persona returns as well, as evidenced in her conversation with Cyborg. Batman and Wonder Woman work well together, and their dialogue is always fun to hear.

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The big three – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – all look great. It’s the other members that are a bit more mixed. The problem with a team movie like this is that there wasn’t other movies to develop the characters. The Avengers worked because audiences were already familiar with the members. Here, the story has to fully introduce Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. There’s just not enough time, especially in Aquaman’s case. I’m not faulting Jason Momoa’s portrayal, but the writing doesn’t give viewers many reasons to care about Aquaman. There’s a scene later in the film with Steppenwolf attacking Atlantis and Mera. Aquaman arrives, and Mera gives some expository backstory. The scene came off as forced exposition to make up for a lack of Aquaman development.

Cyborg however was a surprise hit. His story is very interesting, and the scenes with his father are engaging. Ray Fisher perfectly portrays the conflicted, yet sternly heroic character. It was a little hard to buy into Cyborg being part of the Justice League in the comics when The New 52 launched. In this film, it works. Flash is probably the most mixed of the characters. Justice League separates itself from Batman v Superman in that it has a lighter tone. Barry is a contributing factor to that tone, as he serves as the group’s comic relief. Sometimes it worked, and his scenes with his incarcerated father were genuinely emotional. But sometimes Barry is a bit much – a lot of his dialogue just doesn’t seem like what a real person would say. Barry isn’t a bad character, he’s still fun to have around most of the time.

Steppenwolf is the antagonist, and a notable one. There’s something grand to his character and dialogue. He’s not a multilayered character like the Joker from The Dark Knight, but he hardly comes off as one-note. He works as an engaging, otherworldly threat. His objective in aligning the three Mother Boxes was exciting to watch. The battle scenes against him were excellent. As I said, Zack Snyder has delivered the best action scenes in comic book films, and that continues here. The early battle with Steppenwolf plowing through the Amazons as Hippolyta attempts to race away with the Mother Box was amazingly done. The middle act battle with Steppenwolf taking on the League was also a lot of fun. And of course, the climax is exciting. Justice League does not disappoint in the action department.

There’s fun character moments throughout the film. Wonder Woman saying, “I’m old fashioned that way” to Cyborg for a face to face meeting is one example. Another example is Aquaman’s honesty to the team on the plane (the reason for that happening is too good to spoil). So, the film is fun. But it’s not a superbly written film like The Dark Knight or Logan. It’s also not as consistently good as this year’s Thor: Ragnarok. The first half is fun because of the characters and action, but there’s a lack of stellar writing. The story could have used an additional half hour to develop the members. The soundtrack is exciting, featuring the iconic Wonder Woman theme among other engaging tunes.

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Overall, Justice League is an enjoyable film. It doesn’t have the substance of Zack Snyder’s previous DC films, but it’s a fun story. That’s not to say the film is devoid of meaning – the viewer sees that Superman is the missing element, and the world feels it too. Superman is excellent, and his appearance makes the viewer greatly anticipate the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. Batman and Wonder Woman are engaging as well. Aquaman suffers from lackluster development, but Cyborg was very good. Barry is funny, but sometimes borders on being over the top. Two other characters that deserve mention are James Gordon and Alfred, both of which add to the story. (This is the definitive version of Alfred.) Also, Amy Adams delivers a genuinely emotional performance as Lois Lane. It seems there was behind the scenes changes with Justice League, which is a shame. I believe if Zack Snyder did his full vision for the movie, we could have gotten something amazing. As it stands, Justice League is far from mediocre and does the iconic comic book team justice.

8/10

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JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS REVIEW

I’ve always been a big fan of the comic book animated films. Sadly Marvel has seemingly given up on them, but DC has continued consistently. DC has a wide array of installments, some being completely original and others being adaptions. To better align with the comics, starting with Justice League: War the films have adopted The New 52 continuity. From a business standpoint, it made sense. Unfortunately as a viewer the films have been noticeably of lesser quality than pre-52 ones. The actual League is modernized, in a negative way. Is the latest film in this universe an improvement? Interestingly, Justice League vs. Teen Titans focuses as a sequel to both Throne of Atlantis and Batman: Bad Blood. It suffers some of the same ongoing negatives as previous entries but ended up being perhaps the best New 52 film.

We’ll get this out of the way first: Damien is still extremely annoying. Ever since debuting in Son of Batman, DC has been focused on making him a central focus in the films. Why? Who really knows. Surely they can see just about every line he has is terrible. He’s been doing nothing but disobeying orders and being rebellious since his first appearance, which is no different here. At the very least in the climax his character arc comes full circle in an admittedly well written sequence. In theory going forward he will be developed as a character, but time will tell.

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These movies usually start out with a great action sequence, and it’s no different here. We have the League battling the Legion of Doom. The actual fights are well animated, but Lex Luthor is written so cheaply. This wouldn’t be a bad thing too much if not for the fact the after credits sequence for Throne of Atlantis exists. There he apparently was enlisting Ocean Master to join with him in thematic fashion. None of that is mentioned in this film, instead making Luthor cannon fodder. One has to imagine if DC simply abandoned this plot point in favor of moving in another direction. At the very least, the Wonder Woman/Cheetah fight is probably their best encounter in animation.

Obviously the big draw is to see the team battle the Teen Titans. Like the Batman vs. Robin title, it’s a little misleading since the fight isn’t much of a focus at all. This could be a disappointment for those hoping to see a throw-down between the two teams. The next biggest draw then is of course the Titans themselves. This is their first major animation appearance since the show’s incarnation ended in 2006. (The slapstick comedy known as Teen Titans GO! doesn’t count.) It’s interesting seeing Starfire as the leader here, and she does an excellent job of it.

Blue Beetle was a bizarre choice to include. I suppose he was put there to be the Cyborg of the group. Besides rescuing Cyborg, he doesn’t do anything of major importance, but he wasn’t bad either. Beast Boy is pretty much lifted straight from the comics. Aside from one awful line near the end, he’s written as genuinely funny. (Perhaps the best line was when he said “awkward call to Batman” after Damien was literally fried.) Raven was a surprising highlight. One could say the story even revolved around her. Her backstory is somewhat similar to Damien’s, so it was interesting to see how the two connected. Her character arc was great to watch, and she had the best lines showing that she doesn’t have to give into evil. Taissa Farmiga did a terrific job voicing her.

Superman unfortunately spends most of the movie looking like a joke. This is consistent with his previous New 52 film appearances, which is a pale representation of the character we admire. Thankfully, the writing picks up with him in the climax where he actually feels like Superman. Batman is solid throughout, and the dialogue between him and Cyborg was fun to watch. Wonder Woman is very good, with perhaps her best appearance so far in the New 52 series. The League however appears rather unreasonable when they confront the Titans about Raven. Surely at least Flash would have objected to taking her by force.

The film has a few notable plot holes, the main ones which take place in Trigon’s hellish realm. Beast Boy randomly reacts to the environment, but goes back to normal some seconds later. The reason for this isn’t given and came off as rather odd. Another thing is that shouldn’t all these demons be working together? So why were they grabbing away Damien’s opponent when the latter was on the same side as them? This made no sense. Trigon like in his Teen Titans show appearance is a great antagonist to have around. His dialogue is perfect classic overlord fare. As basically the devil of DC, his taunting dialogue to Raven was very good, and of course the latter’s response even better. The climax offers a grand final battle. It’s not that fast-paced due to the large nature of the threat, but still gives a sense of climatic dread since the League members are getting thrown around. The soundtrack isn’t bad, though at the same time a little forgettable.

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Overall, Justice League vs. Teen Titans is a surprisingly solid entry in the DC animated film series. The story progresses nicely with the right amount of dialogue and action. The Titans were very good, (there’s a sense of thematic awe when we see the Tower for the first time) and hopefully they get to appear in another film. (Based on the mid-credits scene, it’s more than likely.) The story at the core however is not a vs, rather about a person defying her evil heritage. Raven was a fantastic focus and easily made the movie. The League mostly is solid this time around. Damien is still unbelievably annoying, and sadly it looks like he isn’t going away anytime soon. Still, if it’s one New 52 film you should check out, it’s this one.

8/10