Just about a year ago, I reviewed the Justice League film that was released from DC and Warner Bros. During my review I wrote that Justice League was a film that reveled in the fact that it was about heroes trying to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. While I still do believe this to me true, in the year since its release, it’s been harder to enjoy this film without thinking of the baggage that comes with it.
I’m not going to go into detail over the behind the scenes drama that was occurring during the filming of this movie. I’m not going to go into the release/possible firing of credited director Zack Snyder, Ben Affleck’s loss of interest in Batman/DC Films and the awkward shifts in tone this film takes in-between scenes thanks to second string director Joss Whedon. I don’t want to comment on that because everyone already has, and they’re all convinced that they’re experts, so who am I to argue? But I am going to be honest with you, a year later; it’s hard to watch Justice League because there is so much there that is a great superhero film, but there is so much cynicism and ill-will swirling around it that it has been sullied for me.
If you follow superhero films and the news cycle around them, it’s hard to hear much of anything positive about Justice League. Even when people are talking about Justice League, talking heads online feel the need to kick it while it’s down. The mere mention of a Wonder Woman sequel or the upcoming Shazam film finds writers instantly talking about the debacle of what was the Justice League film. More and more, as the days pass, this film is seen as an example of how not to make a superhero film. You’re told to look at Marvel Studios and learn from their example, but don’t you dare copy it. We hear every day that there should be different takes on characters that we know and love, but then the instant the slightest change is implemented, you’re told that you’re wrong for wanting something different.
Justice League, as a film, was meant as a course correction, and to an extent it was successful. Taking a look at this film, things are decidedly brighter, the tone a bit more chipper. Batman is telling a Batman-style joke that is equal parts grim and hilarious. Wonder Woman is roving more and more to be the compassionate figure that every hero and person should strive to be. And limited as his screen time may be, Superman is eventually shown to be the beacon of hope that he has always been, at least for the past forty years. But newcomers like Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash are all well rounded characters that are more of an audience proxy than main character. They are all thrust in the middle of a massve impending threat that they are not prepared for, and they react to it the way any one of us might.
Flash is afraid, Aquaman doesn’t want to deal with it, and Cyborg has an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, and every one of these feelings is something that makes them more human than the Godly trinity of DC heroes can be. While Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are ideals we can strive for, Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman are us. While I can’t talk to fish or communicate with alien technology, I know how it feels to want to walk away from a threat bigger than me. I know how it feels to be afraid of folding under pressure. And this film still tells me that you can rise above that. This film is still about heroes.
But it’s more than a little odd to see the scenes that weren’t filmed by Zack Snyder, and it’s heartbreaking to see the world building that he was doing that will probably now go nowhere. It’s orchestral score is cringe-worthy to say the least, as composer Danny Elfman chose to highlight musical scores that he has previously used in other films that are now almost thirty to forty years old, and his original music found within the film, is a heartless selection that feels like it supposed to be in a film from the early nineties. It’s knee jerking to see the obvious reshoots of Ben Affleck as Batman/ Bruce Wayne, as he doesn’t look like Batman at certain points of the film. Watching Batman v Superman, which is apparently the internet’s most hated film, Ben Affleck was Batman. Regardless of how you feel about that movie, you knew that Affleck was the Dark Knight that you had heard your nerd friends talking about. But in Justice League, for a large portion of the film, he looks like a man playing dress up instead of the world’s greatest detective.
And finally, seeing Superman, for probably the last third of the film, is hard to watch because his whole presence in the film, aside from his resurrection, seems to be a shout from the Warner Bros. executives that they heard the message geeks, we’ll make Henry Cavil play Christopher Reeves instead of continuing the character arc started in Man of Steel. While Superman’s humanity was the focal point of both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, his newfound smile and zest for life feels incredibly forced and terribly shoehorned in with this film. While the whole point of Superman as a character is watching a god live among us, with the newest films since2013, we’ve seen how a god would be rejected by our world. The reality is, we would, as a whole, hate the idea of Superman and reject him, only to realize that we were wrong after he was gone. But in this film, it’s painful to watch as Henry Cavil, a fine actor, be creatively stymied and forced into not progressing with a character he had been playing for five years at that point.
While Justice League’s parts may not be greater than the whole, the parts that do work are wonderful, joyous examples of what these characters are. Seeing Superman fight the Justice League works. Seeing the budding relationship between Wonder Woman and Batman works. Seeing Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke works. Seeing Cyborg being afraid of his own body works. And finally, we finally got this shot…and this shot fucking works.
While Justice League may not be the film it should have been, it is the film we got. Great things will come from it, and lessons will be learned from it.
But, if nothing else, it gave us this scene, and it perfectly encapsulates what this movie, and franchise, is all about. And I absolutely love it.
Oh, and for the record, Henry Cavil’s upper lip looks fine. Just…just stop nerds.