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Justice League

Theatrical Review


Warner Bros.; 121 minutes

Director: Zack Snyder


Written by on November 15, 2017 




The great millstone around Justice League‘s neck is the uneven quality of the films that have preceded it, but it’s also the thing working in its favor. Here we have the rare movie that both benefits and suffers from the inconsistencies of its franchise. Like a house half-built and laid on a shoddy foundation, the voids where quality work may have been also exist where poor craftsmanship may have further marred the edifice. The vacuums must be filled, and open space is nothing but opportunity.

The answer to the question of whether or not Zack Snyder’s latest is a good film is illusory and ever-changing. The movie seems to exist in a quantum state of uncertainty, and like all works of art, the quality will depend upon the observer. But then even to a single observer, the merits of the film will shift and change, like a forced-perspective art piece wherein a pile of junk, viewed from the right angle, suddenly becomes a tree or a view of a city skyline. In a moment, a scene seems to work under its own power; then, one reel later, something will happen that makes you realize none of this supposed narrative makes sense. It simply doesn’t track — but, then again, none of that matters.

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We begin where we left off in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead, and the world is still reeling from the loss, one so deep that it has caused a psychic disruption in the soul of the human race, allowing for a demonic army from beyond the stars to begin an invasion that will leave Earth a charred, barren hellscape. This, I assure you, is not hyperbole. It is the literal plot of the film. Never you mind that in Man of Steel the titular hero destroyed half a city and that the following film showed him as a figure of deeply polarizing meaning to the world. Somewhere in the midst of his fight with Batman (Ben Affleck), he became so universally beloved that his death would leave the planet open to invasion.

Speaking of Batman, at the beginning of the movie he is the only person who seems to have been tipped wise to the oncoming threat. Dangling a common thief (Holt McCallany) from a Gotham rooftop lures an insectoid steampunk demon to him, but even though the Dark Knight is able to capture the creature, it soon self-destructs. All it leaves behind is a symbol, burned into a wall, of three squares. These squares, it seems, are a clue as to what this creature and its leader seek.

One might be compelled to ask why a being endowed with a self-destruct provision would explode so as to leave a clear clue behind. One might ask that if Justice League ever slowed down enough to allow for such thoughts. At two hours, the film movies so swiftly that it carries none of the bloat that infected Dawn of Justice. This means that it can paper over the nonsense with spectacle, which is — if you can believe it — an improvement over the self-serious brooding of the past Superman-heavy films in this series. If you can’t do anything right, move so quickly that no one has time to notice.

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This is a bit unfair to Justice League, though, as it does do a few things right. One might even say that it does them well. Casting, for instance. Gal Gadot still serves as the brightest star in this constellation of super-powered beings. Even removed from her full World War 1 glory, she remains the only truly flawless character. The Flash (Ezra Miller) is perhaps the best of the new crop of super heroes, with his visually arresting power set and his twitchy, earnest character. Miller plays up his alienation and awkwardness without ever becoming insufferable. Jason Momoa invests Aquaman with a brute physicality and rock star swagger that drowns out his bizarrely specific talents. The weakest character by far is Ray Fisher’s Cyborg — who could also be called Plot Device — but Ray Fisher manages to act beyond his limiting prosthetics and cheap CGI to give even this cypher a touch of humanity.

When all of these heroes finally come together to defeat the all-powerful Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), the movie kicks into high gear and stays reasonably compelling within the limitations of its unconvincing special effects and completely incomprehensible spatial ordering. In between battles the banter is light enough and the actors charming enough to make even the most leaden dialogue bounce a little.

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It is truly impressive how much this film feels a piece of the franchise that it is a part of, in that it cannibalizes so many of the worst and least-offensive aspects of the films that heralded it. From Suicide Squad it takes the use of absolutely overbearing and obvious needle drops. From Wonder Woman it takes its lessons about hope and the power of teamwork. From Man of Steel it takes random inserts of Malick-light cinematography. From Dawn of Justice it takes the series’ introduction to Batman and picks up where the death of Superman left off.

True to this piecemeal construction, the film never feels entirely whole. Most scenes don’t seem to effect in any way what comes next, save for who knows whom. With such disconnection, at some point you begin to lose the expectation that any dialogue or character moments will pay off in a traditional sense. Aquaman talks a lot about his parentage at first, but never again brings it up and he uses none of his powers in the final battle. In the end, in fact, the main qualification for the Justice League — the league, not the movie — is to be able to take a punch, fall off a building, and keep ticking.

This creates such a disjointed melange of incident that you half-forget there has been no work put in during the previous films to create lore. There’s no history here. That lack of structure or history means anything can happen, and it won’t upset the canonical apple cart. The rush into the team up means you can’t trip over the continuity. It’s a kind of genius impatience. In both lack of planning and lack of cohesion, the movie manages to save itself from itself.

Justice League opens on Friday, November 17.


C+







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