After rewatching "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" in preparation (the post for which will be up as soon as I have time to edit it down from 8,000 words), I was ready for "Justice League" to be another overwrought, self-important muddled mess in the vein of the previous Snyder films in the series. And the shine's come quite thoroughly off the apple for me with regard to Joss Whedon, both as a filmmaker and a person. So I didn't have high hopes going in. And I expect that "Justice League" benefited considerably from those lowered expectations.
But that's not really a bad thing. The DCEU up to this point consists of one great movie and three that range from the bad end of mediocre to actively terrible, so having one that's just all right comes across as a triumph. There's an oddly old-school feeling to "Justice League," reminiscent of superhero movies from before the Marvel Cinematic Universe took hold of our cultural imagination, and I strongly suspect that if I rewatch "Green Lantern," I'll have a similar response to it. "Justice League" feels like it was made in 2008, for all the good and bad that entails.
Since I actually felt pretty positively about this, let's start with the bad: the CGI is frequently laughable. Steppenwolf always looks like he's in a computer game cutscene, and a lot of the fight scene special effects have those rubbery, over-animated character models that never quite look or move right, reminiscent of the opening to "Avengers: Age of Ultron." Even some of the greenscreen effects look oddly cheap, like they're from a not-particularly-recent TV show. Even Cyborg's human face frequently looks plastic, and I don't know why. And yeah, Henry Cavill's upper lip is often distracting.
It's nice to have jokes in the film; one thing I didn't really notice about "Batman V. Superman" until I saw this is just how humorless it was. Alfred got a couple of wry comments, and there's the interaction between Batman and Martha Kent, but otherwise it is all Very Serious Business. At least "Man of Steel" managed to break up the tension with some levity now and again. That said, there are a lot of jokes that just don't work, from the bit where Flash is laying on top of Wonder Woman at super-speed to Batman's "something's definitely bleeding" gag.
Flash is fine, I guess, but it's interesting to me just how far afield we've gotten in our adaptations from terminally square crew-cut Barry Allen. Like, it's nice to have a tacit admission that Barry Allen is about as interesting as old wallpaper paste, but if we're going to change his character so completely, why not just have a different guy in the suit? Anyway, he's a decent enough character with his upbeat, manic personality, even if he looks like a total doofus when he's running, and even if he feels like Bart Allen-by-way-of-Zach-Braff than Barry. Also, his costume is real bad.
Superman's return is handled fairly well; I think tying his resurrection into Fourth World technology is a simpler and more sensible solution than the one from the comics. His post-resurrection fight with the heroes, which was never really explained beyond "he's confused," felt really forced. And that bit at the beginning about the car keys, ugh.
The score was unmistakably a Danny Elfman production from the second note, and that in and of itself isn't a bad thing. I like Danny Elfman. I even liked hearing the old Batman and Superman themes weaved occasionally throughout the movie. But the fact that he did that kind of showcases a problem with the DCEU up to this point. Hans Zimmer is fine, and the Wonder Woman theme is genuinely amazing, but in order to include iconic character themes for Batman and Superman, Elfman reaches for scores from 28 and 39 years ago respectively. I'll give him a pass on Batman, since that's Elfman's theme, but somewhere in the two Superman movies he scored, Zimmer really should have tried his hand at making a new Superman theme for his new Superman.
Of all the DCU elements adapted into Justice League, what came out the worst was the Fourth World material. Everything interesting about Steppenwolf, the Parademons, and the Mother Boxes was stripped down into Generic Alien Baddie, Inhuman Cannon Fodder, and Generic MacGuffin. There's nothing interesting about any of them; it's one of the things I think feels most like those older superhero movies, like making Dr. Doom a guy with metal skin and lightning powers and Galactus a big cloud. It's especially annoying with the
Allspark Mother Boxes, which have no intelligence or allegiance, but are just three cubes of magic that will turn the world Apokoliptian if they come together. I at least like how Steppenwolf went out in the end.
Edit: I forgot about the Boom Tubes! It's the only part of the Kirby stuff that worked, and holy crap did it work. I got a real thrill the first time we saw a Boom Tube open.
I'm glad Cyborg changes his look up toward the end to be a little more distinctive, but frankly I wish we could take a few steps back in terms of how much of Cyborg is mechanical. These days, he's down to just a head, and that's just a step or two away from him being Robotman or Metallo. Let the kid have some flesh, DC.
Oh, and there's one scene of all the heroes hanging out together in the hangar that feels like it was deleted from one of the Avengers movies.
All that aside? Just about every major character had a coherent arc; Batman learned to trust other people, Wonder Woman became comfortable with leading people into battle again, Flash got a real job, Aquaman learned to be a team player, Cyborg learned to accept his new situation, Lois Lane got back to telling real stories, even Ma Kent got the farm back.
And Superman? Granted, his arc in this movie was more about going from dead to alive, but I can't tell you how nice it is to see Henry Cavill finally get to play Superman. Real, Dan Jurgens-ass hairy-chested smiling civilian-saving Superman. Seriously, the moment he stops in the battle, hears people in help, and rushes off immediately to save them? That's the Superman I want to see, the one who puts saving lives over beating the bad guy (or brooding on a mountain) every day.
And I appreciated that Batman made saving civilians and hostages a priority as well, that we see every hero in the movie save some innocent person's life. That's important, and you'd think it would be easy to do in a superhero movie, but I've got a couple of previous films in this series that suggest otherwise.
"Justice League" is not a perfect movie by any means. It's not even a particularly good movie. The things it does well have been done better in other movies. The things it does poorly represent the worst of the two directors whose visions went into making it. This is a movie that doesn't concern itself with having something bigger to say about superheroes or the world, it just tells a very straightforward story about superheroes fighting a bad guy and saving the world.
And I am just fine with that.