JUSTICE LEAGUE

Published On November 16, 2017 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

JUSTICE LEAGUE
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, Ciaran Hinds, Amy Adams
Screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon
Story by Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder
Based on “Justice League” by Gardner Fox
Directed by Zack Snyder
Produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg and Geoff Johns
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography by Fabian Wagner
Edited by David Brenner, Richard Pearson and Martin Walsh

 

D.C. Films’, Warner Bros.’, Zack Snyder’s and Joss Whedon’s “Justice League” comic book—superhero—fantasy—science fiction film is great fun, wholly entertaining, wonderfully lighthearted, full of dazzling, Imax-worthy visual, special, CGI and digital effects, and stacked full of likeable, relatable and sympathetic characters portrayed by talented actors, and this highly-recommended movie is a welcome filmic comeback for the DC Comics world of comic book characters and superheroes and a welcome comeback for D.C. Films and Warner Bros.—all good news for everyone, including filmgoers!

In the always-fun and generally-upbeat, positive and flat-out funny “Justice League,” Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) assembles a crew of motley superheroes (and comic book characters) to fight another impending apocalyptic scenario. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash team up with Batman to help fight the other-wordly Steppenwolf (not the rock band), who wants to create a living hellworld on Earth, full of fire, darkness, death, evil and scary flying, light-eyed demons far more frightening than the “Wizard of Oz” flying monkeys they’re descended from. Everyone shines in “Justice League:” the direction by Zack Snyder and, later, Joss Whedon; the bouncy, lighthearted—but never too heavy–music from Danny Eflman; always-dazzling visual effects from veteran visual effects supervisors and artists and of course a crew of literally hundreds working for scores of individual companies; visually-exceptional production design, art direction, costuming and make-up; and quality acting from an A-list cast that includes Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, Joe Morton, Billy Crudup, Amy Adams and Diane Lane give “Justice League” a boost, and also gives Warner Brothers and DC Comics a much-needed positive turn at the movie theaters. “Justice League” is highly-recommended–and it’s a great film to see this weekend and during Thanksgiving weekend.

That’s good news on the aforementioned fronts, but the expected box office success of the movie is also good news considering that some reports report that the estimated production budget of “Justice League” was actually—ready?—about $300 million. Yes, that’s three-hundred followed by a million. That would make “League” one of the more expensive films ever made. But, worldwide, look for “League” to register with filmgoers on a major scale and, nationally and internationally, eventually make back that estimated $300 million.

For filmgoers just looking for a big, fun escapist movie during the early holiday season, this is great news, of course, but, as noted, this is also great news for DC Films and Warner Bros. because both companies’ recent string of superhero movies—despite decent box office returns—also registered on a somewhat sour note with fans of all types—hardcores, casuals and just plain regular moviegoers. The companies’ “Man of Steel,” (2013) “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) and “Suicide Squad” (2016) all made tons of money—all more than $500 million worldwide, covering their respective humongous production budgets—but box office success aside, all three films left a somewhat sour aftertaste and afterthought with fans and moviegoers. Something was missing, moviegoers thought, and, seemingly, disaster loomed for DC and Warner Bros.

Then, this year, the tides have turned—the summer of 2017’s excellent “Wonder Woman” and, now, the autumn of 2017’s equally-excellent “Justice League” have demonstrated that, indeed, DC and Warner Bros. can come back on all levels—“Wonder Woman” was wonderfully, positively received worldwide and was a smash hit with all fans and filmgoers, and, once again, now “Justice League” continues with the smart, breezy, funny, character-driven, action-driven, well-paced, well-timed and back-story and sub-plot-filled type of superhero and comic book movies that people want to—and they match the continually-successful string of all-level successful similar types of genre films from Marvel, or, as the Marvel honchos have boastfully and somewhat pretentiously dubbed their films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You’ve got to give some public relations credit to the Marvel worker who came up with that one.

“Justice League” succeeds mainly because of one of the primary reasons that so many recent superhero and comic book films have succeeded in recent years, and that basic element of success is very simple and very common-sense-oriented: humor.

As noted previously, with films such as “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the “Guardians” sequel, “Doctor Strange,” “Ant-Man,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool,” humor is a strong, almost-over-riding filmic element throughout these movies, appearing in a welcome manner to erase the years and era of unnecessarily brooding, dark, depressing and doomy and gloomy superhero and comic book films that appeared in theaters for a number of years, threatening not just over-saturation, lower box office revenues, bad reviews, but possible runs to psychiatrists and psychologists and counselors by filmgoers worried that if superheroes and comic book characters were depressed, negative, dark and wallowing in their own existential psychological navel-gazing, then what possible hope could there be for the world?!! But, alas, Hollywood listened to the public, listened to filmgoers, listened to fans, listened to the zeitgeist—and actually listened to the non-hack, actually-film-educated critics—and turned a tide to an ocean current of more positive, upbeat, light-hearted and even, yes, for the zillionth time, humorous genre movies. Even the edgy, violent and R-rated “Deadpool” and the Cold War political thriller (but still comic book in origin) and somewhat dramatic “Atomic Blonde” carried with them an undercurrent and rip tide of humor, even it was black humor in those two films. Alas, fortunately for everyone, “Justice League” is part of this more positive, funny wave, and largely due to that humorous tone, the movie is just a batch of fun to see at the movie theaters.

Even Ben Affleck’s Batman/Bruce Wayne is cracking jokes in “Justice League”—and that’s a good thing. Enough with the dark, brooding Batman and Bruce Wayne. Somewhere and sometime along the line, Batman/Wayne has got to let things from the past go—as dark as they were—and loosen up and crack a smile! He is, after all, one of the richest men in the country—if you can’t enjoy that, you’re a zombie. In fact, one of the better jokes in “League” alludes to Wayne’s wealth, and it’s funny. And before this review goes any further, people may be wondering about the Henry Cavill name in the credits and about various rumors and stories and gossip regarding Cavill’s character, Superman/Clark Kent. But do any of you really think that on any possible intelligent level this review is going to say anything about Superman/Clark Kent, other than this nod to the already-public rumors? Not a chance, amigos, not a chance. That’s it for any mention of Superman/Clark Kent—nothing to see here, please. Move on, please.

In “League,” Batman, as previously noted, is worried about the release of a literally monstrous and evil villain, Steppenwolf (wonderfully and menacingly and scarily played by Ciaran Hinds, a 64-year-old veteran stage and Shakespearan actor from Ireland who excels in this most digitally-rendered portrayal), who—yes, it’s a cliché, and it’s not original, but that cliché just doesn’t matter in “League”—wants to destroy all life on Earth, take over Earth, and turn Earth into a literal hell-world full of fire, flames, darkness and evil, as noted. Yes, it’s the same as the threat facing humanity in “The Lord of the Rings,” and just about every other fantasy, sci-fi, superhero and comic book movie, but it’s a major, impressive credit to all of the other successful filmic achievements of “Justice League” that the pat, tired and clichéd basic storyline actually does not register as a major problem. Steppenwolf is a fascinating villain, his presence is genuinely scary and domineering, and his particular method of taking over the world will remind viewers of “The Fifth Element” and certain aspects of “Stargate SG-1” and even the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” films, but, again, the villain and his evil ways register as just corny, basic fun in “League,” not an over-bearing plot point. It’s there, it drives the plot, it’s the plot and story foundation—but everything else tends to overcome that basic storyline—again, to the movie’s credit.

Aside from the continual humor, simple characterization, back-story and sub-plot—along with basic story, plot and character development in slight, subtle ways—even some character development from Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman—help drive forward and lift up “Justice League.” The film is full of people—who just happen to be comic book-style superheros—who have their respective, sympathetic backstories that, again, people will relate to and care about. And, again, sometimes that basic filmic element can hook viewers and help carry a movie—characters who you actually like and care about. Too many modern-day movies—strangely and amazingly—simply lack likeable and relatable characters. And if a filmgoer can’t simply relate to or care about a lead or supporting character, then not much is left to enjoy after that, in a very real sense.

Bruce Wayne, worried about the very real strong and over-powering dangers, risks and threats posed by Steppenwolf and his plot to take over the world, smartly decides early in the story that he can’t possibly take on Steppenwolf by himself, and he’s going to need some special help. Since the Avengers and Spider-Man and Thor and the X-Men aren’t available because they exist in alternative movie business and intellectual property and legal worlds, Wayne seeks out help from fellow superheroes Wonder Woman (another great performance from the—yes, it’ll be said because it’s true—beautiful and sexy and earthy Gal Gadot, and that’s not objectifying or being a pig—she’s simply gorgeous), the Flash (an hilarious and thoroughly lovable Ezra Miller, a 25-year-old, baby-faced actor who brings Spider-Man-style unease, quirkiness, nerdiness and social awkwardness to the Flash, in a welcome respite from the overly-testosterone-fueled machoness of so many other superheros), the Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher, a particularly sympathetic character because he is a human being trapped in a maze and haze of cyborg machinery, electricity, powers and robotic science-fiction mumbo-jumbo, which limits his basic abilities to live, interact with others and live a normal life—it’s all somewhat sad, but Stone’s character development in “League” is handled with care, and his development is yet another uplifting aspect of the movie), and Jason Momoa’s definitely macho- and testosterone-filled Aquaman, a hybrid man and sea creature who can do all sorts of amazing marine things, such as tear through water faster than the “Jaws” shark, talk with marine life, and handle a quite nifty weapon with all sorts of power in the water and on land—the trident of Neptune, one of the seven Relics of Atlantis, and if the description went any further, we’d be wading and drifting and swimming far too deep in Nerdland and TooMuchComicBookBackStoryInformationLand.

Is the quest to round up a team of superheros a cliché in action, adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, comic book and superhero movies? Yes, of course it is—in “League” and in about a thousand or so other movies. But, like the similarly-cliched storyline, this quest to bring together a talented band of heroes doesn’t drag down “League” either. The quality of the well-written backstories—and Gadot’s, Miller’s, Fisher’s and Momoa’s considerably high-level charisma, presence, good looks and presence—help make the characters’ presence welcome, fun, and, did we mention, funny, too? The “League” filmmakers—especially smart screenwriters Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, working from a story idea by director Zack Snyder and Terrio, based on “Justice League” by Gardner Fox; director Snyder; and Whedon, who filled in on directing for Snyder for part of the production—are smart enough to balance the humor with requisite heroic qualities and the characters’ aforementioned dramatic backstories. Whedon had to fill in for Snyder after Snyder’s 20-year-old daughter committed suicide, sadly, of course.

Once Wayne convinces the somewhat-reluctant superheroes to come together, work together and fight Steppenwolf with their collective and respective superpowers, the movie takes off into a good-versus-evil battlefield, and while some of the fight scenes with Steppenwolf threaten to stall, slow down and bring down the movie, the filmmakers are smart enough to know when to break from standard fight scenes, get back to the story, bring back the humor, and thus balance the action, drama and comedy well enough so the movie remains entertaining.

Do the superheroes eventually defeat and contain Steppenwolf? What do you think? Do you think that answer’s going to be revealed here? HAH! Not even for the powers of the Trident of Neptune, one of the Relics of Atlantis, would this mortal soul dare to risk life and limb and divulge any spoilers regarding this particular movie.

Filmgoers will just have to shut down their computers and tablets and phones and other electronic devices, get up, go outside and head out to see “Justice League” for themselves during the coming weekends—and—this is a noted cliché, too—they’ll be glad that they did. They’ll also be glad to see another fun and funny superhero and comic book movie that lets the sun shine in, wiping away the darkness before the light. These days, in 2017, the world needs as much sunshine and brightness and positivity and optimism as people can possibly get, and if we have to get our optimism from comic book superheroes in the recent positive films and in “Justice League”—so be it. You don’t need the Trident of Nepture, Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, the Flash’s lightning speed, the Cyborg’s cyborg and robotic machinery and Bruce Wayne’s wealth and technology to know that if a movie can make you smile and make you happy, and if a superhero can provide the inspiration to always look up instead of look down, then, well, sometimes that’s all you need in the world—this world or other, imaginary worlds. Smile and laugh, and the world—all worlds—smile and laugh with you. And that’s one of the major lessons of positive superhero movies—when things get down, we all need someone to look up to, to follow and to believe in. “Justice League” and the film’s recent superhero movie predecessors have arrived at just the right time in history, and have provided the superheroes who we all need to believe in—even if those heroes are not necessarily there in some of the major parts of real life.

Go see “Justice League”—and give yourself someone to believe in.

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