Justice League (2017)
Dir.: Zack Snyder (& Joss Whedon after Snyder dropped out during production)
Warner Bros. have been chomping at the bit to get a cut of the Disney/Marvel franchise money ever since Man of Steel's release. Not even slowing down to give each member of the Justice League team their own solo film, therefore disallowing the relationships between the films and audiences grow organically, Warner Bros. opted to simply put out Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that for all intents and purposes worked as an excuse to have the main trio of heroes meet up. I was actually one of the few critics who loved BvS, for it possessed a kind of philosophical ambition that is found lacking in most superhero films today, as well as excellent cinematography and intrigue. Nevertheless, most moviegoers weren't looking for political intrigue and philosophical pondering in their Batman vs. Superman fighting film, so along comes Justice League, a kind of quick ushering in of the fun tone and hero hijinks of DC Comics that The Avengers made possible for Marvel. Sadly, though I've defended DC's attempts at franchise appeal, I can confidently say that Justice League is rushed, over-expository, and above all, a chore to watch.
Justice League's production was mired in troubles, as Zack Snyder had to leave midway into the film due to a family issue (which you can look up, it's pretty tragic,) and Joss Whedon took over directing duties, though he curiously only receives writing credit. The production's trouble shows, because this film juggles between the campy tone of Whedon and the more serious, grounded grit of Snyder, without ever committing to either. Characters like Cyborg and Batman feel written by Snyder, whereas Flash and Aquaman feel more like Whedon creations. The film's narrative revolves around the team meeting up to take on intergalactic enemy Steppenwolf, but the film never feels like it has any weighty tension. Nothing feels at stake. One smart thing Marvel and Whedon did with The Avengers was combining a previously developed villain, Loki, with previously developed heroes to create a sense of tension and to make the audience care about events that happen on screen. Here, it was impossible to care about the characters because of the sheer formulaic developments that we all have come to expect over a decade of superhero genre films. Steppenwolf probably has twenty minutes of screentime total, whereas the bulk of Justice League revolves around Batman and Wonder Woman arguing about the implications of getting multiple heroes together. The film is bogged down in tedious exposition, and while it never approaches recent Fantastic Four reboot levels of bad, it considerably weakens the pacing and overall enjoyment of watching it. At only two hours long, it feels like a four hour behemoth, which is fatigue I did not feel when watching more recent DC films, such as BvS or Wonder Woman, which were both paced well for their separate themes and narratives.
The cast all do their best, but most of them are not given too much to work with. Other than Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, there are not very many standout performance moments for the film, opting instead for some CGI tomfoolery to showcase abilities that the new heroes attain. Cyborg is extremely wasted in his portrayal, as he only broods and performs hacking exercises, never really coming around to fight anybody. Aquaman's abilities probably showcase the most gratuitous use of the film's budget, as I could only imagine a brief Atlantis sequence in the film becoming a nightmare to shoot, especially with the film's already-trouble production. Overall, the only newly introduced hero that I thought was showcased strongly and faithfully was the Flash, but this hero already has a CW show that fans can dive into. The introductions feel like a missed opportunity, and though I would not blame the actors for this, the writing never really allots time to provide much character depth beyond stereotypes, which, again, Marvel was able to circumvent through previous film storylines and a unified directorial vision.
Due to the fact that two different directors with entirely different styles worked on the film, the sheer fact that the film remains coherent in its story is nothing short of a miracle. While the basic plot remains intact, the action is infrequent and overstuffed with CGI that it never feels earned. There is just so much talking and conversing and justification as to how these superheroes have to learn to work together, that it just does not feel like a naturally formed team. The viewer is unable to really enjoy the good cinematography due to this feeling of an immensely over-budgeted two-hour TV pilot. This is the first film in the DC Universe that I actually felt the machinations of Warner Bros. turning to force a franchise and sequels out of the premise; whereas this was set up to a degree in BvS, that film still had a concrete theme that was addressed and closed upon conclusion. Additionally, Danny Elfman's score was disappointing. BvS's dynamic duo of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL felt far more affecting and with a lot more prescence and urgency; Elfman's score just goes through the motions with him phoning his compositions in, with him even self-replicating some of his work on Burton's '89 Batman. It's a shame since both BvS and Wonder Woman were fully realized cinematic executions that this film felt so thoroughly messy and jarring. Even from a technical standpoint the film feels like a step back for the franchise Warner Bros. so desperately wants to make their new cash cow.
Overall, Justice League is not a complete disaster, but it's definitely not good. It's the weakest of the DC Universe films so far by a country mile, and it refuses to commit to one tone and to properly introduce its own franchise through organically written and composed film-making. The climax of the film is pretty action-packed, but it simply takes so long to get to that point that by the time the real meat of the film happens, there's only twenty minutes remaining and the viewer has most likely already checked out. One other positive aspect about this film is that it's far more kid-friendly than Snyder's other DC films, but then again, Wonder Woman was perfectly serviceable to all audiences and it was great. The film simply succumbed to its own ambitions and its troubled directorial switcheroo that no amount of reshoots could save it (yes, WB opted for gratuitous reshoots yet again with this one, because it worked so well for Suicide Squad.) Warner Bros. and company have a lot to learn when it comes to crafting a consistently entertaining and fulfilling superhero franchise, but one thing is for certain: they're gonna have a hell of a time reigning in all of the subplots and paying off their cliffhangers if this continues, and they'll have to do it quickly before superhero exhaustion sets in.