The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Justice League (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Wonder Woman, Batman and some new characters DC Comics would really like to make happen, movie-wise, get together to fight another one of those horned-hat villains in Justice League.

You’ll recall from earlier DC Extended Universe movies, Superman (Henry Cavill) is still “dead.” Because of this, the world is a gloomy place — criminals feel free to do more crime, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is all bummed out (but has much better hair), poor Martha Kent (Diane Lane) lost the farm. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) keeps on Batman-ing, is full of guilt over Clark’s death and is afraid of the Big Scary Thing Lex Luthor predicted at the end of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
To that end, he tries to assemble a group of aven... I mean, gather some fellow superpeople to be part of a Big Scary Thing-fighting club. Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is basically in, especially after the Amazons send her a message about the Big Scary Thing, and helps him recruit Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a man whose father (Joe Morton) used a glowy box to help him heal after a lab accident. The glowy box made Victor mostly machine, complete with super strength, internet access and flight apparently.  Bruce brings on Barry Allen/The Flash/a knock-off-of-Tom Holland’s Spider-Man (Ezra Miller), who is fast and has some electrical control abilities. And he eventually gets Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) to join up. Aquaman is a whiskey-drinking, tattoo-having, frequently shirtless superhero who is actually an Atlantean (of Atlantis fame) who protects the ocean. 
The glowy box (which feels like it should have “This Is Not a Tesseract; Don’t Sue Us” printed on its side) is apparently one of three glowy boxes worldwide and since the death of Superman they have all been glowier than usual. The aforementioned horn-hat-having Big Scary Thing, named Steppenwolf (voice of Ciarán Hinds), comes to Earth via a visual effect that feels very similar to Thor’s Bifrost Bridge (but, and this pretty much sums up Marvel versus DC at the moment, Steppenwolf’s dimension-traveling tornado-thing is gray where as the bifrost in the recent Thor movie was excitingly multicolored) and seeks to use the massive power of the boxes, which can transform a world into a version of whatever his home world is/was. He needs to collect all three boxes (each sold separately!) to gain these world-endangering powers. Oh no! Will Batman and his new pals be able to stop Steppenwolf without the downbeat Superman to lead them (which he never did before but whatever)?
In so many ways, this movie is aggravating. 
It takes forever to rev up. “When is this thing going to get going?,” I thought well into the movie, possibly as much as an hour in. 
On some occasions — the scenes with the Amazons on Themyscira, for example — the action cut away just as things got interesting. “Why couldn’t we just have a second Wonder Woman movie?,” I found myself thinking for parts of this movie. For other chunks of the movie, I wondered “Did this movie’s screenwriters even see the Wonder Woman movie?” Though she is this cinematic universe’s most successful character so far, this movie didn’t seem to fully remember who Diana/Wonder Woman is. Also, some of the shots of her felt a lot more “male gaze”-y than I recall anything in Wonder Woman being.
There is a general sense of inconsistency all over the writing and character development and tone here. I sometimes wondered what Joss Whedon did to be listed as one of two screenwriters here and then other times I was like “ah, yes, there’s a joke he didn’t use for The Avengers” or “this scene feels very Buffy the Vampire Slayer to me.” (There is a lot in terms of group dynamic, visuals and action choreography that feels vary reminiscent of Marvel Cinematic Universe and X-Men movies.) The grayness (both visually and mood-wise) from Batman v. Superman is here but then that Marvel-style jokiness occasionally pops up, often via Barry Allen, as though The Flash is the designated humor guy. I’m glad the jokes are there, I’m glad there is any break in the bummer tone that the movie starts with (which is purposeful, I believe, for the arc the movie is trying to build but still) but I don’t know that it always feels organic. There is a “let’s punch this up” feel to chunks of the movie, rather than an ingrained lightness. 
(Spoiler alert, in the second of two post-credits scenes, the movie does capture a tone that makes sense, a blend of humor and menace that feels like it fits with the kind of movie it is. That it features a character I very much did not like from Batman v. Superman but the segment still works is even more of a surprise.)
There are also some less than stellar visual moments. Some of the fight scenes feel unfinished — there is a “cartoon thrown at green screen” feel to some of the action. Also, while watching the movie, I found myself staring at one particular actor’s mouth, trying to figure out why it had that surreal talking-animal-in-TV-commercial quality. A little Googling revealed that during reshoots for this movie, this particular actor (who I won’t name to keep things relatively unspoiled) had a mustache that he had grown, and couldn’t shave, for another movie, requiring it to be digitally removed. (See, for one, for more on this whole mustache situation.) And remove it they did! As well as any sense of realism about his face. 
And yet, for all its aggravating moments, at the end of the movie I found myself thinking “huh, I did not hate that.” Justice League is a mess but it has some not-terrible bits, some parts that I’d keep if I were going to give this movie another edit, which it deeply needs. The new League-ers are all fun additions. And while the villain here feels like all the worse qualities of previous forgettable comic book movie villains in one wad of “I will remake this world in my boring, overdesigned image,” there are moments of the team working together to fight him that are, while not exactly electric and thrilling, you know, not bad.
I’m sure “I didn’t hate it” and “not bad, per se” are probably not the responses DC was looking for, but Justice League is more of a story of missed opportunity than world-building success. I wish this movie had had the time to use what was learned from Wonder Woman and built on the parts that worked. C+
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, according to the MPAA. Directed by Zack Snyder with a screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, Justice League is two hours long and distributed by Warner Bros.

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