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Justice League Fails to Save the (DC) Universe

Sigrid’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows serenades moviegoers as Justice League begins, unbeknownst to those in the theater it is acting as an unintentional funeral march for the hopes and expectations of what could have been a great movie. This is not to say Justice League was horrible, it was just horribly mediocre. DC fails to deliver two strong movies back to back following the wildly successful and entertaining Wonder Woman.

Instead this movie falls back into Director Zack Snyder’s recipe of poorly perceived super hero clichés and forced character development and humor. Yet, it still had another side to it, like a split personality you could only find in Batman’s rogues gallery. This was the result of Joss Whedon’s late involvement and ~$25M worth of reshoots. A move that many hoped would save this franchise, but quietly knew would just manage to disappoint them like an abusive relationship. The film goes through two hours of ups and downs as you ride back and forth from Snyder’s Gotham-esq style to Whedon more Metropolitan approach. At least Whedon couldn’t get a director credit, which may end up being a good thing for him in the long run.

Fortunately, this film had Batman vs. Superman, and Wonder Woman to get everyone lukewarm on the concept and plot. A plot that is not as crammed packed and diluted as BvS, but not perfect. The story was very heavy in comic mythology and gave familiar fans some concepts to really geek out over. However, if you are coming fresh off the bench this may be tough to digest and follow completely. Which fits into DC’s standard way too much, way too soon approach.

With the death of Superman the world has been left in despair and hope is waning. Batman and Wonder Woman must assemble a team to stop a pending Apokoliptic invasion. Now racing against a doomsday clock, they must get this group of meta-humans to work as a team before the world ends.

One of the early scenes in the movie was reminiscent of a combination of two scenes from the Dark Knight Trilogy. The only issue was that the cinematography was very shaky and panned in too close to the actors. As you watch what turns into a cool scene you only wonder if you will make it through the movie without puking. Fortunately, that does not last and any vomiting will not be related to motion sickness.

The plot was not horrible and it was not great, it was just fine. A film with such lofty expectations and so much riding on its success cannot afford to be just fine. There are multiple spinoffs and sequels that are riding on the success of this mega-blockbuster. That may be the most disappointing part, is instead of learning from their errors, DC is ok with this vicious cycle of disappointment and mediocrity. They think everything will be ok if they throw enough characters and big-name actors at you.

Big names like Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, who both put on strong performances, but this was to be expected of the returning superheroes, Batman and Wonder Woman. Both actors/character have already proven to be bright spots in an otherwise dark multiverse. That is why in this film all eyes should be on new comers Ezra Miller (Barry Allen/The Flash), Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman), and Ray Fisher (Victor Stone/Cyborg). These are the actors that are going to turn the Trinity of Comics (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) into a full-blown super team and not just a team up.  This is how DC hopes to battle the always successful Marvel universe.

The Flash is probably the 4th most iconic DC hero after the three top billed heroes. Ezra was under fire from the very beginning when they announced his casting. Complaints were made about him not being enough like the traditional Barry Allen from comics. A war cry that is heard from purists every time a comic movie tries to add a little diversity or variety to a character. Critiques about his hair, his looks and his physique were all over the internet. These things should not bother fans as much as the fact that they turned Barry Allen into a wide-eye, uncoordinated goofball that is meant to provide the comic relief. He succeeds with owning a large portion of the jokes and one liners, but he also loses a piece of what Barry Allen is meant to be. That is not to say he was a bad Flash, but that is the easy part. The role should Barry first and a red blur second. Humor is a quality that Barry possesses, but Ezra lacked the confidence and dignity that Barry exudes in the comic and the show, which is the true Barry.

With Ezra owning the humor it made perfect sense to try to force the comic relief on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman as well. Especially seeing as Momoa is known for “knee slappers” such Game of Thrones and Frontier. Momoa’s portrayal of Aquaman is one part tough guy and 1 part funny man, which makes him look like two parts bad character development. No one can blame the directors for trying to make Aquaman cool after having such a lame image for most of his history, minus Vinny Chase’s portrayal in Entourage. However, Momoa took it so over the top it was impossible to not grin with embarrassment every time he spoke. Maybe Game of Thrones had it right by making all his lines in a made-up language. Well at least Momoa’s upcoming Aquaman movie gives Green Peace a new cause to hit the waters and try to prevent. The only lines delivered with more awkwardness came from his future costar Amber Herd as Mera.

At least Ray Fisher had no problem playing an emotionless, mostly CGI, Cyborg. Even though it was a hard role to mess up, making it more fitted for Momoa. Jokes aside, kudos should be given for a solid performance from Fisher.

The actors that showed up to make a difference in this film were the supporting cast. Be it J.K Simmons as Jim Gordon who provided some fun banter, or Superman’s surviving love, Lois Lane, brought to life perfectly by Amy Adams. Diane Lane (Martha Kent) and Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta) reprise their roles as super moms that continue to confuse coming to age teenagers. Finally, this supporting assemble was rounded about with a great performance by Jeremy Irons as a dry witted Alfred, sans one really bad line.

Bad lines however ran rampant in Justice League. No matter how serious or light hearted the scene, a character would force a one liner that managed to cheapen the scene. There was no character too big or too small to fire off a terrible one liner that made you throw up your hands in frustration. This seemed to be a super power that even Batman possessed. Though, no matter how awkward the line was, Affleck delivered it with a very dry off cusp delivery that was very reminiscent of the 90’s Batman the Animated Series.

Bad acting and dialogue aside, the film did have shining moments, even though most centered around Wonder Woman and Batman’s mythology. The action scenes and team ups were very hard not to get excited about, even if you are left questioning if the team up was even needed when it is all said and done. This is a world that many fans have been dying to see brought to life and from that aspect movie goers are rewarded handsomely. There were also some Easter eggs and deep comic references to reward the most loyal fans.

It is small things like this combined with the bad that creates an ebb and flow that will have audiences battling internally afterwards with one daunting question. “Did I like that?”. All and all it was not a bad film and is even rewatchable. The problem is that, like Batman vs. Superman, Justice League consisted of scenes you will love and scenes you will hate and in the end, it was not great as a whole production.