Justice League: Non-Spoiler Movie Review

By Daniel P. Dern: So we went to see the new Justice League movie over the weekend. It was OK enough (more on that below), but at the same time, I didn’t come away with the happy I-just-saw-a-enjoyable-movie feeling that I got from, say, Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

Here’s some quick thoughts — non-spoilers unless you haven’t even seen the main trailer. (And I’ll ROT13 any potential spoilers.)

Note: I’ve been reading comics long enough — starting in the single-digit age, when comic books were still a dime (although they soon jumped to twelve cents) — to remember the League’s first appearance, in 1960 (in The Brave and the Bold #28). (Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, debuted in 1956, Showcase #4 — I remember reading it, though probably not when it came out, but have clearish memories of Hal Jordan/Green Lantern in 1959 (Showcase #22), who were among the League’s original members (which did not include Superman or Batman). And, with some multi-year hiati, I’m still reading, through a mix of buying, librarying, and (legitimate) digital access. At heart, I’m a DC fan. Yes, I’ve read lots of Marvel, and bunches of indies — but I have less (if any) emotional attachment to how non-DC capes (heroes) get movie-ized.

Justice League, like the first Avengers movie, is a mix of “putting the band together for the first time,” “origin recaps for characters who’ve already been in one or more films (for this “universe”), and “fighting the ‘Big Bad'(s)” (to use the obvious Buffy-ism). Thankfully, not Lex Luthor; instead, Fgrccrajbys naq onmvyyvbaf bs Cnenqrzbaf obbz-ghovat va sebz Ncbxbyvcf (sebz Wnpx Xveol’f Sbhegu Jbeyq).

Given how incredible dark, dour, dismal, grumpy and/or sometimes unacceptably off-canon many of DC’s preceding superhero flicks have been (e.g., much of the Dark Knight Batman trilogy, much of The Man of Steel, much of Suicide Squad, not to mention Batman v Superman (whose events precede this movie) – Wonder Woman happily dodged these bullets, and Green Lantern had other, different problems), Justice League had a depressingly low bar to beat — from its fellow DC flix.

On the other hand, just a month or so ago, we got Thor: Ragnarok from Marvel, showing how much fun a super-scheme-and-punch-fest could be. And on the gripping hand, and pretty much concurrent with Justice League, over on the “small(er) screen” was the remarkably credible Supergirl/Arrow/Flash/Legends of Tomorrow “Crisis On Earth X” (pronounced “eks” rather than “ten”) four-part cross-over of DC heroes, arguably a movie-length four-acter.

In my opinion, Justice League did some things quite well:

  • Quick (or -ish) introduction of the new (within movie context) heroes Aquaman, Cyborg, and Flash
  • Why Bats is building a team. (In the original Justice League origin, heroes converge via different parts of the Big Bad, and post-triumph, decide to form a club.)
  • Good action/fight scenes.
  • Great chatter and banter amongst heroes.
  • Some sense of reality, e.g., Batman being severely bruised post-fight.

But. But.

Very dull Big Bad. As one friend I chatted with said, no character there. Contract that with Thor: Ragnarok, where we were treated to Cate Blanchett’s Hela, the Goddess of Death, along with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki (sometimes as a Bad), and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. No shortage of style there, in acting, wardrobe or action.

I think that’s why I came away uninspired. Nothing (major) annoyed me. As with Thor: Ragnarok, thankfully neither New York City nor Washington D.C. were trashed. I enjoyed the heroes bantering, some of the derring-do-ing. But — like the first Avengers movie — having a handful of heroes go up against a world of baddies, that’s basically a way-outnumbered war movie.

The Justice League, throughout their (comic) career, have been at their best fighting more well-defined foes (or groups of foes). Kanjar Ro. Despero. Felix Faust. Luthor & his super-bad-friends. Splitting up into smaller teams, coming together for the big boffo win. And doing more than just physical fighting — also more problem solving, detective work, and the like.

Still: if you’re a DC fan, go. You’ll get enough (good) out of it. If you’re not a comic/superhero fan, and haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok yet, do that. (If you’re a Marvel fan, I find it hard to believe you haven’t seen T:R yet.)

Beating a low bar, sigh, better than not doing so.

Here’s hoping the next Justice League movie (presumably based on the final “Easter Egg”) has better Big Bads.

Meanwhile, I’ve been told that the Director’s Cut of Batman v Superman makes somewhat more sense — and/but is somewhat longer. To the library web site I go!

8 thoughts on “Justice League: Non-Spoiler Movie Review

  1. As a fellow DC fan, I agree. The first wave of mixed reviews discouraged me from seeing the flick but I went on a whim and it was worth my money. Not amazing but relatively satisfying. I had fun trying to guess the Whedon reshoots.

  2. Yeah, basically the “Crisis on Earth-X” movie we just got on tv did pretty much everything correctly. And, as has been pointed out often, this is because they spent two or three years getting their characters established and known by the audience so that when the crossover happens, there’s a decent chance that we not only care about the characters, but that they can have story beats that can feel significant (and they pulled that off quite well too.)

    Marvel didn’t do any significant crossovers until they had given all of their key characters a movie or two to establish themselves (and when they introduced someone new, it didn’t get in the way), and the result was that Avengers Assemble was more than enjoyable for the reasons noted above. Whereas I never felt that Justice League had really quite earned its existence.

  3. I’ve only seen the Bat vs Supes Director’s Cut and if that’s the version that makes more sense than I thank Martha that I never saw the original cut.

  4. BTW, my favorite DC movie to date is still LEGO BATMAN.
    And while I haven’t re-watched it in a while, I did like Tim Burton’s BATMAN (w/ Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson etc.
    In terms of ‘faithful rendition,’ WATCHMEN. Not fun — given the storyline, not surprising — but woa did it look exactly like the comics. (Granted, it didn’t face the continuity/canon complexities that comics with 50+ years of storylines and reboots face.)
    More generally, wrt “movies based on comics/comic strips,” I still love DICK TRACY, for the lovely color and way loud gang of gangsters. Close behind, Robert Altman’s POPEYE w/Robin Williams and Shelley Duval.

  5. I was pretty disappointed with DICK TRACY. I wanted to like it: A friend of mine painted mattes for it. Strip-mining decades of a comic just to kill off most of the continuing characters seemed like a sign that somebody didn’t get it at all, and the songs were pointless derailments. Needed editing.

    POPEYE, though, is a flawed masterpiece, and I’m more interested in the masterpiece part than the flaws. The movie was full of imagination, and the special effects (most notably Robin Williams, a human special effect) were prime. The whole dingy, drab, worn-out background they made for the fantasy worked for me, and Feiffer’s script really knew how to use those characters. Amazingly, Feiffer wrote afterward that he was totally unacquainted with the Segar-Fleischer Popeye universe. I thought he knew all about that stuff! Whatever research he must have done for it (I’m guessing he read through the Fantagraphics set) put him in the right frame of mind. Feiffer also wrote that Nilsson never wrote the songs he was supposed to, but wrote whatever he felt like, and they all had to find a way to put them in the movie. As to “flaws,” they just couldn’t figure out how to end it. It’s not a bad idea to just wander off before the last few minutes, which gives it something of a dreamlike feel. Well, it feels like my dreams, which often have a plot point they’re trying to get to, and then they never do. For my money, though, it’s one of the greatest comic-strip live-action movies out there. I expect there’s something else that comes close, but I won’t think of it until after the edit window closes. Somebody else can tell me.

    Both my favorite parts of DICK TRACY turned out to be gags with Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles. They logically cancel each other out, but that’s life.

  6. Kip W on December 5, 2017 at 2:36 pm said:

    I was pretty disappointed with DICK TRACY. I wanted to like it: A friend of mine painted mattes for it. Strip-mining decades of a comic just to kill off most of the continuing characters seemed like a sign that somebody didn’t get it at all, and the songs were pointless derailments.

    As a one-of movie, no reason not to have a high bad-guy attrition rate. And oh, those lovely, garishly bright colors in the clothes, cars, and everywhere else. And I liked the songs (some by Sondheim).
    Popeye, it’s worth the (re)watching for the physical interplay choreography of all the characters walking around, bouncing off each other. Yeah, songs not so much. But so much fun!

  7. Some of the songs in POPEYE are just fine, but as a writer, Feiffer was frustrated that he’d shaped the story for a song in a particular spot that says a particular thing, and then Nilsson (another favorite for me) seems to be doing his own thing. I liked the texture of detail in the movie, with the Gelbart-like utterances of characters that sound like cliches but are something quite different, like “Come in before you catch your death of mud.” Also, Bill Pullman was another human special effect, cast for his ability to shrink to half his height when pounded on the head and such. I meant to mention him. There was so much detail in that, from the brand names on the food cans to the smallness of the sordid side (mechanical horse racing!). Ray Walston was quite good, too, and how could I get this far without mentioning Shelly Duvall as a human Olive Oyl? She was great.

    I don’t watch a movie based on a comic strip expecting a one-off event that cannibalizes the universe of the comic. Bright colors didn’t help. Popeye was a one-off, and didn’t feel obliged to destroy a raft of continuing characters.

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