I had planned to see Justice League for the first time ever in IMAX at a Thursday advance showing, but I got lucky and scored passes to see a Monday fan screening a mere 45 minutes away from home on the date of the world premiere. My girlfriend and I were some of the first of the general public to see the movie and that was an awesome thing.
I say that to indicate to you that this review is written after just that initial fan screening, not with the additional second viewing that is still to come on Thursday. That's important because of what I have to say about this movie, which of course will be spoiler-free so don't worry about any specific details being spilled. I'm only going to give you my thoughts on the film and several aspects of it, just as I usually do with my reviews.
Now, on with it. Justice League is awesome. Period. Just flat out awesome.
Yet, as awesome as it was, it was for reasons that I wasn't expecting it to be. In many ways, the movie felt almost exactly like the first time I watched Man of Steel back in 2013 at yet another Thursday advance showing. At the time I liked the movie, but I was overthinking what I saw. It was full on cognitive dissonance that was caused by years of growing up with Christopher Reeve's interpretation of Superman and then being jolted at once with the modernized ferocity and spectacle of Zack Snyder's retelling of the Kryptonian hero's origin. It was a shock to the system, even though I enjoyed it.
It wasn't until the second, third, fourth and future viewings that I realized just how brilliant that movie was because I was able to understand where it was coming from and pick up on its subtleties instead of spending two hours and twenty-one minutes analyzing how different it was from the Reeve movies.
So, why did the same thing happen to me with Justice League, especially since it is also a Zack Snyder film? It happened because Justice League represents a very clear and well-defined tonal shift in the DC Extended Universe, one that retains the groundwork, the foundation and the soul of its previous movies, but takes it in a very different direction. This movie is NOT Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in terms of tone, pacing or story depth and yet it is all of those movies in the most important area: The characters.
Make no mistake, the cast of Justice League, while playing in a world that is much brighter and more jovial now are still rooted in a world borne of MoS, BvS and even Suicide Squad, but now we are fully making that harrowing transition and evolution from gritty and grounded "realism" into the world of the fully realized live action comic book that the DCEU was always intended to become. Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne had arguably the most controversial introduction into this world and he completes his transition into the "classic" Batman that we are all familiar with, complete with snark, detective skills and a wealth of resources at his disposal. To say that he is the definitive live-action Batman/Bruce Wayne would be an understatement in my opinion. No one has balanced the two better than he does from where I sit.
Joining him in what is now her third DCEU film is Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, who absolutely shows the presence and capabilities that one would expect her to show after being on this Earth for more than a century. This is not rookie, naive Diana that we saw in her origin film. This is veteran, savvy and confident Diana that knows and understands the full stakes of what is happening around her, and also understands her role as the calming center of this team. Though she does struggle with her own issues at times in the film, it only serves to present her vulnerability, which makes her a truly relatable character as she has seemingly always been since she was introduced in BvS, but even more so now. Gadot continues to put her stamp on the Wonder Woman role and without question she is to be hailed as the model of live action Wonder Woman portrayals, with all due respect to Lynda Carter.
So what about the newcomers? Well, let's start with Jason Momoa's Arthur Curry/Aquaman. Strong, confident, skeptical, wild at times, utterly powerful at other times and completely unafraid to be honest with what is going on around him. It is difficult to imagine anyone else bringing life to this role and his moments in Justice League make you that much more confident and excited for his solo effort, currently in post-production and due to release in December 2018.
Then there's Ezra Miller's Barry Allen/The Flash. Young, learning, eager to make friends with those that are on his level, curious, excited, terrified and hilarious all in one well acted package. Though he is a rookie member of the group as far as his abilities and experience go, he is one that you are more than eager to see grow and learn as this franchise goes forward. Miller's presence was the right blend of all that was necessary to bring Barry Allen to life on the big screen.
The unsung hero of the group though is Ray Fisher's Victor Stone/Cyborg. He is arguably the most relatable member of the Justice League in this film. Reluctant, inquisitive, emotional but eager to be the best of what he is even in the face of not understanding what he is to become. He is the most complex character of the cast in terms of emotional arcs and while we don't know for sure if he will get a solo movie, he damn sure deserves one. This is the movie that will put Ray Fisher on the map and he fully deserves it for a quietly powerful performance.
Last but certainly not least is the focal point and catalyst for this entire movie: Henry Cavill's Superman/Clark Kent. Understandably, he sees the screen far less than the other five main cast members but his presence is felt throughout the movie and resonates within each and every one of our heroes. They all recognize his importance to their goal and his importance to the world itself, and when he is on screen he does not disappoint and in what is a recurring theme for the characters in this movie, will make you demand that WB/DC immediately announce Man of Steel 2 to go into production ASAP because more of Cavill's Superman is absolutely what we want, now more than ever.
The supporting cast for this movie is absolutely solid for the moments they are featured. Amy Adams continues her character arc as Lois Lane alongside Diane Lane's Martha Kent, both of whom represent the ones with the strongest emotional connection to Superman of anyone. Jeremy Irons continues to be a strong and capable Alfred for Affleck's Bruce Wayne. J.K. Simmons plays Commissioner Gordon as you would expect him to play it, with the confidence and conviction of someone that has worked closely with The Batman for 20 years. Billy Crudup gives you a brief tug at the heartstrings as falsely convicted murderer father of Barry, Henry Allen, Joe Morton gives you another brief layer to why you want a Cyborg movie to happen in the worst way (because he would be in it and the Terminator references would be incredible) and Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta and Amber Heard as Mera give us solid representation of both the Amazons and the Atlanteans.
As for Steppenwolf, our primary villain of the film played by Ciaran Hinds, he has more in common with David Thewlis' Ares from Wonder Woman than he does with Michael Shannon's General Zod from MoS or Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor from BvS. Steppenwolf is pretty much a plot device villain, but he is a stronger one than Ares was, mostly because his presence looms more menacing and dangerous throughout the film and his motivations are made more clear. He also has an army at his disposal, the Parademons who are seemingly controlled by fear that they also feed on during the course of the movie. We don't get much time with them because honestly, the movie is called Justice League and it's about the heroes, but it's good to see that at least the villain wasn't a complete throwaway henchman like we have seen before in other comic book movies.
The visual effects of this movie are top notch, just as they have been for the extent of the DCEU to this point. All of the league's powers and abilities are on full display here at various times, including Batman's gadgetry and vehicles. At its best is Cyborg's machinery and movements, which look damned impressive throughout the film. At its worst though, is on Henry Cavill's face if I am to be completely honest here. Many fans know that during the reshoot process he was also filming the next Mission: Impossible movie and Paramount would not allow him to shave the mustache he had grown for that film, which meant that WB had to remove it digitally in post-production and while they do an admirable job, there are times when it's not that great and someone who is looking for it will clearly be able to see the VFX mask. I'd compare to the same de-aging process that is used a lot in other movies to make a character look younger at a point in the film and maybe that is one of the reasons that the audience I was watching the movie with didn't seem to really notice it. Something like that has just become commonplace in big budget movies today, especially comic book movies and one could see it as a part of the industry magic. I'm curious how I will feel about it on the second watch in IMAX, but it was definitely something that bugged me throughout the first viewing.
The good thing is, that's really the biggest negative that I have about this movie on the first watch. The only other thing that I could point to as a slight issue is that the pacing of the movie does lend itself to the potential that it could have been a bit longer without any problems in terms of runtime. Justice League is very much a movie that assumes you have seen the DCEU franchise in its entirety to this point, with the possible exception of Suicide Squad. I say possible because while I found direct references to MoS, BvS and Wonder Woman in this movie, I didn't find one for Suicide Squad but that doesn't mean it wasn't there. I just need to see it again to make certain. At any rate, this expectation of having watched the previous DCEU movies puts the responsibility on the viewer to connect some dots about certain things that are happening in it, but not to the level of BvS: Theatrical Cut. Justice League is still a movie that the general audience will be able to follow and enjoy without prior knowledge of the DCEU, but that prior knowledge will certainly enrich your viewing of it, which might be the greatest respect that Justice League could possibly pay to MoS and BvS, two of the most critically maligned movies in the franchise.
I liked Danny Elfman's score before I saw the movie and I still like it after having seen it. It wasn't out of place, it wasn't something that bothered me in the slightest when I was watching it and I think it is a return to form for Elfman who harkened back to his days of scoring comic book films in the past. That's all I have to say about that.
Finally, there are the credit scenes. Two of them to be exact: a mid-credit scene and an end credit scene. Without revealing exactly what they are, I will tell you that the mid credit scene deals with what could be considered a long debated fan argument and the end credit scene is an absolute stinger for the future of this franchise. It is without question, THE best end credit scene I have ever witnessed for a comic book movie. In fact, WB/DC should drop the mic, start teaching a class called "How to Properly Succeed With End Credit Scenes" and use the one from this movie as the prime example. It blew me away and it had people in our theater absolutely screaming in delight. None of us, I repeat NONE of us expected to see what we saw and the fact that we saw it was jaw dropping and exciting. It was arguably the biggest of the "squealing geeky fan" moments in the whole movie, and there are a ton of those spread across the two hours to be absolutely truthful with you. Half of the fun of seeing this movie again will be to experience those audience reactions all over again.
The bottom line is that Justice League is awesome and delivers DC fans and DCEU fans exactly what we want from our beloved characters and vibrant world. I've seen people talk about the movie having a definite DC Animated Universe vibe and that is very true, though I see it as a living, breathing comic book in cinematic form, which continues to be a true testament to Zack Snyder's genius with this franchise. He ambitiously started from a place of deconstruction and struggle for this world and its heroes and evolved them to this point where we are truly watching our comic panels come to life before us. This one is all about the heroes and how they have finally come together on the big screen. It's not a perfect movie, but there is no such thing as a perfect movie, is there? There are only movies that we enjoy more than others and at the end of the day, Justice League is a movie that I and many people will certainly enjoy more than others.
JUSTICE LEAGUE - 4 out of 5 stars - In theaters on November 17, 2017