We may never know the full extent to which Justice League, the latest superhero team-up movie, has been affected by behind the scenes drama. Zack Snyder’s follow-up to Batman v Superman has been notoriously tweaked, adjusted, and eventually (after a personal tragedy) given over to director Joss Whedon, who finished the film and conducted a sizable amount of reshoots.
The movie that has emerged from all that tumult and turmoil is a patchwork quilt of good ideas, bad ideas, and scenes that technically connect to one another but are clearly the result of different filmmaking styles. It’s only fair to call Justice League a Frankenstein Monster. But it’s important to remember that the Frankenstein Monster was a fully functioning creature who deserved love in spite of, and maybe even because of his obvious flaws.
Whatever problems Justice League has, and it has many, it works. It’s a rousing, exciting, enjoyable action extravaganza that finds a satisfying balance between its many heroes. Whereas many superhero team-up movies end up focusing on one or two character above all the others, Justice League boasts satisfying arcs for each of its protagonists. It’s a Wonder Woman movie. It’s a Batman movie. It’s an Aquaman movie. It’s a Flash movie. It’s a Cyborg movie. Some of those movies are better than the others but we’ve still got an ensemble cast of characters on personal journeys, evolving in ways they never would have on their own, and that’s pretty incredible.
It’s not terribly important that the plot is merely functional or that the villain is beyond bland. It’s lame that those things are true but those sins are relatively easy to forgive. The film focuses on the characters and plops them into mini-adventures that challenge them and entertain the audience. We can nitpick all we want – although it’s hard to do so without getting into spoilers – but overall Justice League is a shabby, but very entertaining motion picture.
The plot kicks off after the events of Batman v Superman, and the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) has thrown the whole world into a state of despair. Worse yet, the sudden absence of Earth’s protector has attracted the attention of Steppenwolf, an intergalactic conqueror who left three all-powerful artifacts called Mother Boxes on Earth thousands of years ago, and who has returned to reclaim them and take over the world now that Superman has gone.
Which of course begs the question of why Steppenwolf didn’t return in any of the thousands of years between his first defeat and the relatively recent tenure of Superman as Earth’s guardian, but whatever. The movie is full of holes. But unlike Batman v Superman, Justice League doesn’t rely on its plot holes for the story to function. It just moves on to more important stuff and hopes you won’t notice.
Anyway, it falls to Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to assemble a team of heroes to save the world. There’s Aquaman (Jason Momoa), an ocean-based hero with a chip on his shoulder, and there’s The Flash (Ezra Miller), a socially awkward amateur who’s just happy to suddenly have friends. And there’s Cyborg (Ray Fisher), whose father transformed him into a cybernetic organism in order to save his life, but who no longer knows whether he controls the machines or the machines are controlling him.
Together they bicker and joke. They challenge each other and stand up for their individual moral codes. The extremely loose plot just gives them ample opportunity to grow individually and as a team, and the action is dynamically composed and filled with little moments that feel genuine, unexpected and thrilling. There’s a look that The Flash shares with another hero, while he’s moving at impossible speeds, that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. For a second, Justice League was practically perfect.
Justice League is filled with those brief moments of joy, and yes, they’re interspersed throughout a movie that’s awkwardly constructed, and has a villain who’d be completely forgettable if he wasn’t animated with unforgettably bad CGI. But it’s always engaging, and whatever inconsistencies it has – and it has many – they’re all connected through fine character work and a meaningful, unifying theme. Justice League is a movie about reconstruction. It’s about overcoming obstacles and becoming better for having endured them.
So it only makes sense that Justice League feels like a mess. After all, the whole world is a mess, and picking up the pieces and putting them back together again is a job for… well, the Justice League.
Top Photos: Warner Bros.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.