Thursday 30 November 2017

Justice League might have been a lot better without the reshoots and revisions

Major League: DC's superheroes unite to take on a new cosmic threat

Justice League (2017)
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill
Running time: 2hrs

There's a scene early on in Justice League which came close to convincing me the omens of doom and gloom that had surrounded the picture might, after all, turn out to be about as accurate as a newspaper horoscope.

Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), the movie's bad guy, had just crashed in on the Amazons of Themyscira (Wonder Women's place of birth) and tried to steal a super-powerful device called a "Mother Box". The Amazons swiftly absconded with the McGuffin as the cosmic villain gave furious chase, the fast-moving sequence soon turning into something approximating a super-powered game of rugby, as the women, some on horseback, switched the box from one to the other, Steppenwolf gaining all the time. It's actually quite thrilling, but over too soon and, ultimately, a false dawn, as nothing else in this latest superhero slugfest comes anywhere near matching it.

In fact, the plot is so thin for the fifth movie in DC's embattled Extended Universe, it could have a successful career on the catwalk. After Superman (Henry Cavill) died at the end of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Earth is suddenly vulnerable to attack from all manner of cosmic ne'er-do-well. One of these, the aforementioned Steppenwolf, wants to unite three Mother Boxes which will give him immense power to conquer planets, subjugate peoples and presumably jump the queue at Legoland. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) put together a team to combat the threat, which includes king of the oceans Aquaman (Jason Momoa), super-speedster The Flash (Ezra Miller), and half-man/half-robot Cyborg (Ray Fisher), but it seems they might have to find a way of bringing back a certain fallen comrade to stand a chance of victory in the coming conflagration.

As we know, director Zack Snyder had to leave the project unfinished after suffering a personal tragedy, with The Avengers' Joss Whedon drafted in to handle the post-production and a number of reshoots deemed necessary to lighten the mood of the film. Despite taking $873million at the worldwide box-office and making a perfectly reputable profit of over $100m, apparently Snyder's dark vision for Dawn Of Justice scared the horses (snooty critics, internet big mouths) too much, and what Warner Bros now wanted instead was something a little more quippy, a bit more "Avengersy". So they've got Whedon to add a few scenes of light-hearted bantz here and there, like one where Aquaman pours out his heart to the rest of the group, only to discover he's been sitting on Wonder Woman's "lasso of truth" all along. Oh, my sides!

The film's problems run deeper than an uneven tone and some weak gags though. The villain Steppenwolf is, for want of a better word, rubbish. An entirely CG creation, he's just another dull, all-powerful rotter who spews clich├ęd dialogue about conquering and destroying. On the best day of his life, he's a villain of the week on Supergirl, a Poundland version of Wonder Woman bad-guy Ares. Jesse Eisenberg's annoying but at least intriguing Lex Luthor was deemed beyond the pale for this Dawn Of Justice sequel, but what he's been replaced with is a lot worse – Steppenwolf is bland, even with an army of weird insect people (Parademons) to command. 

Joss-tice League: Whedon plus Snyder is not a good fit

And say what you like about BVS but at least it felt big, bold and epic. Yes, it was all over the place and absurd at times. But its free-wheeling messiness, and throw-enough-mud-at-the-wall philosophy, just added to its appeal. Here, everything is very linear, straightforward, and settled inside two hours, with a certain clarity but little to no vision. Instead of a $200m blockbuster, it felt for all the world like an episode of Green Arrow or Legends Of Tomorrow – its startlingly so-so CG effects were certainly of a similar quality.

I don't understand Warner Bros' insistence on a 120-minute running time either (although Snyder's intended 2hr 50 magnum opus would have been taking the piss). Has there been some internet clamour I'm not aware of to make blockbusters shorter? If so, no one has been listening – Wonder Woman comes in at 2hr 21, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 at 2hr 16, Thor: Ragnarok at 2hr 10, and Logan at 2hr 17. If you have more story to tell – and Justice League clearly did – what's the problem with a few extra minutes, especially when this film's intended audience is well used to binge-watching entire series on Netflix in one or two sittings?

More positively, Affleck continues to grow into his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman (his gruff Bat-voice isn't half as silly as Christian Bale's for a start) and Gadot remains perfectly cast as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. There are some nice bits with Superman Cavill, too, as we finally see him channelling Christopher Reeve's note-perfect take on the character. Meanwhile, Ezra Miller's Barry Allen/The Flash, a super-fast Sheldon Cooper, is easily the pick of the newcomers. Apart from looking butch, Momoa's Arthur Curry/Aquaman doesn't have much to do, although he's more interesting than brooding bore Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher). It's right and proper there's an African-American character on the team, but DC comics are full of so many more interesting people of colour they could have chosen instead, including the Green Lantern John Stewart, Vixen, and Black Lightning.

Justice League isn't a total write off (I certainly enjoyed it more than I did Suicide Squad or Man Of Steel), but I wish Warner Bros would have had the courage of Snyder's convictions. For all his faults, they should have stuck by the director's vision for the film because what they've got now the dust has settled is a clumsy compromise (a "Frankenstein", according to one insider) that feels small, truncated and unnecessarily mucked about with (the saga of Cavill's moustache is a whole other blog entry on its own). The critics have still been brutal and the box office hasn't been great – can anyone say with any certainty the reaction would have been any worse had Whedon not been involved?

Rating: WW

Justice League is in UK cinemas now

Ratings guide
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

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