Within the opening seconds of Justice League, I can guarantee that you will crack a smile. This is both a good and a bad thing. The good comes from the immediate realisation that Justice League has indeed toned down the po-faced brooding of director Zack Snyder’s previous DC Comics movies. The bad comes from the fact that the reason why you will find yourself chuckling into your popcorn will be an entirely unintended one: Henry Cavill’s top lip.
Justice League’s troubled production has been widely publicised – Snyder exiting at the 11th hour due to a family tragedy and tagging in Avengers director Joss Whedon. Whedon then infamously doing an obscene amount of reshoots to incorporate his tweaked version of the script, and his trademark wry character work and slick storytelling; things which Snyder struggles with.
Several of those reshoots included Superman actor Cavill, who had gone on to grow himself a rather meaty un-Superman moustache for his next role on Mission: Impossible 6. With Paramount not willing to take a break on that film, nor allowing him to shave his mo, it resulted in Cavill having to do his Justice League reshoot scenes on his off days, hairy face caterpillar firmly in place. The offending moustache was then removed digitally in post-production. Or at least they tried to.
The reason for this behind-the-scenes anecdote? Because that opening scene – when you are spurting out popcorn in laughter at what a terrible, painfully obvious job was done in digitally manscaping Cavill’s face, but yet also grinning because for the first time this feels like the Superman of the comics you grew up loving – is the perfect analogy for the rest of the film. Its flaws are embarrassingly glaring, but it nails its characters so well that you can’t help but have a good time.
Justice League takes place months after the events of Batman v Superman saw the Man of Steel dying while stopping Lex Luthor’s mad plan (that opening scene is a flashback, bee tee dubs). Batman aka Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), driven to atone for the part he played in Superman’s death, is building a team to defend Earth after finding clues of some kind of apocalyptic invasion on the horizon. He’s aided in this recruitment by past ally Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), whose Amazonian sisters have already been engaged by the evil that has come to Earth.
Using Luthor’s notes on other powerful metahumans hidden in the world, Bruce and Diana have tracked down Barry Allen aka Flash (Ezra Miller), a motormouth youngster blessed with lightning quick speed; Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a troubled young man losing his humanity to the very alien technology that saved his life; and Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the prodigal prince of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis (and no, he doesn’t talk to fish). These disparate heroes may not initially know or trust each other, but they will need to work together so that they can… punch a lot of CG pixels in the face?
As the main baddie leading this invasion of Earth, the fully computer-generated Steppenwolf (voiced and motion-captured by Ciaran Hinds) is nothing more than a giant humanoid MacGuffin with an alarmingly large flaming axe. With his insane power levels allowing him to dish out as well as take ridiculous amounts of punishment, he does allow Snyder and Whedon to choreograph some fantastic action beats around him though. An early chase sequence involving Steppenwolf and the Amazons of Themiscyra stands out as a wonderfully kinetic piece of action filmmaking, and his toe-to-toe tussles with the other powerhouses like Wonder Woman and Aquaman are also just pure comic book splash page goodness. So yes, as an inhumanly durable punching bag that also punches back stupidly hard, Steppenwolf certainly does his job. More than that though, he is sorely lacking.
Technically, he’s not the only one to get shortchanged in the character department though. Leaving the film’s trailers filled to the brim with scene and characters never shown in the movie, Whedon trimmed down Justice League’s original running time considerably, to under two hours. If you’re wondering how that can be enough time to introduce three new characters and set up a big epic threat, it’s simple: It isn’t. In Whedon’s defence though, he never tries to.
Much like the godly torsos of its male characters, Justice League is totally devoid of any fat and is all muscular momentum. The script, originally penned by Chris Terrio but reworked by Whedon, just assumes that either you know enough about Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg to just hit the ground running, or you’re simply not hung up on having every detail spelled out for you. It’s also a fairly standalone effort, only fleetingly setting up future stories.
Personally, I think it works, but your mileage may vary. It’s admittedly not a perfect approach (the story is just a tad too simplistic), but after the convoluted bloat of BvS, this boldly lean bit of cinema is a welcome change of pace. Also one made far more palatable by the fact that this is just a great team of true, dyed in the wool heroes.
Besides for Whedon injecting his trademark wit into the mix, the chemistry between the Justice League members positively sizzles off the screen, with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman leading the charge while Ezra Miller is a gawking geeky marvel as Flash. It may have taken a few years’ worth of cinematic missteps to finally bring the Justice League together on-screen, but it only takes a handful of scenes to make this feel like a legitimate super-team you want to root for.
Gone are the mopey alien sun gods and bitter billionaires. These are icons that inspire and lead with their greatness, rather than spend their time woe-is-me-ing about the powers they possess. Well, for the most part, as every team always has that one wet blanket. In this case, it’s Cyborg who is somehow the blandest person on screen despite also being the most bonkers-looking thanks to a fractal-like fully-CG cybernetic body.
The believability of that digital carapace also flits back and forth on a scene by scene basis, which is actually true for a number of CG elements in the movie. And besides for the dodgy VFX, there are a few other niggles. Steppenwolf and his legion of Parademon troopers may give the League a bunch of targets to dispatch in very cool ways (Momoa’s brotastic Aquaman getting some of the best bits), but the threat never feels as cataclysmic as the heroes tell us it is. There are also some laughably obvious moments of product placement that should elicit an eye-roll or two.
Either way though, it’s all still really fun. You may be able to clearly see the spackling over Justice League’s cracks (play “Spot the Cavill lip-job” to see which scenes were reshoots. Spoiler: It’s a lot), but with this and Wonder Woman earlier in the year, the DCEU is course correcting. It may not be leaping over the rest of the competition in a single bound, but Justice League is definitely a step in the right direction.
PS: Make sure you stay seated when the movie is done as Justice League boasts two great credit scenes, the latter of which is a must-see for fans!
Last Updated: November 15, 2017