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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Justice League

JUSTICE LEAGUE

** SPOILERS **

"Children," Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) says with a bit of disbelief. "I'm working with children." Of course, Superman (Henry Cavill) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) giggling on the ground after they managed to save the world together earned a little bit of child-like goofy revelry. Child-like goofy revelry is the theme and provides the high points of Justice League, a superhero movie designed to please the Super Friends-loving children inside us first and foremost. Director Zack Snyder (and Joss Whedon who directed reshoots but only shares screenplay credit Chris Terrio) finally unite the seven six World's Greatest Superheroes - Superman, Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg - together in one superhero smash-em-up movie. The Justice League comes together to face - what else? - an invader from another world, the CGI conqueror Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), and his army horde big group of flying space insects called Parademons from the planet Apokolips. But first, the Justice League has to learn to work together (i.e. learn to work with Batman). 

Justice League follows up the events of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Superman died saving the world. Batman, who was consumed by hatred of the Man of Steel in the previous movie, is now consumed by guilt over his death and fear about the coming alien invasion he's powerless to stop. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman go hunting for new super friends, which takes up half of the movie. In Newfoundland, Batman finds Arthur Curry, the Aquaman, a local legend who is not-so-secretly the disgruntled King of the Seven Seas. Bruce Wayne has really gotten sloppy in his old age; he didn't seem remotely concerned that by publicly chatting with Curry, an entire town in Newfoundland now knows he's the Batman. Wayne also recruits Barry Allen, a gee whiz wunderkind who also happens to be the Fastest Man Alive. Allen instinctively understands he's the comic relief of this group and plays his role with aplomb. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Cyborg find each other - Cyborg was a college athlete named Victor Stone who was caught in some kind of explosion. His scientist father rebuilt him into a Cyborg using technology from what he calls the Change Engine, but is actually one of the three alien Mother Boxes Steppenwolf has returned to Earth to collect.

Steppenwolf is the boring alien lynchpin of Justice League's mythology - he came to Earth five thousand years ago with three Mother Boxes and way more Parademons than he brings in 2017. In DC Comics, Mother Boxes are all-purpose super computers, but in Justice League, they're just alien power sources which, when combined into 'The Unity', will terraform the Earth and turn it into the planet Apokolips, Steppenwolf's other dimensional home world. (Terraforming Earth is the exact same plan the Kryptonians had when they invaded Earth in Man of Steel. Don't any aliens want Earth as it is? It's a nice planet!) The film barely explains the mythology of the New Gods (or anything else), expecting the audience to have seen the other DC movies and the comic book nerds in the know to fill the newbies in afterwards. So Steppenwolf tried to turn the Earth all fiery and horrible, and turn humans into Parademons, but an alliance between the Amazons (Wonder Woman's people), the Atlanteans (Aquaman's people), the tribes of man, and even the Greek gods and a Green Lantern (who got his green ass whooped real fast) stood against Steppenwolf and banished him. The Atlanteans, Amazons, and men each took a Mother Box (in this universe, shouldn't it really be called a Martha Box?) to keep them separated. Like geniuses, the Atlanteans and Amazons put their Mother Boxes on display. The humans (for once) had the good sense to bury their Mother Box. How it ended up in the lab of Cyborg's father is one of Justice League's many plot holes that go unexplained.

So where the hell is Superman? Well, he is dead, but not forgotten. Justice League retcons the mistrust and ambiguity the world felt about the Man of Steel's existence. Now he was a beacon of hope whose banner is flown at all points around the globe in a state of perpetual mourning. The man Superman really was, Clark Kent, is missed terribly by his mother Martha (Diane Lane) and his fiance Lois Lane (Amy Adams), but no one on Earth misses him more than Batman. In his private moments with his butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Batman bemoans his own inadequacies at length (he's right about all of them). He's convinced that Superman is who the world needs (he's right about that too.) When the League minus Superman faces Steppenwolf for the first time and get their united asses handed to them, Batman decides it's time to really go dark - Pet Cemetary dark - and bring Superman back to life with the power of the Mother Box. This leads to the moment no one ever expected to see in a superhero movie: The Flash and Cyborg in a Smallville graveyard digging up Clark Kent's coffin.

Gal Gadot thankfully returns as the Wonder Woman we fell in love with last summer. Wonder Woman is unequivocably the best character in the movie and perpetually the only adult in the room. The best scene in Justice League is the argument when Batman goes full-on asshole and accuses Wonder Woman of failing the world by not being the beacon of hope Superman is. The other best scene is when Aquaman doesn't realize he's sitting on Wonder Woman's magic Lasso of Truth and start spilling his guts about his true feelings (Wonder Woman is gorgeous, he doesn't want to die, etc.) These character interactions between the League are terrific and savvy, full of knowing wit and a pleasing understanding of the characters and how they bounce off each other. The movie really picks up momentum when Superman comes back to life - complete, of course, with the obligatory fan service of Superman fighting the Justice League (and racing The Flash) - before Lois Lane's appearance calms him down and puts the human back in control of the Kryptonian. Superman is worth waiting for, and it's wonderful to see Henry Cavill smiling, relaxed and cracking jokes for the first time (no matter how weird his CGI'd face looks after the mustache he grew for Mission: Impossible 6 was digitally erased).

With so many superheroes and their disparate corners of the DC Universe (Gotham, Atlantis, Themyscira, Central City) being serviced - the Atlanteans and their Queen Mera (Amber Heard) really got short shafted; wait until the Aquaman movie next year to find out what all that Atlantis business was all about - Justice League takes on multiple tones not unlike what Stephen Soderbergh did with Traffic. The movie literally looks and feels different depending on what location they're at - Gotham looks like a cartoon city, then all of a sudden we cut to London and it looks like the real world - and the effect can be jarring. Imagine if Star Wars: Attack of the Clones was jammed together with A New Hope mixed with huge chunks of The LEGO Batman Movie and you get the idea. The first half of the movie leaps around like two dogs fighting over a stick, and the action scenes are mostly frenetic and unmemorable eyesores, with deafeningly loud and abrasive sound design that drowns out composer Danny Elfman's weaving of his classic Batman and John Williams' classic Superman scores into the music. Five years ago, The Avengers assembled for a crowd-pleasing and multi-layered 30 minute battle against aliens to defend New York City, showcasing each Avenger's powers, abilities, and strategies. The Justice League's final showdown with Steppenwolf is a rush job in a tiny town in the middle of Russia where they just keep punching Parademons and Steppenwolf until they win. The League may have been All In, according to the marketing, but in terms of everything it could be, the movie is Not All There.

After so many years of dreaming about this movie, the Justice League finally united but it only barely rises above the level of live action cartoon. However, the small, human moments: Bruce Wayne admitting to Wonder Woman that he's barely physically capable of being Batman anymore; Aquaman mocking Bruce Wayne dressing up "just like a bat" in response to wisecracks about "talking to fish"; Wonder Woman using her compassion to try to make Cyborg feel human and wanted; the look on Batman's face when his crazy plan worked and Superman came back to life; Batman: "Oh yeah, something's definitely bleeding..."; and Clark Kent and Lois Lane reuniting in a Smallville cornfield - the love story holding together the fate of the entire DC Universe - are worth celebrating. These are the moments that make Justice League worth it. There's potentially nowhere to go but up from here; a wise choice by DC Films as to who will helm the sequel now that Zack Snyder is reportedly stepping aside will hopefully deliver an even better version of the part 2 teased in the rebuilding of Stately Wayne Manor into the Hall of Justice ("room for more") and in the post-credits scene. After a lifetime of dreaming about a Justice League movie, it's finally here. Now fulfilled, we can share a new dream: one of a coherent Justice League movie. For that, I will be All In.

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