Zack Snyder’s Justice League Review – Spoiler Free

That film you saw in 2017, but this time its 4 hours.

The blog is revived, and the only thing that could revive it was a four hour long overindulgent Justice League film… and the 30+ movies I need to watch between now and the Oscars on the 25th April). Yes, it is actually four hours long and I watched it in one sitting with some friends in a discord chat.

The film kicks off and immediately there are warning signs. We were all making comments in the chat about the weirdness of the scene selection and some very strange music choices. Then when a random woman decides to break out into what sounded like a Viking love song, I quietly accepted that the rumours may not be true, and this movie might not be the fun surprise I’d read about.

It’s difficult to really talk about this as a movie. It’s not, no film should be 4 hours long. That’s a TV show worth of run time. WandaVision (more on that later) clocked in at 5 hours and 50 minutes, and that was spread over 9 episodes and 8 weeks. You can’t go into this Justice League without having scheduled the time. It’s not a movie you can stick on because you come across it and think “oh why not”. That being said by the end of it, I felt it had flown by, and that’s always a good sign. I am not going to mention the run time much more, because it is what it is. This is Zack Snyder’s truest and most indulgent version of Justice League, and he wanted 4 hours, so here we are.

The Justice League film from 2017 hit an odd place for me. It had some really fun moments but lacked so much in the way of set up and explanation. Things just happen at such a pace you’re not able to follow exactly why or how. Zack Snyder’s family issues meant the film was thrown at Josh Whedon, and he was told to cut the footage down to a two hour run time. Having now seen how much they had to cut to make it fit that bizarre mandate from the studio, it’s no wonder we ended up with the film we saw back then.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League tells a very similar story to the 2017 effort, but this time we are given far more context for it all. One small change to how Lois Lane arrives in a certain scene, elevated it from silly to sensical. That step is repeated in several places throughout the film, and to varying levels. Little moments from the other film that had me scratching my head are now explained and as a huge fan of nerd culture and particularly these characters, it was really quite refreshing to watch the conversations and relationship build between them. In 2017 they come together because that what the film demanded. In this film we are shown why each character has chosen to join the fight. Particular attention is given to Flash and Cyborg, who don’t have set up movies, and this film uses the extra time to set them up well.

That character development isn’t just for the good guys either. We spend a lot more time understanding what Steppenwolf’s motivations are. He is essentially trying to win back the trust of his family by taking earth for Darkseid. For those who don’t know, Thanos was Marvel’s reaction to Darkseid back in the 70’s. The presence of Darksied throughout casts an ominous shadow that genuinely got me intrigued about a future film.

By the way, it’s pronounced “Darkside”. I don’t know why it’s spelt that way.

When I was a kid, I played with actions figures a lot. My Saturday mornings were often spent at my nan’s house, smashing batman figures into each other and letting my imagination run wild. Zack Snyder is a lot older than me, but I imagine he has similar memories. The action in this film is slightly different to the 2017 effort, and for me it works much better. The final act of the film contains a set piece that put a smile on my face, and took me back to being a child imaging the justice league messing up bad guys. We’ve been blessed with the MCU giving us moments like that, and this is the first time in a DC film I’ve felt like that.

Zack Snyder’s name is in the title, and therefore you know what you’re getting in terms of visuals. There is what can only be described as a “Fuck Load” of slow-motion action shots. I get that they look cool in moments, but this is a 3-and-a-half-hour film if you showed these moments at full speed. In the wonder woman bank scene, which is edited slightly different in this film, there is less slow-motion and it looks incredible when she’s moving at speed and blocking bullets and hitting people. Snyder proves he can make it work perfectly, and then commits to doing the slow-motion thing anyway. By the end of the film I was quickly rolling my eyes when the screen slowed down.

Honestly at the start of this week, before reviews dropped, my expectations for this film were below the floor. In reality, I should have thought about it logically. This is a film that’s been worked on for half a decade at least, and in that time, it’s had the most rigorous test screening process you could imagine. Perhaps this is the version Snyder would have released in 2017 if he had the chance, but I don’t buy that. This film addresses so many of the complaints fans and critics had of the 2017 film that it’s clearly been made with those taken into consideration. This is, in so many ways, a unique piece of media. One which fans of these characters and superhero movies in general will find a lot of enjoyment in.

Where do DC go from here? That is an incredibly difficult question for them. They had a wild success with the Joker film, but that was completely disconnected. They then released Wonder Woman 84, which I found to be an absolute mess of a film. They have “The Batman” coming next with Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne, but that’s also set in another universe. On top of all that, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has proven that his vision was at the very least entertaining, and at times threatened to be great.

There is probably half-an-hour at the end of this film that feels like a cinematic universe worth of post credit scenes. One in particular features Jared Leto as a much more recognisable Joker, and his interaction with Ben Affleck as Batman really got me intrigued to see those two do something. This flurry of scenes doesn’t really fit in with the narrative that’s been told over the previous three and half hours, but they’re interesting little glimpses into what Snyder wants to do.

What comes next is anyone’s guess, but what we have right now is a Justice League film that DC can be proud of and fans can enjoy. It’s too long, it’s got some strange moments (Seriously that Viking singing was odd), and it has just too much slow motion. I ended it with a smile on my face though, and that’s a lot better than I expected.

Good: Fun action, a plot that makes sense, and that feeling of seeing your action figures thrown into each other.

Bad: Too much slow motion, some scenes could easily have been left out, and that weird Viking singing.

TL;DR : This is Justice League 2017 with context, character development, villain motivations and 100% less weird Henry Cavill lip CGI.

The State of DC

Yesterday I saw a poster released for the upcoming “Birds of Prey” movie and was reminded that the film is a thing, and that DC’s Joker film isn’t the only project they have in the pipeline. On top of Birds of Prey, they have Wonder Woman 1984 and a reboot of sorts to the Suicide Squad franchise, with a Batman reboot somewhere as well. 

They have previously dropped Man of Steel, where they gave us an awesome Superman in Henry Cavill. The fact there was no real structure around his film to build a wider universe on didn’t put off the executives from wanting to have their own Cinematic Universe based on it, and the leaderless DCEU was born. Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League followed to varying degrees of success, before Shazam and Aquaman sort of steadied the ship by being very okay.

Crucially, they botched Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad was a colourful mess. Fun to look at but no real substance to it, DC had fumbled the ball. This was all happening in a time when Marvel was building towards Infinity war and in the same year as Justice League, released Guardians 2, Spiderman Homecoming and Thor Ragnarok.

If done right in with the state of pop culture today, Justice League should be the biggest film in the world. It should be earning billions. It earned $657 million. That’s on a hefty budget for both production and marketing, meaning they earned very little on their biggest film. for context, all three of the marvel films earned around $200 million more than that, on smaller budgets.

This sent Warner Bros and DC into a panic of green lighting and then cancelling and delaying and re organising and just generally in a tizzy trying to figure out what went wrong. Well I could write forever on what went wrong, and I probably will one day, but I am wondering if they’re finally organised, or if they are still spinning out of control.

They have Joker releasing in a few weeks’ time, and it appears it is going to be a critical darling and a huge success in terms of quality, Box office will probably be decent if not spectacular. I have written about that film enough; I am excited and hopefully is a sign of DC allowing the film makers they hire to take their properties and make something they want with them rather than the designed by committee feel Justice League had.

Following that we have Birds of Prey coming out next February, starring Margot Robbie reprising her role as Harley Quinn. She was one of the better parts of Suicide Squad, and I am glad they kept a talent like her, but I have no idea what this film is. Harley Quinn without the joker took years in the comics, and here we have her already out on her own, with Jared Leto’s Joker nowhere to be seen from what I can tell. I am guessing a trailer isn’t far off, so perhaps by the next time I write I will have some idea what this film’s going to be. The lead is talented, and Ewan McGregor is in it as the antagonist, so the tools are there for a solid movie, I just have no idea what to expect.

Next June is the most hopeful I am for DC, as Wonder Woman 1984 hits theatres. The first film was good. Gal Gadot has been the shining light for DC and it seems like they’re positioning her at the centre of their universe, if there is still a universe. The poster for this film is a piece of art, and if the film can build on the success of the first, we could be on for a great film.

Beyond that, we have a Batman reboot. The reign of Batfleck is over, and to be honest I was disappointed Ben Affleck never got to show what he could do with the character in a solo film. He has immense talent for directing and acting, and I can’t help but feel it was a wasted opportunity not utilising those while they had him there. Robert Pattinson has taken on the mantle, and Matt Reeves is directing. Reeves directed the two most recent Planet of the Apes films, which were both fun and serious action films. That style and tone could translate well to a Batman flick, so here’s hoping for a return to form for the character.

After that there is a myriad of films slated, James Gunn is making a Suicide Squad movie, which sounds incredible quite frankly. What he did with Guardians of the Galaxy means I will watch anything he touches now. Shazam and Aquaman are both set for sequels, The Flash movie has been in development for years, The Rock was announced as playing Black Adam years ago but so far there’s been no sign of that, and then we have a potential Batgirl film. Oh, and a horror film called The Trench, based on the trench Aquaman dives down in his solo film.

All these individual films sound fun, what’s missing is any obvious connecting tissue. I am assuming that the plan is still to build a Universe that can eventually lead to another Justice League film. Right now, there is no team up movie to connect everything together in the pipeline, and maybe that is intentional. Perhaps they want to focus on the current slate and get each individual character’s film right before trying to bring them together. It was rushed before, that much is obvious, and in their haste to catch up to Marvel they tripped and fell on their faces.

I genuinely hope that all these upcoming films shock me and are brilliant, my fear is that so far, they haven’t made a single film that’s been there for me. They do have a chance now though, especially with Marvel having essentially capped off their MCU for the time being and will be focusing on new characters and ones we haven’t quite got the same connection to like Dr Strange. They’ve lost Iron Man and Cap, the heads of the MCU, and Spiderman is unlikely to be returning.

DC have all their toys, they have time, and they could step up and be the next big franchise. Here’s hoping they can get it right this time.

ChAzJS

 

Aquaman Review

Warner Bros’ return to the superhero scene with Aquaman. Directed by horror aficionado James Wan and starring the manliest of all men Jason Momoa there was a big question mark in my head over this film. The nature of Aquaman’s story demand’s a lot of the film to be underwater, and the trailers looked a little CGI heavy even by today’s standards.

One great way to get an audience invested is by having good actors give great performances, and Aquaman delivers on that wholeheartedly. Hawaiian beefcake Jason Momoa is excellent in the leading role, making the whole audience either want to be him, want to be with him, or want a little from column A and a little from column B. His performance is helped by the humour in the film, allowing him to be a little more likeable than messrs Henry Cavill or Ben Affleck were ever allowed to be. More on the  wider DC Universe films another time, but for now, I’d say Aquaman is the most enjoyable character in the DC films of recent years.

Momoa leads the film, but this is far from a one man show. Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard stood out to me as excellent in their roles as Queen Atlanna and Princess Hera respectively, and I found the chemistry between Momoa and Amber Heard entertaining if a little cheesy at times. Willem Defoe and Patrick Wilson also feature prominently, both being solid if unspectacular. A shout out must be given to Dolph Lundgren, who shows hints of the form I’ve heard about from his performance in Creed 2, which I really do need to get out and see.

Excellent performances are one ingredient of a great film, but a good script and well paced plot is what can really make a film tick. Unfortunately, Aquaman falls short here for me. The plot is generic, yet somehow over complicated, I found myself surprised an hour and a bit in to discover we was only just getting to a part I’d seen clipped out in the promotional material that I’d figured would be early on. The film seems to go on a little long and I think there is a clear reason for this. There is a whole character that honestly could have been cut from the movie, and all we would have lost is a couple of action scenes and saved about 45 minutes of time spent rushing through a character who I felt could have been a key player in a sequel if done correctly. On top of this, some of the dialogue is borderline awful, and there is an awful lot of exposition and foreshadowing done early in the film. I understand the need for some of both those things, but it got a little bit heavy on both for me.

The action scenes we do get are all quite fun, especially in the first half of the film. Somewhat contradictory to what I just wrote, the action scenes I said could have been cut are arguably the best in the film. The problem is these scenes do nothing for the plot or the characters other than showing off Momoa’s biceps and abs, which may be impressive and he is really quite dreamy but.. I forget what I was saying… PLOT.. yes those scenes do not help the plot and that’s what makes good action scenes great ones!

The later action scenes, the ones the combine well with the story being told, are where I felt the CGI at its heaviest. For the most part, the underwater scenes look good, and it didn’t take me out of the movie in the scenes with dialogue between characters. However once the action scenes begin, particularly the final set piece, the film becomes a mess of colours and flashes with no real meaning. The final fight reminded me of the finale of Black Panther, with two clearly animated characters squaring off in a clearly animated environment with very similar styles and looks except colours. It felt a little like watching a fighting game to me, a very impressive looking one, but just a bit too much for my liking.

Warner Bros’ and DC are being very bold and trying to shift the tone of their cinematic universe. Aquaman is the first film made entirely after that decision, and I think the lighter moments really benefit the film. It doesn’t threaten Wonder Woman for the top spot in the DC universe, but it does deliver a fun romp through a fantastical world. Who’d have thought 10 years ago that I would prefer an Aquaman film over Batman V Superman.

Good: Momoa’s Arms, Chest, Shouders, Beard, Hair and Eyes. Great performances, cool world set up and some fun action, some great CGI.

Bad: Generic cliché plot, unnecessary time spent on a character, very CGI heavy may be too much for some people. Entire film is foreshadowed early on.

6/10 – Solid but not special. Momoa could make a Jacobs Cracker wet. (sorry)