Spoiler alert: I found the movie underwhelming. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad, either. It didn't go off the rails like Dawn Of Justice, and it wasn't thematically stupid like Suicide Squad was. Like the first Fantastic Four movies with Chris Evans and Jessica Alba, it's just kind of there, it does its job, and moves on.
And that's kind of the problem. The film is kind of stuck between its ambitions and its reality. It doesn't really break new ground or try anything really different. Aside from a couple of character bits here and there, you haven't seen anything here you haven't seen done elsewhere and done better. And as I explain, you'll understand what I mean.
The plot isn't the greatest thing in the world, but let's face it, we got to get this thing moving somehow. And it does this with a three-piece MacGuffin called the Unity. This is made from three "mother boxes" that can remake the world into the world stock villain Steppenwolf comes from. In short order, he claims two of the mother boxes, and in a facepalming bit of stupidity, also gets the third. It is then up to the collected heroes of Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash, Aquaman, and eventually Superman to save the day.
Now, I want to be abundantly clear on something -- I don't have a problem with Zac Snyder, the original director. He's not my favorite filmmaker, but I didn't want to see him fired from the movie or any harm fall upon him. The circumstances behind him leaving the shoot and Joss Whedon taking over are horrible, and the guy has my sympathy and condolences. But replacing him with Whedon was a big mistake, because despite how vacuous and unremarkable a lot of the scenes are, it creates a film aesthetic at war with itself. And nowhere is this more evident than in the superhero costumes.
Yeah, I know, most people are bitching about how obviously CGI'ed Superman's upper lip is in some scenes clearly from the reshoots after Snyder stepped down. I didn't really notice it, but I didn't care to. However, the costumes got my attention. It has to do with the art direction. The costumes were designed to look a certain way, be shot a certain way, to fit into the film a certain way, and that certain way was Snyder's dark and foreboding visual style. There are certain scenes you can tell are shot by Whedon, because the blocking and the lighting and the locations ruin the looks of the costumes. It's like watching the live action Sailor Moon -- the outfits are so at odds with the environment around them, you think you are watching a cosplay fanfilm rather than a legit "canon" production. Deadpool muted the colors enough and styled the outfit to fit in with the the street-level aesthetic of the character's world. Deadpool simply wouldn't look right in that outfit in an MCU movie. Here, it's a change in the director that crashes the whole thing.
The movie's biggest problem is the plot. Like I said, you've seen this before. In fact, with the cube-shaped mother box and Whedon at the helm, there are times it feels more like a reworking of The Avengers than its own entity. The problem with the script is it is engineered to Snyder's strengths. I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- Snyder makes some amazing, dynamic imagery in his movies. But he's just not a storyteller. He's better at impressing the audience than moving the narrative. This is evidenced by the ease with which Steppenwolf acquires the three mother boxes. The first two are more or less sitting out in the open protected by people who couldn't possibly be strong enough to stop the threat they should have expected to return some day. It leads to great set pieces and fight sequences, but they were still out in the open and remarkably easy to get. It's kind of like Assassin's Creed -- all these centuries, and the Assassins can't build a vault they can break into before the Templars do. It says something that the last box to get and actually takes some effort to get was simply buried in the ground originally and in a science lab in the present day instead of sitting on a pedastal with a big flashing sign that says, "PLOT DEVICE" hanging over it.
The third box is the one that drove me nuts, however. During the battle after the revival of Superman, the mother box is knocked into the air, and the camera shows it falling a distance away. No one thinks to go after it, stake it out, or anything, the five heroes just stand there derping out while Superman gets violent (and Lois Lane should have been there from the beginning, not called in as a last resort). Then a Boom Tube appears and everyone goes, "Oh, no, Steppenwolf has the third box!" It's like one of my ciriticisms about the plot of Ghostbusters 2016, where the women discover the ghost generator at the concert, recognize it is amplifying the spectral energy, but leave it alone so the bad guy can re-acquire it instead of taking it to undermine his power grid or study it to see if they can learn from his research or whatever. The only difference is, with Ghostbusters 2016, I could sort of let it slide, since the women were new to the whole ghostbusting thing and not expecting to get mixed up in an end of the world scheme and they could reasonably not be expected to think of this. But the Justice League? You have Batman the master tactician, Wonder Woman and Aquaman the trained warriors who know all about this whole thing, and Cyborg who can analyze data and plans of attack. There is simply no excuse for none of them to think only one move ahead like this and get caught by surprise.
The movie is more about branding than telling a story. The only character who really has any real personality is the Flash. The Flash benefits the most from Whedon as director, in that he behaves pretty much like a typical Whedon character, simultaneously being the smartest guy in the room and the most clueless socially inept person to walk the Earth. He is completely inexperienced and unprepared for any of this (at one point, admitting he doesn't really fight, he just pushes some people down and leaves), and eventually grows into his role. And he has some great bits, like when Superman revives and Flash discovers he can move at superspeed, too. But the rest of the characters don't really get many character moments. They don't really come alive (although Alfred doesn't act like such a bitch compared to BvS). Also, despite a budget roughly equal to the GDP of a small nation, the movie feels strangely confined, kind of like how Fant4stic should've gotten more for its money. It shows the characters on the big screen, but not much else.
The music score is iffy. I love me some Danny Elfman, and hearing him incorporate his original Batman theme from 1989 was a huge treat. But while there are some good individual stings, the cast getting clumped together means the individuality has to give way to more orchestrated pieces. Kind of like Alan Silvestri, who knocked it out of the park with the first Captain America but saw the uniqueness get downplayed by the team dynamics in The Avengers, Elfman just doesn't get the room to move that the man is capable of. Not bad, but not great. And believe me, I know my Elfman.
Ultimately, Warner Bros and DC realized they screwed the pooch with BvS, and tried to make corrections while this was being shot. But in doing so, the film loses the cohesion it would have had if Snyder had stayed on as director. Kind of like Favs directing Iron Man 1 and 2 -- you may not always agree with his choices, but at least he was consistent and everything fit together. This, at times, can be jarring with the aesthetic shifts because there just isn't enough else to take your mind off of it. And like I said, it's not a bad movie. It's just kind of...there. I don't want to bag on it, but I can't bring myself to cheer for it, either.