Be aware this is a spoiler discussion of Justice League.
Love it or hate it (or think it’s kinda just dumb but fun), Justice League is one fascinating piece of filmmaking. The product of two visions and two filmmakers, Justice League began as a Zack Snyder epic, but the filmmaker stepped down from the project over personal matters, Wonder Woman offered a course correction for the DCEU, and Joss Whedon was brought on board to finish the film in time for the release date. Well, the release date is here, the film is as finished as it’ll ever be, and the resulting movie is a choppy, chaotic creation; a true Franken-film that somehow finds a weird alchemy between the properties of two very different filmmakers and works better than it probably should.
People will spend too much time arguing over who gets credit for what scene, even though we’ll probably never know for sure what comes from which filmmaker. Well, unless it’s a mustache CGI scene, in which case it’s painfully obvious. There are ADR one-liners and moments of ensemble banter that have a distinctly Whedon flourish, and there are ballad montages and epic, heightened action that feel extremely Snyder, but they way in which those scenes are fitted together make it obvious that the matter of ownership in this film is complicated beyond who shot what. Even with the visible seams between the filmmakers, Whedon was a smart pick to steer the ship after Snyder’s departure, and he does good work translating the two halves into an entertaining, breezy superhero romp. Indeed, the pacing is a key player in what makes Justice League work. While the trim two-hour runtime will leave some diehards wanting more, especially in the wake of Snyder’s three and a half hour cut of Batman v Superman, Whedon’s cut keeps Justice League moving, and that crisp cadence helps conceal the film’s flaws rather than exacerbate them.
If pacing keeps the ship afloat, Justice League has two great flaws that almost sink the whole thing; it’s an ugly film and it has a terrible villain. The first point comes as a bit of a surprise considering Snyder’s films always look distinct and polished, but Justice League‘s look and VFX work were lost in translation during the choppy production. The villain problem, sadly, is all too common in the superhero cinema, but even among the piteous ranks of Malekith and Ares, Steppenwolf is an egregious, dumb CGI villain who feels ripped from an early-aughts video game. It’s a depressing waste Ciaran Hinds’ talents, but hopefully, he’s putting his grandkids through college with that paycheck or something.
The cast and their chemistry make the film a consistently entertaining ride in spite of those faults. The returning players are strong. Ben Affleck continues to be a better Batman and Bruce Wayne them people want to give him credit for, and this is the closest we’ve seen him to true blue Batman after the murdery rage of Batman v Superman. Henry Cavill is without a doubt the best he’s ever been allowed to be as the Man of Steel, refreshingly sunny and earnestly heroic. He feels like classic Superman. His arc doesn’t quite track, and you get the sense that this is where Whedon made his most significant changes to Snyder’s original design, but it’s a delight to see Cavill unleash his easy charisma, which any Man from U.N.C.L.E. fan could tell you was hiding in there somewhere. Wonder Woman is both a clutch player and a joy of the film thanks to Gal Gadot and her irrepressible on-screen spark, but the character is sadly saddled with the role of naggy maternal mentor and she lacks her sense of, well… wonder. Gadot brings an essential electricity to the dynamic and she’s still a stunning, inspirational incarnation of the character, but she isn’t allowed to trot out those qualities enough. And without Patty Jenkins, it’s back to upskirts and leering camera angles. Ick.