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Review: Justice League – “A wildly inconsistent tone”

Following Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, the DCEU now go “All in” with superhero team-up movie: Justice League. Zack Snyder returns to direct after also helming MOS and BVS – with an assist from Joss Whedon.

Minor spoilers ahead.

Henry Cavill (The Man from UNCLE), Ben Affleck (Argo), Gal Gadot (Furious 7), Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller (Fantastic Beasts) and Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) are all also back as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman.

Following the “death” of Superman, the world is in mourning – but also vulnerable. Winged monsters called “parademons” have begun springing up to feed on people’s fear, and also to scout out our planet ahead of an attack from a villain called Steppenwolf.

This horned six feet of CGI has his eye on three “mother boxes” which when combined will allow him to open a portal to his world, and remake ours as a hopeless hellhole. After he takes the first two from the Amazons and the Atlanteans, Batman and Wonder Woman recruit Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman to protect the last box and stop Steppenwolf. But to do so, they will all need to learn to work together, and maybe even bring a certain someone back from the “dead”.

When Superman returns he is understandably confused and angry, until Lois Lane (Amy Adams) takes him to his farm to chill out. He is then straight back making wisecracks with the rest of the League – which seems super strange for about half an hour. The DCEU thus far has been built on grimdark blocks, so everyone suddenly tossing zingers around takes a while to get used to, and as light as getting Joss to rewrite and reshoot was intended to make things, the witty Whedon repartee wrapper makes for a wildly inconsistent tone.

This makes scenes play plain wrong, for example: Flash and Cyborg joking while digging up Superman’s’ grave, and fist-bumping while literally standing on top of his coffin. Other times it just highlights what is obviously new material – like an additional shot of The Flash saying something funny at the end of every single scene.

Joss’s polish aside, the team don’t work anyway. A scene with Batman and Wonder Woman being really serious and angry is so dull and lacking in any rudimentary form of chemistry that even The Flash and Aquaman just sort of get distracted and wander off to start looking around the Bat Cave instead.

A team scene where Aquaman accidentally sits on Wonder Woman’s truth lasso works exclusively because of Momoa’s charisma and charm. One of the saving graces of Justice League, Momoa’s Aquaman is a badass that could beat the tar out of Batman. He swaggers through the film having the time of his life and leaving you looking forward to his forthcoming solo outing with a decent director: James Wan.

For Snyder has again crafted an ugly and aggravating mess that is sludgy, cluttered and also looks surprisingly cheap for a mega-blockbuster. Suits are too shiny, Steppenwolf is stiff, fake and unthreatening, and even the green screen looks shoddy.

The difference between Snyder and Patty Jenkins’ visions of Wonder Woman – and women in general – is also painfully plain, and hugely disappointing following Gal Gadot’s strong and iconic performance in her own film earlier this year.

When off-duty, Snyder has Wonder Woman in plunging tops and tight leather trousers, and when saving the world his camera tries to see up her skirt so often that she has also been issued blue modesty pants. Even in long trousers, there are plenty of gratuitous shots of her behind – one scene even beginning by nonchalantly panning across her buttocks before a dialogue scene with Batman.

“Batman” would now be better described as “Gunman” as the ninja-trained World’s Greatest Detective does nothing but look bored and fire increasingly large guns, while The Flash is funny for five minutes before his schtick grinds. Cyborg looks like a broken Transformer – when completely shown, but to save CGI money, he spends most of his time in a grey tracksuit.

Apart from Momoa’s titanic Aquaman, Justice League’s other lone high is Danny Elfman. Elfman’s superhero soundtrack does what it can, where it can, even throwing in bars of his own Batman 1989 score as well as a taste of John Williams’ Superman theme; but as good as that is, it also serves to remind you that DC superhero movies can and should be awesome.

Justice League is on general release in the UK now.

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