Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons
Director: Zack Snyder
Runtime: 120 minutes
Release date: 17th November 2017
Matt C: It was inevitable Justice League was going to arrive with plenty of unwelcome extra baggage. From the lukewarm welcome that greeted Man Of Steel, through to the grimdark sludge and critical mauling of Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice, onto the messy, tonally-misjudged Suicide Squad, the DC Extended Universe has had a rough start, with only the enormously well-received Wonder Woman offering a beacon of hope to fledgling 'shared universe' franchise. Justice League has had a very troubled gestation, with course corrects following the reaction to BVS: DOJ, to director Zack Snyder's personal tragedy, to Ben Afleck dropping repeated hints that he's about to quit the role of Caped Crusader, rounded off by Joss Whedon's last minute appearance to finish the job and add his own stamp to the proceedings. While Marvel Studios seem to be having an easy ride both critically and commercially (and with plenty of justification), Warners must spend each opening weekend gnawing their nails to the bone, wondering whether the whole enterprise is about to come crumbling down around them. So a lot has been riding on Justice League - although perhaps not as much after the success of Wonder Woman - and for fans who've grown up on these characters, along with general audiences who can more readily connect to these brand recognition icons than the likes of Iron Man and Thor, expectations are enormously high. Can this team save a franchise, let alone a world?
Against the odds, or maybe because of them, it actually kind of works. That aforementioned baggage carried over from previous instalments does cause a lot of issues along the way as there's a real sense that the movie is trying hard to right past wrongs and shake free elements that didn't work. Then there's Steppenwolf, a villain with a masterplan that will be barely comprehensible even to those well versed in Jack Kirby's Fourth World, and whilst it's comics accurate (sort of), watching cuboid objects act as the plot's focal McGuffin brings it strikingly close to a certain other superteam movie. Reshoots and reworks have clearly hampered the film's visual aesthetic as the overabundance of CGI is often distractingly noticeable and seemingly rushed. Then there's the shaky mythology of the franchise that continues to be reshaped retroactively rather than built up organically. It teeters on becoming a mess at so many points that it's almost miraculous that it pulls back from the brink nearly every time. But somehow, the film's general eagerness to please becomes infectious to the point where it more or less wins you over.
You could credit this to Whedon coming in and paring down what was likely to be a movie clocking in at nearly three hours back towards a more acceptable two hour duration; possibly you can hazard a guess to which quips and zingers bear his mark, but we may never know the full story of the extent of his contribution (or at least not for a while). However much his input changed what could have been, it's certainly a lot frothier and therefore more engaging than the relentlessly dour Batman Vs Superman. The dynamic between the team members is more successful than not; even though their individual reasons for joining up aren't always satisfactorily relayed, seeing them bounce off each other is frequently a delight, with Ezra Miller's Flash defusing any tendency for the rest of the cast to get to needlessly po-faced. Surprisingly, after being one of the few good things about BVS, Ben Affleck struggles to really convince as Batman/Bruce Wayne, to the point where you wonder if him bailing now wouldn't be such a bad thing. The rest of the team, led by another commanding but compassionate performance from Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, could easily survive without him, and even a not-so-surprising reappearance feels like a welcome reset offering plenty of promise.
And perhaps that's the best thing about Justice League: its promise of a brighter future for the franchise. That's not a glowing endorsement but unfortunately we'd already passed the point where anyone expected the League's first foray onto the big screen to be a total triumph. It has many flaws but it's way more fun than it had any right to be, and for those of a certain disposition, the thrill of seeing this team come together will be undeniable. 7/10