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Categories: Movie Reviews

DC turns up the noise, the colour and the action to make Justice League a short, sweet and pleasantly surprising early Christmas treat.

It’s been four years since Zack Snyder’s overcharged iteration of Superman, quite literally, exploded onto our screens and, if truth be told, it’s felt a lot longer. In that time, the so-called DC Extended Universe (or DCEU) has taken more negative press, and generated more angry internet comments, than one would be able to shake a five-pronged trident at. But the DCEU is still here, and thank God because Justice League is a solid winter warmer for a very cold year.

As unbelievable as it may sound, and many people will straight up just not believe this, of 2017’s plethora of large-scale comic book films (of which this is the last) Justice League might actually be the funniest. Almost all of the credit for this goes to Ezra Miller, making his first full appearance after a series of cameos in other DCEU films, and he’s the standout star of the film; offering genuine laugh-out-loud moments throughout the film. Part of this will be thanks to Justice League’s somewhat late addition, co-writer and co-director Joss Whedon, who undoubtedly brought his snappy sense of jocularity to the table but perhaps not in the way that you would be expecting and certainly in the best way that he could.

Justice League is, of course, moment cinema. Shot, as per Snyder’s instructions, entirely in IMAX’s gargantuan 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it lives to make you feel its scale and its action scenes but it is not driven by catchphrases and, apart from its traditional three act structure and linear end-of-the-world narrative, it’s genuinely a bit oddball. Justice League is, of course, a Franken-movie; in more ways than one. Whedon is an important figure in the film’s production not just because of his association with the other, flagship, Franken-movie franchise, The Avengers, but also because of his actual place in the production. Whedon shares a screenwriting credit with Chris Terrio but the film is still, rightly, credited solely to Zack Snyder.

If you were not already aware, this is of note due to tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Zack, and producer Deborah, Snyder’s eldest daughter in late 2016. Zack Snyder reportedly attempted to complete work on the project after a grieving period but decided it would be best to spend time with his family, leaving any additional footage to be shot left in the hands of Whedon who had joined the project as a co-writer and consultant some time prior.

There’s a point in the film in which Ezra Miller’s Flash, dressed down in a hoodie, chats one-on-one with his cohort, a half-man half-machine flying techno-Jesus who’s also in a hoodie, during a bizarrely mundane task for a pair of superheroes, remarking on how almost hilariously macabre it is, and it kind of perfectly sums up why the film works.

Whedon may have tricked some people into believing that these ensemble superhero team ups can, and will, be individual stories when in reality they’re more a hyper-narrative designed primarily to expand a story and, most particularly, introduce new characters into it. Justice League is a film yearning to show you more of its universe and the people who reside in it; particularly its hierarchy. The net result of two, very different, directors’ work spun around a team of characters, half of which still require backstories, is an undeniable mess but an uplifting, colourful and satisfyingly simple one.

The film’s best quality might be its total aversion to over-thinking itself despite its muddled band of players. Batman V Superman was an attempt to reconcile public opinion in a much more complex time, Justice League understands far more what its audience wants and needs. The bad guys won, people want to feel hope again and Justice League wants to give it to you.

The film has a really strong understanding of what makes its core premise appealing to its fans. Unlike The Avengers, egoistic and constantly bickering, the Justice League is less of a nexus point for an intersecting universe and more a platform for its brightest stars to shine. The Justice League is, at its heart, about very different people coming together to solve a common problem. Not just putting their differences aside but working to find common ground, understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and help one another.

There is so much more time in this film devoted to these characters having fun, getting along and being kind than in any superhero film seen in a good while. It feels like the first comic book film made in such a long time that doesn’t set its sights squarely on teens, and bearded men in their mid-20s, but on actual kids. It looks and feels like a genuine Saturday morning cartoon, as it should do because that’s ultimately what it is, and that’s where Whedon’s real masterstroke comes into play.

He finally, perhaps even at gunpoint, got Warner Brothers to turn up the damn colour grading. If you’ve ever seen the deprocessessing work done by concerned VFX artists online (before Warner Brothers had it taken down) then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Snyder actually shot both Man of Steel and Batman V Superman with a huge amount of colour in its key sequences but audiences never really got to see it because the colour grading of the film was always turned down in post-production to give each one a look more in line with what Warner Brothers believed the audience expected a DC film to look like, as per Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Turned back up, the detailed vividness of the costumes and the manicness of the world really sings.

The colour and the humour combined keep the film humming through misplaced story beats and underdeveloped set-pieces. Standing at a clean-cut two hours, it’s also one of the paciest superhero epics to be released in a good few years too. It’s certainly sacrificing coherency for a more profitable runtime but its ability to work in the face of this just adds to its plucky charm.

Justice League makes a lot of changes, both visually and tonally, to bring it more into line with the essence of the earliest blockbuster DC films which were, as it happens, the first comic book blockbusters ever. This is in no small part thanks to Danny Elfman’s return as composer, bringing with him faint echoes and motifs of those classic themes that have made people’s hearts soar for so many decades. Director of Photography Fabian Wagner, perhaps most famous for shooting some of the biggest episodes of Game of Thrones in the past few years, is a clear decision to move towards the more visually uniform world of Marvel Studios though, which is a little sad.

Marvel Studios films can scarcely even be called films anymore, they are episodes of a TV show which are shown in theatres. Directors on Marvel Studios films do not direct, they guest direct and while the loss of more distinguishable DOPs, and the cancelling out effect of Snyder’s and Whedon’s conflicting styles, may be something to mourn there is plenty of room to rejoice if you’re a fan of the subject matter because the DCEU really looks like it’s beginning to understand what makes its universe so appealing.

Justice League does not reinvent the wheel, nor does it try to, and, more importantly, it is not a carbon copy of another successful formula. Its moments of grandstanding are remarkably tolerable and do not come off as manipulative sopaboxing, its on-the-nose moments carrying more of a childlike sincerity than cynical moviegoers may have become accustomed to.

Its stark shifts in look and story serve to make the DCEU more akin to what 20th Century Fox has accomplished with its X-Men properties; meaning that the swells and dips in tone and quality enable each film to have its own discernible character. Justice League knows that it doesn’t need to be The Avengers and that gives it a peculiar kind of swagger. Worst case scenario, you’ll be largely bemused and occasionally amused. Best case scenario, you’ll be exhilarated by a nonsense tale of real superheroes in a way that you didn’t think you still could be.

Justice League is out now in cinemas.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

Posted on Nov 18, 2017

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