Justice League: The Unjust Victim
– A Hero Corner review by David 2

(Warning: there are spoilers ahead for both this movie and other movies connected to it.  You’ve been warned.)

This review is one that I’ve been anxious to do.

In “Man of Steel”, we were re-introduced to Superman.  He wasn’t perfect.  But it was a good start into what would become the DC Cinematic Universe, and possibly a rival to the long-running Marvel cinematic juggernaut.

But then showrunner Zach Snyder did something stupid.  Really stupid.  He turned Superman into the antagonist in his next DCCU movie, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, and then he had Superman killed fighting Doomsday.

Yes, the DCCU went on without Superman.  In “Suicide Squad”, Superman’s death became the excuse to whip up a black-op secret team of supervillains.  In “Wonder Woman”, we learn why the titular heroine was an unknown figure after she arrived in Europe during World War I.  But, even then, the shadow of Superman’s death hung over the modern-day world like a shroud.

You see, when Zach Snyder had Superman sacrifice his life in “BvS”, he did more than just kill Superman.  He pretty much killed the spirit of the DCCU.  And that’s not just for the movies that followed, but also for our support of the DCCU in general.

Critics hated everything that came afterward simply because it was put in the same universe where Superman is dead.  The biggest complaint about “Suicide Squad” more than anything was that it came after “BvS”.  They liked the characters and the idea, but it was because it was in “that same universe” that they hated it.  People had to pretend that “Wonder Woman” was somehow separate from the DCCU to appreciate it, not wanting to understand the opening scene of her getting a special package from Bruce Wayne simply because it was a reminder of her being in “BvS”.

That is how toxic Snyder’s decision to kill Superman so soon into the DCCU was.

I suspect that Snyder did not know the full impact of what he did, or that it would have an effect on the whole DCCU, but that is precisely what happened.  You don’t take a movie franchise so young into implementation and kill the premiere character.  I don’t care how dramatic it may be.  You don’t do it.

So Director Snyder needed to right the gross wrong that he committed.

He needed to bring Superman back to life.

But he also needed to complete the vision he started with “BvS”, namely the warning from the future, the post-apocalyptic nightmare Bruce Wayne saw, the weird messages from Lex Luthor, and all the other little things that were carried over from “BvS” and “Suicide Squad” and “Wonder Woman”.  He needed to finish telling the story.

That brings us to “Justice League”.

Now, on the onset, this longtime fan of comic books and of Superman was nervous about this, especially when it was revealed that Steppenwolf would be the main villain for this movie.  Snyder is already known for coming up with stories based on the comics.  He used elements of “Superman: Birthright” for “Man of Steel”.  He used “Dark Knight Returns” and “Superman: Doomsday” and even the “Injustice” video game for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.  I was afraid that he would get his hands on a DC series called “Earth 2”, where Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman fight Steppenwolf and are brutally killed in the very first pages and use that to get us to that “Knightmare” scene.  Thankfully – spoilers – that didn’t happen in the movie.

Unfortunately, after principal filming was done, Director Snyder had to step down and the job of finishing his story fell to “Avengers” director Joss Whedon.  Whether or not Snyder was fired is a matter of contention.  Sufficient to say, Warner Brothers and fans had enough of Snyder’s dark and gloomy vision and wanted something more along the lines of “Wonder Woman”.  They also replaced Hans Zimmer with veteran musician Danny Elfman, whose hero credentials go all the way back to Tim Burton’s original “Batman” movie, to provide the score. This was a welcomed change as Elfman managed to get permission to use some of the original soundtracks to both his own earlier Batman works and also with John Williams for the original “Superman” movies.  And this actually worked.

So… we have our movie, and it starts with the most bizarre opening.  It’s a kid’s cellphone vlog of Superman after saving the day, and kids asking him weird questions that only kids would ask. Unfortunately, this was one of those last-minute reshoots, and Henry Cavill was contractually-obligated by Paramount to keep his moustache.  So Whedon had it removed digitally, but it was obviously a poor job, so Superman’s mouth came out weird.

That’s how it starts.  The fever, the rage, the feeling of frustration that turns good supporters… cruel.  No, seriously.  Cruel.  People are still making fun of that.

We then go to Gotham, and Batman is using a cocky house thief as bait for some strange bug creature.  (If this sound a little familiar, then you’ve seen “Justice League: War”.) This is a bug creature that hunts the scent of fear and then explodes when confined, leaving a strange impression of three cubes in the glowing carcass.  Batman confers with Alfred Pennyworth that the cubes match those on the strange notes seized from Lex Luthor’s belongings, but they don’t know what they are for.

In Paris, a group of nihilistic terrorists storm a museum and take women and children hostage.  They believe the world is coming to an end and they want to bring things back to “simpler times”.  This brings Wonder Woman into action.  She stops the terrorists and tosses the bomb away, proclaiming herself to be “a believer”.

Meanwhile, back on Themyscira, one of the many “secrets” of the Amazons is a box matching Luthor’s notes, and it is now acting up.  Queen Hippolyta and a whole squad of Amazons watch as a strange tunnel opens up above the chamber, and a large male figure lands in the middle of the room.  The queen identifies him as Steppenwolf.  He tries to make a move for the box, calling it “Mother”, but the Amazons stop him and they run off with it. The ax-wielding attacker gives chase, leaping huge distances to catch up.  Finally he overpowers the queen and makes off with the box.  The queen then uses an ancient signal device to sound the alarm to the one person still alive that would know what that signal means.

Somewhere in Alaska, a bearded Bruce Wayne reaches out to Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, and ask him to join the fight.  Arthur, however, refuses.  Even when Bruce invokes the name of Superman, Arthur is unimpressed with Bruce’s pleas and he dives into the freezing water and swims away like a torpedo.

Back in Paris, Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) sees the news footage of the ancient warning tower burning and immediately knows something happened at home.  She catches up with Bruce Wayne in Gotham, who had just returned to his Batcave and is working on a new transport vehicle.  Diana tells Bruce the story of Steppenwolf, the “Destroyer of Worlds”.  She talks about how the last time Steppenwolf tried to destroy the Earth, he was pushed away by an alliance of Amazons (led by Antiope), Atlanteans, men, ancient gods (including Ares), and even a Green Lantern.  The tools Steppenwolf brought with him, the three Mother Boxes, were split up.  One went with the Amazons, one with the Atlanteans, and the third was buried by men.  (However, if you saw the deleted scene in “Wonder Woman”, you’d know that Etta Candy led a mission to find that box, and that was the Mother Box that ended up in S.T.A.R. Labs in “BvS” and was responsible for creating Cyborg.)

After Arthur rescues a drowned sailor, and he sees strange green goo on his hands, he races down to Atlantis, only to arrive too late.  Steppenwolf has already invaded, and he easily takes their Mother Box.

Diana looks for Cyborg, who is still trying to understand what the Mother Box did to him in “BvS” and all that he can now do.  He tells her that they need to look somewhere offline for Steppenwolf.  Meanwhile, in Central City, Bruce Wayne meets with Barry Allen, and quickly proves that he is the Flash.  Barry is then excited to know that he is talking to Batman and is eager to join his team because…. “I need… friends.”  When Cyborg returns home, he finds that his father has been abducted.  Then he sees the Bat-Signal in the sky.

Batman joins the Flash, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg to meet with Commissioner Gordon, who tells them that strange bat-like and bug-like creatures are abducting people.  Wonder Woman calls them Parademons.  Cyborg points out where all of the sightings converge, and they race over there to rescue all the people taken away, including Cyborg’s father.

But this is a group that is not yet a team.  Flash is nervous about fighting, saying he only pushes people and runs away (as was witnessed in “Suicide Squad”), but Batman gets him focused on a singular task of rescuing the hostages.  Cyborg rescues his father, only for Steppenwolf to discover that Cyborg had some of the Mother Box technology in him.  Then Steppenwolf finds out that Wonder Woman is not only an Amazon, but also the daughter of Zeus, one of the gods that originally beat him.  He uses Batman’s weapons to bring down the river on them and makes his escape.  Arthur arrives to hold off the waters long enough for the team to also make their escape.  Cyborg then runs away, only to return later with the third Mother Box.

Back in the Batcave, Bruce says that the Mother Box has the power to bring someone like Superman back to life, but the others are against the idea.   Barry makes a reference to the movie “Pet Cemetery”, where whatever that comes back to life isn’t the same person.  When Diana objected to bringing Superman back, Bruce invoked the name Steve Trevor and reminds her that she cut herself off from the world after her boyfriend died.  Alfred tries to reason it out afterward, but Bruce says that Superman was more important to the world than he previously realized, and that the team needs Clark Kent as much as the world needs Superman.

I will have to say that at this point, this was one of the key moments that this reviewer was looking for; the admission that Bruce was wrong about his view on Superman from “BvS”.  This was the roundabout way of saying “I’m sorry” to all the people the DCCU let down when they killed Superman.

The team make their way to S.T.A.R. Labs in Metropolis with Superman’s body that they dug up from Smallville.  (No, that didn’t look creepy at all, sarcastically-speaking.)  They use the crashed Kryptonian ship (from both “MoS” and “BvS”) and the surviving technology along with the Mother Box and Flash’s super-speed electrical discharge to bring Superman back to life, and he wakes up disoriented at his own memorial that was destroyed by Doomsday.  He does not recognize anyone in the team, including Diana, and Cyborg’s Mother Box technology treats Superman as a threat and automatically attacks him.  This leads to a brief battle between Superman and the team and none of them can stop him, either alone or together.  Even when Batman calls out Superman and Wonder Woman tries to use her demigod powers, they cannot stop him.  But then Superman remembers Batman and taunts him with his own words.

“Tell me… Do you bleed?

Thankfully Batman remembered the message from the future and calls out his “big gun”: Lois Lane.  Lois talks Superman down and gets him to take her “home”.  At the same time, Steppenwolf arrives and makes off with the last Mother Box.

The team return to the Batcave demoralized and splintered.  But Batman says that they can’t give up.  They still need to stop Steppenwolf from bringing the three boxes together and destroying all life on the planet.  They find out where he is hiding and they get there in Bruce’s new transport ship.

Back in Smallville, at the old Kent home (now foreclosed because, you know, misery and banks), Clark remembers everything again, and Lois tells him that now he needs to go back and help Bruce.  But not before we get a very tearful reunion with Martha Kent and his vow to make things right.

In some strange Russian village, Batman sends the team to attack Steppenwolf’s new strange lair in the middle of an old nuclear reactor.  He uses his science to distract the Parademons so the others could approach, but there are too many of them for him to hold off.  The team comes in and rescue him, and together they attack Steppenwolf.

You can probably guess what happens next, but I’ll just leave it here for now.

Let me say on the onset that this was far from a perfect movie. There was a lot that was missing from the movie, and it showed.  The trailers showed scenes that never appeared in the final release, and there were other scenes that were edited to reflect the “brighter” tone. While Director Snyder enjoyed showing dark and sepia-toned visuals, many of the night scenes were changed to a red-hued sky under Whedon’s direction.

Some of those changes were for the better.  This perverse fetish for night and sepia-tone doesn’t work for heroes that are supposed to represent hope for humanity.  That’s what made “Wonder Woman” stand out above all the others: that director used more than just grey, black, and muted colors.  Patti Jenkins held to her guns… and her color palate… and kept it bright for her movie.  Whedon tried to do the same thing, and if I had to choose between Snyder’s dark and sepia versus Whedon’s red crisis sky, give me the red crisis sky any day!  At least I can see the characters with Whedon.

There’s been a lot of noise about what else was not shown in the final release.  Apparently Director Snyder had whole scenes planned that never made it, including more on the “Knightmare” future, and the first appearance of Darkseid.  There are people who fanatically believe that there is a “Snyder Cut” version of the movie, complete with an original score from Hans Zimmer, and they demand that this hypothetical “Snyder Cut” be released.  Some have even gone so far as to re-do certain scenes of the movie with Zimmer’s score from other movies and try to interject some of the footage from the trailers that never appeared in the finished production and then post them on YouTube.

I seriously doubt that there is a “finished” version of that movie, and, given how Snyder handled things with “BvS”, would we really want to see it if it did exist?  Or would it just be another reason for people to slam the DCCU in favor of the almighty never-wrong mouse-owned Marvel?  I suspect that the “Snyder Cut” fans just wanted to see the whole story play out, including Darkseid, so I hope that at some point Warner Brothers will release an “ultimate cut” with some of the missing parts incorporated, just like they did with “BvS”.

The story’s brevity can also be traced to the “other” hidden villain of the movie: Warner Brothers Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara, who demanded that the movie be no longer than two hours in length.  That wasn’t the only manipulation this former Six Flag manager tried to impose on the DCCU, but if there is one reason more than any other that explained why “Justice League” failed to succeed as a movie, it is because of him.  Kevin Tsujihara is the real villain here.

The casting of the movie is certainly not at fault.  Most of the characters came from previous DCCU movies, with the exception of Ciaran Hinds as Steppenwolf and Academy-Award Actor J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Jim Gordon, both of whom played their roles to the best of their abilities.  I’d like to think that Amber Herd did a good job of playing Mera, but, really, there wasn’t enough time to pick that up with her.  I’m sure the future release of “Aquaman” will change that.

To their credit, Warner Brothers played up on the idea that this would be a “Justice League” without a Superman, but we all “knew” that Henry Cavill would be back.  It was just a question of how and whether or not he would be the Superman that we expected versus the “villain” Superman from “BvS”.  Thankfully, they did not disappoint us.  And neither did he.

Some people think that the talents of Amy Adams and Diane Lane were wasted revising their roles as Lois Lane and Martha Kent.  But I disagree with that assessment. because they held true to their characters and they played an important role – even if it was abbreviated – in keeping Superman’s spirit intact; so that when he was brought back, he could be the Superman that we expected and deserved.  Lois was “the key” according to the “Knightmare” dream, and Martha was the one that brought Bruce back from his own abyss.  It would be remiss if they weren’t in the finished version at all.

Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen, aka “The Flash”, was a completely unique version of the character.  We only saw glimpses of him in “BvS” and “Suicide Squad”, but in “Justice League” we see a geeky introvert who never seems to know what he wants other than to clear his father’s name.  This is far from the methodical crime scene investigator that we’ve been accustomed to seeing (most recently in the CWTV series), and, if there is a blunder with this version, it is in explaining how he’s able to put together his “Flash” suit while not working a steady job where he could get access to such material.  He’s certainly the youngest of the Leaguers, and while his fanboy enthusiasm was a bonus for the team, it’s hard to connect this character to the one in the “Knightmare” vision.  Oh, and nice job finding work for “Watchmen” alumni Billy Crudup as Barry’s father.  Snyder seems to love integrating his marginally-successful superhero movie into other works.  (He did the same thing with “BvS”.)

Then there is Ray Fisher’s Cyborg.  The former football star who somehow gets mangled in some sort of accident suddenly becomes an introvert when the Mother Box transforms him into something both human and not.  We don’t know too much about the accident, which presumably was another casualty of Kevin Tsujihara’s runtime constraints, but his explanation of how he became Cyborg contradicts what we saw in “BvS” – namely that the Mother Box became active “after” Doomsday instead of before it.  Remember that Lex Luthor had the video on Victor Stone’s transformation before he created Doomsday, so it couldn’t have happened afterward like Vic claimed in “Justice League”.  Joe Morton’s role as Vic’s father, again a continuation from “BvS”, is brief but still leaves something to be desired.  Hopefully a future “Cyborg” movie would also fix that.

That brings us to the bigger names.  Jason Momoa’s Aquaman was another unique version of the character, complete with body tats and more of a Polynesian look rather than the traditional underwater-Camelot look.  Momoa still plays it well and he comes off as a total badass.  This is not a character to make fun of!

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues where she left off from the other two movies, and, having seen the previous movie where her origin story is told, we now know why she had more-or-less abandoned her role as an inspiration for others.  But it is refreshing to see her being called out on that by Bruce Wayne and her having to answer it.  That’s good character development.

That brings us to Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne-slash-Batman.  Affleck’s Batman did a complete 180 from “BvS”.  He’s no longer quiet and brooding.  Now he’s talkative, and not just as Bruce Wayne.  Now he doesn’t care if people see Batman in the open.  He doesn’t even care if bad guys hear him talking to someone named “Alfred”.  While this “League-friendly” version of Batman is welcomed, it is a clear departure from the brooding loner version from “BvS”.  The one that still keeps Robin’s uniform in a glass case.  Thankfully, Jeremy Irons continues his superb role as the non-butler Alfred, even though his connection with the rest of the “team” is sadly very limited.  This is actually a pity as his character could’ve been useful in helping to reach out to the other heroes, especially during the team’s low point.  But I suppose that would have been another casualty of Kevin Tsujihara’s time constraints.

And I have to point out – and spoil – that there is an after-credit scene that features Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor and Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke that opens the door for more DCCU movies if our real DC villains in Warner Brothers and AT&T allow it.  While I’m not a fan of Eisenberg’s Lex (and if you read my “BvS” review you’d know why) I am a fan of the idea of there being more movies.  You don’t end a cinematic universe just because you stumble out of the gate… a few times.  Marvel may have created a cinematic juggernaut, but some of their movies were also far from perfect.  Hell, most of their “Phase Two” movies were gritty and brooding.  They simply were given the time and room to get better.

No, “Justice League” is not perfect.  But it also is not the train wreck that Marvel-loving critics have made it out to be.  If anything, it serves as an apology for the mistakes of the past and also as a desire to set things right for DC fans.

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