Movie review: The good and bad of Justice League
Has Joss Whedon pulled off the save of the century? Justice League is not terrible.
That's not to say it's great. I'd struggle to call it anything more than okay.
But it is fun in parts, and considering it was on course to being the biggest turkey of the year (and this year has seen The Mummy), that's not a bad result.
This is a movie that Zack Snyder started in his customary grimly-toned style. He stepped away from the project after a family tragedy and the film was finished (included extensive reshoots) by Joss Whedon under the mandate to give the film a much lighter tone.
That order came thanks to the success of Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman - the film that made Gal Gadot a star and made the bosses at Warner Bros realise that it was time to be done with the darkness.
The result is a chop shop job of a movie - a rusty tank haphazardly fused with a sleek Jaguar and hoping a rough paint job will hide the welded seams.
Yet, it could also have been much worse.
Here's what's good and what's bad...
It's thankfully short.
Given what we know of Zack Snyder's previous DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films, the grim Man Of Steel (MoS) and the joyless Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (BvS), I'm glad I watched this version of Justice League rather than the version originally intended.
Once touted to be another three hour epic, it now comes in at just two hours including the credits (and yes, there's something at the end).
Without the injection of Whedon's talent for dialogue, quips and group interaction, this could have been a very grim slog.
Remember how in BvS there was the one solitary joke?
At least here there's a lot more humour, fun and at long last, optimism.
The plot. It's a mess.
Since Superman bit the dust, things aren't great in the world. We're told this rather than shown, so it really doesn't seem that far from real life.
Anyway, these parademons - flying zombie henchmen (ie a handy guilt-free kill) - have been turning up.
Batman knows all about them. Then he doesn't. It's fuzzy.
The parademons work for main villain Steppenwolf as his flying monkeys.
Steppenwolf, a very tall being in a very daft hat, is looking for three Mother Boxes (think a mix of Transformers' All Spark and Marvel's Infinity Stones).
He tried invading Earth thousands of years ago but was sent packing by an alliance of Amazons, Atlanteans, regular humans and various easter eggs.
Now he's back and if he collects all three Mother Boxes, his prize is to scorch the planet and prepare it for an even greater evil to arrive.
So the heroes must unite. But will five be enough? Will they need extra help? Well, Henry Cavill is in it, so take a guess.
Aside from that, it's all over the place. Plot holes-a-plenty, a very forgettable villain and side-plots that are either head-scratching and/or very truncated.
Finally, we have a cast with chemistry.
The coming together is rushed but you do buy these guys as a team.
It feels like Whedon gave them a lot more dialogue scenes. Characters no longer say lines at each other, like they did in BvS. Now, they talk with each other. There is flow to their interaction.
Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne is no longer just about moody, gruff muttering. He has conversations. He even smiles.
He's also more balanced mentally and has a purpose. (If only the make-up crew could remember if and where his hair is meant to be greying).
Gal Gadot is as ethereally captivating as ever, perfectly inhabiting the role of Wonder Woman like Christopher Reeve did with Superman.
Jason Mamoa is a revelation. Who knew the world needed a surfer-dude superhero? He comes close to stealing the show and he certainly has one of the best scenes. I can't wait to see what we'll get from his solo Aquaman film.
Ezra Miller as The Flash is the comic relief - and borders on irritating, but the audience I was with found him funny. While there is one great sight gag that uses his super speed, this Flash suffers from being fourth in the race after two Quicksilvers (X-Men and Avengers) and his TV namesake. In fact, one action moment feels awfully similar to the benchmark scene for movie speedsters from X-Men: Days Of Future Past.
Finally, Ray Fisher has a fairly thankless task as Cyborg. Mostly emotionless, he is occasionally a deus ex machina and often on exposition duties.
And here come the spoilers (sort of)...
Superman is back. How that happens is one of those jarring moments tonally and it feels like that particular plot line went one for a lot longer than this cut allowed.
But once he is back, Henry Cavill is Superman.
Like the old style Superman. The nicest guy in the world. Truth, justice and a hearty laugh.
Even his ridiculous rubbery suit is lighter than it has ever been before. In fact, it's like it was painted blue and red in post-production. Maybe they changed it from the much-touted black suit? (And what is it with these outfits? Aside from Gadot, everyone looks to be imprisoned in their costume and holding their breath as though they accidentally gained a few pounds before zipping up.)
There's also been talk of how odd the CGI removal of Cavill's moustache has been. I did not notice it but that could have been an effect of the 3D glasses.
Aside from that, it's the best Cavill has been in the role and such a welcome change to have Superman as an inspirational hero again.
The rush to get this out has left the film lacking in a number of places. Most visibly in the CGI.
Worst offender is Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds). It's baffling why, when so many changes were made, they left the lead villain so poorly rendered. He's so unconvincing he may as well be claymation.
Then there's the abundant use of green screen. A lot of the supposedly outside action still feels like it's the small room it was shot in.
And the difference between the actual exterior shots and the green screen is glaring.
It's not so much the uncanny valley, it's the land of fake believe and it always takes you out of the moment.
It's often the action scenes that bear the brunt of the CGI overload. Some shots of the Batmobile look closer to something from Pixar.
Also adding to the unreal nature is the overall brightening. The first trailer had a colour grade of cold sludge. Now, with everything brightened and the saturation upped, the result looks like its been painted in places.
Justice League tells you very clearly, the grim days of the DCEU are over. It feels like a much needed change and while this film isn't great, I'm genuinely interested in where DC/Warner Bros can take this.
There are worse ways to spend two hours if you're looking for an okay-ish time.