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First Do No Harm (a no-spoilers Justice League Review)

Remember how on my last review (Murder on the Orient Express) I said I was expecting to say “well, that was a movie” about Justice League as well?

Well…. I *GUESS* that was a movie… I mean… there were pictures and stuff… and they moved. Does that qualify? I’ve been going back and forth about the new Justice League film since I walked out of the theater. In fact, even before that while it was going on. Did I like it? Well…  not really. Did I not like it? Not really. Was it awful? Not really. Was it good? Certainly not! I’m not even sure it’s fair to say it’s “fine.” That seems like giving it more credit than it deserved. But I can’t say it was a disappointment either. It just sort of “was.”

Is that good enough? I’m not sure.

For all the failures of the DCEU, the one thing that Warner has done well, I think, is build towards a good managing of expectations. In a lot of the build-up to this, I’ve seen a lot of people saying stuff like “it doesn’t have to be good. I’ll take fine.” And a lot of the reviews said stuff like “the best the DCEU has had other than Wonder Woman” or “finally DC is on the right track.” And those are the good reviews.

But are they? Are they really? Or have they just lowered expectations to the point where you go in and say “well, that’s a DC movie. I guess that’s it.”

I will say that it is 100% better than Batman v. Superman. It is not remotely the train wreck that was. It is probably better than Suicide Squad as well, from a technical narrative point of view, though I thought that was more “fun.” It is certainly not as good as Wonder Woman.

The one thing it really excelled at doing was not offending me. And it’s weird that that’s an accomplishment. But I guess it kind of is. Early in his career, Conan O’Brien once said about his original late night show that he wasn’t trying to be the best. He was really just trying to hold on to as much of the after-Leno audience as he could and since he figured most people had fallen asleep during The Tonight Show his main goal was just to “not wake anyone up and make them turn off the TV.” That’s what I think the goal was here. “Let’s not get anyone to really hate us.” And I didn’t. There were no glaring plot holes. Murderous rampages by good guys were avoided. The movie didn’t stop midway to show trailers for other movies. There was no convoluted subplot involving a world class super-villain trying to trick a US senator into drink his pee (if you haven’t seen BvS… congratulations).

Of course, there wasn’t much else either. I don’t want to say nothing happened. A LOT happened. Probably way too much. There’s a LOT of plot in this. The storyline is convoluted and there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of. Luckily, it’s pretty easy because this is a story you’ve seen before. Several times. In a lot of superhero movies. There’s not really any interesting tweaks to this. It doesn’t say anything new. I can talk spoilers in the comments if anyone cares, but basically… you’ve seen this story before. This EXACT story. You’ve seen it better, but you’ve also seen it worse. But you’ve never seen it with Batman. And well… here’s your chance.

And that’s really what you’re getting here. You’re getting “the plot from that super team movie” only this time with “the DC heroes from that cartoon you watched as a kid.” And I hope you watched those cartoons as a kid, because if you didn’t… there’s not much reason to care about any of the reasons here. There are a lot of characters, and they aren’t really explained at all. Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman (yeah, if you think this is a spoiler, tough shit… his symbol is on the poster and he’s been in the trailers) are what they are. They’ve had other movies and the film just assumes “you get it.” Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg are given VERY minimal introductions. We learn a little bit about each of them. Flash is a little more fleshed out… in that the film sort of assumes some variation of his TV show origin, even though he is an entirely different character.  Aquaman and Cyborg… well, hopefully you read comics or have a friend you can ask questions to.

It’s almost as though this is just a comic or TV show in the middle of a series. There’s more or less an assumption that the universe was in progress… a universe similar to the one from BvS but pretending that a lot of the mistakes from that film simply didn’t happen. And if you aren’t clued into that universe, the film isn’t going to help you. Try to keep up.

But again. It’s not awful. There are some genuinely funny moments, especially from Ezra Miller as the Flash. There are some other “funny moments” that don’t land at all. The acting is mostly fine. Ben Affleck has been burned one time too many, so he just seems to take the script as it is. Gal Gadot doesn’t shine as much as she did in her solo film. Ray Fisher really doesn’t have enough to do. He’s mostly a very bad CGI character (the effects are NOT great in this movie) and since the movie doesn’t tell you much about Cyborg, he’s more plot device than anything. Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller seem to be so happy to be there that is actually kind of charming. Amber Heard is also… there… And I defy anyone who isn’t already a comic fan to see this movie and then explain to me what her purpose is. Or even what her character’s name is without reading the credits. The same goes for Steppenwolf. What’s his deal? What’s his story (and the film even tells you this one… sort of).

And that’s the shame of it. It’s barely a “movie.” It’s a collection of scenes that check off all of the boxes that are needed to “bring a comic to the screen” and tries to avoid a bunch of the “and for the love of God, please don’t do this!” checkboxes. And for the most part it does. Unlike the last time all of these characters were onscreen together, this doesn’t shit on the legacy of the fans. This is the “first do no harm” approach to filmmaking, and the reason this succeeds is that for the most part, they don’t.

Is that good enough? Maybe. This is why I complained about the “this is for the fans” argument before. Fans will accept a good movie or a bad one. So you might as well make a good one, because then perhaps you can generate more fans. That’s not going to happen here. There is absolutely no reason to pay to see this movie unless you are already a fan of the characters and you want to see them engage in superhero plot number three… just to see it (and yeah, in my head I have an idea of what at least the first five stock superhero plots are). If you’re stuck with the franchise this long… well, you should know what you’re getting by now. But this not going to turn anyone who isn’t already a fan onto the franchise. But hopefully, it probably won’t lose any either. And that’s at least a step up.

★★¼☆☆+? (2.25 out of 5 stars plus a bonus for having a score that features the kickass Wonder Woman theme song AND the Batman theme from the 1989 movie)


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