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ISSUE NO. 802
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ROBBY REED REVIEWS
Justice League - the Movie

In terms of this movie's plot, we knew from Bruce Wayne's incomprehensible dream-vision in Superman v. Batman that the Justice Leaguers were going to be going up against Darkseid, Steppenwolf, and the para-demons of Apokalips. All creations from Jack Kirby's Fourth World of DC characters.

These characters have gone up against the JLA many times, but in the JLA book's original run, the team had their own reoccurring villains, and their own mythology. Why not follow the path of the splendidly successful Flash TV show, and actually USE the character's initial adventures as a springboard for the plot? It would have been wonderful to see the JLA battle one of their "traditional" foes, such as Amazo, T.O. Morrow, or the Lord of Time.

But Darkseid, the greatest villain in the DC Universe, was just too good to resist. For the JLA's first big-time theatrical movie, the producers just felt they had to go straight to the top of the list. Leave the other bad guys for later!

Of course, we're lucky to have ANY Justice League movie at all, right? But we probably STILL wouldn't have one without Marvel's Avengers blazing the trail. That film silenced those who said "it can't be done" forever. And if any doubt remained, that doubt was buried six feet under when Avengers 2: Age of Ultron premiered.

The saying "third time's the charm" was never truer than when Captain America: Civil War (in effect, the third Avengers movie) delivered that epic airport fight scene. After THAT, we all knew there were no longer any boundries. Virtually ANY comic book story could be done successfully on the big screen. With galaxy-sized budgets, Hollywood's top acting talent, and an inconceivably vast array of digital wizardy -- NOTHING WAS IMPOSSIBLE!


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Somehow, knowing this is equally comforting and daunting. It means any story CAN be done successfully, but it certainly doesn't mean any story WILL be done successfully.

But I tried not to let all this bother me, and I tried to enjoy the film for what it was.


Since the creation of Superman in 1938, there has been an almost infinite number of different "versions" of the top DC superstars — in radio, movies, television, and every known form of media. Most of these presentations have been awful, but a few have been quite excellent.

For me, the all-time gold standard is SUPERMAN THE MOVIE (and its sequels) directed by Richard Donner. Then came Tim Burton's Batman, Donner's Spider-Man, and all the rest.

At this point in time the Marvel Universe has been dramatized more throughly than anyone could ever have dreamed of way back in comics' Silver Age (the 1960s). I mean, Ant Man has a hit movie. With a sequel on the way! 'Nuf said.

But as Marvel grew and perfected their films, generating new pictures like clockwork, DC's stable of stars languished. The company seemed content to let Marvel rule the cinema. DC eeked out one or maybe two big films every few years. If that many.

And then came The Avengers in 2012, showing the world how exciting (and profitable — $1.5 billion to date!) superhero teams could be on the big screen, and providing a template for the creation of such films. DC finally noticed.

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For decades, DC comic fans had been dreaming of a Justice League movie, and the rip-roaring success of both Avengers movies tantalized them to the screaming point. If Marvel could do it, why couldn't DC? Why couldn't DC make a JLA movie? WHY?

Actually, they already have — twice! First came the droll 1979 "roast format" TV specials, covered by Dial B here. The JLA's next live-action appearance, in 1997, featured the Flash, Atom, Green Lantern, and Ice. This TV show was done on virtually no budget at all, in soap-opera style.  It was unbearable. Really! So bad it made the "roasts" look classic!

Following these dreadful failures, the JLA sat unused — like fine silverware for whom no guest was good enough — until 2017, and today's "big-time" JUSTICE LEAGUE movie, which, sadly, I must honestly report, was not significantly better than either of the team's two previous live-action outings.

Spoiler alert! From this point onward, we'll assume you've seen the 2017 JUSTICE LEAGUE movie, and we're going to reveal every possible spoiler. You have been warned.

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To describe the movie for civilians: It's a typical superhero team action story, and it includes a few mildly humorous moments. Is it "good"? No, I'd rather call it "OK," or "average." There are some ggod parts, I suppose.

If it was a real JLA comic book, it would have been drawn by Dick Dillin, dialogued by Joss Whedon and comittee, and plotted by Don Heck. Yes, I said plotted. Robby make joke! Yes, the plot is that bad. It is!

Honestly, it wasn't horrible, but it really wasn't very good. I wish it was!  Overall, I'd rate it as "somewhat enjoyable at times," and if that statement damns the movie with faint praise, then so be it.

JL is two hours and seven minutes, totaling 127 minutes. It contains two brief post-credit scenes. Consider: there are six "leaguers," so time flies by quickly. Add in Steppenwolf, the awful bad guy, with Alfred and  Commissioner Gordon, plus Lois Lane and Superman's mother, and you get an action-packed,  franticly-paced film, right? No. Wrong.

Shockingly, there seems to be no sense of urgency whatsoever among the characters in this film. The producers (and cast!) waste time like a drunken sailor spends money.

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It starts immediately when the movie opens with numerous uneeded "Superman is dead" shots, including black S-symbol flags hanging all over the world. Oh lord, not this stuff. No! Not again! Please!

Next, the action starts with Batman stopping a parademon, then Wonder Woman stopping a bank robery.

By the time Batman recruits Aquaman and Flash, and Diana recruits Cyborg, we're 15 minutes into the movie, which seems to be about stopping a bad guy from getting three ancient "mother boxes." I put that in quotes because the movie mother boxes "do not contain power; they ARE power." That's just one of countless "comic booky" lines in this film.

Moving along, we apparently have enough time for a side-trip to Atlantis to explain Aquaman's origin and introduce Mera (Amber Herd, below), who has previously had little or nothing to do with the JLA.

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An insanely huge amount of screen time in this  movie is spent on scenes with no human beings, just tons of evil CGI creatures. Many such scenes show big armies of various peoples fighting the bad guy ages ago. I found them extraneous, and boring. And too red!

During one of these scenes, a random GL is killed, and we see his glowing green power ring fly off into the sky, presumably toward earth and a Hal Jordan who is not Ryan Reynolds (A "Deadpool 2" trailer preceded the JL movie for me).

 If such proceedings are too cosmic, let's go elsewhere. We can waste lots of precious time by focusing on a more or less random fleeing family -- for several very boring minutes! Come on! And the family serves absolutely NO purpose whatsoever except perhaps to give the audience "someone to identify with." You know -- like Hawkeye in the Avengers. By the way, I'm not getting into "who did what" for this movie, I'm just reviewing it as a finished film made by various people.

Anyway -- back to the fleeing family. Such tripe is included in these superhero films because many producers have not, to this very minute, figured out that we, the audience, like to identify with the superheroes, not the threatened rabble. Children like to fantasize they're powerful adults, not other helpless children.

And now, I think a few things need to be said about JUSTICE LEAGUE from a true comic fan's perspective, so I will now say them.

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First of all, the team that debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (Jan/Feb 1960) was called the Justice League of AMERICA. That name remained for three decades, until May 1987, when our country's name was summarily dropped from the title (not for political reasons, but to indicate a new creative team and new, humorous approach).

Naturally, AMERICA was left off the movie's title, and this time it definitely WAS for political reasons. How sad it is that our country's name is now considered to be so offensive in some parts of the world (and at home!) that it can no longer be included in some products.

In their first few comic book adventures, the JLA fought alien conquerors and mad magicians such as three-eyed, web-headed Desparo, mad futurist Thomas Oscar (T.O.)Morrow, Kanjar Ro, and crazed sorceror Felix Faust.

The main villains in JUSTICE LEAGUE are parademons -- humans transformed itno flying vampire bugs that are way too easy to kill. How easy? As easy as Avengers aliens. Basically, you punch them once and they fall down into a heap, or fly away limply.

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What about the JLA's other mega-foes? Never mind them! In the process of building a DC Movie Universe, the producers have smushed together all DC continuity into a single universe, so, in the DC movies, every hero's full history seems to exist simultaneously.

The only over-arching factor is that all DC heroes now have a common arch super-villain: DARKSIED. Why him? Because he's the company's best villain, by a wide measure. While most DC bad guys are planning complex bank robberies, Darkseid is ruling his own planet, a slice of hell called Apokolips.

I should mention — we don't SEE Darkseid in this movie. His name is mentioned once, in passing, with no context. If this befuddles the audience, well, screw the audience! We have a product to make here! On with it!

By the way, I should mention that this means nearly the entire Marvel Movie Universe as well as the main villainous pillar of the DC Universe were both created by the same man: Jack Kirby. I believe comic fans call him THE KING.

If you are a comic movie fan of any description, you owe an unpayable debt to Mr. Kirby. JUSTICE LEAGUE graciously acknowledges this debt with a full-screen credit for Mr. Kirby. Yay!

Three cheers for Jack Kirby!!!

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Justice League Versus Superman Scene

We've now come to a point in cinema history where comic book clichés have become MOVIE clichés. It's hard to come up with something new. JL's best scene featured something old done as something new: A delightful, all-star scene torn right out of the Silver Age! Here's a frame of the fight...

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Comic books learned decades ago that it's fun when the super heroes fight the super-villains, but it's even MORE fun when they fight each other! This is certainly the case here, because the instant Supes returns to life, he immediately begins fighting the new, as-yet-unchristened leaguers (who never get christened, except in the final post-credits scene.)

in a genuinely exciting, action-filled battle, delivering what was, for me, the movies highpoint. The ending scenes where they all punch the bad guy repeatedly in near-darkness are corporately weak tea.

Now let's look at each of the Justice League characters.


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BATMAN

Ben Affleck is a great Bruce Wayne, plus a grim and gritty Batman, and I loved him in SvB, but in this film his two identities are throughly intertwined. We don't really see "Bruce," but we do often see the man in his bat suit, with no cowl. Affleck is an accomplished comedian in other films, but here , his sardonic, world-weary jokes just  don't seem to work. Maybe it's just hard to laugh when you're in charge, and the world is about to be destroyed at any minute. Don't think -- just PUNCH!
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The FLASH

Here, as in the JLA animated stories, Flash is given the role of the team's comic relief, assigned to emitting humorous witticisms with unnatural regularity. And Barry's not just fast, he's also knowledgeable in the closely-related areas of science and fashion, as evidenced by the fact that, as Bruce notes, he made his own weird red uniform out of special, speed-friendly materials.
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As a character, Flash gets the movie's best arc, going from "I just push people and run away" to acting as an independent, brave warrior, all well within the allotted time frame. Bravo, movie Flash! He even gets a scene to chat with Aquaman, and TWO races with Supes (once in the movie, then again in a post-credits scene!!

Personal note: Lord help anything that gets between me and a TV set Tuesday night at 8pm. I love the Flash TV show! But much as I love it, I must confess that the existence of the show detracts severely from the movie Flash. Namely because we've been seeing this digital lightning bolt stuff for four years now! And that's not even mentioning Marvel's speedster, Quicksilver, a popular hit in recent X-Men and Avengers movies.

Additionally, the JL film adds nothing to the ever-expanding Flash TV cannon. If anything, it now seems very dated to see Barry visiting his father in prison. I mean, Henry Allen has been out of jail (and dead, or become Golden Age Flash in some other reality) for almost three seasons on the TV show!

All these facts aside, I must admit that I enjoyed the Flash as he was presented in JUSTICE LEAGUE, and I do intend to see him in his upcoming solo movie. Assuming they can find a director to finish it.


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CYBORG

I am not now, and never have been, a fan of Cyborg — and to be honest I don't know anyone (of any color) who IS. To me, the character is just a teen Iron Man rip-off that Marv Wolfman invented so his new Teen Titans could have a black character. I never liked Cyborg in comics, and I expected to hate him a lot in the movie. But surprisingly, movie Cyborg was not anywhere as annoying as I expected him to be.

They actually improved the character significantly by adding an interesting new angle to him, making him tortured by how his new tech is progressively affecting his body and MIND. This fascinating new approach is almost criminally underdeveloped. That's a result of trying to shove three or four films (five?) into one single movie.


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AQUAMAN

Nick Cardy's original Aquaman never had much of a  personality, and Jim Aparo's didn't either. Maybe that's why no Silver Age Aquaman book lasted very long. So, with the King of the Seas up for grabs, what did they do with him? Answer: not much.

TV commercials and film clips portray movie Aquaman as a rowdy party-animal type. He was FAR more restrained in the film. And far less fun. And sadly, his underwater scenes looked terrible to me. Weird, not wonderful. Mera looked awful, and had zero "chemistry" with Aquaman. So I was left with no real interest in seeing Aquaman's upcoming solo movie, next in line.

Why? Because, in brief, Aquaman still doesn't have a personality — unless you count mildly stealing Lobo's shtick as a personality. He might be better in his own movie, but here, here's reduced to shouting "bro-ha!" lines every 15 minutes or so, like some mildly-interested drunk watching the movie from a balcony. Robby no likee.


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WONDER WOMAN

As the superstar of DC's only fully-certified hit movie yet, Wonder Woman was, by default, the unexpected centerpiece of the Justice League movie.

It almost felt like one of the film's producers ordered WW's screen time to be increased to the utmost possible. And also to do lots of scenes recalling WW's solo film! Both things were done here. At times, it was like watching Wonder Woman 1.5, which was fine with me, because I loved Wonder Woman movie.

So, apparently, did everyone. As a result, the sexy, super-charismatic, Amazing Amazon has now become DC's top superstar, supplanting the dour, humorless Man of Steel, at least in films — much as Iron Man expectedly became the new top dog in the modern Marvel movie universe.


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SUPERMAN

The JL does give us one welcome and very long-awaited present: The best post-Christopher Reeve Superman yet! Seeing the character rise again after his restful multi-year death-sleep, I thought "Wow, death sure agrees with him!"

Risen Supes looked rested, and seemed to very much enjoy himself fighting the other superheroes, even getting off a quip of two! Recalling their epic battle, Supes complains sardonically to Bats, "You won't let me live, and you won't let me die!"

In addition, Supes' mood has improved enough to race The Flash in a wonderfully  cheery post-credits race scene that was so good it was almost more fun than every joke in the entire rest of the overly-grim movie put together.

Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and Superman's mother were all played by highly-accomplished Shakespearian-level actors, making me think, "Wow, superhero movies are now landing highly-accomplished Shakespearian actors for bit parts of only a few sentences!"


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STEPPENWOLF - THE BAD GUY

By the way, the villain of the piece — namely, Darkseid's onetime henchman Steppenwolf, is a CGI creation so totally generic and forgettable I had to look up his name three times just to write this sentence. True fact!

Steppenwolf has no memorable power or personality trait. He's got just the standard "destroy all!" attitude, and a power-axe of some kind. He's basically in the movie because they didn't want to use Darkseid up in the very first JL movie.

DC has legions of interesting villains of every type imaginable. Sadly, Steppenwolf is valuable only because he has a cool name. Probably took Kirby about five minutes to create him.

Too bad he did! Cuz he's the central problem with the movie. The "I smash you, you smash me" scenes seem dreadfully amateurish to me, and overly dark. Not tonally, but literally. I mean, there's almost not enough light to see anything.

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Everything looks like a fan film shot in a dark warehouse, at night. The editing is outright awful. There are countless cuts so abrupt and out of place you really can't tell what's supposed to be going on. You're reduced to thinking, "Someone hit someone. Oh, a body smashed a wall," and the like.

If the dark fight scenes had been in the daytime, and edited rationally, the entire film might have worked. It might have been brilliant! But they weren't, and so it wasn't.

To sum it all up: JUSTICE LEAGUE is an OK movie. My favorite moment was when the team fought Superman. My favorite moment was the astounded look on Flash's face when he ran near Superman, and the Man Of Steel saw him.

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Final statement: I'm thrilled that they made a big-budget Justice League movie. It wasn't very good, but there will be many sequels, and one day they may finally get it all right. Until then, reader.... we have no choice except to live in...  "HOPE!"
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NEW THEME! NEW LOGO! NEW EVERYTHING! YOU CANNOT MISS IT!

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