The early critical response to Warner Bros.’ big DC superhero team-up “Justice League,” which opens Friday, is as all over the place as the film itself.
“Justice League” was directed by Zack Snyder, but Joss Whedon (veteran of Marvel’s “Avengers” team-up films) was brought in this past spring to complete the picture (for which he receives a co-writing credit) – resulting it what some critics are calling a notably stitched-together movie.
So is the final effect one of seamless collusion, or train-wreck collision?
Variety steers toward the positive, calling “Justice League” a “tasty franchise delivery system.” The Chicago Tribune veers the other direction, calling the movie “breathtakingly bad.”
With the first wave of reviews in Wednesday morning, the early verdict settles somewhere along the middle ground. “Justice League” sits at an average score of 51 on Metacritic, with 11 positive reviews and 17 mixed reviews. That puts “Justice League” well above DC’s two critically drubbed releases last year, Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (44) and David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” (40), but behind Snyder’s 2013 Superman solo film “Man of Steel” (55) and, notably, DC’s dizzy-high of a summer smash this year, “Wonder Woman” (76).
In an uncommon move, Rotten Tomatoes, which was criticized by “Justice League” producer Brett Ratner last March as “the destruction of our business,” is delaying its “Justice League” rating till Thursday. Warner Bros. holds a minority stake in Fandango, which owns Rotten Tomatoes.
Here are five takeaways from the early “Justice League” reviews:
1. The film focuses on upping the fun – with mixed results.
Snyder may be a visual auteur, but he’s also known for leeching the proceedings of joy; Whedon, by contrast, is famous for providing some fizzy comic-book fun.
Variety views the teaming as mostly successful, writing: “In superhero movies, sheer lively deliver-the-goods competence can be a quality you’re grateful for – or one that seems awesomely innocuous. In ‘Justice League,’ it’s a little of both. The film is the definition of an adequate high-spirited studio lark: no more, no less.”
The Chicago Sun-Times, in a rave, says the film is “executed with great fun and energy.”
Entertainment Weekly nods to the franchise’s turn toward the light: “It’s obvious to anyone watching ‘Justice League’ next to the other DC films that the studio brass handed down a mandate to lighten the mood and make things funnier and more Marvel-y. And, to an extent, ‘Justice League’ accomplishes that.”
The Hollywood Reporter, however, disagrees, slamming the cinematic mishmash: “Unfortunately, there’s never a moment when, with all the pieces in place, the story suddenly sweeps you up to provide an exhilarating ride to the finish line.”
2. The baton-handoff approach to directing reveals telltale scars.
“Justice League” continues “to look and feel like something patched together with parts from different engines and with no internal integrity of its own,” THR writes.
IGN sees “a choppy story” and a “fairly skeletal and disjointed plot.”
Meanwhile, USA Today writes that the twin-headed directing Hydra of a film mostly “ends up decently coherent. Director Zack Snyder again views his main characters through a way-dark palette and stylized lens,” while Whedon “adds his signature clever wit, and the result is an enjoyable romp with underlying emotion.”
3. The new team chemistry has distinct high and low points.
“As ‘Justice League’ plods on autopilot, the Marvel-movie parallels range from subtle to shameless,” IndieWire writes. “The group chemistry is strictly dimestore Avengers, while Batman takes on a paternal role with the Flash that weakly apes the Iron Man/Spider-Man dynamic of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming.’ ”
The Los Angeles Times, by contrast, praises the presence of Aquaman, who is “vibrantly played” by Jason Momoa, as well as the Flash, “a genuinely amusing portrait of comic earnestness and gee-whiz enthusiasm and naivete nicely done by (Ezra) Miller” – while Ray Fisher has the challenging role of playing a half-machine as Cyborg.
Ben Affleck’s Batman, meanwhile, receives mixed reviews. Variety writes that Affleck, perhaps heeding last year’s reactions to his Batman, “treads a careful middle ground.” IGN says: “The chemistry between (Gal) Gadot and Affleck remains palpable.” And the New York Times says that Affleck, “a generally appealing actor,” needs “something more substantial (or just more jokes) if his Batman is ever going to work.”
4. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman provides many of the film’s pros and escapes unscathed from its cons.
Gadot “builds on her star-making performance in ‘Wonder Woman’ by giving Diana Prince a glow of molten fury than burns even more brightly than before,” Variety writes.
The New York Times calls her “a charming super-presence.”
And RogerEbert.com says: “Wonder Woman hooks the movie into a belt loop and walks away with it.”
5. “Justice League” is smart to run only two hours – far sleeker than the bloated “Batman v Superman.”
“On the bright side,” THR notes, “at exactly two hours, it’s a full half-hour shorter than its predecessor.”
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