Coming off the relative triumph that was ‘Wonder Woman’ this summer, DC Comics and parent company Warner Brothers had the opportunity to turn the page on its’ poorly received, yet still financially viable, extended comic book superhero universe. Instead, with ‘Justice League,’ they give audiences an absolute mess of a film that fails on every level. The movie is meant to herald a new era of super-powered teamwork between DC’s biggest properties, yet everything on screen rings false, from the ill-conceived threat, to the flat characters, all on a back-drop of some of the worst looking special effects and art direction in a comic book movie yet.
It is well publicized that after trying to jump start a response to Marvel’s success with 2016’s poorly reviewed and fan-received ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’, the studio felt pressure to lighten up the tone to its’ follow-up, ‘Justice League.’ The problem was the film was already in production under the guidance of director Zack Snyder (‘Man of Steel’, ‘BvS’) and his vision was grim and solemn, all gray toned, poorly lit scenes of CGI slow motion mayhem. To help bring the funny, Joss Whedon (‘The Avengers’, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’) was hired to punch up the script, and was given the keys to the car when Snyder had to step away for a personal tragedy. The end result is a movie that can’t figure out what it wants to be, a mess without a theme, lacking any real stakes, and as hard as it tries, is simply no fun at all.
The plot ostensibly revolves around Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) gathering a troop of super-powered warriors to address a rising otherworldly threat. While die-hard comic book fans may recognize the ‘mother-boxes’ sequestered by various factions of men, Amazons (introduced in WW), and Atlanteans (introduced, uh, never), all the exposition in the world cannot create excitement around this tired ‘Lord of the Rings’-ripped plot device. It doesn’t help that they are being brought together by a computer generated generic villain, Steppenwolf (even die-hard comic fans will have a hard time remembering this Darkseid lackey), whose design, motives, and conceit remain wholly underdeveloped and underwhelming.
Prior to being ‘united’, this League is introduced via boring scenes of generic fighting and vapid attempts at character development. These scenes are also plagued by unnecessary cameos played by talented actors given absolutely nothing to do – look, there’s JK Simmons as Commissioner Gordon! Jeremy Irons as Alfred! Amy Adams as Lois Lane! Ben Affleck’s grizzled, jaded take on Batman, a slightly interesting turn from BvS, gets no further development, reducing him to a rich guy with resources, much of them ridiculously designed and boring vehicles. Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman, relegated inexplicably to failed team leader, a role that works in opposition to her inspiring turn in her solo film. Ezra Miller as The Flash provides the comic relief, at first a welcome presence that quickly becomes a grating one. His lines in particular seem most Whedon-esque, but with little to work against, much of his playfulness falls flat and belies the character of Barry Allen. The film has no idea what to do with Jason Mamoa’s burly ‘Aquaman’, a hero from the seas who doesn’t seem to spend much time there and whose powers remain poorly defined – he seems to just yell out frat-boy non sequiturs from time to time. The same fate befalls Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, the least well-known of this starting line-up, a part-man, mostly machine, all brooding walking special effect who can make weaponry out of his suit and communicate with technology. It should also come as no surprise that Henry Cavill’s Superman is resurrected, but simply brightening his costume can’t erase the poor character choices these films have bestowed on DC’s most iconic superhero.
The biggest shame surrounding ‘Justice League’ and these characters is that there are great, compelling stories that can, and quite frankly have been, told. In their rush to catch up to Marvel/Disney, DC/WB may have already squandered their chance at capitalizing on this mega-successful superhero genre craze for the long haul. Savvy audiences, eager to see their favorite DC characters done justice (pun intended) have flocked to the openings of these movies, but if the studio keeps pumping out dreck like this, this forgiving base will finally start to bail . . .
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Written By: Chris Terrio & Joss Whedon
Running Time: 120 min.
* (out of 4 stars) -OR- D