Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa
It’s not difficult to see why Justice League needed to impress, in order to rectify the huge mistakes of previous DCEU team-ups of Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. But despite vast changes to the DC filmmaking formula of the last few years, Justice League remains a disappointing and unsurprising misfire. Horrifically rushed pacing, one of the worst villains since the revival of comic book movies, and awful CGI and fight scenes make the film almost impossible to watch.
The film begins with a flashback phone video of Superman (Henry Cavill) being interviewed by a couple of children. Superman smiles and laughs, entirely uncharacteristic from the dour, miserable and belligerent Superman of Snyder’s previous two Superman films. Here, Joss Whedon’s influence is all-too-obvious, a reminder of the tragic events of the film’s production; Zack Snyder’s daughter’s suicide and his departure from directorship, with Avengers Assemble director Whedon stepping in. This scene immediately tells the audience that all previous actions in the DCEU (other than the acceptable Wonder Woman) are being shunted aside for a strange soft reboot of the critically-despised franchise. Ben Affleck’s previous psychotic approach to Batman has been swapped for a Tony Stark-esque wise cracking attitude, grating not only from its unearned nature but also because Affleck shows no desire to be on screen. Finally into the proper action, we see Batman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) attempt to unite the new heroes of Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Without any previous meaningful demonstration of these heroes, the film rushes to manically establish characters, having made the foolish mistake of not including these heroes in previous films, unlike Marvel’s carefully-placed cameos.
One thing that does work in Justice League‘s favour however, is the casting. Jason Mamoa is impressive, although Aquaman is usually the laughing stock of DC, Ezra Miller brings much-needed energy to the film, but it is Fisher’s Cyborg that proves the unexpected hit, despite the lack of much-needed prior set-up. Having come together, we roll through the usual banality that is expected in superhero team-ups of puns, quips and surliness about saving the world, with a number of set-pieces which initially attract, but prove to be entirely shallow and forgettable.
The plot’s great threat is the CGI character Steppenwolf, but threat is a strong term to bestow on a film with such low stakes. Surrounded by his bug-like Parademons, he spends much of the film either staring at light beams, or plodding around with a huge axe, altering his strength depending on how much challenge DC want to give their heroes, all the while delivering laughable monologues. DC attempts to emulate Marvel by continually name-dropping the greater threat of Darkseid, the big bad of the DC universe, which merely serves to demonstrate the lack of danger from Steppenwolf, and provide far too obvious examples of too-rushed, too-late world building.
Despite the possibilities, the action in Justice League is awful bordering on sickening. Snyder’s customary quick transitions from slow to fast movement abound without restraint, and every action scene moves with a flash-like speed that makes it impossible to focus on anything, bestowing headaches instead of excitement. Lessons have not been learnt from the monotonous CGI enemies of Suicide Squad, as the Parademons prove similarly uninteresting to watch. They aren’t even able to provide the heroes with any exciting action moments; any fighting feels like a chore to watch. Aquaman’s skills are wasted with him merely waving around his trident, Flash’s running is frankly boring, especially with X-Men’s majestic Quicksilver scenes in mind. Cyborg has a grab bag of powers that never show any depth, losing control of his mechanical body whenever it suits the plot. Wonder Woman’s fighting is laughable in her introductory scene, stopping a terrorist attack in London (designed to blow up “four blocks” in wearying Hollywood speak). Snyder has Gadot sweep along a line blocking bullets from hitting civilians, instead of her easily incapacitating the shooter; the glory of Wonder Woman’s no-man’s land scene a distant memory.
Without ruining the expected twist of the film (the film’s marketing seems desperate to leak it anyway), the plot features an uninteresting deus ex machina, that contributes to the lessened stakes of the final act, but at least gives the film its best set piece, despite being dragged down by appallingly obvious CGI and an incoherent ending. These sudden and unearned endings are signs of Warner Bros. forcing the film’s length to a paltry 2 hours, meaning that any characterisation is rushed, and even their own hedonistic attempts to set up further pitifully films fall down. Jeremy Irons and Amy Adams are wasted as Alfred and Lois Lane, which is disappointing since they proved some of the only good moments of BVS, and J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon screentime is sadly deficient, another example of too hasty world-building. Somehow you feel nostalgic for the bloated mess of Batman V Superman compared to this barebones film without any sense of cohesion.
Unless you are a die-hard fan of DC comics, Justice League is not worth watching, at least in its current state. There are hopes that an extended cut can save this incoherent disaster, but after this was proclaimed about both previous major DCEU films but the extended run-time only creating more issues, there is little hope for Justice League. Hope is the key message of the film, emphasised in the first scene by Superman, but the DCEU has clearly run out of steam, and hope is gone for a meaningful cinematic universe. Instead we are left with a universe in which characters are recreated, hints of future films are ungracefully squeezed in, and every aspect is unsatisfying. It is certainly unsurprising, and we can only wonder how long viewers can continue to watch films that we know will only disappoint.