After last summer’s excellent Wonder Woman, many fans were hopeful that Warner Brothers had finally turned a corner with their DC film universe. Unfortunately, Justice League proved that Wonder Woman was nothing but a happy anomaly in an otherwise endless sea of wretched films. Zach Snyder directed most of it, and infused the film with his signature bleakness. Joss Whedon was called in to finish directing when Snyder left the project because of a family tragedy. Whedon’s ham-fistedly grafted-on one-liners and attempts at levity are painfully obvious.
Justice League was an expensive movie, but it looked cheap. The big bad Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) was a CGI mess that might have been passable in a video game 5-10 years ago. League member Cyborg (Ray Fisher) was a constantly morphing, humanoid-shaped blob with garish red bits. He’d have looked better if the studio had simply copied the effects from 16-year-old Terminator 2. The endless waves of minions, the weapons, the explosions, the fire effects, the water, pretty much everything looked obviously and horribly fake. You couldn’t get away with releasing a top-tier video game that looked this bad.
The writing couldn’t have been lazier. The plodding first act predictably involved painfully going through the motions of assembling the team. Much screen time was devoted to a failed attempt to get us to care about the individual heroes. The process of team-building managed to go on for too long while simultaneously failing to give any of the characters enough time to connect with the audience. Batman (Ben Affleck) moped and brooded along. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was reduced to a throwaway stock superhero action sequence, lots of exposition, and gratuitous low-angle shots of her butt in leather pants. Steppenwolf made speeches along the lines of “I’m going to destroy the world because I’m the bad guy in this picture and that’s what bad guys do.” Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) were suitably sad about Superman (Henry Cavill) being dead.
And speaking of Superman, they might as well have called this thing Superman and His Sidekicks. The first half of the movie showed a world plunged into collective depression because of his death. Steppenwolf and his minions decided his passing signaled a good time to attack Earth. Once Superman showed up, he spent the rest of the movie reinforcing the meme that other heroes are largely irrelevant if he’s around. Even his resurrection, which should have been a major event, was a boring “and now he’s alive again” moment. I suppose I should have marked that as a spoiler, but who’s surprised? Henry Cavill is billed in the opening credits.
Justice League had the monumental task of getting audiences excited enough about Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg to support their solo films scheduled to be released in 2018 and 2020, respectively. Aquaman has largely been the butt of jokes since his Super Friends days. He was a laughable orange and green guy who talked to fish, then Justice League tried to transform him into a brooding, Hulk-like tank. Other than swimming around a bit, you’d have no idea he’s supposed to have water-based powers. It was more or less Jason Momoa scowling, flexing, and playing the same character he always does. Cyborg faced even more of an uphill battle since no one outside of hardcore comic book geekdom even knows who he is. It was established that his metal body constantly evolved and mutated, which gave the writers an excuse to have him do whatever the script needed at any given moment. He became a walking meme. Instead of “a wizard did it,” you had “Cyborg did it.” Time will tell if anyone cares enough about these guys to pay for movie tickets.
The final climactic battle was a video game-like bloodless (and tensionless) button mashing “fight the minions” CGI assault on the senses. Superman was nice enough to let the rest of the team help out a little on the boss battle, so they could pretend they were needed. The good guys won, everyone was happy, but there’s even more evil coming to ruin the day in upcoming movies. The mid-credits scene was mildly amusing. The post-credits scene was a final parting insult to the audience as the lights came up.
Unless you’re a hard-core DC comic book fan who is determined to like DC comic book-based movies because they’re DC comic book-based movies, I’d recommend skipping Justice League. If you need a superhero fix, rent Wonder Woman and watch that again.
Overall rating: 3.5/10