By: Hunter Heilman
November 15, 2017
I tried to like Justice League, I really did. I wasn’t a fan of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but I did find campy (if unintended) fun in it. I even defended Suicide Squad on its initial release, even though subsequent re-watches of the film have not proved well in its favor. And then there is Wonder Woman, a superhero film so special that it physically pains me to see her following up that wondrous achievement of a film in something like Justice League, a film so glaringly incomplete that it was almost shocking to behold.
Set a year and a half after the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are trying to recover from the blow that was the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). When a pattern of strange creature attacks piques the interest of Batman, and a warning from the Amazons alerts Diana of the subsequent danger at hand, the two form the Justice League to face the evil behind such attacks. The team consists of Barry Gordon aka The Flash (Ezra Miller), Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Mamoa). When the group discovers an evil entity known as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), intent on destroying the world and reshaping it in his image, they must unite to save the world from destruction.
Where to begin? Justice League feels like five different films shoved into one, a hodgepodge of superhero films that does not particularly feel like it is going into any direction well. A big complaint in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was that it was too dark for a superhero film. There are parts of Justice League that feel that same way, but they are counteracted by scenes that try really hard to seem more lighthearted and less gloomy, never finding a flow between the two tones.
One cannot solely blame Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead), for this, as he had to pass re-shoot duties to Joss Whedon after the tragic death of his daughter, something anyone can understand having to do. Whedon, however, does not seem to share the Snyder’s approach, leaving the film a tonal mess of noticeable reshoots shoved into the film. Maybe they hoped one might not notice upon watching, but we do.
The screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon is also an utter mess, with much of the dialogue feeling like lead-up after lead-up to some badly forced and predictable one-liner. I hate comparing DC to Marvel, as I believe they’re two completely separate beasts, but the thing that makes the humor work so well in Marvel is the lighthearted tone of all the characters. With characters as serious as the DC Extended Universe’s are, forcing constant forms of humor on them not only begins to feel contrived, but terribly out of place.
And can we mention the visual effects? There are moments in Justice League that feel like I’m watching a cutscene from a PlayStation 2 game from 2004. So much of the film looks visually unfinished that it becomes legitimately distracting when the final act of the film is all about its visuals. Cyborg and Steppenwolf both look laughably artificial, which might not have been an issue in 2005, but for a studio-produced blockbuster in 2017 – in a world that can recreate Sean Young’s entire 1982 self in Blade Runner 2049, and an army of perfect motion capture apes in War for the Planet of the Apes – Justice League’s shoddy look is unacceptable.
Is there anything I liked about Justice League? Yes, actually. Obviously, Gadot as Wonder Woman is always fabulous to see, even if she is not given too much to do here. Yet, it’s Miller as The Flash who steals the show. It’s frustrating at times to see his occasional incompetence put him in need of saving by the other members of the Justice League, but Miller’s charisma and actually attuned to comedic timing makes his the one presence in this film I genuinely enjoyed.
Worst of all, Justice League is simply boring. At only 121 minutes (the shortest DCEU film yet), with no origin stories for The Flash, Cyborg or Aquaman, there is not a lot of time to introduce these characters without having them simply feel like shells of what they should be. DC was impatient in churning out Justice League, leaving us with a film that does not give us anything to actually care about. The story is a rehash of many other blockbusters crammed into one, and the stakes at hand simply are not high enough to elicit any sort of tension from the audience.
Is there an audience for Justice League? Absolutely. I’m just certainly not one of the members of said audience. Justice League is a rushed, messy, ugly superhero film that does nothing to improve, or to even reinforce the genre in any way. It is poorly written; the visual effects are inexcusable; and the film wastes a lot of really great individual elements that could have worked together. I’ll be placing my bets on the individual films in the DCEU à la Wonder Woman. But with Justice League hitting so hard in so many of the wrong places, there’s plenty of reason for doubt.
Star Rating: 1 out of 5