Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa
Director: Zack Snyder
Running Time: 119 mins
Synopsis: The death of Superman has left the Earth vulnerable. Sensing an imminent threat Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) team up to recruit other super powered individuals. However the arrival of intergalactic villain Steppenwolf proves tougher than they could possibly imagine. They’ll need to overcome their differences and work together to defeat this CGI monstrosity.
This was supposed to change everything!! The ultimate team-up event that would recoup the fledgling DC film universe, and right a severely leaning ship. Man of Steel was a solid effective start, its connection to a larger world subtle and fleeting. Alas soon after we got the po-faced overcooked Batman V Superman, a film that didn’t seem to realise that just seeing these two face off is epic enough without the need for 2 and a half hours of surrounding nonsense. Suicide Squad fared even worse, a film with severe personality issues and the sort of choppy plotting that weakened any flashes of life. Fortunately Wonder Woman swooped in to save the day. A charismatic hero, evocative setting and firm grasp of its self before a final act collapsed into CGI noise and listless villainy. It was all on Justice League to finally grasp something salvageable, something worth all the disappointments over the years. It is a shame to report then that the film represents the nadir of this clumsy dull ‘shared universe’, and one that it will be hard to come back from.
Events were surely not helped earlier this year when director Zack Snyder (whom has been integral to the look and feel of this universe so far) announced he was to be no longer a part of the production. A terrible family tragedy insisting on him to nobly and respectfully step away. Into the mix came geek boy wunderkind Joss Whedon, who was already rewriting the script, to finish the film and steer it through some costly reshoots. A talent with ensemble casts (the fact he steered two Avengers films to over $2 billion clearly was not overlooked by WB) and working under time constraints Whedon seemed ideal to sculpt it into something lighter. Oddly though it has left the film in a weird limbo, an awkward mix of Snyder’s loud macho operatics and Whedon’s character focused wisecracking. You can quite clearly see the moments in which the dialogue has been beefed up with his trademark snark, even so it feels lacking. This can most likely be explained away in that Whedon has had to write for characters he does not understand or indeed believe in. The slapdash, make-it-up-as-we-go style of the DCEU to date has left its characters confused and inconsistent.
Take the opening scene, a surprisingly calm moment in which Superman is sweetly quizzed by a bunch of kids at a rescue scene. Immediately it establishes the hope and moralistic naivety of Superman but when you compare it with what we have seen before; a violent rage filled man who would sooner destroy a city than try to make a peaceful resolution, it doesn’t quite fly! After this point we get the usual establishing scenes of all our heroes. Batman is hunting down Parademons in Gotham City whilst Wonder Woman is facing off against poorly defined terrorists. Then we finally get to meet our new faces, teased in previous films, but here in the flesh. Of the three Ezra Miller is by far the best as The Flash. A barely contained ball of social insecurities, whip smart one-liners and manic energy. There is a glint in Miller’s eye that brings the only real enjoyment into the movie, and a brief delve into his tragic past with his father (a welcome Billy Crudup) has more emotion in it than the entirety of the main plot. Ray Fisher has a gentle voice and tries hard as the ill defined Cyborg (seriously what is he-a flying robot who can look at any CCTV footage in the world and do a Google Search real fast) but barely registers with any sense of self or dramatic reasoning. Then there is Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman, a risky proposition (the guy speaks to fish), but Mamoa graces him with a formidable physique, an impatient bloodlust and a healthy dollop of “so psyched I’m here” playfulness. However he is given little to do, powers that make no sense and the clunkiest exposition possible.
In fact the film is pretty much all exposition. Justice League never seems to want to show you how these characters are feeling or their motivations, it would rather they told you for themselves. At least the three newbies get some solid characterisation. The returning heroes make no sense when aligned with their previous outings. Wonder Woman still seems to be unwilling to be the hero she desired to be, but that was after the tragic loss she faced in WW1, well over 100 years ago, surely she’s got over it by now! Batman fares even worse, the brooding angry bruiser replaced by a noble driven desire to unify everyone I presume because he watched Superman sacrifice himself in BvS. It certainly doesn’t help that Affleck looks utterly bored here, regurgitating his lines with a total disregard for actual feeling. It is hard to touch on Superman without delving into hard spoilers (yes he does return as evidenced by Henry Cavill out on the promo trail) but suffice to say his return moment is so utterly stupid and airless I spent most of my time trying to catch glimpses of the poor CGI job they did removing his moustache. He then proceeds to become a wisecracking jolly fellow, despite having never shown that tendency before.
All this talk and I haven’t even touched on the all important catastrophic event that unites the team. This is predominately down to the fact that said event is so crushingly thin, with its central villain nothing more than weightless CGI, spouting generic lines about planet dominance and worship. Ciarian Hinds voices Steppenwolf with all the gravity of someone reading the classifieds over the supermarket tannoy. It is time to call a moratorium on comic book baddies attempting to cover the world in some mystical destruction surrounded by mindless minions. Despite my immense anticipation for Avengers: Infinity War I am concerned about its central villain also being an all CGI creation. Justice League has such a drastic lack of dramatic stakes it is laughable. At no point do we sense the planet is under imminent threat. No outside source even remarks on the appearance of this new superhero League. WB have turned their DC universe into permanent damage control. Man of Steel’s much maligned final destruction becomes BvS main story catalyst, the moaned about sombre nature of BvS elicits tacked on Whedon lightness, overly long running times leads to Justice League’s speedy 119 min run time. No sense of personality is to be found, it’s always just retconning to please incessant fan complaints. Marvel may have adapted their tools at times in face of criticism but they always have a clear identity and distinguishable separation from one another.
In fact I wanted to avoid all mention of Marvel altogether. I wanted to judge this film on its own merits and not be beholden to what others have done. Yet Justice League so desperately wants to stand alongside its comic book counterparts that it is hard to not compare. Many beats hit the same marks as the MCUs big team up debut, especially the tense fractious inter-team dynamics. Justice League attempts to have similar moments of the team falling out but they land with all the sense of a drunk reading the weather report. Marvel spent years and ounces of creative collaboration to reach their collision of heroes, Justice League never earns that moment. The introductions of these characters should be iconic but most just see them staring out the window (Cyborg) or standing in a bar (Aquaman). It is nothing less than frustrating. In many ways it is more than possible to introduce a large ensemble without the need for individual back stories, the X-Men movies nailed that with aplomb, but with no distinctive characterisation you’re left with nothing to grab onto.
Are there any saving graces, you may be asking? A few. As mentioned The Flash is a huge highlight, giving hope that his standalone may have potential. Likewise Aquaman is a fun presence, Mamoa’s lassiez-faire attitude cutting through the inherent silliness of his character. The film whips through at a heck of a pace, and the banter at times does reach the required level of audience pleasing joviality. Gal Gadot, of course, is still the best thing about this universe. Fierce, decent and incapable of cynicism (despite the films best efforts to make her so) whilst also being the most enjoyable to watch in battle. The less said about the way Snyder has treated her fellow Amazonians the better, but let’s just say the inspiring femininity Patty Jenkins brought to WW has been replaced with horny teenage framing.
Justice League is just too dull to be classed as anything other than a failure. Action sequences are messy, incoherent and coated in excessive (and may I add poor) CGI. Danny Elfman’s score uses elements of the 90s Bat theme, the animated Justice League theme and Hans Zimmer’s elemental Wonder Woman theme, to surprisingly boring effect. Much can be said about the score’s retro callbacks being very representative of the films confused identity. Logic is almost wholly absent, events seemingly happening for one of two reasons; one, they look cool or two, the plot needs it to happen no matter how nonsensical it may be. I’m completely and utterly staggered that a huge franchise film with so much riding on it could be so haphazardly put together. I’m positive that good intentions lie somewhere amongst all this but it becomes harder to believe that when you see such staggeringly atrocious shots such as the nigh on 2 min scene of Amy Adams with her back to the camera making coffee. The slogan of Justice League’s marketing campaign is “All In,” on the evidence of the film itself I’d say “All Over” better suffices.
(Oh and stick around for the end credits scene which is arguably better than the entirety of the film, promising as it does a far more interesting future).
Verdict: The natural charisma of its cast and a few moments of witty banter notwithstanding, Justice League is a travesty. Stitched together with nary a sense of logic, drama or personality. The ship has well and truly capsized.