DC isn’t doing itself any favors with Justice League. Another grayscale punch-fest enters the halls of “the other superhero studio” after the glory days of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to the roaring applause of DC apologists and the exasperated sighs of presumably everyone else. The release of Justice League marks the eighth major motion picture about superheroes in 2017, and it’s rather surprising that no one is getting tired of these. Once again, a team of superheroes joins forces to stop an unstoppable evil. There may be some initial chafing as the super friends settle into their roles on the team, and audiences can be sure that these heroes will fight each other for some convoluted reason. Never fear, however, as Hero Squad™ will overcome their differences and learn that teamwork really does make the dream work. Evil is thwarted, but not for long. Tune in next week, when our heroes are faced with an even greater danger! Is this starting to sound familiar?
If so, that’s because Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, and Batman v. Superman have already done it, and it wasn’t original then either. And yet, Justice League acts as if it has just reinvented the wheel.
Through a series of introductory scenes, the audience is quickly introduced to the cast of characters. Returning from previous films are Batman—a billionaire vigilante with deep-rooted psychological trauma; Wonder Woman—the most scantily-clad and engaging DC character; and Aquaman—a buff, Jason Momoa-type with powers as nebulous and unexplained as his backstory.
Justice League begins to outline the main conflict here too. Succinctly, flying monster men called Parademons have been causing mayhem. It is explained that their appearance heralds the coming of Steppenwolf, the main villain of Justice League. His evil plot is to use the three “mother-boxes,” sources of infinite power and destruction, to take everyone for a “magic carpet ride” by terraforming Earth into a hellish landscape over which he will rule.
After Steppenwolf kills a few dozen Amazonians and Atlanteans because he’s “born to be wild,” Wonder Woman and Aquaman are all in for Batman’s league of wonder friends. The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) are quickly enlisted, and the quintet sets out to save the world.
From this point, Justice League quickly devolves into a series of large action set-pieces. Throughout, our superheroes seem to be battling overworked CGI and bad dialogue more often than actual villains. In a world where everything is covered in a fine layer of grit—because The Dark Knight was gritty and audiences liked that—the background CGI is distracting and unrealistic. It also appears that the screenwriters had a contractually obligated number of quips and one-liners to include, as every seventh line is accompanied by a long look into the middle distance or a pause for the still-forthcoming audience laugh.
Justice League also attempts to add suspense and surprise with the return of Superman (Henry Cavill). If news of this return was at all surprising to anyone, Justice League was an unfortunate choice for the first movie of their life. Yet the film tries to garner brownie points with the audience by pretending, for the first hour, that Superman won’t be back. When the Man of Steel finally appears, he is disoriented and confused, providing Justice League another perfect opportunity for a fight scene. Superman fights the rest of the league, while Cavill fights his British accent. No one is hurt, because nothing ever goes wrong when pseudo-gods fight each other on a city street, and soon everyone is ready to take down Steppenwolf.
Unfortunately, Justice League is not the worst DC movie to be made since these recent days of expanded universes, as it’s a very low bar to pass thanks to Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman. It may be better than these two, but it’s not good. The film is plagued by Zack Snyder. Justice League is directed by the same man who brought audiences such cinematic masterpieces as Batman v. Superman, 300, Man of Steel, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch. As bad as some of these may have been, they are all worse than everyone remembers. What’s really telling is that Snyder’s best work is probably Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Ga’Hoole. Justice League plays as a series of Snyder’s greatest hits. The film is mostly grey, brown, or black. Slow-motion shots abound for those “wow” moments that really only draw out the length of the movie. Weird, off-hand jokes or lines of dialogue are lingered on for just too long. And, as always, the film can’t seem to let go of past failures. The final end credits scene reintroduces Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, one of the most universally-panned parts of Batman v. Superman, and simultaneously teases a new villain who will be popping up in the next installment of this bloated franchise.
There are a handful of bright moments in the film. Gal Gadot is as magnetic as always as Wonder Woman, bringing a familiar and welcome face into Justice League. Ezra Miller’s Flash is funny at times, but not as often as Marvel’s Spider Man, Drax, or most recently Korg. J.K. Simmons does a good job as Commissioner Gordon (read: J. Jonah Jameson), and Alfred Pennyworth is enjoyable only because Jeremy Irons plays him. Aside from this, Justice League is another nail in DC’s expanded universe coffin. Marvel has a host of other problems, but at least they’ve made more than one enjoyable movie.
Featured Image by Warner Bros.