It’s hard to pin blame on any single person for a film that seems so overly created by committee. In a recent interview, David Fincher spoke honestly about making movies in today’s content over substance moviemaking reality: “The reality of moviemaking, y’know, it’s a rat fuck. Every day is a skirmish”. While Justice League is no Fincher film, it does feels like the wrong side won most, if not all, of the skirmishes, and audiences, whether they like it or not, are the ultimate losers in this face off.
Warner Brothers’ Justice League is the second film this year set within the DCEU, and the continuation of the long-form narrative setup previously in Man Of Steel and Batman VS Superman… (what? No I don’t want to say the whole… OK FINE!) DAWN OF JUSTICE. Luckily for them Wonder Woman has become an overwhelming success (rightfully so) otherwise Warner Brothers and the filmmakers who have been entrusted with overseeing this universe over the past several films may have found themselves in quite the dilemma: Box Office success aside, how does a series continue when the content is just so…uninteresting.
The film begins in the wake of a world grappling with the loss of Superman, its hero and savior, who, in Batman VS Superman…UGH!…Dawn of Justice!, was being vilified for the mass destruction depicted in Man Of Steel. There is a global sense of fear at the loss of this otherworldly christ-figure that reawakens an ancient alien destroyer named Steppenwolf, who makes his return, searching for amorphous cubes that were once used to create a literal hell on earth. Once upon a time, however, the forces of good; The Amazonians (as depicted in Wonder Woman), The Atlanteans (sea people) and the First Men (vikings? wildlings? I don’t know) fought off this evil villain, splitting the cubes up and dividing them up, vowing to protect them from falling into the hands of this evil force. Until now. But times have changed, protecting this stuff has wained, making it easier for Steppenwolf to return, decimating the strongholds and making his dream of turning Earth into his own private hell on earth. What could possibly stop him?! Only supreme-superman-fan Bruce Wayne knows enough to search the worlds end for a new united front of heroes, and when the richest vigilante wants to assemble a team, he’ll stop at nothing to bring it together. CUE WHITE STRIPES MONTAGE!!!
What follows, unfortunately, is a slapdash mess of a film that, despite being one of the better of the previous DCEU films, can’t escape the bipolarity of having two directorial visions forced into one. Justice League was to be Zack Snyder’s third complete film in this newly revamped DC movie series, but was forced to take a leave midway due to a family tragedy. WB brought in Joss Whedon to oversee reshoots and he shares co-screenwriter credit on the film. The result is a film filled with so many breakneck pivots from humorous buddy antics to end-of-the-world melodrama that left this viewer sore from whiplash.
And while Batman’s assembled league of justice, which includes a mostly CGI Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman in all his bro-ed out glory, can hold their ground against Steppenwolf, they find themselves severely lacking in the sheer, brute optimism department. Thus a plan is hatched to resurrect the savior they’ve pined after all this time; Superman. Cue one of the oddest grave-digging scenes of a perfectly intact kryptonian corpses ever caught on film immediately followed by an absurdly unnecessary showdown (AGAIN!) between Kal-El and the rest of the League before finally Lois Lane, because of course her only purpose in this film is to be the one thing that can calm Superman, seeing as how in his previous two films Superman has been depicted as nothing more than a hot-tempered, mama’s boy who only cares about his intrepid girlfriend. Eventually Superman rallies back to help save the world. Or at least some stock, vaguely Russian (or are they Ukrainian?) family that’s in the line of sight of Steppenwolf.
The world within these films, much like DC Films itself, can’t quite seem to figure out how it wants to treat its heroes, most of all Superman. Is he hero, villain, or both? The film wastes no time in getting to the “assembly” without giving the audience any time to get its bearings with the events of both Yawn of Justice, Man Of Steel or Wonder Woman. Say what you will about Marvel’s long-form serial storytelling that comes across as more episodic than cinematic, but I rarely find myself desperate for a recap when viewing the latest entry they offer, It says something about a sequel when I can’t even recall anything from previous films that were important to the plot. Not to mention Steppenwolf, a villain completely void of any presence because it isn’t some alien world he’s from, but rather conjured up from ones and zeros and a multitude of polygons. When the primary villain of the centerpiece film in this “universe” is introduced, two films ago, in a frickin’ deleted scene, online no less, you’re not setting your cinematic universe up for a very successful start. It also doesn’t speak well of the guidance of these characters and this “universe” that your film is already so bloated and overstuffed with action and CGI set-pieces that you don’t have the time to give said super-villain any kind of gravity or depth. The old fogey in me was left longing for the days when we’d see a real life classically trained actor chewing up the scenery under pounds of prosthetics.
Call it too many cooks, call it film-making by rote but there is nary a moment where these characters are given anytime to be human. Movies provide us that opportunity to humanize these (literally) one dimensional characters and yet, there is more pathos and emotion within the slick pages of any DC comic on stands currently than in the entirety of this film’s nearly 2 hour runtime. Even subplots related to Lois Lane or Aquaman, which if given so much as two or three minutes to breath would’ve brought pathos to these one-dimensional characters. Instead we’re assaulted repeatedly with more grimy, CGI chaos at the expense of character development. That’s not to say the film has it’s breakout moments. Much of Ezra Miller’s performance as The Flash brings some much needed lightheartedness to the film, and Jason Mamoa has some enjoyable quips, even if his character’s backstory sinks more than swims. Even if the film wants you to think it’s having a good time, it oftentimes feels like uptight Bruce Wayne sulking from room to room at a party pouting “Hey, I’m having a good time alright”.
That Wonder Woman, in hindsight, can be viewed as the strongest of entries, with so much potential within that film, the emotion, the optimism that Patty Jenkins and team imbued into that film, makes Justice League all the frustrating. And Man Of steel, while not perfect, set up a very well executed re-imagining of the Superman mythos, a reluctant hero thrust into the role of savior, it felt lived in, weathered, scuffed. Justice league squanders what little goodwill Man Of Steel had by reducing its characters to broadly drawn cartoons worthy of a Hannah Barbera cartoon, only not as enjoyable.
Justice League – C-
Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Joss Whedon & Chris Terrio