Directed by: Zack Snyder (and Joss Whedon)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill
Justice League wasn’t even fun. You can skip it. Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman were at least enjoyable in a ‘watching a train wreck’ kind of way, but Justice League was simply a bore. Nothing interesting is done at all, every plot development is completely expected, none of the characters go through interesting arcs and the action scenes just aren’t even that good. Strictly speaking it’s better than the aforementioned DC ensemble pieces, but not in any really meaningful way. Justice League is a nothing movie and I honestly think you should skip it.
From here on out, I’m going to spoil everything. If that’s not what you want, stop reading now. You have been warned.
Also, for obvious reasons I’m going to be alluding to The Avengers a lot.
The first and most glaring issue with this film is its structure. Much like Batman V. Superman, it kind of begins four times in a row, as if they brainstormed a whole bunch of ideas and decided to go with all of them instead of choosing the best one. So right off the bat, the audience is bored; none of the openings provide any real intrigue or value to the film as a whole and are actually handled pretty clumsily, which I found honestly surprising. Snyder, despite his shortcomings, is more than capable of making his shots look striking, which none of these did. Most importantly though, none of these openings actually worked to bring the team together. They just sort of happened. This kind of progression with things just ‘happening’ pervades the entire film, and by the end you feel like nothing was gained from watching.
Like Batman V Superman, there is no proper second act. There kind of is, but it essentially acts as a prelude to the climax and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Imagine if in ‘The Avengers’ immediately after capturing Loki, the team went and fought the horde of alien monsters. It felt rushed and importantly, didn’t feel earned. Not to mention, the climax wasn’t really all that fun. The editing was too fast, there was no truly interesting or iconic cinematography and it left pretty much zero impact.
The most vital thing to get right in a movie like this, though, is the characters. The filmmakers have failed these beloved icons to an epic degree. They learned 0 from Marvel’s success. By the time the Avengers was released, we had: four hero characters who had starred in their own films and two less major ones who had at least had a scene before, and the main villain had been well established. The whole experiment that was ‘The Avengers’ worked because they covered all their bases before actually going for the big one (it was also very tightly written and directed, but bear with me here). The Justice League Consists of five (six if you include spoiler-not-spoiler), of which only one had been in their own movie. Batman V Superman was close enough to being a Batman movie, so I’ll call that two. Even so, that’s more than half the main cast being introduced in this movie. The result: no one gets developed, no one is interesting and everyone feels like a watered-down version of their supposed character. The most prominent lesson that any character learns is ‘working together is good’, like that hasn’t been done to death in Hollywood genre films. In order to properly illustrate just how lame the cast is, let’s go through the list one-by-one:
Flash was uninteresting. He’s the quippiest character, and so supposedly the fan favourite, but his entire shtick is that he’s socially awkward and finds it hard to make friends. In a movie where the entire point is forcing people together, this could have been played up as an interesting challenge to overcome for the character, but they don’t do anything with it. Probably would have been helped if he had more time to be developed. Ezra Miller was fine, but the writing failed him.
Aquaman was also underdeveloped, and he was honestly kind of annoying. I didn’t mind the casting of Jason Momoa, but the characterization felt overly workshopped; his entire personality in this movie can be summed up as: ‘I’m too cool for this’, which is entirely the wrong choice for a character named ‘Aquaman’ whose powers include swimming really fast and talking to fish. He was honestly like an angsty teen, so I guess he was effective as the self-insert character for the target demographic.
Cyborg was the most interesting of the three new additions, and definitely got the most development, but that’s a low bar to overcome. Ray Fisher was put in a tough position, having to play a character with a lot of his emotions practically ripped out of him, but I think he did well under the circumstances. He reminded me a bit of Vision from the Avengers, but with much less charm. At least his design was neat and his powers were cool. The movie would have been immensely better off, however, without dealing with his backstory. They could have cut it out and had the first mention of him be in the scene where he remotely hacks the batcomputer. It would have been a much better character introduction, a much more impactful scene altogether and would have made the film flow so much better.
Wonder Woman has nothing interesting to say or do in this move. She dumps exposition, makes a few references to the more emotional moments of her movie (which I guess were supposed to count as the emotional moments in this movie) and is in general the most powerful member of the team. Nothing in her character feels like a complete creative decision, everything is a compromise. It sucks, and it’s a shame, considering how energetic and motivated she was in her own movie. None of it shines through here. Gal Gadot is still good, but she isn’t given much to work with here.
Ben Affleck honestly looks kind of bored through most of the movie. His performance was better in BVS, and as much as I appreciate the brighter and more colourful lighting in this movie, it really highlights how silly this Batman costume looks. Also, every time he starts to do something cool with a gadget or vehicle or something, it’s destroyed within seconds. He feels very un-valuable in this scenario beyond the fact that he’s the one putting the team together and hosting the meetings. Strictly speaking, he is the one dragging the plot along by its hair, but like the others, his character goes nowhere.
Superman is back! (what a surprise) And the way that they bring him back to life is honestly so dumb that it’s my favourite part of the movie. If you don’t intend to see the movie, here’s what happens: the McGuffins for this film are these three cubes (super original, guys) which ‘simultaneously create and destroy life’. So, they decide to resurrect Superman like a fucking zombie in order to essentially use him as a big gun against the villain. They spend like one minute debating the ethics of that in a scene ripped straight out of ‘Age of Ultron’ and then proceed to do it without any further debate or real consequences. They dig him up, put him in the spaceship from Man of Steel and use Flash’s speed-electricity to set off the cube and bring him back to life. Only now he’s gone mad and fights the Justice League for a bit. Probably about five minutes. Dead serious, this is probably the best part of the movie, but it’s so dumb. He also has, no joke, freeze breath, which he uses to freeze the villain’s axe thing. So much for the gritty realistic reinterpretation of Superman. His inclusion in this movie is pretty superfluous for the most part; he doesn’t have much bearing on the plot as a whole, making his death even more meaningless. What a wasted opportunity to effectively pull off the on-screen death of a globally revered icon.
Also, it is hilariously obvious in which scenes they CGI’d the moustache off of Henry Cavill’s face, it looks pretty horrible and I find it hysterical.
Steppenwolf is possibly the worst villain in any recent mainstream superhero film. If you saw Thor Ragnarok, he was essentially that fire demon guy from the very beginning of the movie. You know, the one that Taika Waititi basically played as being a joke for being so very uninteresting and clichéd. The comparison is uncanny, they even kind of look alike. He’s all about the usual ‘world domination’, ‘this world belongs to me’ bullshit that we’ve all seen before a million times, and we never get anything resembling a deeper look as to his motivations. He just kind of is this way.
He quests to find these cubes (Avengers) that will let him take over earth (Avengers) and terraform it into his home planet (Man of Steel) in service of a big tyrannical galactic Overlord (Avengers). He has attacked the earth before, thousands of years ago but was defeated (X-Men: Apocalypse) and carries a big axe hammer thing (Guardians of the Galaxy).
The soundtrack was also very dull. If there was a ‘Justice League’ theme, I didn’t notice it. I heard some variations of the original Superman (1978) theme which were kind of cool I guess, but otherwise it was very generic action movie crap.
Strictly speaking, this is a better movie than BVS and Suicide Squad. I’m not sure if I’d consider better than Man of Steel. It does have some flow to its narrative, but events lack impact and you don’t care about the characters. It, as far as I could tell, had very few plotholes, but this was the wrong lesson to learn from Batman V Superman. Plotholes are not deal breakers to the overall experience; poor narrative structure and underdeveloped characters are. Case and point: The Dark Knight Rises.
I would recommend finding something else to watch this weekend. Justice League is boring, uninteresting and not even a spectacle of a failure. It’s far from unwatchable, but it was straight up disappointing.
DC, I would seriously reconsider your current course. Stop hiring Zack Snyder as a director, he is not a good storyteller. Sure, comics are a visual medium and he’s a visual director, but this movie didn’t look good enough for it to be worth it. Let the reigns go a little. Let the directors and writers try and come up with a more creative approach to these characters. It’s paying off for Marvel. It paid off with Nolan. It will pay off again. Just do it. I believe in you.