There’s a number of metaphors that I could come up to summarize the situation that “Justice League” was in before it was released in theaters. My favorite would be the high school student who shows up to the prom long after the party is over, and only the janitors are there, cleaning up the leftover mess. The other being the casual runner who is in a marathon, and comes in dead last, long after people have lost interest in the race, because it ended. That’s why I questioned if the world really needed a “Justice League” movie, after we had two and half “Avengers” movies (yes, I’m counting “Captain America: Civil War”). In the end, it would always come across as a desperate “we can do this team-up thing, too” move on DC’s part. And yes, that is indeed what it feels like.
Yeah, I will confess ahead of time that I am a bias Marvel fanboy, and as such, I will always go into a “Justice League” movie with a half-hearted opinion of it. I don’t hate DC (I do hate their die-hard fanboys though), I just prefer Marvel. It’s like a cats vs dogs, or Playstation vs Xbox thing. You may like both, but if you had to choose, there’s one you love more than the other. But hey, I’ve given DC plenty of chances before. With the exception of casting Gal Gadot in the lead role, and having a bloated CGI final boss battle in the third act, I liked the “Wonder Woman” (although I liked the 2009 animated movie more). The other movies in DC’s cinematic universe, which I refer to as “Man of Sh*t”, “Murder Man vs Super Sad: Yawn of Justice”, and “Suicide Squat”, not so much.
My brand bias aside, “Justice League” had many, many, MANY problems set against it. Starting with Zack Snyder, who I consider to be Michael Bay’s long lost twin brother. Yes, while both know how to film great action sequences and making everything look pretty or epic, neither one knows how to tell a coherent story. They’s all style, no substance. And the style that Snyder brought to DC just did not match what people wanted to see. A Batman who kills everyone within arm’s reach of himself, and with a gun no less in one scene? No thanks. A Superman who broods all the time, questions his reason for being, and whose adopted parents tell him to not to be a hero? Again, no thanks. A Wonder Woman who gave up on humanity for a century? Gal Gadot took it upon herself to retcon that out of the franchise. A Lex Luthor who acts like Mark Zuckerberg while high on cocaine? Um, why? These creative choices resulted in critics ripping “Yawn of Justice” apart in their reviews, children leaving the theatre during the middle of the movie because they were scared by how their “heroes” were behaving, fans being divided to this day over if the movie is any good, the movie failing to gross a billion dollars worldwide, and the movie “winning” four Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Screenplay, Worst Sequel, and Worst On Screen Duo. Needless to say, Warner Bros had to run damage control, but it only made matters worse.
Between the failure of “Yawn of Justice” and the success of “Wonder Woman”, Warner Bros made several changes to “Justice League”, ranging from changing the color palettes, omitting entire sequences in order to have a two hour long running time, and most infamously, hiring Joss Whedon to rewrite and direct the several month long reshoots. The final product that we got is a Frankenstein’s Monster of a flick that is the definition of a forgettable, middle of the road, generic movie that you could play in the background while doing something else. Again, I’m not saying this because I love Marvel and hate DC. I’m saying this because that just what the movie is.
I’ll be generous and list the things that the movie gets right first. The most obvious being that Superman now acts as Superman is supposed to; a big, blue boyscout of a character, rather than being a brooding sad sack. Granted, it would be nice if they did this two or three movies ago, but hey, better late than never. The only problem is that the rest of characters are behaving like this is how Superman always was, instead of Superman being this polarizing figure that people weren’t sure if they should trust him or not. That’s how he was portrayed in previous movies, but that’s been retconned out of this movie. So yes, a welcomed change, but jarring when thinking back to past movies. From a purely visual aspect, thank you Snyder, for having the Amazons return, and having them wear their traditional leather and armored bikinis. Hey, if you’re going to hire beautiful female fitness models and crossfit athletes to portray the living embodiments of the perfect women warriors, you might as well have them rock out with their abs out. J.K. Simmons succeeds Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon. Much like being the perfect page to screen translation of J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” movies, Simmons is the perfect page to screen translation of Gordon. It’s just a pity he isn’t given more to do outside of two and a half scenes. And lastly, thanks to the writing of Joss Whedon, the character interactions are usually the best moments of the movie. Literally whenever the team members are standing or sitting around and just chatting each other up, that’s when the movie is at its best. Everything else about the movie is a dumpster fire.
All of the DC Trinity actors return. Henry Cavill finally plays a more Christopher Reeve version of Superman, but it doesn’t change the fact that he has a level of charisma on par with Sam Worthington or Jai Courtney. In that, I mean, he has none. He just says his lines, smiles every now and then, and is forgettable outside of this one short scene that they do before the opening credits. Oh, and for some reason, Warner Bros had to CGI a mustache off of his face, and his face is strangely shiny looking as a result. He grew the mustache to play a villain in the latest “Mission: Impossible” movie, and his contract stated that he couldn’t shave the mustache off. Warner Bros offered to pay to CGI a mustache back onto Cavill’s face in the event he shaved it off, but Paramount refused. All I can think about this is “Why is Paramount’s make-up budget so cheap that they can’t afford to slap a fake mustache on Cavill?”
Ben Affleck as Batman is again, average at best. In my opinion, he’s on par with Val Kilmer’s turn as the character. Not great, not horrible, just “meh”. I really don’t get these DC fanboys who declare him the greatest Batman actor of all time. Based on what? The one scene in “Yawn of Justice” where he was fighting just like in the Arkham games? That’s like saying “Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the greatest Spider-Man movie of all-time because it has the best looking Spidey costume. And Gal Gadot … well, she looks pretty, and her accent is sexy to listen to. That’s about it. She does get a great rescue scene early in the movie, but she doesn’t do much else that tops that scene afterwards. I love me some Wonder Woman, but Gadot is hit or miss in the role.
And then there’s the new kids on the block, all of which are being properly introduced in this flick. Ideally, they should have all gotten solo movies first, but no, Warner Bros just had to rush the team-up movie first, so we don’t really know these new characters, and it’s hard to relate to them because of this. We have Ezra Miller (or as I call him, “Not Grant Gustin”) as The Flash. As with most incarnations of the character, he’s the comedy relief of the team. Some of his jokes land, others don’t. Of the three new characters, he gets the most backstory, what with his father being in jail, and a reference that he was hit by lightning. Miller has been great in many an independent movies in the past, but big budget, tentpole movies don’t do his talents justice (no pun intended). Frankly, they should have hired Grant Gustin to be in the role. I mean, it’s not like Warner Bros can’t afford to do a media blitz where they tell everyone “Hey, watch the previous seasons of “The Flash” TV series on Netflix, or on the free CW app!”.
Then there’s Ray Fisher as Cyborg. When it comes to the Justice League lineup, this character is relatively new to the team. I would prefer someone else take his spot, like a Green Lantern member, or Martian Manhunter, or Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow. My main issue with this version of Cyborg is how he looks. It’s like someone slapped half of a human face onto a human sized transformer robot. It’s jarring to look at most of the time, since it’s Fisher’s real face on an entirely CGI body. Also, the character is in need of much more backstory, like his relationship with his father, or how he was a star football player. All we get is that he became this way because he was in an explosion and his father merged him with a Motherbox.
And there’s Aquaman. Oh yes, Aquaman, DC’s long time running joke. Every decade, DC tries their best to make this character cool, and every decade, they fail miserably. This is no different. Not only does this version of Aquaman look nothing like he does in the comics, it doesn’t really make any sense why he’s even on the movie, other than the Atlanteans having one of three Motherboxes. There’s only one fight that takes place near or in a body of water, he never summons ocean animals to attack his foes, and the rest of the team has to carry him in battle. Played by Jason Momoa (because, you know, “Game of Thrones” is popular), this Aquaman looks like Rob Zombie with a golden pitchfork, and talks like a stereotypical, Hollywood version of a surfer, hence all the “I dig it” and “My man” catchphrases. Outside of one scene where he accidentally sits on Wonder Woman’s golden lasso of truth, there is nothing interesting about Aquaman in this movie. And it’s like the movie is aware of this, as Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish is joked about not once, but twice.
As for the plot, it’s the biggest rip-off of the very first “Avengers” movie. Steppenwolf, the right hand man to Darkseid, appears on Earth to collect the three Motherboxes. Once he gets all three, something bad will happen. Now that Superman is dead, this is Steppenwolf’s best chance of world conquest. This is a huge plot hole, considering Steppenwolf tried to conquer the world many centuries ago, but was defeated by the combined might of the Amazons, the Atlanteans, human warriors, and even the Greek Gods. Okay, so why did he wait this long to try again, after all the Greek Gods were killed off (see “Wonder Woman”) and before there was a Superman to deal with? Anyway, Steppenwolf has the Parademons on his side, but they are just here so the Justice League has an army of nameless, faceless foot soldiers to mow through, because “Avengers”. It’s also a plot hole that it took the combined armies of three different civilizations and literal Greek Gods to defeat Steppenwolf, and yet only six beings will defeat him now. And so, the various metahumans of Earth (and also Batman, because he’s DC’s posterboy) are assembled one at a time, they form a team, they have arguments and disagreements, and the traditional comic book misunderstanding fight, but then they all come together in the end. Gee, does any of this sound familiar? Oh wait, there’s three magic boxes, not one, so it’s totally different!
The CGI for Steppenwolf is some of the worse I have seen in a long time. Many other critics were comparing it to The Rock’s CGI’ed face on the Scorpion King’s body from “The Mummy Returns”. I won’t disagree. And while Steppenwolf’s voice is interesting, he has nothing all that interesting to say. If you hated Malekith the Accursed from “Thor: The Dark World” for being as bland as possible, and not having much reasoning behind what he was doing and why he was doing it, you’re not going to like Steppenwolf either.
Villain problems aside, the tone of the movie is all over the place. You can tell this was made by two different writers and directors with radically different storytelling and directing styles. Characters go from being angry bad-asses to silly jokesters from one scene to the next. We go from slow motion fighting sequences to static exposition sequences in the blink of an eye. And the dialogue can be easily told apart from what was written under Snyder’s watch, and what Whedon wrote, mostly because Snyder’s is cold and unemotional, while Whedon’s is warm and funny. This movie is like a visual aid for the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth”.
In my humble opinion, this is what Warner Bros should have done: fire Snyder on the spot for what the trainwreck that “Yawn of Justice” was. Delay “Justice League” for as long as they could. Do a complete re-write of the script, maybe even do solo movies for Flash and Cyborg and release them beforehand if you could; if not, oh well. Forget about Steppenwolf, do Brainic instead, so he’s not a carbon copy of Loki and his plan from “Avengers”. Since Wonder Woman is your big money maker, give her the most to do. And if the movie runs more than two hours long, don’t cut it down, just leave it as is. Unfortunately, none of these precautions were made, and what was supposed to be DC’s answer to “Avengers” turned out to be yet another micromanaged mess, with a “superior”, extended cut of the movie to be available on DVD and Blu-Ray later down the line (yet again).
I tried to like “Justice League”, I really did. There are some moments where there are diamonds, but they are hidden inside of a steaming cowpie. Unless you are the biggest, ride or die DC fanboy to ever live, do not pay full price to see this movie. Go during a matinee, wait for a DVD or PPV rental, or see it over a friend’s house for a group viewing (and roasting). “Justice League” gets a disappointing two stars out of five. I wouldn’t say that “Justice League” is the worst superhero movie ever made, it’s just painfully mediocre, and an empty shell of what it could have been. It would still rather watch it then watch “Yawn of Justice” by comparison, but that’s not saying much. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to struggle with the first world problem of wanting to own a Movie Pass card, but not being able to use it, because AMC is the only theater chain in my area, and they banned that service.
Featured image, Justice League movie poster 2017