Justice League is a “step in the right direction” in that instead of tumbling down an upwards-climbing escalator on an endless loop, DC has now managed to brace itself on a bottom step, clutching the handrail in a dizzied, confused daze. Patty Jenkins blazed a trail for franchise improvement with Wonder Woman, but this Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon double-team steps right back into the DCEU’s own mismanaged stink.
Forced “humor” clashes with Snyder’s brand of glib intensity, action sequences rage with no captivation, backstory establishment gets tossed aside – but yes, it’s far more “fun” than Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. For whatever that’s worth? Marvel cultivated their luminescent rival universe through patience and genuine charisma – DC just wants to bottle the same magic, hellbent on replicating an existing formula without proper understanding.
The Justice League’s first venture is to prevent Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a cosmic warlord, from turning Earth into a charred replica of his blistered homeland – but first Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) must assemble JL’s clan of “gifted” individuals. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is still in contact with her caped *maybe* crush, so she’s an easy find. Barry Allen – aka The Flash – (Ezra Miller) geeks out after Bruce breaks-and-enters, only once the Bat’s true identity is revealed – another easy sign-on. Then there’s Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), two resistors who experience personal forces that push them into enlisting. Now all they need is to resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill), stop Steppenwolf from reuniting his three Mother Cubes (sure, whatever) and wrap things up in under two cinematic hours (God bless).
Want the good news first? Justice League does manage to unite billionaires with mermen, loner millennials with walking mainframes, *and* save the day all within the dreamlike 119 minute running time. The bad news? Snyder/Whedon cram the unification of six power-anointed strangers, an alien race’s impending Armageddon, an age-old war with Steppenwolf and incessant “look how dorky and affable I am, brunch is weird!” Flash jokes into nowhere near enough time. Writer Chris Terrio (with Whedon’s input) lacks the patience to expand upon blink-and-you’ll-miss cameos from Dawn Of Justice – Victor Stone showing up in full mecha-Frankenstein form after being last seen piece-by-piece on a human drawing board (surveillance footage). You don’t need to know why you’re rooting for a character beyond “Batman said so,” do you?
Worse off, it’s Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons who’re deprived of motivations beyond warlord arrogance. On behalf of Darkseid, the film’s poorly-digitized antagonist teleports to each Mother Box, smirks an inhuman smile, retreats to his abandoned nuclear silo hideout and prepares his conquest by placing three black boxes in close proximity of one another. How will the Justice League defeat this master of mass destruction, you ask? Aquaman goes as far to confesses his belief that all will perish saving Earth, suggesting even the mightiest superhuman warriors won’t stand a chance against Steppenwolf – only to defeat the horned monster while laughing and jabbing his pals. For how quickly Steppenwolf collects his floating cubes – with TELEPORTATION advantages – he’s then equivocally bitch-slapped in what seems like even less time.
Now, there’s no denying – as stated before – that Justice League certainly ups DC’s sought after “fun” factor with flickerings of a DCEU that *gasp* understands comedic timing? Take Batman’s constant inability to keep up with his other-worldly companions, always last into battle and huffing from his back-of-the-pack jog over (everyone else can fly/sprint pretty damn fast). Or what about The Flash’s one-liners that DO land, like his constant snacking habits (crossing time/space boundaries burns mondo calories)? Alfred (Jeremy Irons) acts unimpressed when Bruce faces life-threatening odds, Stone refuses fist-bumps, Curry flexes his “just came from the gym” persona – and personally, it’s Momoa’s aquatic fish-talk that humors most. You can flip Rick and Morty on behind The Flash all you want, he’s still a patience-testing quip abuser.
Of course, in order to devour said fun, one must be able to stomach visual presentations – a glaring deficiency of Justice League, which is a green screen abuser that’d make the most metallic Transformer lose its lunch (piles of junkyard puke then recycled for another one of Cyborg’s outfits). What happened to all the digital advancements of modern Hollywood? Where Snyder has before created entire worlds from pixels (300, Sucker Punch) in the past, he (and Whedon) cannot even grant a *major* league member passable design.
There’s a reason why Victor Stone wears his Gotham track suit so often – because Cyborg’s silver Aggro Crag “body” shimmers like a disco ball with no discernible form; his two-face alloy computer eye making us yearn for the “terrible” CGI of Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern mask. Scenes are “less dark,” but animated backgrounds and character lighting share even less continuity than Justice League’s actual plot – AND THAT’S EVEN BEFORE SUPERMAN’S POST-PRODUCTION MUSTACHE REMOVAL. Who knew “Face-In-The-Hole” meme technology would someday be used in a blockbuster film?
“Inconsequential” is the buzz word I’d use for DC’s “get the band back together” fluff sequitur (an actual joke used, to sample the film’s biting wit). Steppenwolf isn’t an adversary, he’s a yellow-painted speed bump on an empty suburban side-street – slow down 5mph and crisis averted. Superman’s resurrection boils down to yelling the word “SCIENCE” during planning, because that’s a blanket excuse. Aquabro gets his “Hell Yeah” comments in, Buffman saunters around in tight-fitting muscle armors, The Flash lets us know – for the millionth time – what a wacky, fanboy wallflower he is – but even with the world saved, nothing of consequence has happened. No return to ravaged Themyscira, little backlash felt by Earth, us left wondering if J.K. Simmons will ever get more than three minutes of screen time as Commissioner Gordon in any future DCEU film – even Wonder Woman is downgraded to “Possible Bruce Love Interest” in a way that makes no emotion, canonical or established sense beyond “Well, there HAS to be romantic tension, right?” Oh so f$@king wrong.
Marvel, with no bias intended, did things right by developing origin films before jumping into squad warfare. Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk – all released *before* The Avengers. Is this methodology the only correct path? Of course not. Yet after Man Of Steel, the DCEU jumped right into crossover property mash-ups with Dawn Of Justice and then Suicide Squad.
Characters were introduced like a toddler spilling his toy box onto the floor, picking up spandex-splashed subjects at random. Then comes Wonder Woman, which breaks form and tells a standalone story rich with history and individual personality – but then it’s right back to “REMEMBER THESE GUYS?!” with Justice League. The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg mere roster additions you know nothing about, with Terrio and Whedon doing little to catch you up. Familiarity is banked on, and the DCEU suffers for it.
Justice League, to me, is an open-world game of catch up. Marvel has finally reached their 60-character-plus-scale Infinity War, and the DCEU wants to keep pace. This means blazing through necessary contextualization and connection periods when hero introductions appear, shortchanging villainy and releasing films that could have used three more months to finish graphics rendering (seriously, dat Cyborg ugliness). This is hasty franchise building with a stress on all the wrong elements, ready to jump once outside pressures begin cascading in (DC, now with zingers and Danny Elfman reverting to Burtonesque musical accompaniment!). If you ask me? Wrong place and wrong time for Justice League – but here it is. A messy, pile-on siege film with a hyper-sensitive funny bone and no concept of balance now that dawn has transitioned to daylight.
Justice League is a sloppy team-up film that doesn't even take time to properly introduce pivotal members of its titular team, but when you're playing a dangerous (also ill-advised) game of catch up, these are the risks.