“Justice League” is the fifth installment of the DC Extended Universe and is the first time the titular team, consisting of Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Superman, Aquaman and Cyborg, is depicted together on the big screen. The film stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher, with Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons and Ciarán Hinds in supporting roles. Zack Snyder directs (technically, but more on that in a minute).
The DCEU has been a mixed bag for most people. “Man of Steel” is fine but not very good. I am a defender of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (and the Ultimate Edition is genuinely great). “Suicide Squad” is barely a movie. And, as with most everyone’s list, “Wonder Woman” is the best (until it isn’t). Needless to say, as a Batman fanboy and fan of two of the three past films of the series, I was looking forward to “Justice League.” And it absolutely crushed me.
The one thing that works here is the cast. As with “BvS” and her own film this past June, Gal Gadot is the charming glue that holds scenes together and manages to look incredibly stunning even when she is busy kicking butt. Ezra Miller steals the show as the comic relief Flash, even if some of his jokes fall flat and others are out of place. Ben Affleck is serviceable as Batman but it’s a step down from his feature debut and even “Suicide Squad” cameos. Oh, and after an awkward re-introduction, this gives us the best and most cheerful Superman portrayal by Henry Cavill of this universe (I refuse to take part in Warner Bros.’ charade that Superman is dead; the man is second billing in the cast list).
I enjoyed Ray Fisher as the emotionally conflicted Cyborg and Jason Momoa is *fine* as Aquaman. Just like with every other DCEU film, the cast and characters are not what the problem is.
One of the things people complained about “Batman v Superman” is that it is too dark—both visually and tonally—but for me that was fine. Zack Snyder had a clear vision and if the director’s cut is any indication, if the studio had not mangled his work then it could have been something great.
With “Justice League,” Warner Bros. demanded a runtime of 120 minutes (the previous DCEU films all run around 150). This is dumb and damning because it limits artists like Snyder and forces rushed exposition. Which is this film’s biggest flaw.
If you know nothing about the comics, this film is going to be practically incoherent to you. The villain, Steppenwolf, comes to Earth to find Mother Boxes. What are they? Why does he want them? Where is he from? I know the answers but I’m a nerd; most moviegoers have better ways they spend their time than obsessing over comic lore.
Speaking of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), he is such a lame villain, made purely out of CGI, that it makes the Marvel list of bad guys look like Heath Ledger’s Joker. You’re never intimidated and half the time you’re laughing. Which is also how the first ten minutes of the film are spent after a baffling Batman sequence followed by a cover of the Leonard Cohen song “Everybody Knows” playing over the credits.
I had to hold back giggles and cringing.
I haven’t even gotten to the post-production drama involved here. Zack Snyder and his wife Deborah (also a producer here) left the project in May following the death of their daughter and Joss Whedon, writer/director of the “Avengers” films, was hired to watch over reshoots. He added his normal quippy banter and it’s a mixed bag; sometimes the lines are hilarious and other times they’re awkwardly out of place.
This feels like the safest movie of Zack Snyder’s career, and I feel bad for him. He clearly got an ear-full after “Batman v Superman” so he tried to make a colorful, basic studio superhero film and it just doesn’t work. He is an ambitious director, not a narratively sound one, and the whole film feels like a checklist of things that we have to see the team do.
And of course, as with every single DCEU film before it, the climax takes place in a wasteland and features the heroes getting into a CGI disaster porn throwdown with the villain. It gets boring real quick.
“Justice League” is a letdown of massive, almost unprecedented proportions. Say what you will about “Batman v Superman” but at least that film had ambition and goals; this is just aimless and ugly. I would love to see standalone pictures for all these heroes under different directors than Snyder because, while I feel for him both for his personal loss and because the studio was breathing down his neck, this franchise just needs new blood at the helm (*cough* Patty Jenkins or Joss Whedon).
Critics Rating: 4/10