Watching Justice League is like getting a not-that-colourful lecture on everything wrong with the modern blockbuster. This Frankenstein’s monster of a movie has been cobbled together by two stylistically opposed directors, Dawn of Justice’s Zack Snyder and one-time Avengers helmer Joss Whedon, and brings together a team of superheroes, three of which are making their debut, to fight a bland CGI villain with a confusing mother(-box) complex. It’s a disaster of a movie that further cements the complete failure of DC’s attempt at a shared universe, so much so that the decision not to adhere to Marvel’s formula now feels pig-headed.
Nine months after Superman’s death, Batman (a lifeless Ben Affleck) has been investigating Lex Luthor’s claims that a great evil is coming. That evil is Steppenwolf, and his complete lack of any kind of personality or clear motivation other than to add to his box collection manages to make Jesse Eisenberg’s disastrous Lex Luthor look almost interesting by comparison. In order to fight this non-entity, Batman laboriously puts together a team of heroes. including the too-good-for-this-movie Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, to stop Steppenwolf from doing a CGI thing in a small town in Eastern Europe. Do you feel the high stakes? Is the tension palpable?
After a Suicide Squad’s clutch of dull introductory scenes, the team in Justice League comes together with a baffling lack of chemistry. Affleck’s Batman sleepwalks through proceedings when he’s not gurning his way through character quips, while Jason Mamoa’s once-promising Aquaman is nothing more than a bro who casually outs Batman’s secret identity to passing villagers (seriously, they used that scene to advertise this trainwreck). Ray Fisher puts in a strong performance as Cyborg that the movie barley cares about, and Ezra Miller’s Flash is left spouting Joss Whedon’s lame attempts at stand-up comedy (sample jokes include a Seinfield-esque “what’s the deal with brunch?” monologue). Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman fares slightly better, only because she’s had a film’s worth of characterisation before Justice League.
Flat performances and embarrassing attempts at humour aside, Justice League reveals the systemic problem that plagues the DCEU. Each new release feels like a course correction in reaction to the last. After the dismal Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad got mangled by reshoots to add more humour, and Justice League feels like a reaction, not just to the success of Wonder Woman, but the continuing success of Marvel. The result is a tonally chaotic film that, much like Whedon’s Age of Ultron, finds the supposed laughs undercutting the end-of-the-world peril.
On a technical level, things aren’t much better. Combined with Whedon’s reshoots, the overall budget of Justice League is near $300 million, so why does it look so terrible? The CGI, which features in nearly every scene, makes the movie look like a sub-par Playstation 2 tie-in game of itself. The action is borderline unwatchable and utterly forgettable, and none of our heroes get any memorable scenes that highlight their distinctive skill sets. The so-called Mother Boxes, where Steppenwolf’s Freudian obsession comes from, are MacGuffins right out of Michael Bay’s Transformers toolkit. The scenes in which he procures them, first by battling an Amazon army, then by fighting two Atlanteans, and third and dumbest of all, just picking it up from a car park, may be the movie’s worst offences. On second thought, it might be the Flash announcing “racial tension” during a scene shared with Cyborg, another attempt at what the movie passes off as humour.
Justice League proves once and or all that if a studio secures a release date, that’s when the film hits the theatres. More time, effort and hard work could have elevated this tripe but the studio knew it had to contend with this month’s Thor release, and it’s the fans that have paid the price once again. This damp squib of a team-up fails in every sense, with the only mercy being its shorter runtime. And I haven’t even mentioned Henry Cavil’s CGI-d upper lip.