By Liv Armstrong (@starcadet96)
DC seemed to be on a bit of a winning streak for a while. Despite the DCEU getting off a rocky start with critics and audiences with the likes of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, their reputation seemed to be on the up. With the Lego Batman movie being both a hilarious parody and a surprisingly genuine good Batman movie and Wonder Woman defying everyone’s expectations with the talent of Patty Jenkins as director and a much brighter, optimistic tone as well as better writing, many were cautious yet optimistic when the trailers for Justice League were released. After all, DC had been doing pretty well. Would they keep up the streak or take a giant step backwards?
A giant step backwards.
There are so many articles and reports online detailing the troubled and rushed production of this film and to say it shows onscreen is a gross understatement. It serves as a directing collaboration between Zack Snyder (who had to leave the project for personal reasons) and Joss Whedon, who took over direction in his place. The result feels like two halves of an incomplete whole, battling between over-editing and exposition combined with humour that comes as thoroughly stale at this stage for comic book movies and a group of heroes with so little chemistry, you’d prefer watching grass grow. Which results in a final identity as a bland, over-edited pile of nothing that eats up two hours of your life that you could’ve spent doing something else.
For as much as both critics and myself have criticised Snyder in the past, I’ll be the first to admit he does have a genuine amount of visual talent. He has done a lot of work in his early career with music videos and it shows in the majority of his films. But a lot of that style just doesn’t transfer very well to these films – the overuse of slow and fast-motion would look impressive in a three-minute MV (which the opening credits scene closely resembles) but becomes extremely distracting in a two-hour film when it happens every five minutes, even in scenes that aren’t action scenes.
It doesn’t help that the CGI used is some of the worst ever seen in the DCEU. Some of it is so bad, it’s actively distracting. The entire internet has made its jokes about the digital removal of Henry Cavill’s moustache and while it doesn’t look too bad from a distance or when his face is neutral, every time he smiles it looks like his entire top lip has morphed into his nose. It’s fairly jarring at best and unintentionally hilarious when he has a zoom-in confrontation with Batman after being resurrected by the Justice League (because he’s a metaphor for Jesus. Get it? GET IT?!) with one of the three glowing Rubix cubes that serve as the MacGuffin for the movie.
The main villain Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) wants these three boxes for evil reasons that include destroying the earth. Aside from the fact that he looks like a terrible D&D character, that is all you need to know about him. This film also serves as the official introductions of Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa), The Flash (played by Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (played by Ray Fisher). While some of them had made cameos in previous DCEU films, this film serves as their official debuts and yet the film itself seems bizarrely uninterested in them. We learn almost nothing about them personality-wise and the bits of backstory we get are all shoved in to be awkwardly explained by other characters, so much so that Cyborg’s entire conflict with his father is dropped in the first third, as if even the film itself just gave up on it.
The saddest thing about this film is its waste of a genuinely talented cast. Aside from Henry Cavill’s Superman, whose acting range is still on par with a soggy piece of toast, the rest of the cast fit their roles rather well but are given almost no good material to work with. Most of their dialogue consists of either clunky exposition or awkward humour. The only actor who comes out of it fairly well is Ezra Miller as The Flash, as he’s mostly relegated to comic relief and manages to walk the line between funny and annoying fairly well without crossing it.
Gal Gadot has made her mark as a great Wonder Woman in her solo movie but here, she is woefully underused and it’s easy to tell where Joss Whedon’s influence rears it’s ugly head when it features not one, but two of the male main characters drooling over her, including a scene where The Flash ends up on top of her and face-planting into her breasts (which bears an eerie resemblance to a similar scene in Age of Ultron between Black Widow and Bruce Banner). Also, the Amazon’s new costumes are terrible. I won’t dwell on that too much as many on the internet have already expressed their opinions clearly but seriously, they suck.
Ben Affleck’s Batman stands out for being arguably the most useless character in the entire movie, as the grand majority of what he does consists of brief action scenes (that are rendered so badly they look like trailers for the Arkham video games), brooding to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) and asking people to fight with him. Despite having probably the most screen time of the whole group, the focus on him is so minimal he might as well not be there.
By the time the final act drags its heels to a stop, it becomes actively difficult to stay invested when Superman finally appears at the end and basically solves the whole problem himself (which begs the question, what is even the point of the Justice League if Superman is so much more powerful than any of them? And more importantly, what reason do we have to care?).
So, how does Justice League rank in the current string of DC movie blunders? It’s hard to say. Whereas Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were miserable yet reasonably competent films and Suicide Squad sets out to assault as many of your senses as possible, the biggest crime of Justice League is how it leaves little to no impact. It feels like watching two hours of explosion-y nothing. Aside from an occasional giggle at the awful effects and one or two lines that work (The Flash asks what powers Batman has. He responds with “I’m rich.” I’ll admit that gets a laugh), there’s almost no reason to see it. It doesn’t feel big, it’s not exciting and it just feels a fart in an elevator – it happens, it’s mildly unpleasant but you forget about it five minutes later.