After months of rumours and reshoots and directorial replacements and CGI-shaved moustaches, Justice League is finally here. Given that comic book nerds have craved this movie for generations, it’s amazing how little fanfare surrounds the release. It’s clear everyone involved isn’t pleased with how this turned out, often even deriding the state of Warner Brothers’ hastily commissioned DC cinematic universe during promotional interviews. So it comes as no surprise to see that the movie is a mess and a disappointment. There’s a chance that Zack Snyder once had a plan for a decent Justice League movie to follow up Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, movies that despite glaring flaws at least had a consistent style and vision. Whatever Justice League movie was once intended is lost, aside from the sweeping action scenes that were clearly worked on from the beginning of production. In between is a muddled movie that has so clearly gone through so many rewrites and so much rethinking that it barely even feels like a movie anymore. It’s more of a collection of scenes featuring iconic superheroes begging audiences to like at least a few moments so that the producers have some semblance of where to take their troubled superhero universe next. Well, what they really need to do is actually think through a DC blockbuster before shooting it. There’s an idea, huh?
I suppose there is a plot to the movie. It certainly moves as if there is a story. There’s a generic demonic villain from space searching for magic mechanical boxes that’ll make sense to people who know the Steppenwolf/Darkseid mythology from the comics but will confuse the hell out of everyone else. Regardless, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) figure out that the world is in danger around the same time. They wish they hadn’t watched Superman die in the last movie so that they can form a superteam, but fortunately old Bats kept tabs on a few other potential Superfriends. There’s Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) who is an ancient warrior or whatever. Batman finds him in a bar that conveniently has his origin story painted on the wall. So that helps. The Flash (Ezra Miller) is wisecracking kid with a costume and powers, so he’s ready to go without much pesky characterization. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) eventually finds everyone else. It’s unclear who he is as a hero or why he’s on the team, likely because he was only shoved into Justice League as a corporate decision after that Green Lantern movie failed. They don’t want to be a team at first, but Steppenwolf’s shenanigans prove that they have to be one. Ho-hum. Plus, Superman rises from the grave to unite the team, which would be a spoiler were it not for the fact that WB announced he’d be in the movie before Batman v Superman revealed that he died. Good thinking there, folks.
So, the plotting of Justice League is perfunctory at best and useless at worse. Presumably there was some sort of brooding “what does it mean to be a hero” subtext to Snyder’s initial vision for the project, but that’s long gone. In its place are a bunch of hastily compiled hero shots of characters begging you to like them enough to star in their own movies (plus Cyborg, who is just kind of there). Jason Mamoa and Ezra Miller don’t get enough screen time to show depth, but at least create amusing enough presences to suggest that they could carry a decent solo super blockbuster if anyone bothered to write them a script. Gal Gadot is predictably strong as Wonder Woman, it’s just tough to tell how much of that is the result of good will carried over from her excellent summer blockbuster since in this film she does little other than strike heroic poses. Ben Affleck seems completely disinterested as he shrugs off a series of wisecracks in search of a performance. There’s an intriguing story to be told here about his aging human hero feeling increasingly irrelevant while surrounded by a super-powered support system, but the movie is too concerned with cracking quips and one-liners to delve into it. Affleck barely feels present, which is a shame given that he was one of the best parts of the troubled Batman v Superman. Other popular DC heroes and villains pop up in cameo roles for fan service, but are barely worth discussing given that they are there purely to pander.
Is there a charm to seeing the Justice League unite on the big screen for the first time? Well sure, it’s just a shame that no one came up with a decent reason for it to happen. Without the groundwork laid in solo origin outings like there was for The Avengers, everyone feels like they are making cameos in their own movie with little to do and less to care about. It certainly doesn’t help that the movie lurches awkwardly between the bad one-liners of the initial script and crammed-in Joss Whedon-isms that feel like another movie. It’s hard to think of another blockbuster that is so clearly the result of competing directors vying for control. The Snyder stuff is either rushed or big boom-boom (which he admittedly does well), while Whedon sneaks in quips and characterizations in hastily shot scenes that often look awkwardly cheap despite this being one of the most expensive movies ever made. It’s clear that the only thing remaining from the initial vision for this movie are the action scenes and basic structure, while everything else has been reshot and rethought so many times that it barely feels like a movie and more like a feature length work of crowd-sourcing begging for positive blogs about certain scenes so that the producers know where to take the franchise in the future. Even the special effects get rough in the reshot footage that clearly didn’t get the necessary care. Cyborg’s CGI suit varies wildly in quality from scene-to-scene and Henry Cavil’s CGI moustache shave job should inspire giggles. For such a massive and expensive movie, Justice League sure can look half assed and cheap at times.
Yet, while Justice League is an absolute mess that’s filled with flaws, it’s not completely irredeemable. The core characters are too good to be devoid of interest throughout the running time and the spectacle that the effects houses had enough time to work on shine brightly on the big screen. There are moments that suggest better movies for these characters that could still be made amidst all of the rubble and failure. If nothing else, the movie panders so desperately to all the comic book fan boys and girls out there that some scenes register. There’s certainly affection for the Justice League characters on display, even if no one involved with the movie could decide on a consistent way to present them. Justice League will certainly be discussed often by superhero loving nerds in the years to come, just not necessarily in ways that Warner Brothers will be happy about.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil’s take on Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!
Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!
CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!