Warning: this review contains information about the plot of Justice League and therefore potential SPOILERS follow.
What is ‘Justice League’?
Continuing the story following the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League concerns itself with bringing together a team of superheroes to battle an ancient foe. Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead, and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is the man responsible for assembling this league of powered-up metahumans to fight alongside his Caped Crusader. With Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) at his side, together they recruit Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to join the party as they try to prevent the annihilation of the world.
All (Bad) Jokes and Ending
When the best thing about your superhero movie is a whiney, excitable, phobia-ridden daddy’s boy, you’ve got problems. The Flash is written to provide the bulk of the humour in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. He’s one long, thinly stretched gag to writing duo Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio, a character whose every line is designed to be a ‘joke’ but who toys with the definition of the word. At least he’s consistent, though, in a weird, unbalanced comic-book movie that has no beginning or middle, just an end. And, my goodness, you’ll want it to end.
Following the dour and downbeat Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Snyder and his team of writers have attempted to inject a sense of fun into the DC Extended Universe with Justice League but what they’ve created is a film that feels uncomfortable with itself. The comedy is an odd mix of misplaced one-liners, ill-judged team ‘bantz’ (why do they all seem to dislike one another so much?), music-hall style farce, and even parody. It’s all over the place tonally, as it tells its super-thin story revolving around big bad Steppenwolf, who is uber-serious, two-dimensional and leaves nothing to the imagination.
Objectification and a Bad Villain
And by that, we don’t mean that Steppenwolf strips off. We certainly don’t get THAT. Not in a film that takes every opportunity to leer through the lens at its main female character. We’re talking Wonder Woman, of course. Butt and cleavage shots are par for the course, and the film even has its male characters intent on objectifying her. A couple of shots of Aquaman and Superman with their tops off is enough to even the balance in Snyder’s eyes, or so it seems.
But back to Steppenwolf. We know his MO from the outset and he feels curiously devoid of any palpable sense of threat. Created using CGI, Steppenwolf is the product of a motion capture performance from Ciarán Hinds that was apparently done in isolation, with no interaction with the rest of the cast. Steppenwolf gets a lot of screen time from beginning to end in Justice League, and, boy, can you tell he wasn’t ever in the same room. There’s no playing off one another and a tiresome sense of disconnection prevails. It’s like he’s been cut and pasted into the film. Badly. This guy is seriously clumsy looking.
It’s also worth pointing out that it’s difficult to comprehend what he’s saying at times – and there’s a Darkseid reference that is extremely easy to miss. This needs to be heard, surely.
While we’re on the subject of CGI, special mention has to go to that digitally removed ‘tache. To fill you in, Henry Cavill, who plays Superman, had to complete Justice League re-shoots while concurrently shooting Mission: Impossible 6, for which he was contractually obliged to keep the moustache he’d grown for the role. CGI has come a long way, and keeps getting better. So why does it look like they’ve deleted his upper lip fuzz using the crude erase function on a selfie app? Honestly, they’ve given Supe’s top lip a life of its own. Perhaps something untoward happens when you come back from the beyond. Like Barry Allen, aka The Flash, we’ve seen Pet Sematary…
Anyway, for those who’ve criticised any footage previously seen of Cyborg, let me tell you he’s actually the best-looking thing about this film in terms of effects. Sure, he’s got his dodgy moments, but STEPPENWOLF.
Oh no. Now we’re back to Steppenwolf. Without spoiling things for those of you still interested in maintaining the surprise, we need to talk about this villain. Again. Specifically, how he gets his hands on the final piece of the puzzle for putting his plan into action. Not going into detail here but, Jeez. It’s ridiculous. Let’s just say, the thing Batman and the rest of the team have been fiercely protecting? Yeah, they get distracted. Experienced professionals were paid lots of money to write this stuff.
The Weirdest Scene
The ‘most bizarre scene’ accolade, though, is actually reserved for a moment between Superman and Amy Adams’s Lois Lane. If you’re thinking “But Superman is dead, isn’t he?” you’re right. He definitely died at the end of Batman v Superman. But in the world of comic books and their movie counterparts, nobody is ever really dead. It’s not really spoiling things by telling you he is brought back to life in Justice League. We just won’t go into how here.
Anyway, Lois and Supe are reconnecting after seeing each other for the first time since he died. It should be a touching moment. It’s presented as such. He’s whipped her away from the surrounding chaos. There’s soft music, and Amy Adams is doing her best to convey a romantic air. She’s being loving, soppy even and looking at him with doe eyes.
“You brought us here?” she says breathily. “You remembered.”
“This is home,” he says.
The next thing she says to him — “You smell nice” – is odd. But even more bizarre is his deadpan response: “Did I not before?” The music and tone are so at odds with this comment, it catches you off guard. It’s clearly a quip meant for laughs but it’s so incongruous it makes you squirm.
She then asks him what it was like, coming back. He replies, “Itchy.” The whole scene becomes almost parody — but spoof Justice League is not. Indeed, parody has no place in this film. It’s a DCEU movie, not a Wayans-style superhero send-up.
Post-Credits Sequence Offers Hope
The closing lines of this review are fittingly reserved for the film’s bipolar ending. On the one hand, the final battle against the villain is unsatisfying — one of many times our heroes have gone head to head with Steppenwolf through the film and one which sees him defeated, but only for now.
However, if you see Justice League’s final post-credits sequence as the film’s true ending, it mystifyingly makes you all but salivate in anticipation of what comes next. To come through the other side of a film like this and feel that? That’s interesting. And who knows? Though Justice League may be a write-off and other DCEU films have received wildly oscillating receptions from both fans and critics, Wonder Woman was a great film that was well-received and also made a huge dent at the box office. Which means there’s definitely hope for the franchise going forward.
Is Justice League Good?
Easily the worst film in the DCEU, arguably on a par with Suicide Squad, it’s confounding how this band of high-profile professionals made a movie so bad. Trouble behind the scenes or not, humour feels forced and frequently misplaced, CGI is woefully realised, and the thin plot unravels unevenly, leaving the film feeling unbalanced. And let’s not get back on the subject of Steppenwolf. You’ll cringe as you watch before coming to the conclusion that Justice League is a bit of an embarrassment for all involved.