Justice League [Review by Haus]
Kids these days are so darned ungrateful, and I’m about to be one of them: Sure, DC’s Justice League assembles popular actors to play well-loved childhood heroes; sure, it’s full of slow-mo fights and splashy, big-dollar effects; and sure, it’s directed mostly by Duke-of-Nerds Zack Snyder (tag-teaming with Nerd-Prince Joss Whedon). But sigh and yawn and whip out the iPhone, because it’s just not enough to entertain me. Or, probably, you.
Which will come as a big blow, because Justice League was meant to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers: Namely, a grand cinematic vehicle uniting everyone’s favorite heroes in a colossal fight to save the planet. And while it ostensibly is this, Marvel can rest easy: Justice League is a thematic muddle, an also-ran with an irrelevant and ho-hum villain, no clear character arcs, a hodge-podge of action scenes, and a mad tangle of secret backstory weighing it down.
Problem the first: To understand what’s going on in Justice League, you really need to have seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — which, to be clear, is something no one should have to do. (For DC even to suggest that anyone ingest that gloomy, overlong Nutraloaf of a film falls one step shy of a war crime.) Too long; didn’t watch: Superman died in that one.
Moving on, Justice League assembles a team of heroes, including Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. Three of these characters haven’t had their own movies yet. This is a bit awkward, since this will be many people’s first exposure to, say, Aquaman. And instead of divulging any real backstory, Aquaman (Jason Momoa, beefy) just skulks around like some sleeved, diesel hobo, complaining and being gruff. (Perhaps because he’s rarely underwater.) Ben Affleck’s Batman comes off less as the Dark Knight we know and more like a sideshow, a sort of ersatz Tony Stark rendered in shades of grey. Wonder Woman is here (Gal Gadot, fabulous as usual, but hamstrung by crummy dialogue and not enough to do), as is Flash (Ezra Miller, quippy and clearly forcing an attempt at Guardians-style levity), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher, whose storyline could’ve been quite interesting if it was at all explored). Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard and others also appear. Of the five core heroes, at least two are not yet well known.
Of course, a cast of unknowns does not a bad film make: See, for example, the original Guardians of the Galaxy. But here, DC heroes battle a villain so bland as to be instantly forgettable: a CGI-crafted, lumbering, doomsday-style, wants-to-destroy-the-universe, comes-from-outer-space, fire-and-brimstone, hellfire-spreading horned demonic mish-mash you’ve seen a dozen times before. Really? This is the best they can do? Whatever happened to superheroes fighting crime, anyway?
Senseless and arbitrary physics rules mean there’s pretty much nothing at stake in this movie. If you don’t understand what hurts the bad guy — never mind what could hurt most of the protagonists — it’s hard to be invested. There’s an accordant lack of tension and risk. Nothing matters, because nothing hurts anyone — save of course for Batman, the lone standard bearer for humans without “powers.”
Other misses abound. Lip service is paid here to notions of teamwork and camaraderie, but these B-players barely know one another. Despite much talk of doomsday, virtually no civilians seem visibly threatened (or much disturbed) by the paint-by-numbers villain. (Although this is perhaps a tiptoe reaction to complaints following Man of Steel that by leveling various downtowns Superman had ostensibly killed thousands of innocent people.)
It all seems very thrown together. Admittedly they did swap directors mid-stream, but for all the high-dollar planning and execution in DC’s crowded kitchen, it’s really sort of surprising that this was pushed out the nozzle.
All that said, Justice League is still worlds better than Batman v. Superman, or even Suicide Squad. If you liked those, you’ll find something to like here, too. But if you’re hoping for Wonder Woman 2, or the smart fun of the recent Marvel outings, you’ll be disappointed. Whether this film is worth seeing, then, depends very much on you.
Haus Verdict: DC’s pseudo-Avengers somehow manages to seem slipshod. Better than it could have been, but nowhere near what it ought to be.
Justice League opens today, Friday November 17.