Justice League (2017)
Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon
Directed by Zack Snyder (with reshoots by Joss Whedon)
Superman is dead, and the world is awful. A bad guy who looks lifted from a video game shows up looking for three MacGuffins, so Batman goes around to some people and asks them for help. They get together and punch stuff really hard, fight hordes of enemies that look suspiciously just like the enemies in The Avengers, and win. All the while other movies are set up without actually making sure this one is good.
It won’t surprise you that I don’t like this movie. Zack Snyder and his particular take on the DC Universe is just one of the most disappointing and god-awful things I’ve watched in awhile. While Justice League is not as terrible as Batman v Superman, it feels so incredibly generic and bland. I didn’t believe it when I saw the film was under two hours because it drags badly.
There is a very transparent attempt to “course correct” based on feedback from the previous films, but it feels too little, too late. Wonder Woman is introduced in an action sequence that feels wholly disconnected from the rest of the film, which I suspect was a reshoot in response to how well her solo movie did at the box office. The rest of the film feels very much anchored by Ben Affleck’s mumbly, dull portrayal of Batman. By the end, it’s hinted that Wonder Woman may take the leadership position, but once again I think that is a corporate add on to the picture. I still stand by my opinion that Wonder Woman is just an okay movie that looked better than it was in juxtaposition to the garbage Zack Snyder made. Justice League does an excellent job of highlighting the fact that Gal Gadot alone was not the critical factor in why Wonder Woman was slightly better than the rest of these films. The filmmakers of Wonder Woman were a key component to its success.
The three other members of the League are a mix of problems as well. I think Ezra Miller is a fine actor, I really like his early films Afterschool and We Need To Talk About Kevin. But in Justice League, he is directed to play such a gratingly annoying comedy relief character, a portrayal that doesn’t really mesh with the role of Barry Allen. He is mostly this film’s answer to Peter Parker. He’s Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory with super speed and I couldn’t think of a worse way to give us our first big screen Flash. Jason Momoa as Aquaman is a brick wall of stupid. His line delivery is shockingly bad and the decision to have Aquaman be a dudebro is dumb. I get that DC execs are trying to make him their version of Thor, but I believe Wonder Woman has more of the elements in place to be the God Come to Earth character. Then we have Ray Fisher as Cyborg, the role that should have been the focus of this film as his origins tie directly to the MacGuffins. Instead, he is wasted, so I guess we’ll see more of him in the Justice League sequel or his solo film scheduled for 2020 that has no script or no director attached.
In the supporting roles, we have an assortment of otherwise decent or great actors given nothing to do. I guess the paycheck helps buy a new vacation house or pay off some debt or something. Amy Adams reprises her role of Lois Lane, which is still one of the vast wastes of cinema. You can look back and see what Margot Kidder did with the part in Superman and Superman II, and now we have an actress of a superb caliber and she is given nothing but shit to work with, barely any role at all. I have never bought her relationship with Henry Cavill once and she feels like an archaic damsel in distress. Instead of having Batman using Luthor’s files to bring together the League, I think a more exciting turn would have been Lois (you know an investigative reporter who discovered Superman) finding out about these other superbeings. In the wake of Superman’s death, she pushes Batman to help her find them all to save the Earth because the man she loved isn’t here to do it. Diane Lane is wasted again as Martha Kent. Joining her on the bench are Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, and Billy Crudup as they are featured for the sole purpose of having them in other movies, I guess?
The most significant problem of them all is Henry Cavill, the worst cast Superman of all-time. First, the Death of Superman storyline is completely wasted as he is only dead for about an hour of onscreen time. Batman says they should toss a MacGuffin in some water from Krypton and dump Superman’s corpse in it, cause it might bring him back. It does the film has its only exciting scene, a confused and amnesic Superman fighting the Justice League. This should have been a movie on its own: A mindless resurrected Superman under the thrall of a villain pitted against the newly formed League. There was also the issue of reshoots, the intent of which I believe was to add some levity and personality to the film, and this involved dealing with Henry Cavill’s mustache. He refused to shave his mustache which he grew for another role and apparently any clauses in his contract about this matter didn’t exist. So rather than shave and then wear a fake mustache which would have cost a few bucks we have some of the most Uncanny Valley CGI on his face that makes his upper lip look like jelly. The first scene of the film is a cellphone camera video that prominently features this ugly blight. So right away, the audience is distracted.
There is a very transparent attempt to make him an actually likable character, which for me is just way too late. Zack Snyder spends two previous films showing us Superman as an incredibly dour and moody figure, seemingly annoyed with saving people. Now he is a few ticks closer to the Christopher Reeve portrayal, but could never live up to it. Poor Danny Elfman, the composer, manages to squeeze in the classic John Williams theme (as well as his own for Batman) in some moments but it felt so clear what Warner Brothers is attempting to do. They let Snyder drive this iteration of their films into such dark, unpleasant territory that they are trying to quickly shift tones. But it just doesn’t mesh with what has come before. They bet all their chips on a poor mimic of what Christopher Nolan did alright with his Dark Knight trilogy and are now realizing that this is not fun for the audience. There is so much more that could be said about this mess of a film. Its flaws are made even more blatant being released so close to Thor: Ragnarok, a movie whose humor and heroics are many fold better. But Justice League is a film that really isn’t worth more thought, your time, or your money.