Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons
Runtime: 120 Minutes
Reviewing Justice League was always going to be an interesting and tricky challenge. Less of a film production in any traditional sense of the word, and more of a salvage operation by a major movie studio to make something even vaguely releasable given the myriad circumstances surrounding its arduous journey to the screen.
Initially envisioned as a two-part feature whittled down to one, production began before the response to last year’s calamitous Batman v Superman had sunk in. This was further complicated by extensive and ongoing rewrites and reshoots, the hiring of Joss Whedon to alter the tone of the film and the departure of original helmsman Zack Snyder under some truly devastating personal circumstances.
The resultant film doesn’t even feel like something either finished or ready for official release; with inconstant CGI, changeable characterisations, tonal fluctuations and narrative threads left all over the place which spells out larger than words could have described the absolute chaos that this entire enterprise must have been to try and complete. Sadly, despite good intentions from the cast and crew involved, the Justice League movie is a complete and utter shit show.
The only thing that could have been hoped is that it couldn’t be worse than Batman v Superman – Warner Bros. would have to try incredibly hard to make a blockbuster that bad again anytime soon – but the mangled structure of the whole thing and the variable way in which it all plays out leaves it only about as watchable as Suicide Squad at best.
At a slim 2-hour runtime – as mandated by Warner Bros. heads – the film feels hacked of any deeper thematic or narrative function, with a majority of any significant character backstory sacrificed for forced witty banter and action scenes. Much of the rewritten exchanges sound distinctly like Whedon’s work, and while it is serviceable it doesn’t match at all with those that belong to Snyder and original writer Chris Terrio.
It’s a film at war with itself over what exactly it wants to be beyond a solidifying statement of intention for the future of the franchise (again). It wants to appeal to a wider crowd by acting more like a Marvel Studios feature, but it feels far out of step with its already established worldview beyond Wonder Woman – the dissonance is clear in the fact that characters refer to the events of the previous movies like they saw something entirely different to audiences.
What we’ve got instead of an expansive and converging display of labours is a watered-down effort that pits the newly formed group of ostensible misfits against Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his army of Parademons who are here on a MacGuffin hunt for the Mother Boxes. It’s the most used and uninspired superhero narrative available, and despite his extensive setup Steppenwolf is a tedious villain with little personality rendered with some awful looking digital effects.
The cast of newcomers are hastily introduced to us (in some cases twice) and they’re all a mix of tropes and clichés. Ezra Miller is almost good as Barry Allen/The Flash, with a glimmer of cut backstory, but his costume is as hideously overdesigned as everyone else’s in the vein of practicality and his comedy schtick as the excitable fanboy of the group gets tiresome quickly. Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry/Aquaman is a travesty of design and execution, who looks like a walking collection of dated ‘cool’ imagery and 90s catchphrases that he screams such as “My Man!” and “Alright!”, with Momoa’s limited range only making him even less interesting. Newcomer Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg is worst of all though. Fisher is trying but his look is visually aggressive and dull, and his backstory nearly completely absent despite his significance to the plot making him a literal character MacGuffin.
Once again, the only thing close to fun is Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Seeing her on screen makes sitting through the whole thing almost worth it, and a key action sequence involving her home island of Themyscira and her Amazonian sisters is easily the standout besides its throwaway nature. Poor, lumbering Ben Affleck solemnly resigns himself to complacency as a dour and soul-sucking presence who clearly wants out of the DCEU. Even with the drastic re-characterisation that has been handed to him, his performance is the all-consuming black hole that takes the entire film with him as he is positioned as the main character.
But in terms of radical re-characterisation, Superman (Henry Cavill) comes across most jarring of all. Without stepping into spoiler territory (the marketing has been insistent in letting us know that he’s definitely dead regardless of Cavill’s prominent casting credit), his reintroduction into the narrative is stiflingly dumb and contrived, and its follow through feels like a ploy to rewrite the entire morbid figure who has been occupying these films as the apparent figure of ultimate good. Even the nakedly manipulative cues of John Williams’ original score are wheeled out to muster up an emotional reaction from audiences that feels totally disembodied from the final product.
Even with the half-hearted quality of the narrative and the complete lack of anything deeper or more interesting going on beyond simply delivering a film that happens to feature characters resembling comic book heroes, the film is staggeringly ugly to look at. Re-coloured and brightened up in post-production, the imagery falls into a blur of unconvincing set pieces that feel as empty as the backdrops with very few extras on hand despite its world-shaking storyline. The altering of the image only serves to show how fake costuming and props can look under the wrong lighting conditions.
It’s taken years for Warner Bros. to get this off the ground in some form, but this really isn’t the Justice League film that anyone deserves. Complacent, compromised, shallow and lazy, beyond the formless moments of minor thrill to be had at Snyder’s typical imagery and posing there is just nothing to be had or gained by watching its indestructible characters bounce off the scenery.