JUSTICE LEAGUE: An Exhausting Eventuality

The Casting Is Right, The Filmmaking Is Wrong

It feels like an eventuality at this point, doesn’t it? Not to say that I’m not a willing participant in this endless barrage of superhero spectacle. I somehow find the time for every big new superhero film, after all. But this Justice League film has felt more like an obligation than anything else, even as Wonder Woman surprised and delighted us all. Marvel shows no signs of slowing as upwards of 3 titles were churned out in their MCU this year alone, and DC’s eventual gathering of the League simply had to happen.

It’s too bad that a gathering of heroes this potentially massive ends up feeling like a prescription, then, with a beleaguered and personally impacted Zack Snyder running the ship amidst tragedy in his own life. But prescribed it does feel.

Batman needs to assemble a team. Why? Because there’s a villainous DC IP gathering cubes or shooting beams into the sky… or both. Because he needs a team, he and Wonder Woman have to find some new recruits. Who should they recruit? Why, a few of the other most pre-determined IPs, damned if it makes any sense or not. An hour of recruitment and exposition and moving puzzle pieces around in a punishingly loud and busy first half set up an eventual team up that does actually breathe a little life into the film in a classic “too little, too late” kind of way.

Cubes and light beams in the sky aren’t scary. Or threatening. Or compelling. Neither is an armored GCI giant as voiced by Ciaran Hinds. Steppenwolf as the threat which unites our ragtag group of heroes is woefully underdeveloped and outright silly. At no point does one actually believe or have any investment in his plan for world domination through… cube power. And the fact that he looks ridiculous even further removes him from any sense of emotional connection because he’s a computer generated character without even a human face to connect with.

One might also consider it a blessing that WB apparently mandated a runtime of under two hours for this project. But even then you’d be at least partly mistaken. Sure, it’s great that viewers aren’t forced to invest 2.5 hours, but that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t feel bloated and disjointedly busy. Cramming 6 character arcs (three of which are making their big screen debuts here) into under two hours results in a machine gun edited case of cinematic whiplash that’s done no favors by being so outrageously ridiculous. Aquaman is a tough enough pill to swallow as a cool badass character who dwells in an underwater kingdom. Rapid fire force that down my throat while simultaneously reminding me of Amazon warriors and a Lord Of The Rings style ancient gathering of tribes who pushed back the forces of Steppenwolf once before and then shine Gotham’s bat signal into the air and it’s just really hard for the adult in me not to tune out.

Gathering all these characters together in one film is, of course, the whole point of a Justice League movie, however, and there are flashes of fun to be had. These are iconic characters, after all, and lots of money has been poured into this project. If they got anything right with the DC Universe so far, it’s the casting. The right actor in the right role can go a long way towards a successful finished film. It’s happened time and again, and will continue, despite the age of star driven vehicles being either past us or at least in hiatus as spectacular CGI replaces them. But on almost all counts, the actors fit their parts, and can’t be blamed for the shortcomings of Justice League. Ezra Miller as The Flash is the clear breakout here, injecting genuine laughs into a dour affair. Jason Momoa looks the part of a badass Aquaman, even if that whole thread comes off as patently ridiculous. Given some more, ahem, breathing room, I could see a compelling Aquaman movie being built around him. Newcomer Ray Fisher also does adequate work as Cyborg, though anyone would struggle being saddled with such a ridiculous and overly busy look as a CGI enhanced character. Gal Gadot simply radiates magic throughout the film, making you desperately wish you were just watching Wonder Woman 2 instead of this. Henry Cavill perhaps benefits the most from this storyline as Superman is able to be re-framed and hopefully sent forth into future films as the character we’ve always wanted him to be. Ben Affleck remains, if you ask me, perfect as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He looks and sounds the part in a way neither Keaton or Bale really ever did. I personally think he had more to do and got to be more “Batman-y” in Batman V Superman, but as the default leader of the Justice League here, he’s doing his best to hold this ship together.

It’s worth noting that the general audience I saw the film with seemed to flip for it. There were audible cheers, gasps, and rounds of applause. One entirely prescribed moment got a huge reaction, and a post-credits sequence had people crying out uncontrollably with excitement. I love witnessing that kind of thing. It makes me feel like Warner Brothers will probably be fine here, making an adequate amount of money for a juggernaut property while continuing to confound critics whose protestations that the movie is very bad will go unheeded by the general public. I’m fine with that. I hope the general public enjoys themselves. Me? I felt the pained sense of a blockbuster built by a committee, none of whom really knew what to do with this film. Many will balk at the concept of Zack Snyder as a visionary director. But at least he is A director. Just one guy with a plan. Snyder needing to drop out due to personal tragedy is indeed heartbreaking on a human level, and it left a void that studio heads (and Joss Whedon) were only too willing to enter into and muck about with, resulting in a rudderless film all about heroes who are supposed to be taking up the mantle and leading humanity with clarity and unity.

And I’m Out.

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