Let’s just get right down to it, shall we? You won’t have to dig too deep to find that I’m not exactly a fan of what’s been dubbed the D.C. Extended Universe. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (yes, it really had that ridiculous title) and Suicide Squad were epic failures in every regard except their box office receipts. In the wake of those grim and incompetent disasters came a ray of light in Wonder Woman, a smash hit in every regard that won over audiences and critics alike. Maybe there would be hope for the rest of the DCEU. Now comes the time where the DCEU is supposed to deliver its version of The Avengers with Justice League; not because the previous films have established the character dynamics that will clash in the ultimate team-up film, but because the studio claimed the release date years ago and moving the film back would be a sign of weakness.
Justice League isn’t a soul-crushing experience like Batman v Superman nor is it moronically incompetent like Suicide Squad. While the film can hurdle the low bar set by those two entries, it’s a massive step back from the goodwill acquired by Wonder Woman. Director Zack Snyder’s film was in production before the critical savaging of BvS took place and it would be tinkered and retooled while in production and post-production. Snyder was forced to step away from the film due to a horrible family tragedy and Avengers director Joss Whedon came on board to oversee reshoots and rewrites. But Justice League was too far gone to be salvaged by anyone.
Here’s a rundown of the good, the bad, and ugly of Justice League:
Most of the cast: Gal Gadot, of course, steps right back into the role of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince without missing a beat from her solo adventure. While certain members of the Justice League were teased in a YouTube video in BvS, this would be the chance for many of these characters to shine for the first time. Of these new characters to this cinematic world, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s Flash are the standouts. These characters aren’t provided with much depth, though, and that’s due to the tight time constraints within the film that has to assemble the team of superheroes and establish a threat. These two standout characters are given some of the film’s more effective quips and I’d happily see either actor reprise their roles in a far less sloppy film. Ray Fisher isn’t given as much of a chance to shine as Cyborg, but the young actor does his best with the material provided.
Superman: “Wait, Superman is in this? Didn’t he die in the last movie,” asked absolutely nobody. Of course the Man of Steel would be resurrected in Justice League. Finally, in the character’s third go around with Henry Cavill, they finally nailed a heroic, optimistic Superman. Gone is the dour nihilism that was pervasive in the character in Snyder’s previous two films. Superman is genuinely heroic this time around and it’s a genuine shame that he’s not in the film more because of the misguided idea to kill the character in BvS.
Ben Affleck: The actor hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to hide the fact that he’s not exactly thrilled with the direction of the DCEU. There’s no greater evidence in Affleck’s disinterest in the role and the larger cinematic universe than his sleepwalking performance in Justice League. Not only does the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne seem to pull back from his leadership role in assembling the team, it seems as if Affleck is just stepping back from being front and center in the expansive franchise, cedeing the leadership role to the much more popular and effective Gal Gadot.
Steppenwolf: Superhero movies, whether they’re Marvel or DC, often have a problem crafting compelling villains. Most of the effort in these movies is placed on the heroes, and it’s a formula that works for the most part. However, Steppenwolf (a CGI creation voiced by Ciarán Hinds) represents the nadir of supervillains on the screen. This is an entirely forgettable creation who has absolutely no real motivation than the destruction of Earth for reasons that never make a lick of sense. Steppenwolf must acquire three magical cubes called the Motherbox in order to bring about his nefarious and obfuscated plan.
Supporting characters: Amy Adams is one of the best actresses of her generation and yet she’s been saddled with the worst Lois Lane possibly in history. Here she appears in a handful of scenes once again forced to recite deadened and obvious dialogue. At one point, Batman uses Lois Lane as a prop to distract the resurrected Superman. It’s a real bummer that Amy Adams and Diane Lane as Martha Kent are incredibly minor players in the film who seem to have only been included into the film out of a contractual obligation.
J.K. Simmons was cast as Batman’s ally in the Gotham Police Department, Commissioner Gordon, and the Oscar-winning actor is rewarded with about 90 seconds of screen time. He’s not the only sidelined character in Justice League, Jeremy Iron’s Alfred Pennyworth spends a majority of his time at a computer screen and the film utilizes none of Iron’s powerful gravitas. Amber Heard has a brief appearance as Mera that is slathered in unfinished CGI and seems to indicate that they have no clue how to handle any underwater scenes in Atlantis. Billy Crudup has a minor role as Barry Allen’s incarcerated father and his supposed wrongful imprisonment has little influence on the Flash himself. As Cyborg’s father, Joe Morton has a couple of scenes where it’s suggested that the character has some kind of importance before he just fades away.
Everything visual: Without a doubt, Justice League went through extensive reshoots that affected the completion of its visual effects and it shows. The action in the film is incompressible and slathered in unfinished CGI. While there may have been no saving the film from its muddled plotting, perhaps Justice League should’ve been delayed a bit just to allow the effects team to finish rendering the effects.
There’s almost no scene that is marred by horrible computer imagery. Every location, be it land, sea, or air, features backdrops that are distracting in their incomplete composition. When you factor in the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on this film, the fact that its effects are so distractingly awful is truly unforgivable. This is one of the ugliest films released in recent memory and it’s hard to get wrapped up in the battles when they’re dripping with still wet digital ink.
It had been reported that Henry Cavill was unable to shave his mustache because of contractual obligations to the next installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Cavill kept his mustache for Justice League reshoots and the effects team would remove the facial hair from the actor. The result makes it look like Henry Cavill suffered from a debilitating stroke.
Justice League isn’t the epic failure like some of its predecessors but it’s certainly by no means a good movie. Even though it has a number of woeful deficiencies, Justice League can at least garner a bit of optimism for the future of these movies which show no signs of slowing down. For once, it really feels like they got Superman right. I’m genuinely curious to see what Aquaman and The Flash do in their standalone movies. But what Justice League illustrates is that these movies need to do more to separate themselves from the Marvel mold, because Justice League is often like a really generic Avengers knock-off. It says a lot about how bad some of these movies have been that the fact that Justice League isn’t punishingly terrible feels like a minor miracle.