Jacob Richardson | 17/11/2017
It’s better than Batman Vs Superman, but not by much. Shoddy CGI, gaping plot holes, and a constant sense of hamfisted disjointedness makes Justice League a disappointing entry into the superhero canon.
The Earth is threatened when, after the passing of Superman (Henry Cavill) acts like a beacon, CGI-beasty Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) comes to town. He's on the hunt for three ‘motherboxes’; world destroyers that, when combined, will remake Earth in the fiery vision of Steppenwolf’s own home planet. To counter this grave threat, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) enlist the help of some other superpowered friends; the Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa).
Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman was much maligned for being an impossibly self-serious, bloated and arrogant tale that favoured shoddy CGI and slow motion over any coherent plot whatsoever. It’s good news, then, that his follow up is much more humorous and understandable, and likely no accident; given that it seems a significant portion is directly lifted from the Marvel Playbook.
The beats that we know from Avengers are all there, and in some respects it’s frustrating, because they aren’t done as well. Ben Affleck’s Batman comes off like a less charismatic, and less interesting, Tony Stark, mentoring a young Flash who is equal parts annoying and unfunny. There are brief moments of levity, when our five heroes are in the same room and are trading quips, but they are tiny specks adrift in a vast ocean of mediocrity.
Even worse, is that they feel out of place. Zack Snyder is a polarising director, known for showcasing moments rather than actual scenes, and creating films that have a look and feel much more so than a nuanced plot. His family’s tragedy meant that Joss Whedon, he who helmed Avengers, had to take the wheel at the last minute, doing significant reshoots and adding some elements to the script. Whedon, in contrast, is known for his impeccably witty dialogue. It would seem a perfect match; Snyder nailing the style and Whedon nailing the script, but in reality it is an abhorrence reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster. The moments of levity feel so impossibly forced that they drag you out of the movie. They also highlight the rest of the movie’s penchant for style over substance, making you question all the increasingly pointless uses of slow motion (like the slo-mo fist bump).
That’s not to even touch on the plot itself, which features what is unequivocally the worst villain in modern superhero history. Steppenwolf is a poorly CGI’d incarnation of a tremendous actor, who is given so little to do it is insulting. A cardboard cut-out of the infamous Malekeith the Accursed would have been more interesting than this low-res pile of garbage. Such a villain only further serves to emphasise a feeling you have throughout the entire film; that it is too early for a Justice League film.
When The Avengers was released, the vast majority of the cast had been introduced in solo films. When they finally assembled, it felt earned. Here, we have only seen a standalone Superman and Wonder Woman film, so these characters standing side-by-side means absolutely nothing to us as an audience.
Aside from squandering certain acting talent on a villain who is so poor as to warrant a second viewing, the remainder of the cast suffers through the script with varying levels of convincingness. Gal Gadot is spectacular, as always, and Ezra Miller brings some bubbly energy to the piece. Ray Fisher is hamstrung by his one note character, as is Jason Momoa. But Ben Affleck is the real villain (or victim?) here, seemingly 100% done with this character, film and franchise. He looks uncomfortable in the Batman suit and the Bruce Wayne suit, and seems to sweat his way through every scene. Henry Cavill has some nice beats, but is again shoehorned into a plot in a way that means the most interesting aspects of his character are sidelined for a non-reveal and a sudden, life-saving appearance. It’s a shame, because you can feel the makings of something great here. Maybe it is in a Superman villain arc, or in more group dialogue scenes, or in the better backstory, or in a recast Batman. There’s something here, and if this is a stepping stone to more group movies of the quality of Wonder Woman, then it is at least a watchable stepping stone.
Justice League is better than BvS, but only slightly. It’s a plot-holed mess, featuring a lacklustre performance from Affleck and one of the least engaging ever put on screen. But it does get you interested in seeing standalone films about some of these characters, and that means, for the Warner Bros. moneymen, it’s a success.