Justice League Review
The Justice League film is exactly what you might expect: a whole lot of Zack Snyder with the occasional sprinkling of Joss Whedon. After the reshoots, rewrites and the order from above to keep it down to a comfortable two hours, it should come as no surprise that the end result is an ugly mess. The success of Wonder Woman earlier this year caught everyone by surprise, let alone Warner Bros., taking the pressure off (only ever so slightly) the long awaited team outing. Yet, deep down they know there is no sinking this baby. People will flock to see it regardless of the critical reaction, just as they did for BvS, and will continue to do so until the superhero juggernaut heads off a cliff.
For such a big coming together, Justice League starts off on a bit of a downer. Superman (Henry Cavill) is six feet under, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is stopping cockneys from blowing up the Old Bailey, and Batman's (Ben Affleck) mood is greyer than his hairline as he fights off a mysterious flying monkey-zombie Parademon thingy. Off he swoops to bring together the gang, failing at the first attempt as Aquaman (Jason Momoa) laughs him out of town. Recruiting The Flash (Ezra Miller) is a whole lot easier and Diana doesn't have much luck convincing Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to get involved with saving the world either.
What they are really up against is not just metal-monkeys of the apocalypse but the return of the awful CGI of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who is on the first stage of his comeback tour. He's scooping up three magic Mother Boxes that will give him some sort of unstoppable power (they're never explained well which is why they are merely MacGuffins), so once the Earth has been boiled to his liking, he can kick back and add it to his collection. While Steppenwolf is collecting the boxes, everyone gets their own awkward introduction before most of the budget is launched at the screen in the last half hour.
Half the problem with Justice League is the clean-up operation still in action from Man of Steel and BvS. The criticism of Superman's reckless destruction in MoS led to the comic-book wet dream plot of BvS, and the consequences of that film prevents this one from fully establishing its characters. What we are given instead is a rotating spotlight for each one to pitch their back stories Dragon's Den style. The ground work for most of these characters should have been laid out by now, but instead, the death of Superman lingers on and the film lazily relies on our pop culture knowledge of the three new guys, rather than giving them room to breathe.
With a reported $300 million production budget invested into this thing, there is simply no excuse for how ugly it looks. For any big budget film there is never any excuse, but we'll leave that discussion for another day. If there's one thing you can expect in a Zack Snyder film it is a terrible aesthetic, which he delivers in spades once again. Steppenwolf is a joke, looking like an outcast from Duncan Jones' Warcraft, and the heavily digitised environments in the battle sequences rob the scenes of any sort of soul and energy. The New God is merely an afterthought spewing out rote lines and never once raises the stakes to a level that truly feels threatening.
Joss Whedon's involvement stands out like a sore thumb and his gags occasionally inject some life into the film. Miller's geeky persona delivers most of these, but it becomes a little too obvious after a while. Fisher's Cyborg never once sounds interesting and you assume his personality must have been left on a back-up file somewhere. Behind all the muscle it's still hard to tell how good an actor Momoa is. Remove the big pitchfork and Aquaman is quite an unremarkable looking character, especially as he spends more time out of the water than in. Affleck is fine as the Caped Crusader but it's the suit that carries him, and it's a problem that he still hasn't had a film that allows him to find his own voice. The film was re-cut and re-shot to give us more Gadot for obvious reasons, but even Wonder Woman can't save the day.
With a production budget this big, plus the added marketing and distribution costs, Warner Bros. will need a billion dollar return to make this outing worthwhile. That's certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, but they will still be aware that the DC Universe continues to stand in the shadow of Marvel's critical and financial achievements. These films have been horribly misjudged from the very beginning and they're no closer to figuring out how to clear up their own mess. It's ironic that the Justice League have finally come together onscreen and the battle to keep them there may not even be worth it in the long run.