The DC Extended Universe would like to mirror the box office triumphs of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, playing a game of catch-up that began with 2013’s Man of Steel. Now, just four years later, they’ve arrived at their first major team-up, building on the success of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and last summer’s Wonder Woman. In a hurry to give fans all the comic book superheroes they can handle, the DCEU jumps right into the fray, upping the action and humor to connect more directly with the audience.
Justice League is a mess, but not a completely unappealing one. It’s the burden of storytelling that tends to get in the way. The screenplay adheres to blockbuster formula, while the movie seems more interested in The Hang with a collection of troubled superheroes just trying to fight their common enemy: Disappointment in the DCEU.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Justice League never takes on its real villain: Whoever was in charge of visual continuity.
Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead, exposing Earth to diabolical forces, inspiring the rise of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), a towering, god-like creature determined to use the power of three motherboxes to rule the universe, aided by a swarm of Parademons.
With the motherboxes stashed in different parts of the world, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) decide to create a unit of heroes to fight growing evil, working to bring Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) together as a team, hoping to protect the innocent from harm and the planet from destruction.
Setting out to collect the motherboxes, the unit encounters the worst Steppenwolf has to offer, with the creature using tricks and sheer force to steamroll the newly formed Justice League, determined to eradicate humankind just as the heroes are beginning to enjoy themselves.
Justice League credits Zack Snyder as director, but extensive reshoots were overseen by Joss Whedon, who takes a co-screenwriting credit and brings his iffy sense of humor to Snyder’s deadening style. The mix is obvious at times. Ravenous for humor, the feature often turns to The Flash to land some hoary jokes and then speed off into thin air. Batman is more of a clown than his nemesis.
The gears miss technically, too. Most of the cast wore painfully obvious wigs during the lengthy reshoot, and Cavill’s mustache was grown for the next Mission: Impossible, then erased here with terrible CGI.
For a production this enormous and expensive, shabby touches remain needlessly careless and amateurish. Steppenwolf is a CG villain with poor lip synch to Hinds’ performance, resembling a creation one might find on a PS3 game, keeping the menace of villainy a low priority.
After the sourness of Batman v Superman, it’s a little strange to see Justice League so light on its toes, having fun with the world as new characters are introduced. Difficult ones too, like Aquaman, who forces the screenplay to come up with reasons to keep him on dry land.
Snyder/Whedon favors Wonder Woman, and it’s a blast to see the hero in action again so soon after her solo film. Some ill-advised flirtations with Wayne tend to mute Gadot’s natural authority. Mercifully, nothing catches fire.
There are a few major players in the DECU, but rarely does Justice League stop to smell the flowers, reducing famous faces (such as J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon) to cameos.
Justice League is most confident in smash-'em-up mode, exploring everyone’s powers, including The Flash’s superspeed. The picture isn’t always great about taking Barry Allen seriously, rendering him a wide-eyed one-liner machine, but when The Flash tears off, he’s at his finest. Cyborg’s arc is surprisingly complicated, dealing with life after death and Victor’s battle of confusion when managing his robotic parts, adding some weight to a feature that’s terrified of being grim.
Justice League is routine, aiming to please DCEU fans who might’ve lost faith after Batman v Superman. Through Whedon’s mischief, the feature is jokey, while Snyder showcases his love of slow-mo and snapped limbs, keeping Steppenwolf busy breaking bodies.
There’s nothing especially surprising about the effort (beyond the wigs and “Annoying Orange” mouth CGI), but it develops passable charm as it unfolds, making the prospect of a battle royal with the titular force for good semi-appealing, finally coming through in the final act. It’s the journey to the climax that’s rocky.
Justice League doesn’t quite reach the required pitch, but there are interesting moments inspiring hope that the gang will find time to take on the real villain around here: Whoever is in charge of visual continuity.