It has become increasingly evident that Warner Bros. and DC Comics don’t understand their own characters. After presenting a decidedly darker take on Superman with Man of Steel, director and creative force Zack Snyder showed his hand with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and removed all doubt that he just isn’t the right person to be leading DC Comics’ foray into a film universe. Suicide Squad, while strangely fun, was another misstep, and after a stellar showing with this summer’s Wonder Woman, there was that glimmer of hope that DC has been pushing on its fans with the new “rebirth” of their line, both in the comics and supposedly in the film universe. Unfortunately, the new film Justice League takes another leap backward, and once again, fans of the characters are left scratching their heads as to why a powerful studio like Warner Bros. just can’t seem to get it right.
In Justice League, Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) seek out other gifted individuals to form a team to stop a threat mentioned in a journal left by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). This threat comes in the form of Steppenwolf (CGI, voiced by Ciaran Hinds), a son of Apokalips, who seeks to take over the Earth for his father, Darkseid. Three powerful Mother Boxes are on Earth, each hidden away after the ancient armies of old banded together to stop Steppenwolf centuries ago. Now, for reasons not explained, Steppenwolf is back and seeks to unite the three boxes to do something presumably bad (again, not really explained), and Batman and Wonder Woman, and their “team,” which includes The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), have to stop him.
Justice League was supposed to be the endgame of bringing together the biggest heroes in DC’s pantheon to stop some epic threat to the planet, but it fails them as much as the audience. Fans know Superman and Batman, for better or worse, and now they have a better understanding of Wonder Woman. But The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg had no real build up in this universe, and are then thrust upon us with zero context and we are expected to just take it that these are heroes, though they have never proven themselves to be so. It’s a classic case of told, but not shown.
Ezra Miller’s Flash is so miscast and underwritten that he’s an insult to the character of Barry Allen. Allen is incredibly intelligent and is always seemingly teaching (his “Flash facts” are a huge part of his character), but in Justice League, he’s solely there for comic relief. He makes silly jokes and dumb observations for laughs, and even stumbles multiple times while speeding, making him a bumbling idiot and the farthest thing from his source material.
I’m not even sure that Jason Momoa knows who or what Aquaman is supposed to be. He comes off a bit like a surfer dude, or at worst, a beach bum, and is nothing like the heroic half-man/half-Atlantean king of seas. His one scene and few lines of dialogue with Mera (Amber Heard) are all the audience gets at any type of backstory or characterization, and it fails to do either. The rest of the time, he struts around making jokes about Batman’s suit and defies all laws of physics with his fighting skills.
Cyborg is best known as a Teen Titan in the comics, and apparently is only in the Justice League as an affirmative action ploy handed down by the suits in Burbank. There’s nothing wrong with diversity, but there are other heroes who could have filled this slot better. John Stewart, a Green Lantern, comes immediately to mind, especially since Green Lantern is a founding member of the Justice League and this film desperately needs a Lantern in its ranks.
That being said, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is also hands down the best thing about Justice League. His performance is very strong and his character actually gets a story with some conflict and resolution. Vic Stone’s anguish at being alive when he should be dead, and having to come to grips that he is now half-man/half-machine is well done. And his anger toward his father (Joe Morton), who resurrected him with technologies he did not even understand, is real. Fisher is acting his ass off, trying to single handily elevate the material that he’s been given. And when the focus is on him, he succeeds.
Snyder (and possibly Joss Whedon, who came in to replace Snyder after a family tragedy forced him out) cannot let go of the mess that was Batman v Superman, and he continues to revisit that abomination with call backs to lines and events. I get that some creatives don’t read reviews, but surely someone told Snyder that BvS was a hot mess and that he should leave it be. And yes, Superman (Henry Cavill) does return, with his distracting CGI mouth, digitally erasing the mustache the actor had for his role in Mission: Impossible 6, and his return is as sloppy and nonsensical as the rest of the film. This is not a spoiler, as he’s in all the press shots and the trailers.
Screenwriting credit goes to Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio; Whedon for the massive reshoots (reports that he reshot up to 40% of the film have leaked) and Terrio because he’s Ben Affleck’s friend and frequent collaborator. David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder are not credited this time around, but their fecal-matter-stained fingerprints are all over it, from beginning to end. There are some scenes of actual hope and heroism, and you can definitely see the tonal shift (it’s actually jarring in places), knowing full well that these scenes were 11th hour Whedon additions, but the core concepts here are still corrupted by bad visionaries and horrible ideas, and it makes for one mess of film.
Justice League fails to build upon the critical and commercial success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, arguably the best comic book movie of 2017. For four months, DC fans have held out hope that Jenkins and Gadot’s super heroine had signaled a new era for WB/DC films and that positive narratives and actual heroic deeds would take center stage instead of jarring curse words, wholesale misinterpretations of classic characters, and mass destruction and death. But Snyder has proved that Wonder Woman was the outlier, and the entire DCEU film franchise once again suffers with a cancerous film that threatens to sink the whole idea of a unified DC Comics-based filmverse. It can be done, we’ve all seen it with the “other guys,” so the biggest question left at the end of Justice League is when will we see that kind of widescreen storytelling from the Warner Bros. stable of heroes? If the two end credit stingers (yes, there are two, stay for the whole thing) prove anything, it’s not anytime soon.
Justice League is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on November 17.
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