There are points in JUSTICE LEAGUE where I genuinely smiled and felt the tone and balance that seems to elude Warner Brothers in their attempt to do what others are doing successfully, finally found the sweet spot. They are fleeting but they are there. Strangely it's just a look. A head-turn and a look. Sadly, fleeting is the key word here and despite an obvious effort to clean this up, the film stalls with a non existent villain and a plot that I barely remember after seeing it just a few hours ago. Also, the return of the character that everyone knew was returning...wow. Every ounce of excitement that was possible in that action is zapped out of existence. This is a group effort though so lets first discuss the cast.
Ezra Miller, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa all seem to be having a good time and are invested. Granted, Momoa may just be playing himself for a large portion but being pretty awesome in real life can carry over to the screen so this take on Arthur Curry is fine thus far even if he is barely in water. Gadot is still where my eyes go everytime she is on screen. That is not simply a gesture towards her attractiveness either. She just has a way about her while being Wonder Woman and Diana. Gadot is the diamond of the DC universe. Ezra Miller's Flash is the fun of the film even if he "aww shucks" it too often. He is part of the moment I mention earlier when I felt the best part of any DC film universe thus far takes place. Ray Fisher's Cyborg has the least to do here. His major piece of action is pulling three cubes apart and being the worst excuse to make a forced conflict occur. More on that later though. Affleck's Batman just seems bored. He has moments of intensity but they pass quickly and Batman seems almost out of place among these superfolk. On the overall, the talent is wasted and that is a shame. No one is given enough to do at any point in the runtime. We will discuss the other team member later as that includes spoilers.
No ones time is wasted more than that of Ciaran Hinds as Steppenwolf though. The design on the character is bland. The CG looks average video game level and his plan is so unengaging that I still have no idea why a portion of this film took place in Russia. You cannot find one ounce of Hinds here and that is possibly the films largest tragedy. To waste this casting is criminal. Also, here is his plan. Push three cubes TOGETHER. To relay the entire plot, here it is :
Steppenwolf : I'm going to push those cubes TOGETHER!
Cyborg : No, I will push those cubes APART. AH HA!
Seriously, that's it.
To top it off you have Jeremy Irons and J.K. Simmons. Neither do anything. One pulls a lever twice. Maybe once. I honestly do not remember. The other pushes some buttons and continues to crack wise that Bruce needs to go out and find himself a nice girl. Also, there is a White Stripes song featured prominently in one scene which sounds so out of place that I can't imagine who thought that was a good idea.
It may seem I am being harsh but when you have all the talent and opportunity in the world, you need to deliver. The terms that caused Zack Snyder to leave the production early are awful and I wish that no one ever would have to experience that pain. His efforts in the DC film universe needs to cease here though. One OK film and two bad ones are three films too many to not have hit the bulls-eye yet. Joss Whedon was brought in to bring it home and while you can see his efforts in some scenes, it's not enough to save the tale as a whole. It also clashes a bit with what you can identify as Snyder driven scenes. The plot is just boring. You have three of the most well known characters of the modern age (DC's Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) in one film and it's utterly squandered. Again.
JUSTICE LEAGUE is not the worst film of the year. Nowhere near it. It just lacks anything to pull you in and keep your attention. There is a heart to it underneath and while that does appear in spurts, it's just not enough. It felt as if the film had no idea what it was. Why then am I, as an audience member, supposed to figure it out for myself? Simply put, JUSTICE LEAGUE is disappointing and trust me that I take zero enjoyment in stating that.
I will now discuss a SPOILER. If you have not seen the film you may want to leave now.
Okay, we need to discuss Superman.
This movie found a way to resurrect Superman from the dead in the least exciting way possible. It lacks any proper build up or worthwhile reveal. To attempt to recap the sequence, Flash has to zap a mother box at the moment it hits the Kryptonian bathtub aboard the alien ship from the previous films as a dead Superman is put there by the JL. He wakes up rather quickly and has a bit of a freak out which makes sense since he was dead and all. The forced plot moment of Cyborg's armor taking up a defensive position towards a possibly dangerous resurrected alien just felt like an excuse to have the members of the JL briefly battle Earth's greatest threat, Superman (insert sarcasm here). Seriously. Do we really need to play the one note bullshit of "Is he a good guy?" again? Three films deep now. Superman is a good guy. Shut the fuck about it already. Amidst that silliness though, something happens that is so perfect the entire audience buzzed as one for a glorious theater going experience. The moment of Flash trying to run behind Superman to help his teammates is absolute gold. While moving at the speed that Flash moves, Superman starts to follow Flash with his eyes at first and then turns his head matching the speed that Flash is traveling. The look on Flash's face is priceless and it's a top notch bad ass moment for Superman. If only the rest of the film had this type of personality for all of its members.
Anyway, Superman gets his head straight as he sees Lois (another hugely wasted talent in Amy Adams) and he flies them away to the Kent farm. He then returns to battle Steppenwolf just when the gang needs him. He even smiles and starts to feel like Superman proper. The post credit scene with him and Flash is damn near perfect too. It's a step in the right direction.
I never felt exhilarated by his return though. It's all right in front of you. There is no surprise or anticipation at all. Yes, we all knew he would return but it lacked any real juice in the presentation. I have an alternate version to suggest.
When they try to zap him alive, have it appear to fail. Steppenwolf makes trouble, the JL have to leave the ship and Superman behind for now to attending to the threat, but they feel as if they have already lost. They lay him on something Kryptonian-alter looking too so they don't leave him in the pool floating. Wonder Woman picks up the groups morale but doubt still looms against the threat. The audience then sees a quick shot of Superman's finger twitch or something more subtle than that. The JL put a sheet over Superman but we see the fabric over his mouth slightly get sucked in as if a breathe were being taken. Later as the JL is backed up against the wall, Superman breaks the sound barrier in his approach and saves everyone. Now, portions of that do happen but by the time Superman appears in the climatic battle, he has been around for nearly 20 minutes, spoke with Lois, his Mom and battled the JL itself briefly. The entire scene at the Kent farm could have been how the film closes or at least occurring post fight. As it stands, we see too much of Superman to be ramped up for his return in the battle. It all just feels flat.
I do hope that DC films can now move on from the Snyder era. The franchise has made money but not due to quality. It would make twice the amount if the films delivered. Wonder Woman did exactly that. Geoff Johns and Co. now have the opportunity to get this in the right direction. JUSTICE LEAGUE is not a step forward though and compared to Wonder Woman, it's is a step back. The creative forces at WB and DC need to step up or all hope will be lost. Superman or not.