Justice League (2017)

“I don’t have to recognize it. I just have to save it.”

We’re officially five films into the DC Comics extended universe and things aren’t looking so good. There have been disasters like Suicide Squad and Batman V Supermanboth which somehow work better as trailers than movies. Then we have the shockingly dramatic and religious parable in Man of Steel, as well as the truly outstanding and empowering Wonder Woman. It’s been a rocky road, and to say that the team building exercise called Justice League is any better than its garish predecessor would be a tepid understatement. However, be aware that this is merely a baby step forward, a high-dive attempt that is as basic as it gets without giving off much of a splash. It’s better when compared to a belly-flop, but still nowhere close to cream of the crop. This plate of justice has been served cold.

Batman (Henry Cavill) is dead, long-gone, sayonara. Buried with him is his beacon of hope to all of humanity. The superhero’s seemingly permanent leave of absence brings a bevy of small-time crooks and the threat of intergalactic warfare, daring to do bad in a world filled with very little good. A threat looms, and as you might assume, a team must be assembled to combat the evil force known as Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), an entirely CGI and forgettable antagonist who’s so rote and bland that he’s reduced to a seek and destroy default setting. He may as well be a drone. At the very basic level of good versus bad, Justice League achieves little to nothing, celebrating the heroic nature of the good guys and damning the bad guys without adding a shadow of insight or depth. It’s hard to take seriously.

And yet, being serious is really the only thing Justice League longs to accomplish. Batman (Ben Affleck) feels the weight of guilt. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) can’t bring herself to lead the squadron against the incoming evil. Newcomer Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is the meaty ham to The Flash’s (Ezra Miller) cheesy exploits, and both are more than welcome additions to the crew. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a compelling character who I honestly almost forgot about altogether. He and his dark backstory are as alive as a matted wallpaper or a window dressing. The strangest thing about Justice League isn’t that it exists within a safe-space which lacks integrity or creativity, but that it’s an almost purely forgettable piece of big-budget spectacle. Like a fireworks display, you’ll be able to recount a few of the best blasts, but the rest is smoke and noise. How does a movie this massive manage to feel more like a member of lollipop guild member than a robust superhero affair?

The chairman behind the DC Universe thus far has been Zack Snyder, a director who’s more of a thoughtful tailor than a proper filmmaker, composing and staging images the same way that a so-called Instagram star might manipulate an image strictly for “likes.” It’s all very carefully dressed and filtered, reliant on color, as heavily saturated as newborn’s diaper. Most of it is as visually inviting as a cop car’s lights spinning in your rear view mirror. It’s pretty obvious that Snyder has an agenda and wants to use this comic inspired story to say something big about politics, power, faith, even humanity. And while he brings up these points of discussion, his movies mostly stray from this central theme, looking for a false idol’s sense of unearned adoration instead of a true savior’s necessary praise. Snyder’s movies illogically combat a bitter worldview with an even darker moral outlook, and in this film the light just barely seeps through the plentiful cracks.

Snyder departed the picture due to a personal tragedy and Joss Whedon took over for the remainder, and any critic who says that they can’t pinpoint Whedon’s influence are lying. With him came a completely different tone, color palette, sense of humor, and even different performances from the cast. Trying to combine his light sensibilities with Snyder’s grim proclivities simply doesn’t work in harmony. Such stark opposites do not attract. And then an already middling movie becomes even worse when it’s lost in the editing bay, forced by Warner Bros. to clock in under two hours at all costs. I didn’t hate Justice League, and at times I even admired its willingness to try something new, but so much is left to the imagination that one can’t help but envision a better – and probably semi-enjoyable – film that was mistakenly lost to the cutting room floor. It’s like a 2-liter that was cracked and left to sit on the counter for a week, all the bubbles and fizz gone, the seal broken, a stale sip taking the place of that acerbic gulp. Justice League will give you a cavity without indulging you in any sort of sweetness.

“Do you have a feeling that we’re doing something macabre and totally wrong here?”

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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