120 minutes (12)
There’s no denying that DC is playing catch-up in the comic book movie world, but they would be wise to remember the old adage “slow and steady wins the race” even with The Flash and Superman among their comic book ranks.
Much of Marvel’s success has rested on that mantra – they didn’t rush into the Avengers, preferring to focus on introducing each of its characters via a series of solo outings. It’s an approach DC rejected, starting with the misguided Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and continuing here with Justice League. They want to be where Marvel are right now, and they don’t care how confusing, lightweight and dull a movie it creates as a result.
Justice League picks up in the aftermath of Superman’s death. With Earth suffering, a horned beast by the name of Steppenwolf arrives with an army of flying zombie types, eager to get their hands on three Mother Boxes hidden on the planet. Get all three, and he’ll succeed in turning Earth into a CGI-heavy hellscape, so it’s up to Batman to assemble a team of mismatched superheroes to take him on.
Originally helmed by Zack Snyder before a family tragedy saw Joss Whedon take over, the film exhibits an uneasy mix of Snyder gravitas alongside Whedon’s more glib humour. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in Ben Affleck’s straight-faced Bruce Wayne/Batman, who veers between looking wooden and pained while also occasionally mumbling a few quips. Affleck seems stiff and confused throughout too, begging the question: Is he trying to get fired as Batman?
The rest of the newly-assembled Justice League give a decent account of themselves, even if some begin to occupy roles similar to the ones found in the Avengers – Wonder Woman is basically Captain America to Batman’s Iron Man, with Aquaman a Thor-in-waiting. There is a feeling, however, that each of Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher could have benefitted from starring in their own origins movies first, with the audience left to sit through several exposition-heavy scenes. As it is, they barely get enough screen time to make much of an impression.
Momoa has the most fun of the three, injecting some fun into a limited role while Gal Gadot also puts in a solid shift Diana Prince though she has far less to work with than in Wonder Woman, where her talents really came to the fore. Miller’s Flash is a super-quick quip machine that starts off amusing but begins to grate as time goes on while Fisher’s Cyborg is deadly serious and seriously underdeveloped.
Henry Cavill’s Superman, meanwhile, only sparks into life in the second half of the movie and spends much of his time looking lost and shirtless before turning up in the film’s conclusion. It’s also a shame to see Amy Adams’s Lois Lane reduced to the role of teary love interest – her talents deserve better than that and the only hope is that the pair will get a chance to do exactly that with another Superman movie. With so many characters to cram in, the film fails to truly focus on a single protagonist, resulting in a film full of flashy moments featuring superheroes doing cool stuff – but no heart.
All of this would be acceptable enough were it not for the film’s main flaw though: the special effects. Considering the budget behind it, this is shoddy stuff, starting with the movie’s main villain. Ciaran Hinds’ Steppenwolf is a monstrosity forged in the depths of CGI hell. A goat-based Warcraft reject bad guy who spouts villainous clichés and comes equipped with the same faceless army Whedon seems to employ in all of his superhero movies. He’s utterly forgettable from start to finish.
Allied to that, there’s the issue of Cavill’s visibly erased CGI beard, which leaves the actor looking like an e-fit of Superman rather than the actual Man of Steel himself. Whoever allowed those effects to be included, from the film’s first scene, should be fired.
Suffering the same problem Marvel does when it comes to its villains, DC should really be doing better here, considering the array of bad guys at Batman’s disposal alone. But the weak villain and the confusing/unoriginal MacGuffin at the centre of the story fatally hinders the film which already suffers from an uneven script and some hit and miss bit-part performances from the superheroes themselves.
There’s still just about enough here to entertain on first viewing but you are unlikely to ever revisit Justice League – it’s not even so bad it’s good.
The feeling now is that DC would be better focused on delivering a series of solid solo outings rather than any more ensembles though, unfortunately, the movie’s post-credit scene suggests otherwise.