Of the many, many mistakes Justice League makes, one of the most damaging isn’t really the film itself’s fault. In releasing just a few weeks after Thor Ragnarok showed that there’s plenty of life and originality left in the comic book genre, the crushing staleness of DC and Zack Snyder’s attempted answer to Avengers is that much more apparent. An overstuffed and tonally confused mess, it’s the exact sort of superhero film that inspires exhaustion with the genre, with too much CG, a terrible villain, and little in the way of real stakes. Yet, it’s not quite a total calamity, ending up as a basically functional but mostly boring blockbuster.
Running at a relatively fleet two hours, Justice League has way too much to pack in. As Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) assemble the League, their recruits – Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) – have to be introduced, learn to be heroes, and save the world, all in the same film. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of the resurrection of the deceased Superman (Henry Cavill). Huge chunks have clearly been left out of Joss Whedon’s edit after he took over from Snyder for the extensive reshoots, lending a choppiness to the nonsensical proceedings, as Snyder’s po-faced seriousness clashes with Whedon’s rapid-fire wisecracks.
After the rather excellent Wonder Woman, Gadot is clearly the star attraction here, though the pervy costumes and camera angles she’s given are a grim backwards step from Patty Jenkins’ work. Affleck mostly looks bored, and Momoa has had too much of his story cut out to make an adequate impact, but Miller is having an infectious amount of fun as team comic relief, and Fisher’s Cyborg is, surprisingly, the most compelling character – I’m genuinely interested in what the DCEU has in store for him next.
A fully CG creation, big bad Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) makes for a dreadful antagonist, and the whole quest to stop him and his MacGuffin-y, world ending Mother Boxes feels thuddingly pointless. It doesn’t help that the effects aren’t even that good – Steppenwolf has no weight, and nor do the vast majority of the action scenes. It’s worth noting that Justice League is an ugly film, especially in the final third, as the Mother Boxes activate and drown the screen in mucky red clouds and giant purple tentacles. In the year of Guardians 2, Ragnarok, and Blade Runner 2049, a tentpole film with visuals this underwhelming is simply unacceptable.
Uninspired and uninspiring, Justice League still entertains in parts and, as these sorts of movies often do, promises better things to come in its heroes’ standalone films. The Flash and Cyborg have intriguing backstories, powers with a lot of potential for unique set-pieces, and charming, charismatic actors. Oddly, this means that there’s perhaps less to recommend it than if it was as utterly inept as some reviews promised, although Henry Cavill’s CG, de-moustached face is so hilariously conspicuous that it’s almost worth price of admission on its own.