Justice League review
Sometimes superheroes just don’t seem to care. Yes, I’m sure it’s a stressful job, and yeah, most of them probably don’t have the health insurance to cover the mental healthcare needed to treat all that PTSD, but if humanity is on the verge of annihilation, you’d think lolling about in the countryside would be low on their priority list, right? I’m always reminded of the Invisible Woman in the 2007’s ill-conceived Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, who, despite an interstellar monster’s imminent destruction of all known life, seemed to care more about her wedding preparations. Because obvi any woman, even a badass scientist-superhero, finds marriage to be the most important thing in the universe.
In the case of Justice League, the heroes don’t even have an excuse. Sometimes, they just seem unconcerned about the whole, y’know, end-of-the-world thing? Which, to be fair, might just be because the villain is so bland, they’re more worried about dying of boredom fighting him. Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight included complex enemies with interesting motivations. Wonder Woman’s villains were cool: one of them poisoned herself during her work and had to wear a freaky mask to hide her resulting facial disfigurement. Even, Suicide Squad, a critical and commercial flop, boasted a more interesting big baddie, in the shape of an ancient sorceress who possesses the body of the hero’s girlfriend. Justice League’s Steppenwolf just... well, he whines about Mother a lot. He’s a big dude who wants to conquer the planet blah blah. He has a big axe. That’s basically all you need to (and do) learn about him.
In this decade, we have superhero media up the wazoo, and their stories run the gamut off available options. Want something loud and funny? Check out Thor: Ragnarok. Something broody and dark? Catch Jessica Jones on Netflix. A mind-bending, visually intriguing mystery? Legion has you covered. Justice League, on the other hand, offers nothing we haven’t seen before. Gone are the days where you can just plonk some villains and heroes onto a chessboard and bank on audiences lapping up the resulting explosions; today’s viewers want something a little more sophisticated than that.
Of course, none of this would matter if Justice League did what it set out to do particularly well. If the film were entirely formulaic but carried it all off with slick panache, I’d be completely satisfied. But on no front does Justice League deliver.
Take the characters, for instance. In a film about assembling a team of superheroes, you’d expect some neat character exploration. That’s what we were sold, after all. Junkie XL and Gary Clark Jr.’s broody rendition of the Beatles classic “Come Together” in the movie’s first trailer, in addition to making me shiver in my seat, underscores the themes of unity and teamwork. Unfortunately, the film itself disappoints. The directors seem to think that the idea of superheroes is more interesting (or at least draws more theater-goers) than the superheroes themselves: throw in a trident and some bat-shaped shuriken and nobody will miss the lack of actual human characterization!
Here’s a summary of every major character. Batman mopes a lot. Aquaman, after a promising start where he shows off a rebellious streak, languishes in an insipid role of yelling out fratty cries of “my man!” and “hell yeah!” for the rest of his time on screen. Cyborg’s daddy issues and a loss of control of his powers make a brief cameo, but both plot points fizzle out. Henry Cavill delivers a wooden performance (though to be fair, Superman is probably the most boring superhero out there, so it may not entirely be his fault). Even Gal Gadot, who lends Wonder Woman plenty of heart, can do little with a lackluster script that tries and doesn’t quite succeed in exploring her themes of leadership and self-empowerment. Oh, and everyone seems to want to flirt with her the moment they meet her. Though come to think of it, in a movie with basically only two women, do we expect anything more?
Also, the directors have a weird obsession with one-liners. Almost every scene in the movie ends in a clumsy attempt at a darkly significant, heavy-hitting sentence, delivered in an ominous tone along with a significant look. Every single one of these one-liners falls flat. I kid you not. I nearly burst out laughing multiple times in the cinema. I’m pretty sure a few wayward giggles escaped.
Amid all this, however, Ezra Miller manages to shine as an adorkable Flash. Despite some half-assed character development (something about getting a job), Miller’s Flash is funny, dopey and full of charm. “I need friends,” he stammers, his nervous eyes looking everywhere but at the surprised Batman he’s speaking to. Yes, Grant Gustin’s version of the character on the TV show may be hot, but I’d take Miller’s awkward attempts at a fist-bump any day.
But what about the visuals, I hear you ask? Surely a big-budget superhero flick at least looks good?
Meh. Nothing to write home about. The CGI is kinda janky at times. Costuming decisions are weird, to say the least. We’re introduced to the underwater city of Atlantis, but we get to see none of it. The Batcave is apparently made of computer screens and nothing else. The alien landscape of the final battle is kinda cool, there’s a fun battle with lots of elevation changes and a spiralling staircase, and the Amazons do some neat horse-archery tricks, but that’s about it for visual interest. And then there’s that whole thing about Henry Cavill’s mustache.
All in all, Justice League is a picture of mediocrity. If you really want to watch some superheroes duke it out, and you’re avoiding the rest of the veritable galaxy of movies and TV shows in the genre that’s out there, maybe you’ll enjoy Justice League. Maybe.