Director: Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Ciaran Hinds, Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons, Diane Lane and Henry Cavill
Running Time: 2 Hrs
When I was a kid, I could always tell when my father was watching baseball in the next room. Usually because I could hear him screaming ‘BUNT! BUNT!” at the top of his lungs. His philosophy was that if you got your lead off batter on first base, the second one should bunt and while he would have been thrown out at first, the previous runner on first would advance to second. Then you’d have a runner in scoring position and only one out on the inning. According to my father, it was the safest recipe for victory.
Once or twice I tried to argue with him that, while safe may win a game here or there, it never won championships (especially after opponents caught on what you were doing). I could never quite get that point across, despite the fact that no team in major league baseball (to my knowledge anyway) ever won a World Series using that philosophy.
And that’s what watching Justice League felt like. Perhaps it was because the (well deserved) criticism the DCEU has earned, but their first big team movie played it painfully, boringly safe. At times it felt like it wasn’t even trying, like it was merely going through the motions. It chose to play it safe and bunt at every opportunity and never once swung for the fences.
And it showed.
Thousands of years ago, an alliance of Amazons, Atlantleans and actual Gods drove the space faring warlord Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) from Earth. The defeated yet vengeful Steppenwolf left behind three artifacts, the keys to his eventual return and possible victory. One was given to the Amazons, another to Atlantis and the third to Men to safeguard. After five millennia, the artifacts have awoken, sensing their master’s return.
And Steppenwolf has timed his return well. A troubled and frightened world searches for inspiration following the death of Superman. When the Amazons and Atlanteans both fall to Steppenwolf, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) race to assemble the world’s remaining heroes to stop him. But they soon learn that to defeat Steppenwolf, they’ll have to throw one hell of a Hail Mary pass. And if they miss, they could easily make things far worse than they already are.
I don’t how they did it, but they managed to make a comic book movie starring six of the world’s greatest super heroes and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of special effects boring. There was plenty of action, but it lacked intensity and genuine adrenaline. The action beats lack gravity and it sincerely felt like it was groggily plodding through a textbook formula.
The entire movie has a serious cookie cutter feel to it. That may be the result of two director’s opposing visions clashing instead of meshing. Much was made of Warner Brothers and DC’s decision to bring Joss Whedon of Avengers fame to fill Zack Snyder’s directorial shoes during the extensive reshoots when Snyder had to step back because of family tragedy. You can definitely tell where Whedon’s more lighthearted approach (which is far more juvenile here) and Snyder’s dark, brooding flavour collide. But the problem is both visions are underwhelming at best and neither compliments the other at all.
The plot is the definition of basic, with no mystery or consequence. Everything is pretty predictable, the movie’s major turning point feels flat and the movie’s resolution is incredibly easy (not to mention quick and clean). The emotional conflict between the characters feels token at best and is apparently swept under the rug by the time the third act rolls around.
The actors fill their roles well enough and Justice League seems to understand its characters better than some of its predecessors. Batman, for instance, gets through the entire two hours without killing any humans. Jason Momoa looks like he’s capable of carrying a solo movie as Aquaman and Ezra Miller provides a few good laughs as The Flash. But despite all that, Justice League pays little to no attention to its supporting cast regardless of how important they are. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons) are little more than passive set pieces. And Superman is about as thrilling and awe inspiring as vanilla ice cream.
Plus Steppenwolf never felt like the villain needed to challenge the heroes. As a character he was shallow and two dimensional, as a threat he was weak and lacked any real menace. He suffers rom the same problems that seems to dog the entire movie.
Films like Batman Vs. Superman and Suicide Squad drew plenty of deserved criticism for their tone and execution, but at the very least those movies has an identity. They took chances. Justice League plays it safe and barely has a pulse as a result. Instead of being memorable its mediocre at best. It has no energy or heartbeat.
Perhaps the best illustration is the movie’s special effects. While the depiction of the world moving at super speed was somewhat novel, everything else was pretty pedestrian. We’d seen it all before and Justice League simply didn’t look or feel like a movie that cost 300 million to make (Warner has refused to released the film’s official budget, but most reports peg it’s price tag at around 300 million before advertising and promotion, making it the most expensive movie to date in the DCEU). Both the big super hero battle royal and the climactic battle scene paled to comparable scenes we’ve seen in other comic book movies recently.
Justice League wasn’t horrible, but it was underwhelming and often boring (a deadly combination for the most expensive and arguably most important movie in the franchise) and it certainly wasn’t daring. It may get its proverbial batter to second base, but it fails to get anything across home plate.