Note: This review contains spoilers for Justice League. You’ve been warned.
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been underwhelmed with DC’s movie offerings of late — and that’s putting it nicely. Wonder Woman was pretty solid, but Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad were all varying levels of terrible.
So, it was obviously difficult to go into Justice League with any sense of excitement — or even hope that it would exceed my already low expectations. While Justice League certainly isn’t the worst that the DCEU has to offer, it brings nothing new to the table and seems more concerned with delivering style over substance and character.
First, let’s talk about our three new heroes: Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. To put it succinctly, my worst fears from the trailers were confirmed.
Aquaman is a complete “bro” douchebag. There are no levels to him; he just likes to drink whiskey and hit stuff. He has like eight lines in the entire movie and half of them are some variation of “hell, yeah.” There are a few attempts to delve a little deeper into what makes the character tick, but they don’t work. We just don’t have enough context on Aquaman and his backstory to care.
Flash is intended as the comic relief, and while most of his bits are funny in theory, Ezra Miller’s comedic timing is so off that I was left feeling like he didn’t understand his own jokes. He’s portrayed as weird and socially awkward — just not the funny kind. I feel obliged to acknowledge that his performance is getting mostly positive reviews, so your mileage may vary. It’s not that I didn’t find the idea of the character funny and charming, I just don’t think Miller executes on that good idea. But at least it feels like the actor is having fun, which can’t be said for his co-stars.
Cyborg is less a character and more a plot device. Considering he was brought back to life through the use of alien technology and is constantly trying to understand it and fight against it to retain his humanity, the poor guy gets absolutely zero character development. Ray Fisher’s portrayal is flat, and it certainly doesn’t help that the character’s CGI body looks like it was put together by someone currently studying computer animation in high school.
Batman and Wonder Woman fare better, if only because those characters have already been established and we don’t have to be spoon-fed some two-line, contrived backstory. The Batman/Wonder Woman relationship could be great, but like everything else, Justice League is more concerned with delivering CG explosions and fight scenes with zero stakes. And I’m beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable with the amount of ass-framing shots whenever Wonder Woman is on-screen. I get it, she’s attractive and your primary audience is male. But come on, I thought we were at least beginning to move past that crap being acceptable.
Also, spoiler alert (but not really), Superman comes back to life in this movie. The actual means make absolutely zero sense, but his reappearance offers probably the best action scene in the movie, and certainly the funniest moment. For what it’s worth, Superman’s relationship with Flash is something I’d like to see more of in the future. I will say that Superman moves pretty quickly from “holy shit I’m alive” to “business as usual,” but in a movie that throws away any depth or true gravitas for the sake of action, I can’t say I was surprised. Not sure how they would have done it, but there was a real missed opportunity to do something fun with the dark, long-haired, bearded Superman we saw in the comics after his death.
To top things off, when Superman enters the fray at the end, he so completely dominates villain Steppenwolf that I’m left wondering why he needs the other heroes at all. I also feel the need to mention that animators painstakingly removed Henry Cavill’s mustache after shooting, because he refused to shave it due to another role. I don’t want to throw those editors under the bus, because it can’t have been easy work, but man does Cavill’s face look weird as hell in more than a few shots.
The villain, Steppenwolf, comes across as merely a mini-boss before Darkseid, which I’m sure was at least partially intended. After some weird-ass expository dreams in Batman v Superman, I was surprised we didn’t get more context for what the hell is happening with the whole New Gods storyline. And then the stinger goes out of its way to set up what I assume is the Legion of Doom, so maybe a visit to Apokolips is still a ways away. Regardless, Steppenwolf is yet another entry in what is now a long list of forgettable villains across DC and Marvel, though I’ll give the edge here to Marvel for at least making most of its villains actual real-life people and not giant CGI monsters.
We’re never really given context for why Steppenwolf wants what he wants, which is basically just to destroy modern Earth and remake it into his home world. He sets out to acquire the Mother Box MacGuffins and kills some stuff along the way. Also, side note: Could the Mother Boxes and how they’re used in this film be any more of an obvious Infinity Stone ripoff?
As I mentioned above, even the best action that Justice League has to offer feels like its been done better elsewhere. There’s a mostly throwaway scene where Steppenwolf is fighting the Amazons for control of their Mother Box, and it was easily the most dynamic fight in the movie. It didn’t include a single member of the Justice League team.
More than anything, my largest complaint lodged at Justice League is that the movie itself comes across like it doesn’t care that I’m watching it. Events just sort of happen with little context or explanation as to how or why they matter. Characters come and fight together because that’s what the script dictates. A person like Wonder Woman, who values the sanctity of life so much, wouldn’t just give up and let Bruce bring Superman back to life. It doesn’t make sense. Those kinds of writing decisions do a disservice to these characters — and to Justice League’s audience.
I get that Cyborg doesn’t understand his developing powers, but maybe give me a scene where he’s experimenting with them and trying to communicate with whatever alien tech or voice is going on in his head? Him just “doing science” to accomplish any goal isn’t interesting. It’s lazy writing.
Give me context for why Superman reacted the way he did upon being resurrected. There’s a shot where we’re seeing the other heroes through his eyes, and he’s clearly confused, but he’s more Frankenstein’s monster than Superman and it isn’t effective at making me feel that confusion.
If you’re going to introduce Mera in this movie, let her be more than exposition-deliverer on Aquaman’s parental relationship issues. How did Cyborg separate the Mother Boxes? How did Steppenwolf teleport around the globe, and who was manning the teleporter? How the hell is Wonder Woman faster than a machine gun? Why make a big deal about Flash needing a suit made out of spaceship material when he can run just as fast in street clothes?
Characters just do things casually, and so I watch them happen passively. There are no stakes.
I remember seeing the Avengers on screen together for the first time, standing in a circle in NYC as bad guys swarm around them. It was a fanboy moment of the highest caliber, and I still get goosebumps when I watch that scene. There’s nothing like that in Justice League. There are more than a few “team” shots scattered throughout, but without any real context for the characters, relationships, or what’s happening and why, I just don’t care.
There’s a good movie hidden deep within Justice League. I’m not sure what it would take to exorcise something interesting out of what we got, but that just makes it all the more frustrating. With more care put into the character relationships and less focus on rote fight scenes, I could have come away from Justice League excited to see more from this cast of characters. Instead, it’s the same old story from Zack Snyder. All style, no substance, and a disappointing waste of some fan-favorite superheroes.
So, what did you think of Justice League! Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to check out my other movie reviews!