It’s fair to say that the DCEU hasn’t had the best of starts. Sure Wonder Woman was excellent but Man of Steel was just okay whilst Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were two of the worst films released last year. Not helping matters was the rocky production of Justice League, with Zack Snyder having to step away from the film in post-production due to a family tragedy with Joss Whedon coming in to finish up the film and oversee the reshoots, which reportedly were a lot more severe than originally intended. Now my opinion of the film does need to reflect those circumstances, but that only goes so far, especially since some of the main problems with the film are a direct result of the clash of styles between Snyder and Whedon. Ultimately though, this is one of the rare films where I felt absolutely nothing once it had finished, and in some ways I find that worse than feeling angry.The film picks up shortly after the death of Superman following the events of Batman v Superman. Due to the lower defence on Earth due to Superman’s death, Steppenwolf comes to Earth to claim the Mother Boxes hidden on the planet to reshape Earth for the arrival of Darkseid. To combat Steppenwolf, Batman and Wonder Woman assemble a team of fellow superhumans, these being The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. Now structurally, Justice League is very similar to the plot of The Avengers, but where The Avengers succeeds, Justice League falters, with the main issue being the tone. The tones of Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon don’t mesh well at all, the tonal whiplash going from a Snyder moment to a Whedon moment and this drew me out of the film. Another problem I had is that there wasn’t anything special about the plot. Going back to The Avengers, the decision to tie the plot into the development of The Avengers as a team was a brilliant call, the only time the Avengers actually fight together being the final set piece working for the development of the team. Here, the Justice League assembles way too early and when the League joins forces, the character development just stops, making it so I wasn’t invested in any of the characters during the final set-piece, the only exception being Wonder Woman, but that’s more due to the Wonder Woman film rather than anything that happened here. There’s also the issue of the characters being inconsistent compared to how they acted in the previous films. The way Batman reacts to the death of Superman seems to completely ignore his character in Batman v Superman, making him an ardent defender of Superman and seeming to ignore his hatred of Superman and there wasn’t really anything to predicate this change in Batman v Superman aside from the fact that Batman and Superman’s mums were both named Martha. Speaking of Superman, the Superman depicted in this film is not the same Superman we saw in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. In those films, Superman was more brooding and he was a figure of mistrust, here though Superman is presented as a beacon of hope for all humanity, when a lot of the plot of Batman v Superman was how people didn’t feel a sense of hope even with Superman around. Speaking of which, this also ties into how Batman acts in the film. In Batman v Superman, he was very distrusting, but here he tells numerous people that he’s Batman whilst going around as Bruce Wayne, including a full Icelandic village, with this going completely against Batman’s character. This issue also effects Wonder Woman as the character we see here doesn’t feel like the character we saw in Wonder Woman. Like in Batman v Superman, it doesn’t make any sense for the character to have gone into hiding for a century, especially due to her development over the course of Wonder Woman.
One of the biggest issues with Justice League though is its pace and how it sets up other films. Firstly with pace, the film moves way too fast, going from action scene to action scene, creating a really fast paced scene but cutting out most of the character development. There are a few scenes where the characters are allowed to shine, but these scenes are few and far between, even character motivations seem to have been cut out of the film. There’s a scene early on where Aquaman sees the remains of a Parademon on his hand but there is no indication of where that would have happened, with this tying into the issues of set up. It’s clear that more scenes were scripted and filmed to set up future films, mainly scenes in Atlantis to set up Aquaman and scenes with Steppenwolf to set up Darkseid. In the final film though, we only get around 3 minutes in Atlantis, all the character development being insanely rushed to fit into this short time frame, along with Amber Heard’s only role in the film being as an exposition dump, not utilising her talents. The same is also true of a flashback scene showing Steppenwolf’s first attack on Earth, with this scene having one piece of set up for future films and sidelining other elements, cutting out Robin Wright as Antiope (who was announced to be in the film), whilst the end credits say that David Thewlis was in this scene but I could not point him out at all. The elements cut out with Steppenwolf though serve to make Steppenwolf probably the worst villain in a mainstream comic book film in years, maybe taking the crown away from Malekith from Thor: The Dark World. At least with Malekith we got some backstory for his actions. Here, all the elements focusing on Steppenwolf, his relationship with Darkseid, all of that stuff, is cut from the film entirely, giving him no personality at all on the script level, serving to make the film more of a mess.
The performances meanwhile are a mixed bag, although only two performers really stand out. The first being Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She carries over her powerful screen presence from Wonder Woman, making her a compelling character, with the only reason her character even works at all despite how much it goes against her own film being because of how well Gadot sells the character development. The other stand out is Ezra Miller as The Flash, sure the character arc he’s written to have doesn’t make much sense, but the personality of the character shines through because of Miller’s performance, giving the film a much needed dose of levity and charm. Ben Affleck is given more of a personality this time as Batman but it’s also clear that Affleck does not want to play Batman anymore, his voice changing from scene to scene, even as Bruce Wayne, giving very little charisma to his performance, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is the last film in which we see Affleck as Batman. Henry Cavill meanwhile is finally allowed to play Superman and in these scenes he shines, having a great deal of charisma, making his version of Superman likeable, but his scenes in the film are too brief and he’s also involved in the worst acted scene in the film, along with there being an uncanny valley effect most times Cavill is on screen due to the CG used to remove the moustache he grew for Mission Impossible 6. Ray Fisher as Cyborg meanwhile has no personality to speak of, making the scenes with Cyborg, which should be powerful scenes, come across as dull, whilst Jason Momoa as Aquaman is stunningly annoying, all of his scenes were grating to watch, on paper his casting was perfect but on screen I dreaded every time Aquaman was on screen. The only time an Aquaman scene wasn’t annoying was the scene in Atlantis, but only because Amber Heard picks up the slack, despite her exposition dump. Of the other cast, Amy Adams and Diane Lane continue to be wasted, echoing myself it feels like they had more scenes in the original version but these were cut out for time. Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta is once again a powerful presence, but she only gets less than 5 minutes of screen time. JK Simmons as Commissioner Gordon is an excellent choice and in his brief scenes he makes a strong impression, but again he’s not given much to do. Jeremy Irons as Alfred meanwhile is another highlight in the film, his sarcastic, jokey version of Alfred providing some much needed personality to the film. Finally, we get some great performances from Joe Morton as Silas Stone, Cyborg’s dad, and Billy Crudup as Henry Allen, The Flash’s dad, the character development they have working down onto their sons and making their arcs work better, but again they aren’t given enough screen time. The low point though is Ciaran Hinds as Steppenwolf. Due to the way the character is written Hinds does not bring through any sort of personality to the character, any changes to the character come right out of nowhere and, as I’ve said before, it feels like anything that made the character interesting was cut out of the film.
On a technical level, Justice League is a mixed bag as well. The cinematography and production design is fairly strong throughout the film, giving the film some enjoyable elements to look at and the action scenes are well directed, but every other element is a mixed bag. The costume design for Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash is great, but Aquaman’s costume is boring and the new costumes for the Amazons are a complete step back from Wonder Woman, the costumes in this film being very impractical and way too revealing, at least in Wonder Woman the Amazon’s costumes were based on Greek armour, I don’t think any Greek armour would expose vital organs to be sexy. The music meanwhile is fairly forgettable, the exception being when Danny Elfman reuses his theme from the Tim Burton Batman films, although these moments are rare. The real low point on the technical side of the film is the CG, this being some of the worst CG in any superhero film in recent years. The green screen work is laughably obvious, especially early on in the film, the backgrounds in some scenes looking stunningly fake. This extends right to the final action scene, the red CG hue given to the film looking so ugly that even the solid cinematography cannot save it. The worst offenders for the bad CG though are the CG characters. I’ve already mentioned the CG used to remove Henry Cavill’s moustache, but mention also needs to go to the CG used to create Cyborg, making it look like only a portion of his head actually exists because of how poorly the CG for the rest of him is rendered, whilst the CG for Steppenwolf is so generic and ugly that it makes him more forgettable. Say what you will about Malekith in Thor: The Dark World and Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy but at least their designs were great, aided by excellent make-up work. There was no reason for Steppenwolf to be a CG character aside from making Ciaran Hinds a little taller, and he probably would have been a more memorable villain if make-up was used to create him.
Ultimately, Justice League just left me feeling absolutely nothing for the vast majority of its run-time. There were only two moments during the screening I went to where I felt anything and neither were in the main film. One was the first post credits scene, the other was the trailer for Ready Player One that played before the film. When I get a more profound emotional experience watching one of the trailers before the film, then I know something has gone seriously wrong. I know that some of the issues I had with the film were due to tragic personal events for Zack Snyder, but these circumstances only go so far, especially due to what I’ve heard Warner Bros mandated as well, with the main element that crippled the film being the mandate that Justice League had to be under 2 hours long. There are so many scenes in the trailers, scenes which had the charm and humour that would have at least made the film memorable, that were cut out of the film. This is clearly a case where this film was meant to be part one in a two part series but had to be paired down to one film and this decision meant most of the elements that were needed to make this film stand out had to be cut out. This is clearly not the film anyone envisioned when the DCEU was green-lit or even the film that was envisioned a year ago, this film feels purely like a cash grab designed to capitalise on the success of The Avengers rather than to do anything meaningful with the Justice League. The best I can say about Justice League is that it’s not as bad as Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad but that’s a low hurdle to clear but my lack of any reaction to this film may be worse. At least the anger I felt after watching Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad was a reaction, here I just felt nothing. There are rumours going around that DC is going to do a soft reboot for the DCEU with Flashpoint and I have to say, if this is true, I welcome the decision. The best thing for the DCEU going forward is to just jettison everything except Wonder Woman and give control of the DCEU to Patty Jenkins. At the very least, this would help make it so we can get a Justice League film in the future that does the characters justice.
My Rating: 1.5/5