Title: Justice League
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Chief O'Hara: Faith and begorrah, Batman. How did'ja ever escape?
Batman: Fortunately, I always carry my Carousel Reversal Spray.
Brief Plot Synopsis: "I'm only a man in a funny red sheet
I'm only a man looking for a dream"
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two-and-a-half Jimmy Dugans out of five.
Tagline: "You can't save the world alone."
Better Tagline: "Third time's a charm. Honest."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead, and everyone is very, very sad. So sad, in fact, nobody notices the global uptick in kidnappings/disappearances at the hands of weird, winged beasties. Nobody but Batman (Ben Affleck), that is, and the World's Greatest Detective links the appearance of these "Parademons" to ... three mysterious boxes. His suspicions are confirmed by Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who tells him they're linked to the arrival of a dread being named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). Bats realizes he and Wonder Woman won't be enough to fight the aging rock band, and sets out to recruit three other superhuman types — Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) — otherwise known as Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Together, they are the "Revengers"...er, "Justice League."
"Critical" Analysis: The sport of baseball has something called unearned runs, i.e. those scored on errors or passed balls and not charged to the pitcher’s ERA. Director Zack Snyder has helmed three movies in the DC Extended Universe (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and now Justice League), two of which have made unholy amounts of money (JL will too) despite being (mostly) critically maligned. This the general audience’s reaction to movies with Superman and Batman (and, finally, Wonder Woman) is a Pavlovian reaching for wallets.
Snyder’s success feels unmerited both because he was gifted a hanging curve ball (last one) in the form of one of the richest narrative franchises in U.S. history and because it feels like he piggybacked on what came before rather than carving out his own vision. MoS was another rehash of Richard Donner’s film (though a less slavish one than Bryan Singer’s), while BvS cherry picked the best parts of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns without utilizing – or appearing to even understand – the characters’ backstories.
Justice League feel hastily assembled, but what did you expect? Where Marvel has spent almost 10 years building its universe, DC started in 2013 (certainly not in 2011 with Green Lantern! Ha ha! Who's defensive?), with both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman criticized for being muddled, joyless affairs. Last year’s Suicide Squad was another misfire, with only Wonder Woman providing any spark of hope for the multiverse. Throwing in JL’s three new characters and trying to gel them into a functioning team in less than 90 minutes of screen time is asking a lot.
Certainly, some character intros are handled better than others. Batman uses an unwary street criminal as bait to catch a Parademon, which is actually in keeping with recent representations of his character. On the other hand, Wonder Woman foils a terrorist plot in London because she just happens to be hanging out – in full costume – on the statue of Lady Justice on top of the Old Bailey. Miller’s Flash provides much-needed levity as the only non-broody member of the team, while Aquaman is a decent wiseass foil for Bruce Wayne (not sure how much “acting” Momoa is doing, however), and apparently Joe Morton is the only actor around who can play an African-American scientist (see also: T2’s Eric Dyson). It’s amusing to think in some alternate reality his son Cyborg becomes the first Terminator.
But someone's still missing. Make no mistake, DCEU needs Superman for its mythos. He’s the most powerful superhero in their pantheon, and – as Justice League makes abundantly clear – the rest of the team, even with a goddess analog like Wonder Woman on board, are overmatched by the immortal Steppenwolf (more on him later). Problem is, this iteration of the Man of Steel is the absolute worst. When Justice League (occasionally) works, it does so because of the way Batman, Aquabro, and the rest learn to mesh their talents as a team. It works when Wondy reluctantly assumes the mantle of leadership, and it works when the new guys (Flash and Cyborg) share a moment bonding over how they’re the “accidental” members of the group. And this only happens when Supes isn't onscreen.
It’s not much of a spoiler to say Batman and company eventually come up with a way to resurrect Clark — and if your think your kids might be squeamish at the thought of "superheroes" robbing a grave, well, forewarned is forearmed. It also says something that, in a movie filled with dumb-as-rocks techno gobbledygook, the solution Bruce Wayne hits upon to bring Superman back to life is right up there with “Get her!” on a list of Bad Movie Ideas (and not only because an amnesiac Kal-El almost kills the entire League outright).
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But some of it *is* fun. We may never know how much impact Joss Whedon had on the finished product, because Snyder’s imprimatur is so pervasive; from the murky palette, boring villains, and mopey performances (of which only Fisher's feels authentic). Whedon’s influence is still discernible in character interactions (Flash’s rant about brunch, Alfred's cracks about Bruce Wayne's love life), but this isn’t DC’s The Avengers, especially since the humor screeches to a halt as soon as
Dad Superman shows up.
But even the Man of Scowl isn’t the worst part of JL. That honor goes to Steppenwolf (AKA “This Is the Best You Could Come Up With?”). Now, it isn't like all comic book villains are created equal: how many had heard of Thanos before the MCU movies, for example? But Marvel did the right thing by introducing him gradually. Conversely, we don’t even know who Steppenwolf is until he pops up on Themyscira and whomps a bunch of Amazons. This is followed by some hasty exposition from Wonder Woman about his Sauron-like defeat by the combined forces of the Amazons, Atlanteans, and various “tribes of men," which prevented him from collecting the three Lament Config...er, “Mother boxes" to generate the Genesis Eff...uh, "Unity" and remake the Earth.
He’s also a product of some of the worst CGI since, well, Doomsday in BvS.
Justice League may perversely benefit the most from DC’s recent round of diminished expectation (and buoyed by residual Wonder Woman goodwill), and there are elements that really shine, courtesy almost exclusively of Gadot, Miller, and Momoa (and Jeremy Irons as Alfred). But they’re not enough to overcome the aforementioned Snyder-isms or the endless reminders that Earth has “lost hope” since the big blue schoolboy bought the farm. Snyder may have left production abruptly for personal reasons, but the SuperJesus theme persists, and until the DCEU gets its head out of its own ass in that regard (and ditch Snyder), these are never going to be pale reflections of their MCU counterparts.