The Super Bowl of comic book movies for the DC Comics universe has finally arrived and it’s a major bust. Years of laying down the narrative groundwork, establishing the classic comic book characters in their film forms and finding a way to wrap them all together in one big cinematic tamale has led to an event that isn’t so special, after all.
At the start of Justice League, Superman is dead and Bruce Wayne (played by a tired-looking Ben Affleck) searches the globe to put together a money-making franchise for Warner Brothers–I mean, a team. Having already recruited Wonder Woman (the effervescent and better-than-this-movie-deserves Gal Gadot), Wayne tracks down Arthur Curry/Aquaman (an ill-used Jason Mamoa) and Barry Allen/The Flash (played by Ezra Miller, in an apparent effort to be as irritating as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor). There’s also Victor Stone/Cyborg (played by a charisma-free Ray Fisher) and the appearance of a monster named Steppenwolf who, strangely enough, isn’t introduced to “Born to Be Wild” playing on the soundtrack.
The pacing and momentum are off from the beginning, as the editing suggests that, at best, we’re watching a work in progress. Every cut to another character feels like a channel has been changed abruptly to yet another lousy movie. The blame can be shared by original writer/director Zack Snyder, as well as the un-billed second writer/director Joss Whedon. There’s also the slew of writers and producers attached, who took a sure thing and mishandled it.
Despite how good the actors appear posing alongside one another, none of them have any chemistry with their teammates. The camaraderie between The Expendables is a raging bromance in comparison. Affleck was exceptional before as Wayne but now seems unengaged. Mamoa’s lively Aquaman appears on loan from a far more interesting movie and it’s easy to forget that Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons and Diane Lane are also in this. This is clearly Gadot’s movie, if only because it’s such a flimsy vehicle to steal.
Steppenwolf is a terrible villain, one of the lousiest bad guys to wreck havoc since Sharon Stone in Catwoman. The CGI baddie is voiced indifferently by Ciaran Hinds and wears a helmet somehow sillier than the one David Thewlis brandished in Wonder Woman.
Loose ends, pointless bits, ill-timed sequences and scenes cut too short litter the oddly too-brief 120-minute running time. After an early, useless found-footage interview with Superman, Snyder indulges in his staple of a slow motion music montage for the opening credits. It worked great for Watchmen but falls flat here. Subplots about a Russian family and the state of Martha Kent’s real estate dealings (?!) are especially baffling.
The Wonder Woman portions work best, while the chatty Superman bits are especially lackluster. Justice League isn’t a disaster like Suicide Squad but isn’t better than Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which at least had a first rate Affleck turn and a climactic tussle that was suitably earth-shaking. Here, someone powerful knocks a superhero into a wall, leaving an impression of rubble and cracked cement, until the fallen hero gets up and it happens again, and again.
We have a year before the Mamoa-starring, James Wan-directed Aquaman. I hope it’s not as poorly constructed and painfully corny as Justice League.