Film Review: Despite Mostly Solid Performances, “Justice League” Disappoints

Film poster: “Justice League”

Justice League (Zack Snyder, 2017) 1½ out of 4 stars.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a superhero film in our current era of comic-book oversaturation did not feature CGI mayhem and end-of-world scenarios? Or if it came without extended sequences of exposition to explain dense backstories that are meaningless to all but the biggest fans of the source materials (themselves hard to define, since there are so many different, and differing, iterations of both DC and Marvel figures out there)? Imagine, if you will, a movie rich in character development, where we have time to care about setup and payoff, and with a climax where the action is visually legible, and you will be thinking of something other than Justice League. It saddens me, since I grew up preferring DC to Marvel, and loved the 1978 Superman film, as well as the 1989 Tim Burton Batman and the first two Christopher Nolan Batman films, but the current DC cinematic universe is poorly conceived (with the notable exception of this past summer’s Wonder Woman). I have my issues with Marvel, too, but there are at least a number of good movies in that franchise, including the most recent one, Thor: Ragnarok. But enough complaining; let’s talk (literal) turkey.

Superman/Clark Kent, you may remember, died in the 2016 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and as this new film begins, the world lies in mourning, deprived of its shining beacon of hope. Which is actually a little odd, given that in this particular series, the Man of Steel has only been around for two movies. How quickly the people of Planet Earth have taken to him to miss him so terribly … Leaving that aside, we follow Batman/Bruce Wayne as he tracks down new partners with whom to fight alongside, as he fears that, sans Superman, Earth is now open to alien attack, as witnessed by the odd bug-creature he fights in his first scene (it’s called a Parademon, and please don’t ask). Wonder Woman/Diana Prince is a given – since she was there for the battle that killed the Kryptonian – but two do not an army make, especially since Batman has no actual superpowers of his own, other than being rich, as he freely admits later. The person to whom he makes that amusing confession (and the film could use more of such bon mots) is one of his new recruits, The Flash/Barry Allen. The two other superheroes who eventually join the team are Aquaman/Arthur Curry and Cyborg/Victor Stone. And so we have the nascent, titular Justice League. Minus Superman, that is.

Left to right: Ben Affleck as Batman; Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman; Ray Fisher as Cyborg; Ezra Miller as The Flash; and Jason Momoa as Aquaman @Warner Brothers

Fear not, because through a series of mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus gobbledygook exposition, we learn (I use that term very lightly) that there are three magical boxes that giveth and taketh away life. With some luck, perhaps one can bring back the dead defender of “truth, justice and the American way.” Unfortunately, there’s a badly designed CGI villain from another dimension, named Steppenwolf, on the loose, and he really covets those boxes, which let him … wait for it … destroy our world to create a new one of his own devising. In case you’re wondering, he bears no relation to the 1927 Herman Hesse novel, nor to the Canadian rock band of the same name, but is an apparent actual villain from one particular DC comics subset. Our heroes – all used to going it alone – must learn to work together to defeat this mega-demon. Will they succeed? Maybe, but only if they can first resurrect Superman. I’ll let you guess the rest.

Jason Momoa as Aquaman (aka, manly eye candy) @Warner Brothers

It’s not all bad. I continue to enjoy Ben Affleck as Batman (despite #notmybatman trending on twitter right now), as well as Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (though director Snyder insists, unnecessarily, that she wear more form-fitting outfits than did Wonder Woman‘s director, Patty Jenkins). Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo on HBO’s Game of Thrones), as Aquaman, Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), as The Flash, and newcomer Ray Fisher, as Cyborg, are all solid additions, as are many of the supporting actors. Unfortunately, Ciarán Hinds (The Sea), as the voice of the digital Steppenwolf, is unable to overcome the deadening nonsense he is made to bellow. However good the rest of the cast may be, however, we just don’t get enough of any individual character to care. Did I say mumbo jumbo? Try all a-jumble. It’s the end of the world, and we sure do know it, but in this umpteenth version of the apocalypse, I am dying from ennui.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. He is the lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning “Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed”; a regular film commentator for the “Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at “The Baltimore Sun”; an occasional writer for the magazine bmoreart.com; and the author of “Film Editing: Theory and Practice.”

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