Since DC Comics has seemingly decided to go about releasing its own universe building franchise in a pale comparison to Marvel’s endeavor in piecemeal fashion, I have decided to do the same thing in reviewing the various movies in the series. Does anyone remember the Super Friends cartoon from the 1970s and 1980s? No? I mention that only because for the longest time that was the only version of the Justice League (2017) that we had outside of the comics. Sure, there were other cartoon iterations between then and the release of this mess of a movie. There were also film versions of other characters that make up this cast of famous super heroes. But for unclear reasons, DC has never seemed to be able to successfully copy what made the Marvel Cinematic Universe so well done, and in one word that would be: organization. Instead of going with a well planned formula for introducing the six protagonists that make up this league of extraordinary . . . er, people, they went with the head-scratcher that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). In it, they made two classic characters, Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), into brooding, vindictive jerks who seem more concerned with each other than stopping the very clearly megalomaniacal Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), and a bunch of people die in the process. Oh, and they shoehorn in Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) for good measure before her own stand alone film was released the following year. Such sloppiness did not leave me hopeful for Justice League, particularly when they have three new major characters to introduce.
One of the things that is traded on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and of which I am not the biggest fan) is that audiences will have some recollection of previous films in order for their current one (usually one of the ensemble cast Avengers movies) to make sense. That is why they did the stand alone ones first, so that when it came to the big team-ups they did not have to spend a ton of time explaining things. You are largely in the dark with Justice League, though I suppose people will remember that Superman is still dead, at this point anyway. We start with a brief reminder of him talking to a couple of kids off camera . . . and we see his horrible Computer Generated Image (CGI) face (because they could not have Cavill shave for this film). Next we see Batman . . . doing something. It would seem there are new aliens wandering around Earth and because Batman apparently read the script, he believes they are part of a coming invasion. And indeed, there is a new villain of the week in the form of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), who is there to collect the so-called Mother Boxes and destroy the world, of course. Hey, at least it is not a blue laser? At any rate, they are scattered all over the world: one is being held by the Amazons (the people, not the company) where Wonder Woman comes from; another is with the Atlanteans where Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) hails from; and the last is in a lab next to the downed Kryptonian space ship that brought Superman to Earth and hatched the creature Doomsday that killed him. There is a fight for the ones with the Amazons and Atlanteans, which brings Wonder Woman and Aquaman to Batman to begin the team. Meanwhile, Batman recruits The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), and Wonder Woman brings in Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher). But what of Superman, you might ask? We cannot have a Justice League without Superman. Well, after their first encounter with Steppenwolf as a team, a successful one where they were able to handle him pretty well and rescue a bunch of hostages, they decide they need the Man of Steel. Thus, because science, I guess, they concoct a cockamamie plan involving the same chamber that gave birth to Doomsday and the Mother Box there in order to bring Clark Kent back to life. It works, though at first he does not now who he is, and starts beating up the good guys until Lois Lane (Amy Adams) shows up. But while they were busy punching each other, Steppenwolf slips in and steals the last Mother Box, and now he can complete the Unity. Seriously, that is the name for the process that is going to destroy the world. While Superman gets his memory back, the rest of the team travel to where abandoned nuclear power plants live, Russia, in other words, where Steppenwolf has set up shop. There is the inevitable CGI fueled battle, Superman predictably shows up and seemingly swats Steppenwolf around with ease, and the world is saved. Thankfully the credits roll shortly afterwards.
The main problem with Justice League is that it feels like six different movies rolled into one. We barely know Batman or Wonder Woman, and they are two characters that the film spends the most time on. After all, Wonder Woman (2017) came out, what, a month or two before Justice League? And it was set during World War I. So what had she been doing the last 100 years? There are a few throw away lines to explain her whereabouts, but nothing that makes any sense. Plus they have to give time to illustrating who are The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman, and to do so in such a way to make us care at all about them. I will give the filmmakers credit for trying. Victor was in an explosion and his dad, Silas Stone (Joe Morton) used the Mother Box (which had just showed up one day, apparently) to make Victor into a cybernetic being. Okay, how? When? With Barry, the backstory is even flimsier, something about lightning that even the movie finds to be less than satisfactory of an explanation. They barely bother to explain Aquaman. He is Mr. McSwimfast who is muscled and tattooed and likes to drink. While I will allow that we kind of understand the other three’s moral compass, for the last three just described, they could be anybody. But we are supposed to believe they will go along with Batman’s proposed alliance because The Flash needs friends and does not understand brunch? Or because Aquaman sees . . . trouble? I do not know.
The strongest character in Justice League, oddly enough, is Cyborg. We see (albeit briefly) a father who is dedicated to using science to preserve life. What a concept, huh? Imagine that applied to the unborn. At any rate, Victor has to come to terms with his new abilities, and he does not understand them. At first, he is hesitant about them, believing that he is some kind of monster. Though the film gives virtually no explanation as to how he learns them (they just happen, which is kind of like a child making up the rules of a game as he goes along), his moral character is informed by the care shown for him by his father, and this inspires him to want to do good in the world. If only others could be similarly inspired by the care our Father in Heaven has for all of us.
Ultimately, Justice League is kind of boring, and that is a problem for this reviewer with DC in general. Their characters are just too overpowered, and thus there is never truly any stakes involved. Oh no, will Wonder Woman triumph? Yes, because she is incredibly strong and good. Hooray for that, however it does make the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984 a bit more predictable. While researching Justice League, I noticed that they are going to be releasing what is being labeled as the Zack Snyder cut of this film. I watched the preview. I will confess, it looks a little different. Yet it begs the question: what happened with the original version? Did the director (also Snyder) really not have as much control over the product as he wanted? In any case, I cannot imagine any amount of re-editing or enhanced CGI (Superman’s face is really hard to look at) will be able to save this one from remaining an awful mess.