In 2013, when Warner Bros. launched their cinematic universe, Man of Steel was met with mixed reviews. As time went on, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the obnoxious Suicide Squad were maligned by critics and all but the most die hard of fans. Wonder Woman was a delight of a film, but then it was the exception, not the rule. Coming after Wonder Woman, there were rumors of a change at DC, the hype was building, and a seemed change of guard looked like it could result in fantastic films. Unfortunately, Justice League, proves that Warner Bros. has absolutely no idea what they’re doing with this franchise, as even the most basic tenants of filmmaking have been utterly forgotten in this bloated mess of what can barely be called a “film.”
Usually, when I review movies, I start with the positives, then discuss the negatives. For Justice League, the positives amount to just this: at least it’s short.
Justice League was plagued with an unbelievable amount behind-the-scenes drama, which caused so much of while I see it to be a failure. I’ll have a more in depth look at everything that went wrong during the making of Justice League, but for now, know that this is a very different final product than Warner Bros. wanted to deliver.
This is a film of two wildly different tones, and at no point does it decide what kind of movie it wants to be. Some scenes are going for a Saturday-morning cartoon vibe, some a dark, gritty epic, and some a science-fiction action flick. Director Joss Whedon replaced Zack Snyder during production, and this is so clearly the product of two polar opposite visions. Some scenes have that dramatic visual flair that Snyder is known for, some have Whedon’s light, snappy, sarcastic dialogue. While it might sound like a visually spectacular action film that has you laughing the whole time would be a great ride, these two tones mix about as well as oil and vinegar.
Also an eleventh hour addition is composer Danny Elfman, with what might be his worst work yet. Elfman truly seems like he’s on auto pilot, as in almost every scene, the score is wildly out of place. Batman is an agent of vengeance, acting under the cover of darkness to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. Why on earth does he have a fun little jaunt for his rooftop-robbery introduction? Elfman also manages to take the great character motif’s of Batman, Superman, and the particularly memorable Wonder Woman theme, and run them through the same, bland, superhero theme song generator you’ve heard a thousand times. Elfman is an award winning composer, the mind behind moving, dramatic, beautiful pieces of music. Yet here, the final product feels like something pre-installed on GarageBand.
As off-putting as the musical tone is, it comes no where near close to the fumbled visuals. This is, bar none, the sloppiest use of CGI in any film this year. There are two characters, Cyborg and Steppenwolf, that are almost entirely digital, and every time they appear on screen they stuck out like sore thumbs. Worse yet, everything looks like it was filmed on a soundstage. Characters are clearly standing in front of a barely rendered green-screen background. At one point, you can even see the glow of the green screen on one of the characters face. The actors are lit in ways that don’t match their environment, scene’s originally intended to be at night were post-converted to be in the day time, there’s no way around it, this is an ugly looking film.
Of everything mentioned above, there’s almost no worse visual fumble than Henry Cavill’s jawline. In one of the most comical stories of Hollywood being drunk on its own power, Paramount told Warner Bros. that he wasn’t allowed to shave his mustache, which he had grown for the upcoming Mission Impossible 6, when they did reshoots for Justice League. The result? Half of Superman’s face is real, half of it’s digital. I knew about this going into the film, and tried to not let it bother me, but the very first time he appeared on screen, I laughed out loud. This film had a production budget of over 300 million dollars, it’s inexcusable for it to look this bad.
The hollow and lazy visuals are met with equally hollow and lazy storytelling. There’s an old filmmaking saying, “Show, don’t tell.” Characters shouldn’t tell you who they are and what they do, rather they should that through their actions. Apparently, Chris Terrio has never heard this saying, because every single line in the first 35 minutes of the film is exposition. Every time a character opens their mouth for the first act of this film, they’re just expositing things to move the plot forward. I know writing superhero blockbusters is a collaborative effort, and for every credited writer, there are two uncredited ones, but this script is such as mess of different voices and studio notes, the result is a lifeless, confusing jumble of nonsense.
The worst offender is main antagonist Steppenwolf, as he’s just as bland and meaningless as every other awful super villain in recent memory. His motivation is half explained, his powers are ill defined, and his McGuffin hunting plot is boring. We’re told early on that he wants to come, rule the world, destroy the earth, and make it into something like his home world. Because I’m such a fan of the source material, I’ve know about Steppenwolf for a long time, but if you’re not fully immersed into the world of DC comics, you’ll have no idea what’s going on.
It’s not just Steppenwolf, nearly every single member of the team is completely mishandled. Credit where credit is due, after two troubling takes on the character, they finally nail Superman. He was full of joy, hope, confidence, and the light heart we come to expect from the big blue boy scout, but he’s not in nearly enough of the film to appreciate it. Even through his digital jaw, Cavil has fully stepped into this role, and I hope. We get to see him in something worthy of his caliber.
Someone we likely won’t see again is Ben Affleck as Batman. For almost the last year, there have been conflicting reports about whether or not Affleck will continue on as the Caped Crusader. His performance in this film may be the biggest piece of evidence that he won’t. He is clearly so uninterested in pursuing this role, as his performance is flat throughout, diving into laughably dull. He never appeared invested in this character, this isn’t Bruce Wayne, it’s Ben Affleck dressed like a bat.
Aquaman and Cyborg are both fine. They’re both members of the team we’ve not seen on the big screen before (excluding their cameo’s in Batman v Superman) and they both get relegated to universe building vehicles. Cyborg’s character takes a back seat to the plot device he serves, as he shares a close relationship with the film’s McGuffins, and unfortunately, the great work done by Ray Fisher is smothered by a lack of any form of character development. Jason Momoa as Aquaman could be great, but the film only uses him to say surfer lines and try to tease the upcoming Aquaman film. Seriously, there’s a scene in the second act that could just as easily be replaced with a title card saying “Keep a look out for Aquaman, coming to a theater near you in 2019!”
The final two members of the league, Wonder Woman and the Flash, are by far the weakest links. Back in June, director Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot delivered a powerful look at a female superhero who can stand just as tall as the rest of the boys. She was strong, beautiful, driven, and passionate. In other words, she was a fully developed character all on her own. In Justice League, she’s reduced to a lovesick sex thing completely incapable of doing anything on her own. At one point in the film, a character looks at her and says, “you’re just upset because you lost your boyfriend.” Pardon my French, but you can’t say that to fucking Wonder Woman. Worse yet, she validates that statement, affirming that without Steve Trevor, she’s useless. Anyone who thinks this is an appropriate way to write her character, clearly hasn’t seen her first solo outing, and has a gross misunderstanding about women in film.
Every single female character in this film falls into one of two categories: Sex object, or in dire need of a male savior. There are more shots of Gal Gadot’s breasts and ass than there are of Wonder Woman kicking butt. That’s a problem. Every Amazonian is wearing as metal bikini and filmed in slo-mo glamour shots that highlight their figure. That’s a problem. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Lois Lane is completely neutered without Clark Kent, to the point where she can’t bear to do her job any more, and is only redeemed when he finally returns. That’s a problem. The depiction of women in this film is disgusting, and there’s no excuse for it.
However, the single most insulting aspect of this film is the handling of the Flash. He plays the role of comedic relief, an important role that can bring levity to intense situations, and The film goes out of it’s way to show that Barry Allen (the man inside the suit) is a character with some form of mild autism. That could have been a great idea, as it’s a massive statement to have a founding member of the Justice League be a character with a mental disability. What’s not ok, is the way in which this film treats him, as every moment of comedy comes from a character making fun of his disability. If they wanted to make him a loner character, and tease him for being socially awkward, that’s fine, and would probably have worked. However, the film instead decided to make fun of a character on the spectrum. I can’t believe I have to say this, but Warner Bros., Autism. Is. Not. A. Joke. This was flat out offensive and wrong.
Justice League is a grossly offensive misfire at it’s worst, and a bland, lifeless, video game cutscene at it’s best. Some people have said if you lower your expectations you’ll enjoy this film. I can’t push back on this idea enough. We shouldn’t have to expect nothing. We shouldn’t be accepting of mediocrity. This is a terrible film, and no amount of fanboyism or lowered expectations can change that.
Rating: 1.0 — Dumpster Fire