After years of development, the Justice League have untied in cinemas worldwide to decidedly mixed reviews and an opening weekend that could spell trouble for the DCEU.
Unlike some of the more jaded fans, I’m not out to get the DCEU and I don’t believe there is some conspiracy to discredit the films. While comparisons can be made with Marvel, it shouldn’t be an either-or situation; one has been around for almost a decade, the other doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing.
Justice League was meant to be the DCEU course-correct and forge a new path for the future of the franchise, yet the finished film indicates that the DCEU is in even more dire straits than we thought. The highly publicised reshoots overseen by Joss Whedon may have added some levity, but even the mighty Joss couldn’t course correct an already doomed ship. The end result is a wildly uneven film, perhaps the most visually flat studio release of the year and it reeks of executives overreacting to reading a stream of angry tweets from fans.
The plot (such as it is) involves Steppenwolf’s (a wasted Ciaran Hinds) search for the three mother boxes that will allow him to convert the Earth into a wasteland. If you thought Marvel had a problem with its villains being thinly drawn exposition bots with vague motivations, Steppenwolf has surpassed them all to be the worst bad-guy in living memory. A poorly written villain could be forgiven if the formation of the heroes is worthwhile, it isn’t. 2017 has been a pretty good year for superhero movies. Let me rephrase that, it has been a good year for fun superhero movies. Spider-Man Homecoming, Wonder Woman, and Thor Ragnorak. Perhaps it was too much to hope that Justice League could follow suit, but did it have to be so bad?
An early scene practically derailed any hope I would enjoy this movie. When Bruce Wayne is looking for Aquaman, he asks a bar full of people (including Aquaman) if they have seen him. Despite describing him as unusually tall and Jason Momoa, being the only tall person there, it takes a crude, childish drawing on a wall for Wayne to click that the man he is looking for is towering over him. Affleck’s post-credit scene in Suicide Squad had him meeting will Amanda Walker (Viola Davis) and he was looking at a folder containing pictures of the Meta-humans, including Aquaman. Now, you might think I am being overly picky, but 20 minutes after this scene happened I’m still thinking “but you knew what he looked like BRUCE, you’re meant to be the world’s greatest detective.” Given the wealth of cuts made (no William Dafoe, no Robin Wright), it is plausible that Wayne was being coy or trying to coax Aquaman out, but it’s one of many hamfisted moments that make Justice League challenging to like.
Ciaran Hinds is a fantastic actor, so why Warner Bros opted to bury the acclaimed actor under god-awful CGI (his lips don’t move at the same speed as the words he is saying) is a complete mystery. I have seen more convincing digital work on an end of level boss on a PlayStation One game, how did something that looks so unfinished make it into the finished film?
Having been one of the best things about Dawn of Justice, Affleck seems to have checked out of the role and phones in his performance. Wonder Woman might have been an awesome solo movie, but Gal Gadot isn’t given much to do here beyond some clunky exposition and a couple of cool fight scenes. Aquaman is reduced to a booze-swilling cross fit dudebro; he says things like “My Man,” and “Daaaaaaammmmm,” a lot. Momoa, you’re better than this material, and I hope James Wan’s Aquaman solo movie gives you a better script.
On the slightly more optimistic side, after two depressed outings for Cavill’s Man of Steel, Justice League finally delivers a Superman (albeit briefly) to believe in again. Was there any point trying to keep Superman’s resurrection a secret in the marketing? No, as everybody (and I do mean everybody) knew that Superman would be back.
Ezra Miller as Barry Allen (or Xander) is bright-eyed, funny, and the perpetual superhero superfan. Miller is without a doubt given all the funniest lines, even if most of the jokes fall flat (with extended pauses to allow the audience to stop laughing themselves to death), Miller does his best to inject some wonder. Two of the funnier moments that do land include no dialogue; the first sees The Flash push Wonder Woman’s sword towards her, the second has him trying to sneak up on a newly resurrected Superman who turns his head to look at Flash. It’s BvS all over again, a few nice touches lost in a sea of ropey CGI, woeful dialogue and a plot that’s riddled with holes.
I don’t need a superhero movie to be flawless, or high-brow, it just needs to be enjoyable. I didn’t totally hate Man of Steel, and I loved Wonder Woman, but I think it’s time Warner Bros thought long and hard about their shared cinematic universe. Wonder Woman was great because it was unburdened by having to set up or connect to anything else. Maybe there’s a lesson for Warner Bros in there somewhere. The ambitious and possible soft reboot of the DCEU Flashpoint might offer a chance for a mostly clean slate, but based on the response to this, it remains to be seen if The Flash solo movie will happen.
On the upside, at least Alien Ressurection is no longer the worst movie Joss Whedon was involved in making.
★★ DC’s heroes assemble for the first time in a disjointed messy adventure that’s home to one of the worst villains in cinema history.