How can I describe Justice League without sounding excessively cynical or bitter? Well, while it’s not nearly as good as Wonder Woman, it is certainly leagues (ha!) above Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad… but that’s a lot like saying that the Mariana Trench is somewhere between outer space and Hell. So, in the spirit of fairness, I’ll narrow down the frame of reference a bit.
Justice League is the second best superhero movie in which a guy wearing an eyepatch shows up after the end credits to tease a sequel.
I wanted to believe in this one. I had faith that Zack Snyder would finally pull himself out of his creative slump (I’m the weirdo that actually enjoyed Man of Steel). He was saying all the right things during pre-production, casually name-dropping Seven Samurai as his primary influence. Unfortunately, a family tragedy forced him to exit the project, leaving Joss Whedon to handle the extensive reshoots—and, since WB has attempted so many franchise-wide course corrections that the rudder has broken, the whole goddamn ship ended up running aground.
There’s no Jaws or Star Wars style success story here: the troubled production is evident in every frame, starting with the decision to butcher the film down to just under two hours. A narrative like this requires room to breathe, to properly develop the characters and establish the stakes so that the viewer becomes invested in the conflict. Here, however, the action careens from scene to scene without any connective tissue: the heroes show up somewhere, deliver exposition with all the grace of Doomsday crashing through downtown Metropolis, fire off a few jokes, maybe punch something, and then move on. Even Superman’s miraculous resurrection occurs so abruptly, and with so little buildup, that it’s almost as hilarious as Batfleck cussing.
Ultimately, Justice League’s greatest sin is wasted potential. You could build a fairly decent standalone drama around Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, but the overarching plot buries his character arc. Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds, who has also portrayed King Claudius in Hamlet) barely begins to suggest the utter insanity that is Jack Kirby’s Fourth World/New Gods mythology, reducing him to little more than DC’s third consecutive Big Armored Bad Guy with Horns. And, as delightful as it is to hear Danny Elfman’s score evoke John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and even his own 1989 Batman theme, his new compositions aren’t terribly memorable. There may have been a fun comic book flick amidst all these missed opportunities at some point…
I just wish it hadn’t been left on the cutting room floor.
[Originally written November 19, 2017.]