Now five films deep into the DC Extended Universe, two things are clear: You can’t will a movie universe into existence, and Wonder Woman was a pure fluke.
Though elements and specific performances have stood out in the film series that began with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013), none of them have been pure successes, with the notable exception of Wonder Woman (2017). Man of Steel was too grim for such a noble and inspiring hero as Superman. Batman v Superman (2016) had ambition but completely derailed in its infamous third act. Suicide Squad (2016) was a total dumpster fire. And now Justice League isn’t terrible, but at no point does it stake its claim. It’s a carbon copy of all the other superhero movies we’ve seen.
After a glut of self-serious comic book movies that stretched to nearly three hours, Justice League is a brisk two hours. That would seem to work in its favor except the DCEU has done nothing to get us to care about new heroes Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). All three bring distinct personalities to their roles, but there’s nothing on the page to give them the same weight as Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Outside of our heroes, any new character introduced is strictly there to set up future spin-offs. They even got J.K. Simmons – an Oscar winner, no less – as Commissioner Gordon, and he literally only shows up to light the Bat Signal.
During the editing process, Zack Snyder left the film to attend to a family matter and DC brought in Joss Whedon to finish. He ended up re-writing the script and reshooting, by some accounts, 20 percent of the movie. And some of these new scenes are obvious, because a character’s mouth is CGI’d in a distractingly poor way. It’s another sign this movie was cobbled together because it has to work, or else the DCEU is in major trouble.
Part of the reason we go to comic book movies (and why we’re getting at least a half-dozen of them next year) is for the spectacle. But the spectacle here isn’t that special. Everything’s been drowned in visual effects. Very rarely are two people ever sharing the same space in the same scene. The fight scenes have no visual style. It’s always a mob of demons attacking one or more of the Justice League, with someone else helping them out. And seemingly every character, good or bad, can leap tall buildings in a single bound, just like the deceased Superman.
Almost everything here feels perfunctory. Even the villain (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) literally teleports in and out of scenes, and the movie seems so aw-shucks about the end of the world (in a completely different way from Thor: Ragnarok), the stakes never feel real.
That’s not to say there aren’t parts of Justice League that are enjoyable. Ezra Miller’s performance is a total delight. I can’t wait to see what he does on a solo mission, provided a director actually sticks with the project. And there’s some nice banter back and forth – including a great scene right before the climactic battle – that proves this world doesn’t have to be pitch black.
But it’s 2017. DC tried to take a shortcut to their shared continuity, and it’s clear they’re further behind than their rivals. They’ve tried to make up for it by copying everything we’ve seen in the Avengers and X-Men series, and done nothing to distinguish themselves. DC has missed the mark for now, but Justice League makes clear they have the pieces in place to get back on track.