Production difficulties and reshoots are not unusual in blockbusters these days, but the difficulties in making Justice League were especially harsh and tragic. To not mention them before reviewing would be unfair. Director Zack Snyder, who made Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman, left the film in May of this year, following the death of his daughter. Joss Whedon took over for significant re-shoots and post-production. Justice League is, therefore, not exactly the movie Snyder originally envisioned, but we can only review the film as presented. It is, sadly, not good.
The bones of a good movie are not here. It has been known for over five years that a Justice League movie was coming, as the big finale after reintroducing Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Yet it plays like it caught everyone by surprise; that nobody thought to actually plan it. It feels like the cinematic equivalent of blagging your way through an exam you failed to revise for.
If you made sense of the events of Batman vs. Superman, you’ll remember that a mysterious, powerful cube from space has found its way to Earth, heralding very bad things. Specifically, the cube, and two others like it, bring the arrival of Steppenwolf, an alien who uses the cubes to destroy worlds. For inexplicable reasons, given he looks largely human, Steppenwolf is entirely CG, of about the level that would have looked reasonably impressive 20 years ago. He’s a dull villain for a dull plot. He finds each cube with no hassle. There’s a bit of a scrap over each before he nicks it, then the Justice League run after him once he’s nabbed them all. It’s really quite astonishingly lazy.
Simple plot should have given plenty of room for scenes to establish the Justice League’s chemistry, but so much time is given to individual introductions (the newbies get about three intros each, all repeating the same information) that group scenes are relatively scant. Ezra Miller is the clear standout as The Flash. He’s entrusted with all the comic relief and pulls it off with sparky charisma. Nobody knows quite what to do with Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, whose water-skills are not really required, so he mostly cheerleads, whooping and hollering after anyone else makes a kill. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, a sort of Siri/Terminator love-child, is a boring misery. Gal Godot brings much of the earnest charm she had in Wonder Woman, despite a dearth of funny lines to work with, and Ben Affleck is still playing Batman like he’s on day three of a hangover. Their relationships are largely unexplored. They feel less like a team than simply co-workers.
This should have been superhero team-up to end them all, a massive celebration of comic books’ greatest. Instead it is almost apologetic, a will-this-do? stab at just getting them all on screen together, without giving them much to do. As much as we may all be fatigued by superhero reboots, it really might be time to write this one off and start again.