The world has been struggling ever since Superman fell to Doomsday. The Last Son of Krypton was once a symbol of hope who (allegedly) united the entire planet, but in the wake of his death Earth has been marked as vulnerable to attack. First up to try his luck is Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a giant, horned, CGI baddie intent on uniting the three mysterious ‘Mother Boxes’ that are hidden across Earth and in the process destroying the planet. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) has a sneaky suspicion is going on and with the help of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) starts to recruit a team of super friends, you might say some sort of Justice League, to save the day.
The DCEU has been a bumpy ride at best. Man of Steel is about half of a good film, but there are some really questionable character choices thrown in for good measure. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a mess, there was a lot of story crammed into one film and the elements never really gelled, but it did introduce the world to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Finally, Wonder Woman was actually a great film that steered away from the bleak tones of BvS:DoJ and had some sense of hope. The Justice League has been something Warner Brothers have been threatening to make for a long time (I’m just sad that we never got to see George Miller’s idea come to the big screen). It seemed like the talk may never become a reality but it’s finally here, I’ve actually sat and watched it. The question is, has the DCEU learned from their mistakes?
The answer is yes and no, but mostly no. It’s no secret that Joss Whedon was brought in to finish things off after director Zack Snyder left production due a family tragedy. Ordinarily the sensible thing might have been to push the film back in order to make a coherent and consistent film. However, Justice League feels a lot like a number of different films that have just been jammed together. Some of this seems to be a direct response to the criticism of BvS:DoJ and some of it seems to be a clash of two styles but what you seem to end up with a bit of a strange hybrid.
I think the best way of describing Justice League is that it is a film where you can really see the seams. It’s painfully obvious at times where the original filming ends and the reshoots begin as various comic asides are levered into scenes or we get a cutaway to a very close-up reaction shot that just doesn’t look right. That’s before we get to Henry Cavill’s now infamously CGI-removed moustache.
The plot is pretty much non-existent. There are these three boxes called ‘Mother Boxes’ that have been hidden across the Earth, we don’t really know what they do or why anyone wants them we just know bad things happen if they all come together. It’s the most MacGuffiny MacGuffin that you could imagine, but it does allow for some substandard Lord of the Rings styles battles during the exposition-heavy sections. The villain of the piece, Steppenwolf, is one of the worst CG characters that I can remember for a long time. I’m pretty sure if you asked fans to draw up a list of villains that they’d like the Justice League to take on Steppenwolf would be near the bottom, yes even below Codpiece. He looks like the most generic fantasy video game baddie with an equally generic goal of finding a MacGuffin and destroying the planet. Steppenwolf is not a great character, he just appears periodically to unleash some generic faceless alien henchmen for the gang to punch then disappears.
I found it really difficult to actually care about any of the characters apart from Wonder Woman and that’s because Warner Brothers haven’t really taken the time to build up to this epic team up carefully. Whereas Marvel took the time to develop each character before Avengers Assemble the Justice League has to do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of characterisation. Ezra Miller is ok as the Flash but he’s only really there as the comic relief, and to be honest he’s not that funny, it’s just a little bit irritating. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) seems like he’s drifted in from Point Break and it’s never really clear what his powers are. Cyborg is a key part of the story and is potentially the most interesting new character but I still found it hard to care about him. Ben Affleck seems to be really keen to get out of the cowl as this is not a great Batman performance. I always thought of Batman as being incredibly intelligent but the last two films have shown he’s actually a bit of a dummy. One of the key points of the film is to guard one of the MacGuffin boxes but somehow Batman manages to misplace it. Wonder Woman remains the best thing about the DCEU but Justice League has really shown that the success of Wonder Woman really was a team effort. Without the smart writing and direction the character is a little bit lifeless. This isn’t really helped by the leering camera angles that seem to be permanently focused up her skirt or down her top. It’s not a massive spoiler to say that Superman is back, it was always obvious he was going to come back and sadly he’s come back as the same poor facsimile of the character that we used to love.
I didn’t really enjoy Justice League, it’s not a great film but at least the tone is moving in a less grey and more hopeful direction. The resulting film is a mess but I think it’s actually a lot better than it could have been, which is a worry. It’s up there with some of the weakest films I’ve seen at the cinema this year but at the same time I’m not really that upset about it. I think I always had fairly low expectations for the film so the fact that it’s not worse is some kind of relief.