Justice League

One good thing that can be said for Joss Whedon’s Justice League? From the the very first shot you know exactly what you’re in for…
Portented by the cursed image of Henry Cavill’s Superman sporting a CGI mouth (thanks to his Mission: Impossible moustache) that make’s him look like he’s still loaded up with novocaine after a trip from the dentist and further confirmed during the credits sequence that has a homeless man’s sign saying “I tried” literally appear before the director’s credit; Justice League’s insanely bad rep is still going strong over three years later.
Assaulted by production problems of every size and kind, the catalogue of biblical speed bumps that plagued the JL’s journey to the big screen (and beyond) included everything from orginal director Zack Snyder bowing out mid-filming due to a family tragedy, to the whole original two-film structure being scrapped and the bulk of the script being rewritten and reshot by Joss Whedon, it’s frankly amazing the final product is even remotely coherent, but don’t get too excited – what should have been the high point of the DCEU ends up being more damaging that the Flash having a sneezing fit in a maternity ward…

The world is still reeling from the untimely imposing of Superman and a guilt laden Bruce Wayne is scouring the world looking for meta-humans willing to fight before the portent of an alien invasion seen by Lex Luthor in the extended edition of Batman Vs. Superman comes true. Hitting up super-speedy Barry Allen, H²0 breathing skull cracker Arthur Curry and half-man, half-alien A.I. Victor Stone with varying degrees of success, both Bruce and Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman brace themselves for first blood and get it in the form of Steppenwolf, a towering world-conquerer formed of hate, brutality and some questionable CGI. Laying waste to first Themyscira and then Atlantis in pursuit of three powerful cubes known as the Motherboxes (NOT to be confused with the Tesseract, ok?), Steppenwolf plans to use them to remodel the earth into a primordial shithole at no extra cost and it soon becomes apparent that their alliance of costumed identities may not be enough to stop him.
As Cyborg broods, Aquaman dudes and The Flash wise cracks faster than he can run, Batman and Wonder Woman put their heads together and agree that having a fighting fit Kryptonian around would make things much easier, but that’s silly thing to think. After all, Superman’s dead and gone… isn’t he?

Considering Joss Whedon’s geek credentials, you’d think he’d have a better handle on this sort of thing – not least because he managed to work miracles before when assembling Marvel’s Avengers to such massive success. But here he’s clearly scrabbling to align both his vision and that of Snyder’s which produces a tone of such inconsistency it actually makes you yearn for the overly complex crushing despair of Batman Vs. Superman – say what you will about Snyder’s vision, at least he stuck to it – and his treatment of these characters simply doesn’t link up to the established arcs they’re already on. In fact, he seems to be basing them on more cliched, cartoon versions of themselves instead of who they are in this universe; why else would Ben Affleck’s Batman, a rage embittered vigilante who had taken to violently maiming his victims, pull a complete 180 after the death of Krypton’s last son and now bizarrely choose to recruit the other meta-humans by simply walking up to them as Bruce Wayne and telling them he’s Batman? Newcomers Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash (I say newcomers, but we’re sort of familiar with them already thanks to Lex Luthor’s online fanpage) aren’t really given time to grow either, with Ezra Miller making the most of the endless string of comic relief he’s enlisted for, Ray Fisher trots out the usual Frankenstein metaphors and Jason Mamoa stomps about the place like he’s just got done running security for the Rolling Stones at Altamont (look it up), but worse of all, Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman has all of her hard work diluted into being a glorified den mother, reduced to folding her arms and tutting whenever some one does something cool. It’s even worse for the supporting cast as Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Joe Morton and Amber Heard are all trotted out for perfunctory appearances before being swept aside by an odd subplot concerning a poor Russian family living at invasion ground zero.
The plot sucks. Yet another, basic, stop-the-invasion retread that features yet another armoured, CGI giant for our heroes to pummel and the story flounders from set piece to expensive set piece while occasionally vomiting up the odd head scratcher of a scene. Why is there a bit where Flash and Cyborg bond over digging up Superman’s body? Why do the League lose the third Motherbox because they casually leave the world-leveling macguffin in the street like a discarded condom? And as for the finale, they might as well have just run the end credits over the film the second Supes arrives and casually bitch slaps arch villain Steppenwolf with all the ease of an abusive parent. Such is the lack of tension in the final battle – or triumph at Superman’s last minute save when he saunters in like he just popped out to get lunch – that nothing carries any weight and everything feels hideously unearned.
By the sheer law of averages, Whedon gets some stuff right; Steppenwolf’s assault on Themyscira is big and sprawling as you’d expect it to be and a flashback that shows an earlier alien invasion being thwarted by Gods, Atlantians and even the fucking Green Lantern Corps starts to hint at the scale that Snyder was aiming for; but it’s Superman’s I’ll advised resurrection which sees him go all “Pet Sematary” and fight his future team mates is a rare moment when Whedon’s approach actually works – but then even here he manages to flub the ending…
Considering how forgettable Justice League really is, it’s stunning how it’s dogshit legacy is still reverberating around popular culture to this day: Zack Snyder finally gets to restore his 4 hour (!?!) cut on HBO Max in 2021, Ray Fisher’s courtroom grudge match with numerous people on the production rumbles on and numerous other DC directors are still decrying the film in interviews. But if Justice League really was rock bottom for the DCEU, then the years ahead show that there’s nowhere to go but up, with Aquaman, Shazam! and Birds Of Prey scooping up  healthy box office along with honest to god plaudits from critics and their future slate looking pretty tantalising, maybe it’s time to put this misfire behind us…

After all, I’ve seen better leagues in a fucking bowling alley.


One comment

  1. About as spot on a review as I’ve read. Would love to see the original version. Say what you want about Zack Snyder but he consistently brings “epic.”


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