2017, PG-13, 121 min. Directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Henry Cavill, Ciarán Hinds, Diane Lane, Joe Morton.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 17, 2017
Let it be noted: At a sneak screening, there was applause. Cheers at a catchphrase unveiled. Great whoops of joy at an end credits scene revealing a new character, new avenues for future franchising. I get it. I don’t begrudge it. I know what it’s like to whoop, at least on the inside, with the thrill of seeing beloved, formerly page-bound characters spring to life onscreen. But for those of us whose relationship to DC Comics is only glancing – or tethered to previous film incarnations, like Richard Donner’s Superman, Tim Burton’s Batman, or Patty Jenkins’ flag-planting Wonder Woman – there’s little joy to be had in Justice League.
Picking up where Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice left off, with the Man of Steel six feet deep in a pine box, Justice League depicts the human world as one without hope and thrown into chaos. In other words, a fine time then for a nefarious alien god named Steppenwolf (Hinds) to touch down on Earth to reclaim a set of three “mother boxes,” the joining of which will give him unrivaled power and the tools to turn the planet into a smoking hellscape. Or something. The point is, he’s a bad motherfucker (seriously, he will not shut up about his mom, perhaps the only memorable quality of an otherwise utterly forgettable antagonist). With Supes dead, it’s up to his frenemy Batman (Affleck) to recruit a team of superheroes to fight this Steppenwolf, including Wonder Woman (Gadot); speedy, socially inept teen the Flash (Miller, a treat); the loner Aquaman (Momoa, mugging like a hair metal frontman, which is amusing about half the time); and the underdeveloped Cyborg (Fisher), turned into a hulking human computer after a dalliance with alien matter.
The film falls in line with the grim color palette and gritted-teeth course director Zack Snyder has set for the DC Extended Universe. After a family tragedy last spring, Snyder stepped away from the film, and Joss Whedon directed additional photography in the summer (reportedly in part to beef up Wonder Woman’s role). Their two sensibilities fuse together fine – the swarming hordes of villainy and slo-mo fetish are patently Snyder, and the uptick in jokes feels especially Whedon-esque, and it’s a toss-up who made the stretch for a generic political resonance. (In the DCEU, racists were emboldened because Superman died. How’s that for retconning actual history?) None of the filmmakers (including Chris Terrio, who shares screenwriting credit with Whedon) bothered nearly enough with making their characters interesting, or have compelling relationships with each other; this league isn’t so much a team as a series of sneak previews for future standalone movies.
Of course, we’ve already had the pleasure of two hours spent solo with Gadot in Wonder Woman – not a perfect movie, but a potent one. Lip service is paid in Justice League to the idea of Diana being the natural leader here (aka the Ben Affleck Exit Plan). Still, what a bummer to see this star player reduced mostly to assists and, in plainclothes, dressed to emphasize not her derring-do but her décolletage – a depressing reminder that Wonder Woman was an anomaly, not the new normal. Busy and boring and oppressively computer generated, Justice League screams we’re back to business as usual.