released OUT NOW! 12a | 120 minutes Director Zack snyder Cast Ben affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, ezra Miller, amy adams, Jason Momoa
There’s a single visual in Justice League that says everything. It’s not some epic moment, artfully composed and straining for iconic impact. And it’s not one of the countless times a character enters the frame in approved movie superhero style, head-to-the-chest and fist-to-thefloor. No, it’s the briefest glimpse of a broken, homeless man, panhandling on the street. There’s a tattered cardboard sign next to him. It says, simply, “I tried”.
These two words shadow every second of the latest DCEU entry. It’s simultaneously a mea culpa for the missteps of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and an eager, puppy-faced attempt to make amends, shifting that movie’s doomy, dispiriting world into a brighter, shinier orbit, building on everything that this summer’s Wonder Woman got so right. “Our darkness was deep and seemed to swallow all hope,” acknowledges one particularly self-flagellating line of dialogue. It may well be ripped verbatim from the Warner Bros annual internal report.
Locked into production even as the studio realised they needed a major creative gear change, Justice League lost its original helmer when Zack Snyder stepped down mid-shoot due to a family tragedy. The title credits state, bullishly, that this is “A Zack Snyder Film”, and the studio insists that around 80% of his material remains.
A thousand movie blogs will doubtlessly dissect the truth of that. Mop-up director/ screenwriter Joss Whedon’s input certainly screams out in the pop-culture riffs (“Not, like, in a Pet Sematary way?”), meta-zingers (“I’m not the one who brought a pitchfork…”) and general vibe of Hall H self-awareness that teeters on the point of self-parody (“Wow, it’s like a cave! Like a… BatCave!”). Gone is the desaturated grading that swallowed all colour from the world, let alone hope – Superman’s red, blue and gold pop on the screen as they should (spoiler: he lives. Of course he lives). There are moments where the action freezes into godlike tableaux and you sense Snyder’s overwrought, awe-chasing touch, but overall the gloomy, bombastic visuals of Batman V Superman are history.
The story is thuddingly simple. There are these boxes, right? Weird, crazy boxes. Put the boxes together and bad stuff happens. Bad man wants bad stuff to happen. Good guys don’t. That’s it. There are Silver Age issues of Justice League Of America with more rigorous plotting. There are pages of Silver Age issues of Justice League Of America with more rigorous plotting. The film mines the cosmic lore of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comic books but, like its CG-augmented blank of a villain, Steppenwolf, it’s empty plundering that relies on the audience’s knowledge of the source material to achieve any kind of resonance. The stakes are vast but strangely empty.
There’s no emotional context to make you feel invested
Of course, it’s all a means to line up our heroes like so many tie-in tumblers in a Happy Meal display. Ben Affleck’s sturdy Bruce Wayne gets to be Yul Brynner in The
Magnificent Seven, growling, “I’m putting together a team”. Of the new recruits, Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa bring military-grade screen presence: Miller’s Flash is a jittery, wide-eyed indie kid, Momoa’s Aquaman a whiskeyswigging metalhead. Ray Fisher brings something quieter and deeper to Cyborg, while Gal Gadot may not have a chance to shine as she did in her solo movie, but remains the key empathic linchpin of this screen universe, warrior and Earth mother conjoined.
It’s a charming cast, and their quip-loaded, Whedon-powered interplay is solidly entertaining. But ultimately so much of this movie is numbing, a wearying orgy of every weightless, hyper-real cliché of superhero physics. You’ll soon lose track of the number of people flung against walls. And when it aims for Peter Jackson epicness – hordes of horsebacked Amazons charge against Steppenwolf’s cannon-fodder army of Parademons – there’s no genuine emotional context to make you feel invested.
Hidden among the cosplay carnage is a scene that works beautifully. In a Kansas cornfield, a resurrected Clark Kent tells Lois Lane, “I’m back now, and I’m going to make things right.” It’s simple and real, a human moment among the metahuman. If DC’s cinematic universe has a future beyond endlessly bankable Wonder
Woman sequels then this is where it needs to begin.
The midnight fire drills sucked.
Diana was in the market for a bigger sword.