Well. I finally saw it. I FINALLY watched Justice League.
Man. That was a “meh” movie if I ever saw one.
I’m short on time, as always, so expect SPOILERS for not only this movie but BvS and Wonder Woman, too.
Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Temporarily Dead Superman (Henry Cavill) to stop Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from taking over the world, or something.
1. Justice League isn’t an absolutely horrific movie. It’s considerably less of a grim slog than Man of Steel. It is vastly more coherent than Batman v. Superman. It’s not a complete structural nightmare like Suicide Squad.
But Wonder Woman, it ain’t.
If I could only use one word to describe this movie? Yeah, I’d go with generic. But since that’s not how we roll at MGB, here are a few more words: there is nothing original about JL, nothing visually or narratively compelling in any way. It feels a bit like a barebones script that someone wrote just to establish the main players and basic plot structure, only no one ever bothered to go back to strengthen, you know, the themes or dialogue or character work. And they sure as hell didn’t remember to punch up the villain.
2. Cause I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but it’s true: Steppenwolf is so boring that he makes Malekith from The Dark World look interesting. Yeah, I didn’t think that was possible, either. And yet here we are: Steppenwolf has no personality, none. I can’t think of a single line he says. I can’t think of a badass moment he has. I can barely remember what he wants, except, like, to get these Three Previously Unheard of Magical Boxes (henceforth known as the Three Bullshit Magic Boxes) and use them to enslave the world or whatever. Some villains are funny; others are intimidating, creepy, thought-provoking, or tragic. Steppenwolf is none of these things. He’s literally just there.
3. A big part of the problem, I think, is that DC simply didn’t put the work into setting up this franchise the way that Marvel did. Like, Marvel’s far from perfect and I could be here all day talking about what they’ve done to frustrate me–and that day might be soon, if I don’t love Infinity War as much as the critics seem to–but they did lay in the groundwork. We were introduced to all the primary heroes (even Hawkeye, albeit briefly) before The Avengers. We were introduced to Loki and the Tesseract. We spent years setting up these people and their stories before we actually got the first big team-up.
DC did some of that, but clearly not enough. Yeah, Man of Steel came out way back in 2013 . . . but BvS, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman all came out in 2016 or 2017, meaning there was a three year gap where DC Films didn’t put out anything at all. Besides, Man of Steel sucked. So did BvS and Suicide Squad–not that SS had anything to do with this movie–leaving only one actual hit: Wonder Woman. That’s not exactly a great foundation for a big crossover event.
Prior to Justice League, we’ve never once heard of Steppenwolf. (Apparently, he appeared in a BvS deleted scene.) We’ve never heard of the Three Bullshit Magic Boxes. (We saw one, once, for approximately four seconds with basically no context whatsoever.) We’ve technically introduced all of our heroes with BvS, but only in the strictest definition of the word; worse, the three characters who most need an introduction (Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash) are the ones who didn’t get their own movies prior to JL. At least The Flash has a TV show . . . but, like, it’s on the CW, which of course I watch religiously, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to mass audience awareness, you know? Instead, we kicked this franchise off with a Superman origin story, and seriously, who needed that? Everybody knows who Superman is. No geek card required.
Meanwhile, try to think back before 2008. Did you even know who Iron Man was? If you read the comics, sure, but if not? It’s unlikely. And now, like, dude’s everywhere, partially because Robert Downey Jr.’s super power is snarky charm, but also because Marvel approached this massive endeavor with some degree of both ambition and sense. DC, meanwhile, approached this like they were trying to make a buck in the quickest way possible, and it shows.
4. On a more positive note, Ezra Miller is pretty delightful as the Barry Allen/The Flash.
And mind you, I say that as a fan of how Grant Gustin portrays the same character. But Miller’s pretty great here. Barry is funny and relatable and way more interesting than almost anyone else on the team. About the only thing Justice League genuinely does well is excite me about watching a Flash-centric movie.
Also, Gal Gadot continues to make a pretty great Wonder Woman, although I wish she had a bit more to do in this film. Her opening fight scene against Roose Bolton and his lackeys is fun, but her arc is a bit thinner than I’d like it to be.
And though he’s not in the JL proper, I do continue to enjoy Jeremy Irons as Alfred. It’s too bad DC doesn’t do one shots like Marvel used to. I would watch the hell out of Alfred, like, spying on shit, sassing the superheroes, doing Bat Laundry, etc.
5. As far as the rest of the team goes, though?
5A. I honestly thought that Ben Affleck did a pretty decent job with Batman in BvS, despite the script’s hideous mishandling of the character; here, however, Affleck’s clearly just going through the motions. You can almost see the despair in his eyes as he phones in basically his entire performance.
5B. Superman feels a little off to me, too, and I can’t quite place why. There’s something about his whole “I came back wrong, at least temporarily” thing that doesn’t quite work for me. Maybe because it’s just so rushed? I heard that Justice League was originally planned as two movies, and Superman wasn’t supposed to come in until the very end of Part 1. I can’t help but feel that might’ve provided this story with a much stronger structure.
5C. Cyborg starts out interesting, at least. We see that he’s a bitter young shut-in who hasn’t at all made peace with his new robotic body or cybernetic abilities, abilities which are both potentially terrifying and constantly evolving. I was immediately interested in the character, particularly because Cyborg is the only one on the team whose very existence is directly linked to the Three Bullshit Magic Boxes–and yet after his introductory scene, he’s essentially given nothing interesting to work with. Like, he has some Vague Plot Shit where he does Vague Computer Stuff, but the rapid evolution of his abilities totally gets dropped and his whole self-acceptance arc falls flat. It’s pretty disappointing. (Especially considering how strongly his arc could’ve mirrored Superman’s, you know, if anyone had bothered to write an actual arc for both of them, rather than just a couple of thematic lines at the end.)
5D. And as much as I’d hoped for Aquaman . . . yeah, he doesn’t do much for me, either.
Jason Momoa spends most of the movie walking around like he’s King Badass of all Badasses, but for all his strut, I’m struggling to think of any scene where he really stood out at all. You know those scenes. The Hulk smashing the hell out of Loki in The Avengers. Quicksilver and “Time in a Bottle” in Days of Future Past. Wonder Woman and No Man’s Land in, well, Wonder Woman. But aside from a couple of okay jokes (I’ll admit to laughing at the Lasso of Truth scene, and that bit where he stole something from the Bat Cave just because), Aquaman is just, like, kind of a bro? And he plays in the ocean a lot? I mean, that’s about it.
6. Another thing that totally, utterly failed: the CGI.
Oh my God, people. The CGI is such shit in this movie. I mean, this film looks bad. Everyone talks about Henry Cavill’s Mustache Debacle, but honestly, that is the least of this film’s concerns. Take Cyborg, for instance: Ray Fisher’s whole face almost looks fake in certain scenes, perhaps because of the baffling decision to make almost his entire body robotic (instead of something more like this). Or Steppenwolf, who honestly looks like he stepped out of some generic fantasy computer game from the early to mid 2000’s. Steppenwolf is seriously terrible on every single level. And the fight scenes, dear Lord. If you feel like crying anytime soon, compare the Amazons battle sequence from Justice League to the one in Wonder Woman. I mean, it just doesn’t even compare.
7. Finally, some random thoughts:
A. Everything about Atlantis, including–unfortunately–Amber Heard, feels extraneous in Justice League. Like, Barry Allen’s scene with Daddy Billy Crudup provides an interesting backstory for the character, as do Cyborg’s scenes with Daddy Joe Morton. The brief glimpse we have of Atlantis, on the other hand? Yeah, not so much, and, like, this is ATLANTIS, people. Maybe we need to spend more than forty seconds discussing this mythical place that hasn’t appeared in any of the prior films.
B. The backstory for this whole movie is cribbed straight from The Lord of the Rings, I shit you not. Only it’s Steppenwolf instead of Sauron, the Three Bullshit Magic Boxes instead of the One Ring, and the Amazons, Atlantians, and the Race of Men instead of Dwarves, Elves, and the Race of Men.
This is some lazy bullshit, people.
C. Over the course of the movie, there’s a random family we check in with now and then, and while it’s eventually explained why, the payoff is severely lacking. It’s crazy to me that Justice League is only two hours long (which, admittedly, yay for a normal run time), has one major villain and three major heroes it needs to introduce (not to mention one major hero it needs to resurrect) and still takes time to film scenes of this random ass family we absolutely 100% do not need.
D. Not to keep harping on Steppenwolf, but to totally keep harping on Steppenwolf? The problem with him being such a boring, non-entity is that a) he defeats all the awesome Amazonian women without breaking a sweat, and b) he needs to be such a horrific threat to this world that our incomplete Justice League tries to resurrect Superman, as Supes is the only dude big and bad enough to take on this evil fucker. Even if Batman is primarily using Steppenwolf as a justification to resurrect a dude whose death he feels guilt over, like, the others go along with this plan too, however reluctantly, which means they must also see our Big Bad as a truly scary dude. So, you know, it’d be helpful if the guy was anything other than yawn-worthy.
E. It would also be helpful if anytime Batman was talking about Superman being an inspiration or a true leader
or the hero Gotham deserves, I didn’t feel the need to remind him that, in the last film, Bats spent almost the entire movie either thinking about or actively trying to kill the dude. Like, I get he came around at the end and all, but just because Bats feels bad that he tried to murder Superman doesn’t mean he should also be automatically worshipping at the Temple of Krypton or acting like he and Clark were totally besties, you know?
F. Finally–and I’m aware this is an extremely minor gripe from a chick who took journalism the one year it was actually offered at her high school–but why do all journalists in superhero stories write newspaper articles like they’re composing self help blogs? Like, this shit?
Darkness, the truest darkness, is not the absence of light. It is the conviction that the light will never return. But the light always returns to show us things familiar: home, family, and things entirely new or long overlooked. It shows us new possibilities and challenges us to pursue them. This time, the light shone on the heroes coming out of the shadows to tell us we won’t be alone again. Our darkness was deep and soon to swallow all hope. But these heroes were here the whole time to remind us that hope is real, that you can see it. All you have to do is look up in the sky.
I mean, I think Karen Page from Daredevil still wins as Worst Writer Ever, but seriously. Where is the fucking news here? Even if this is an op/ed–which, like, that’s not in Lois Lane’s, er, lane, right–like, come on. NOBODY HAS TIME FOR THIS DARKNESS AND LIGHT BULLSHIT. This is a 112-word paragraph where she repeated the word “darkness” three times and the word “light” three times. (“Heroes” and “hope,” meanwhile, are each used twice.)
Come on, people. What is this? What the fuck happened to the Five W’s of Journalism?
Bruce: “What about, uh . . . Diana?”
Alfred: “Well, you have her number.”
Bruce: “You could have called her.”
Alfred: “Oh, perhaps I should fly to Paris with a handwritten note: ‘Will you be Bruce’s teammate?’ Check yes or no?”
Bruce: “I’m only interested in her skill set.”
Alfred: “I’m sure you are.”
Bruce: “Barry Allen. Bruce Wayne.”
Barry: “You said that like it explains why there’s a total stranger sitting in the dark in my second favorite chair.”
Bruce: “Silica-based quartz sand fabric. Abrasion resistant. Heat resistant.”
Barry: “Uh, yeah, I do . . . competitive ice dancing.”
Bruce: “It’s what they use on the space shuttle to prevent it from burning up on re-entry.”
Barry: “I do very competitive ice dancing.”
Arthur: “Strong men are strongest alone. Have you ever heard of that?”
Bruce: “That’s not a saying. That’s the opposite of what the saying is.”
Bruce: “So, you’re fast.”
Barry: “That feels like an oversimplification.”
Bruce: “I’m putting together a team of people with special abilities. See, I believe enemies are coming–”
Barry: “Stop right there. I’m in.”
Bruce: “You are?”
Barry: “Yeah, I, I need . . . friends. People are difficult, they require a lot of focus. They, uh . . . they have a rhythm that I haven’t quite been able to–like brunch! Like, what is brunch? You wait in line for an hour for, essentially, lunch.”
Jim Gordon: “Do you really think that–”
(Gordon turns to see that Batman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman are gone)
The Flash: “Oh, wow. They just, they really just vanished, huh? Oh, that’s rude.”
Hostage: “We have families.”
Steppenwolf: “Why does everyone keep telling me that?”
The Flash: “It’s really cool you guys seem ready to do battle and stuff, but full transparency: I’ve never done battle. I’ve just pushed some people and run away!”
Barry Allen (to Batman about Wonder Woman): “You know that if she kills you, we’ll cover for her?”
Cyborg: “I agree. I don’t like the idea of reintegrating with the Mother Box, but I was running the numbers while you were being an asshole, and there’s a high probability we can bring him back.”
The Flash (looking at a newly resurrected and pissed off Superman): “Pet Sematary.”
Cyborg: “Man, my toes hurt. I don’t even understand the physics of how my toes hurt.”
Rushed and flat, without much in the way of originality or ambition. Despite the best efforts of Ezra Miller and Gal Gadot, this is the kind of movie that you really only praise by saying, “Well, it’s not as bad as these movies, at least.”
Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.
Oh, you know. Stronger together, shit like that.