And just like that, 2017’s superhero streak has come to an end. Despite the encouragement this past June’s exceptional Wonder Woman provided, Zack Snyder’s Justice League won’t sit among the ranks of recent hits including Logan or Thor: Ragnarok, but rather plummets the DC Extended Universe back to the pitiful depths of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. This rushed comic crossover suffers from clashing tones, dodgy special effects, comparisons to the far-superior Avengers, and worst of all, a lack of suitable standalone films to act as foundation.
Though it began development as early as 2007, Warner Bros.’ Justice League was delayed multiple times over the years due to DC’s rocky history appeasing fans with the likes of disappointments including Superman Returns and The Green Lantern. Also to blame was Christopher Nolan’s wise hesitation to lend his realist Batman rendition to more cartoonish material, postponing the iconic team-up even further. Then, something happened that rewrote the comic playbook: Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, which prompted DC to develop a crossover series of their own.
The DC Extended Universe was kicked off with of Man of Steel in 2013. Zack Snyder’s solemn Superman reboot was criminally underrated, but his follow-up, Batman v Superman deserved the critical backlash. Batman and Superman’s one-sided matchup and nonsensical rivalry only served to sell tickets, and the hasty introductions of a new Batman and other Justice League members only distracted from the material. The hotly anticipated Suicide Squad only furthered the mediocrity, but this summer’s Wonder Woman represented a triumphant return to form.
Last we saw of Superman (Henry Cavill), he gave his life defending earth from a Kryptonian beast. Batman (Ben Affleck) was doing research on “meta-humans,” which tipped him off to talented individuals Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). In Justice League, mankind is reeling from the loss of Superman, and in his absence, a conquering alien warlord named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) has unleashed a nasty army of parademons on humanity in search of the three all-powerful “mother boxes.”
Some require more convincing than others, but in the end Batman is ultimately successful at rallying a coalition to challenge the cosmic despot. Given this is a comic crossover involving a team of superheroes taking on an alien invasion, Justice League strongly evokes and borrows beats from The Avengers. However, unlike that dazzling film, Justice League is unable to effectively mesh its comedic elements with the bleak plot threads stemming from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Worse, a nightmare behind the scenes mars the final product beyond redemption.
Reports of production woes have plagued Justice League since its conception, and DC’s troubles culminated with Zack Snyder leaving the project halfway through to attend to a family tragedy. Joss Whedon, who had been contracted to write additional scenes for re-shoots, was tapped to direct in post-production. This passing of batons was met with some crass praise from fans who faulted Snyder for DC’s missteps, but in reality, the unfortunate change of hands likely represented the death blow to the project, exacerbating the preexisting disparity in tone.
The final product is an awkward mesh of Snyder’s weighty gravitas, and Whedon’s quirky mischief. Justice League’s subject matter demands a playful approach, but the dramatic content in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman renders such a sudden shift in mood impossible. DC would have been better off adhering to Nolan’s formula of real-world grit rather than caving in to detractors and trying to force a lighthearted spectacle from such grim origins. DC’s latest film indicates a turbulent identity crisis at the heart of a mad scramble to imitate the competition.
It’s common knowledge that Affleck is fed up playing Batman, and his frustration here is perceptible. In contrast, Ezra Miller lights up the screen as The Flash. Most of his Whedon-fed one-liners are remarkably ill-timed, but Miller shines regardless. Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot continue to charm as the impeccably-cast Superman and Wonder Woman, and Jason Mamoa and Ray Fisher suggest offering more skill than they can make use of as Aquaman and Cyborg. Despite being trapped in such clumsy material, Amy Adams continues to enthrall as Lois Lane.
If you thought the villain in X-Men: Apocalypse was two-dimensional, you’ve seen nothing yet. Justice League’s bellowing blockhead Steppenwolf is a bombastic regurgitation of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Ronan. Obscured by layers of crude CGI, Ciarán Hinds fails to make an impression. As the tyrant wages war with the Justice League, DC’s long-awaited crossover resembles how early naysayers originally expected The Avengers to manifest: bloated, uneven, and soulless. Lacking standalone films to build on, Snyder and Whedon disappoint with a tonally conflicted mess.
Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment and Cruel and Unusual Films.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Written by Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder, based on Justice League by Gardner Fox.
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen and J. K. Simmons.
Released November 17, 2017.