Directed by Zack Snyder
Honestly, I wanted to enjoy Justice League. Really, I did. At some point in the latter half of the twentieth century superheroes became our culture's grand myths and I just want to sit in a theatre and escape for a couple of hours while superheroes do superhero things. And I don't ask much of a comic book movie. Action, some quips, some world building, a streamlined plot, some great stunts, some great CGI, and to never, ever be boring. Anything else is icing. What I think I'm trying to say here is that I don't expect every comic book movie to be The Dark Knight or The Winter Soldier or Logan or Wonder Woman or that perfect romantic night out, Deadpool. I know those films are the exceptions. It's not that I'm going in with outsized expectations, but I do want to be entertained and I never, ever want to be bored.
Honestly, I wanted Justice League to be good. With this cast. With the emotions of director Zack Snyder's personal tragedy still fresh. Following on all of Wonder Woman's successes, I wanted Justice League to be good. I didn't expect a game changer, just a couple of hours of escapism, a couple of hours watching superheroes doing superhero things. But goodness gracious is Justice League boring.
Let me clarify that - the first half of Justice League is mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly boring. Until you-know-who shows up, Justice League is just dull. Scene after scene after scene of normally great actors giving some of the worst performances of their careers. Scene after scene after scene of actors standing in bland sets saying some of the worst dialogue ever written for a blockbuster. There are a few moments of life in that front half, but none of it has to do with the new heroes. Instead of seeing Aquaman do Aquaman things, we get to see him, well, talk. And instead of getting to see The Flash do Flash things, we get to see him, well, talk. Both Batman and Wonder Woman get to do something cool and fun in the front half of the movie but it's over and then that's it. Back to the talking, talking, talking. The endless scenes of talking wouldn't be such a big deal if the dialogue was well written. But it isn't. It's dull with the occasional Joss Whedon quip thrown in. The tonal shifts in the dialogue are so jarring they can't help but make the audience aware of the studio's sticky notes that covered the script. Sometimes dull dialogue can be given life with interesting things going on. But the blocking sucks any life out of the movie. It's just face to face in bland environments or standing in front of obvious green screen with product placement for Mercedes-Benz thrown in. Blah, blah, blah, quip, blah, oh, a Mercedes. Rinse, repeat.
The first half of the film, until you-know-who shows up, ends up looking like something that was made for TV back in the 80s. It's boring, paced like a glacier, written by a room full of chimps with the occasional Joss Whedon quip thrown in. The second half does pick up and become a bit of a comic book movie with superheroes doing superhero things. But it still has issues. The CGI is just bad. The action set pieces are incomprehensible with no sense of geography, there is rarely any notion of where our heroes are in relation to each other, to the villains, to the environment. And then there's the main villain. In the rush of studio notes with nothing but "more like Marvel" written on them, Justice League has a villain that is like a mix of all of the worst Marvel villains. Ciaran Hinds' Steppenwolf is introduced as the Biggest Bad of the Bads but is really just a toothless mess with no real sense of threat.
But it's not all Geostorm for Justice League. There is some good here. As The Flash, Ezra Miller has a real charm and great comedic timing. He can take the most predictable Whedon cliche and make it sound fresh and new. He brings an energy to his scenes with the more experienced actors, a real sense of "I can't believe I'm in a scene with…" and makes it work for a character that finds himself working alongside his heroes. And he has a real chemistry with Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg. They have a rhythm together that just works. Until they are brought together, the character of Cyborg has no personality, he's bland and dull and written by someone who mistakes moping for gravitas. From his first scene with Ezra Miller though, Ray Fisher comes alive and is a bundle of energy.
Jason Momoa is, honestly and truly, great. He brings a laid-back vibe to Aquaman, almost like an aging surfer who has seen it all. But he somehow balances it with a centred seriousness. He brings fun and a joy to be alive to every one of his scenes, but also a weight of age that is missing from most of the comic book movies. Mr. Momoa very nearly steals this movie from you-know-who. His approach to the character is similar to Gal Gadot's approach to Wonder Woman, someone who has lived a life that can only be hinted at by the way they approach each situation, be it smirking and laughing while in a fight or the way their lives' experiences lend weight to the way they traverse life. I can't wait to see Jason Momoa's Aquaman movie. And when I was young and dumb, I hated, hated with the power of a thousand suns, the character of Aquaman. Jason Momoa has done the impossible. He has made Aquaman cool.
If the rumours are true it will be shame to lose Ben Affleck from this franchise. His tired and bruised and alcoholic Bruce Wayne is a nice twist on the character. His redemptive arc in this movie is mostly lost to bad editing, but it's there is you squint hard enough. His sarcasm and lack of patience keeps him among the top tier of those who have played this character over the last twenty eight years. It would be nice to have Mr. Affleck play this character in a great film. I think he's doing something interesting when he's given a chance.
Importantly, Justice League makes amends for the way you-know-who was treated in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. For the first time in this franchise there's a feeling that the filmmakers like the character, really have affection for him. The actor and the character pick this film up and almost delivers it over the finish line. He doesn't save Justice League, not even with the help of this cast. But it is a better film, more fun, more full of life, once you-know-who shows up.
Justice League is a better film than Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman. But it's not a good film. It should have been, at the very least, a good film. These actors, and these characters, deserve better, much better than what Justice League has turned into. So much of the on-screen talent, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher and you-know-who especially, work so hard to elevate the movie but they're hampered by a seemingly never-ending rain of studio notes and a creative team unwilling to learn from Wonder Woman's lessons.