Following a run of critically battered films, as well as one universally praised outing, the DC Extended Universe brings together several iconic superheroes as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg team up to stop the evil Steppenwolf from causing apocalyptic levels of destruction.
If that all sounds a bit “so what?”, sounding like a film you’ve seen many times before, that’s because it essentially is because Justice League‘s biggest problem is its lazy, unimaginative and frankly boring story which ultimately boils down to “group of superheroes have to set aside their differences team up to stop the evil big bad from destroying the world” and when you get right down to it, not much actually happens, there are no particular standout moments and entertainment value is in very short supply. And for all the talk of a “lighter tone”, there’s very little comedy or good feeling to be found; there are a couple of good jokes (Aquaman and the lasso of truth, Flash’s finale rescue) but the league doesn’t come close to the camaraderie shared by the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy and overall, the tone isn’t all that different from previous DCEU efforts – at the end of the day, it’s only a touch more lighthearted. And the shortest DCEU film to date, which is nice. Additionally, there’s quite a bit of exhausting schmaltz in scenes involving Barry and his dad and Lois and Clark.
The story’s generic and unimaginative nature is perfectly exemplified in its primary villain Steppenwolf: an evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil CG monster with an army of cannon fodder minions who goes after the McGuffin plot device thingies in order to destroy the world or something. There’s not a hint of imagination in his backstory, no unique character motivation at all and surely the filmmakers know better by now that this kind of textbook comic book villain is insulting to the audience. Make no mistake, Steppenwolf is an eye-roll inducing insult, joining the likes of Malekith and Enchantress at the very bottom of the MCU/DCEU villain barrel, and his generic, lazy inclusion drags the film down and ensures that Justice League never evolves past disappointing mediocrity.
Of the central league, it’s Jason Momoa who gets the short end of the stick as an underdeveloped Arthur Curry/Aquaman, not really doing much of anything throughout the movie besides initially being the “I want no part of this” team member, eventually, and inevitably, joining the crew, going on to just jump about here and there, punch some people and spout off a quip or two. Here is further proof that the DCEU really needed to start off with some solid, foundation-laying solo films because there just isn’t enough exploration of his backstory, motivations or origins – we are instead given an all too brief and rushed, though admittedly very well staged, sequence in Atlantis where Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) talk about certain things that don’t make too much sense to a newbie like me, who doesn’t know anything about Aquaman’s origins. It’ll be up to the future solo films to enlighten us further about the character because as it stands, although Jason Momoa is a good sport, Aquaman in Justice League is too much of a blank canvas, just a bit too uninteresting and ultimately superfluous to the plot.
But at least in this film, Aquaman isn’t as completely useless as The Big Bang Theory or Family Guy would have you believe!
And on the opposite end, it’s Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/The Flash who is perhaps the standout of the piece, essentially doing all of the heavy lifting when it comes to providing the film’s comedic moments and giving us a socially awkward scarlet speedster who we can really get behind, one that hasn’t been in a proper battle before and who still has so much to learn. Miller‘s no Grant Gustin but future solo Flash films will surely be worth looking out for, especially if we do indeed get to see Matthew McConaughey as Reverse Flash! As for the others, Ben Affleck is okay, if a little bored looking, as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Henry Cavill doesn’t have a great amount to do as Clark Kent/Superman (except look a little odd with his digitally removed moustache) and Gal Gadot has her moments as Diana but the film doesn’t allow her to be anywhere near as good as she was in her own excellent solo movie.
And to my surprise, despite predicting that he’d be the useless fifth wheel (I’d never even heard of the character until he showed up in the Lego Batman 2 videogame), Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is actually a worthwhile addition to the feature; his backstory is quickly given but it doesn’t take much for us to see what he’s all about and watching him adapt to the predicament that he’s in, alternating between man and machine, losing control sometimes and often feeling like a monster, is pretty interesting – he also shares some good scenes with Barry. The prospect of a Cyborg solo film may encourage a few scoffs and it’s doubtful that there could realistically be one with a decent story but honestly, at this point in time, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
On the design front, the trailers had me worried that Justice League would be an ugly, over-CGd nightmare but that’s not entirely the case here as it’s overall not as bad as I initially feared; the generous use of CGI and green screen is particularly noticeable throughout though and the finale is more or less a continuation of Batman V Superman – a barrage of sub-par effects in a battle against a big CG baddie and his generic minions. The effects never really cross over into the realms of Suicide Squad level awfulness but it’s still all so tiresome, glaringly fake and unfulfilling.
Lastly, the post credits scene of the film is well worth sticking around for – quite possibly a highlight. And there’s also the mid-credit scene that I just knew would find its way into the film; I thought to myself: “If I was doing a Justice League film, I’d put THIS scene in for a bit of fun”. And it’s pretty much exactly as I imagined it would be.