Here’s the thing. Justice League isn’t as bad as the earliest trailers led us to believe. But, for all the star power, the afterglow of Wonder Woman and the punch-up work of Joss Whedon, it’s not good either. And it’s a far cry from as good as it might have been if the powers that be had bothered to reflect on what went wrong with Batman vs. Superman or Suicide Squad. If not for drastically lowered expectations, even the genuine efforts of many involved would be lost to the frustration that the DECU seems destined to repeat its own mistakes.
But let’s unpack the plot before we get into the weeds because the flaws (and the few sure steps) start there. This installment finds Batman (Ben Affleck) full of resolve to save the world from an attack he feels sure is coming, even if he can’t quite figure out what it will be. He calls on Diana Prince (actual Wonder Woman Gal Gadot) to help him recruit some other heroes to face down the world-ending threat he hasn’t quite identified. And so we meet Aquaman (Jason Momoa, who does his damnedest to make this guy cool), Cyborg (Ray Fisher, who does a lot with a scant character) and The Flash (Ezra Miller, who is a ray of sunshine). They don’t exactly jump at the suggestion, except for Flash, who leaps without looking cause he wants friends.
But, fortunately for Bruce, they all eventually come into the fold, and basically everyone knows more about what’s going on than he does. An ancient evil by the name of Steppenwolf is on a mission to unite a trio of mystical boxes. He’s bad news because he’s a planet destroyer, he destroys planets. (Don’t all of the invading aliens pull that move?). Anyway, Superman had him super scared, but with Kal-El dead, Steppenwolf decides to get his big ol’ axe and cause some trouble. Of course, we all know the world’s not going to end, so it’s another stake-less adventure with another low-rent CGI villain. And, as if to underscore how secure every character in this Universe is, the gang’s first mission together is all about giving Superman a literal Frankenstein treatment, because they can’t think of any other way to best the big bad.
It’s more cohesive than where we’ve been, but it’s still drab and boring. Instead of spending time developing all of the characters just mixing into the DCEU, we spend the first half of the movie watching them make mistakes that serve the plot. Then it’s a series of slam-bang battles and sequences of “did we just become best friends?!” moments before we hit the inevitable cut-scenes. The first of these scenes hints at what this movie might have been if it made room for bright and fun from the start, instead of those moments being crammed in after Whedon took the helm. The second of these scenes confirms the creeping suspicion that this series is doomed to repeat its mistakes.
For what it’s worth, here are the bright spots to take away from Justice League.
- Ezra Miller’s Flash is an absolute delight. Give this guy a standalone movie and do it the Patty Jenkins way, would you?
- Jason Momoa nearly did the impossible, and he deserves a lot of credit for it. We meet an Aquaman that’s pretty rad. He’s underwritten and kind of just has to hang out, but he’s bringing charisma to the table anyway.
- We still don’t deserve Gal Godot. Godot soldiers through this movie where the boys are always on about how hot she is and she’s suddenly so much less dynamic than she was a few months ago with all kinds of grace. At least we can look forward to Wonder Woman 2.
But, even for the potential buried under this hodge-podge of a feature, Justice League doesn’t come close to the best choice for your weekend viewing. Choose Lady Bird instead. Choose Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri instead. Choose Mudbound instead. See Thor: Ragnarok again. Read some DC comics. Do what you will, but don’t go out of your way to see this movie.