I swear, I’m trying to like these movies. I have friends that enjoy the DC Universe and I know they are frustrated that I seem to have an unreasonable grudge against these films. I have other friends who are fed up with the entire superhero genre and see my love of Marvel compared to my reaction to the competition as hypocrisy.
I feel like I should like them. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are American icons. The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are all fun characters that have found life in a variety of other media.
But with “Justice League,” as well as “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad” before it, and, to some extent, “Man of Steel,” I feel like it’s hard work to find something to latch onto. You’ll note I don’t lump “Wonder Woman” in this group because it was actually good. So good, that it seems unconnected to these films.
“Justice League” is definitely better than its other two predecessors. It’s a little lighter and it’s fun having all the characters interact, but it’s still work.
There is a moment, however. There is a tiny joke delivered by Ezra Miller’s Flash that caught me completely off-guard prompting an honest, out-loud laugh. It was a moment that snuck past my grouchiness at the convoluted plot, the oddly disjointed tone, and the absolutely pointless villain.
“Justice League” begins sometime after the end of “Batman v Superman,” and portrays a world in mourning for their lost hero. If you don’t remember, or skipped it, Superman died at the end of that film in a giant battle with that film’s second pointless villain, a monster named Doomsday.
This set me off on the wrong path immediately because, if I remember correctly, much of the narrative conflict in “Batman v Superman” involved worldwide distrust and dislike of Superman. He was even dragged in front of a Congressional committee to answer for the destruction he caused in “Man of Steel.” Zack Snyder’s Superman is a morose hero who resents his role and the humans who don’t appreciate him, so it feels like the antipathy is mutual. But now we’re all going to pretend that Superman was everyone’s best friend.
The loss of Superman (or “the Kryptonian”) as the villain in the film, Steppenwolf, growls in hushed tones, has somehow made way for the invasion of Earth by the aforementioned Renaissance-fair reject and his winged Parademons. Or maybe it didn’t have anything to do with Superman. I couldn’t really tell.
Regardless, Steppenwolf has returned after thousands of years of exile to turn Earth into a hellscape.
Say what you want about Marvel’s villains feeling generic, at least they have a character arc. Michael Keaton’s Vulture, from the latest “Spider-Man,” feels like a real guy — someone who might have an actual point to make. DC’s villains are just evil for evil’s sake. “Really? That’s all you want? You just want to turn the Earth into a hellscape. No subtext, personal conflict, nothing?”
First he wipes out a bunch of the Amazons, a scene that actually had some resonance, since we all saw the excellent “Wonder Woman.” Steppenwolf steals from the Amazons the “motherbox,” one of three such items that, when joined together can, apparently, create hellscapes. I guess they can also create machines or bring people back to life, somehow, but there’s never any real attempt at explanation for any of this stuff.
Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) are out trying to recruit metahumans to defend the Earth, though I’m not sure how they knew Steppenwolf was coming. Just because, I guess. The scenes where they round up the team are kind of fun, but Steppenwolf is just too strong to defeat alone. Naturally, the only solution is to (spoiler alert) resurrect the only recently deceased Kryptonian to fight alongside the brand new Justice League.
Due to a tragedy in Zack Snyder’s family, “Avengers” director Joss Whedon was called in to finish the film, and the result is a bizarre atonal compilation. Characters are growling menacingly one minute and grinning the next. The quipping and the jokes are a welcome addition in some ways, but they don’t feel natural in this world. I feel like this series is in a constant state of course correction, and the result is that it’s weaving all over the place.
A big part of the problem in this film is that we don’t know these characters particularly well, and therefore aren’t particularly invested in them. Flash’s Miller is funny and, even though it’s not the Aquaman I remember, I could get on board with Jason Momoa’s take on the character. Cyborg is just a bundle of possibility that they never manage to properly explain or exploit.
None of these three have a lot of resonance because they’ve not been properly introduced. Yes, they want to do it differently than Marvel, but if something works, why change it? Wonder Woman is a character we care about because we know her already.
Unfortunately, she can’t save the movie single-handedly. I just don’t like Ben Affleck’s Batman, and Henry Cavill, though he certainly looks the part, plays Superman so alien and off-putting that it’s impossible to latch onto him.
I want to like these movies. “Wonder Woman” was refreshing and surprising. The rest of the DC Universe has been a slog. “Justice League” was certainly more fun than these movies have been, but it’s still poorly written and poorly paced. If Warner Bros. doesn’t pull the plug, maybe we’ll get a fun movie out of “Flashpoint,” the planned project for Flash.
Universal recently shelved their planned “Dark Universe” series after “The Mummy” tanked. “Justice League” isn’t exactly tanking, but it’s certainly underperforming at this this point. Time will tell whether this League ever has another meeting, or if we’ll be rebooting this whole thing in five years.
“Justice League” is rated PG-13 for cartoon violence, language, and some mildly suggestive material.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.