THE good news is Justice League is not as terrible as you feared. The bad news is it's still a bloated, disjointed affair that makes little sense and a hash of one of the coolest superheroes.
Justice League, the blockbuster mashup of DC's biggest superheroes (ie. DC's version of The Avengers) storms its way into cinemas this week. It's probably two movies too soon.
DC hasn't had much luck with its movie franchise, the DC Extended Universe, with only Wonder Woman earning the critical praise that eludes its other instalments. And while Justice League certainly doesn't plumb to the dreary depths of its previous efforts, the best it can claim is middling.
It has all the elements you'd expect from one of these bombastic affairs - loads of CGI, ambitious action sequences and, thank god, smart-arse quips.
But it also tries to do too much in its rush to introduce three new characters you're supposed to care about and save the world without anyone really noticing it was in peril.
Picking up after the death of Superman at the end of the much maligned Batman Vs. Superman, Justice League sees a reformed Batman (Ben Affleck). He's no longer the brooding Dark Knight solo crusader. He wants a team - a team with more powers than Alfred's (Jeremy Irons) droll witticisms.
So he's on a recruiting mission. As luck would have it, the timing is perfect as an invading alien supervillain, Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), has returned to conquer our little patch of the universe, looking for his "Mother Boxes".
Jeopardy? Ding. An excuse to get the merry band together? Ding. An urge to snigger every time someone says "Mother Box"? Ding, ding, ding!
With the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Batman enlists the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). That Superman (Henry Cavill) fits into this equation somewhere should not come as a surprise to anyone - Cavill has been all over the promotional circuit and there was that brouhaha about his Mission: Impossible moustache getting in the way of reshoots.
There are several problems with throwing together this team. The first, and most glaring, is the clunky necessity to have to introduce three marquee superheroes - introductions that should have happened in their own movies before this confab.
There's no way to be really invested in any of these characters - they're not given enough screen time for that to happen - so you're left with only fleeting impressions, for the most part. There's not enough backstory for any of these newbies to hang off. That comic book diehards might already be familiar with them is not an excuse - these movies are made for a wide audience.
Aquaman's most defining quality seems to be cockiness, and the underwater sequences feel out of the step with the rest of Justice League.
Cyborg, well, there's very little to say about Cyborg, apart from the fact he could be any interchangeable half-man, half-machine mishmash from a dozen other properties. The character is so tedious, the prospect of spending a whole movie with him is the best sleeping pill anyone could ask for. You also can't hear half of what he's saying.
The Flash, on the other hand, is a welcome comic touch. He's funny, he's self-conscious and he steals almost every scene he's in. That he's a young kid who doesn't have the full grasp of his powers yet, constantly tripping over his feet, is a clever move.
Plus, his fanboy moments with a certain Kryptonian are an absolute delight. The character gets the best lines in the movie and undoubtedly benefited from the deft hand of Joss Whedon's screenplay rewrite and reshoots when The Avengers director stepped in for Zack Snyder in post-production.
Gadot continues to be the MVP of the DC Extended Universe and even she is dulled without Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins' nimble touch. By the by, it's true, the Amazon warriors' costumes have been skimped down under the custody of male filmmakers. Of course.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Justice League is just how pathetic Batman comes across. When the Flash asks Batman what his superpower is, he replies "I'm rich". No kidding. In Justice League, all Batman manages is playing around with his whizzbang toys and gets his shoulder dislocated. In the shadow of super-powered beings, he's completely dwarfed.
He might've been at it for 20 years and this is a tired Caped Crusader, but he's Batman, goddammit. Fans won't brook seeing their hero reduced to fending off the minions while others fight the good fight. It also highlights just how ridiculous the Batman/Superman fight was - how was that a contest?!
Separately, many parts of Justice League could've worked. Together, they don't. It's tonally all over the place and that stuffy third act problem that plagues so many superhero movies bleeds into the rest of the film.
While Justice League is a step-up from Snyder's first two DC entries, there's still a long way to go before audiences can head into another without a sense of dread and lowered expectations.
Justice League is in cinemas from today.
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