We’ll say that it’s better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and even Suicide Squad. By long shots, even. But that really wouldn’t be saying so much for Justice League, the latest and most ambitious installment yet of the DC Extended Universe. By the dismal standards of those two trainwrecks, one could argue that Zack Snyder’s latest superhero flick is a fairly enjoyable, if mind-numbing use of two hours that sort of manages to introduce and endear audiences to its characters, to some extent. But by barreling headlong through a confusing, overcrowded, and clumsily written story, Justice League fails to realize its potential and instead, weighs the franchise down in its painfully obvious aspirations of competing with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And that’s just the first and most glaring problem about Justice League: the storytelling is just all over the place. It spends almost half of the movie in the “recruitment” phase, which itself branches out into too many different subplots for each character (some unnecessary, all unconvincing). Then it moves into the confusing “resuscitate Superman” phase, which from the start, was a failed attempt at a plot twist that ultimately pans out as expected. Then by the time the film reaches its climactic “suit up, save the world” phase, there are still too many loose threads in terms of story and character development for the conflict to have the gravitas it needs. We hardly even get to know Steppenwolf, the movie’s antagonist, who comes off as corny, one-dimensional, and nowhere near as sinister as he should be.
Along the way, the movie is peppered with strange plot devices (Lois Lane as a secret weapon? Cyborg’s powers allow him to catch up with the story automatically?), terrible dialogue and cringe-inducing one-liners (“I love truth, but I’m a big fan of justice.”), and sad attempts at social commentary (Is Superman’s death in Dawn of Justice supposed to symbolize Donald Trump’s election?).
There really is just way too much going on. The movie feels like your 13-year-old cousin trying to explain his comic books to you at the family reunion: He talks fast to cover as much ground as possible, delves too deep into some parts and not enough in others, fawns incoherently over his favorite characters, and makes loud noises and embarrassing gestures. He’ll try to add an edge to his story by relating it to current events, but you know he doesn’t have a clue about what he’s saying. Then by the end of it, when you finally excuse yourself from the conversation to get a second serving of lechon, you don’t understand anything, and are definitely not interested in reading his goddamn comic books.
Justice League is only really enjoyable for its action sequences, and to be fair, there are enough of them so that it always feels like something vaguely interesting is happening. Viewers who are only in it to see superheroes punching monsters will likely feel satiated by the end. That being said, it’s hard to credit these action sequences for spectacle (perhaps with the exception of that one crazy equestrian relay), because of the film’s dark and unconvincing special effects, which are consistent with the look of previous DCEU movies.
And while Justice League certainly isn’t as witty as it thinks it is, there are a few not-so-bad moments of dialogue that one would attribute to the touch of Avengers director Joss Whedon, who came onboard after original director Zack Snyder dropped out due to a family tragedy. You can feel both of their fingerprints on Justice League, but it seems to be Whedon’s signature humor, and perhaps also his grasp of character, that keeps the movie afloat.
There are a lot of other nits to be picked in Justice League, but it’s enough, we think, to say that for all its ambitions and its sincere efforts to do everything a superhero mash-up movie should do, it ultimately falls flat. It’s clearer now than ever that the DCEU has miles to go before they can achieve what the MCU has, and they won’t ever catch up if they keep churning out the kind of vapid, insubstantial films that have defined them so far. Except Wonder Woman, of course. Wonder Woman is always awesome.