Superhero fatigue: A review of Justice League (2017)

The internet currently seems to  be awash with thirty to forty something men (it’s mostly men) pissing and moaning about Justice League, the latest entry in Warner Brothers attempt to exploit their DC Comics properties and rival the MCU juggernaut. Opinion seems divided between those calling it out as a complete stinkbomb, and those reckoning it the greatest piece of cinema since Francis Ford Coppola was handed a film camera and an airport timekiller about the American mafia.

Perspective gentlemen, please. We lived through Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and the Schumacher Batman films. Nothing Zack Snyder has done has yet come anywhere close to rivalling those turkeys,  but given that 2016’s Wonder Woman has been the best entry in the DC cycle so far it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see why they don’t just get Patty Jenkins to oversee the whole thing and be done.

Yes millennials, this film happened.

Which brings us to Justice League itself. My initial impression of the movie was that it was enjoyable enough on its own terms, but ultimately played out like a special effects company showreel with a bit of plot edited together as an afterthought out of the endless acrobatics and masonry smashing. Now, this is  a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine, and I’m sure I’ve probably banged on about it in a previous blog, but spectacle is a poor substitute for narrative. Once upon a time directors knew how to balance these elements to drive the story and build characters that the audience could engage with. Then along came the Simpson/Bruckheimer axis and the MTV generation and it all went to shit. Every time we see the slate of new summer blockbusters, we see that we’re still seeing the baleful influence of those ‘high concept’ tosspots, and still they threaten us with Top Gun 2.

Okay, rant over, back to the movie.  Justice League’s story such as it is, follows on directly from Snyder’s expensive mish mash Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Superman is dead, and Bruce Wayne aided by Diana Prince set about forming a team of ‘metahumans’ to combat an imminent invasion by the clumsily explained god-alien-thing Steppenwolf and his horde of cyber fleshy insectoid warriors (this is all explained in a leaden flashback exposition sequence where it is difficult to hear any of the narrative for all the noise). And that’s about it folks. The rest of the movie’s running time is essentially one long fight punctuated by members of the team asking each other what they should do and explaining what’s left of the plot to each other.

I realise I sound like I’m being really down on the movie here, but don’t get me wrong, I know that ultimately I’m not its target audience. I admit it, I’m jaded by this stuff. Twelve year old boys will see Justice League and probably think it is the greatest thing they have ever seen, and that is just fine, I’d have felt the same at that age (I still feel aggrieved that my  younger self didn’t get to see the awesomeness of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra). If you want dark and gritty ‘’grown up’ comic book adaptations, then watch the mighty fine Marvel Netflix series (Daredevil and The Punisher being the standouts.)

Is Justice League a bad movie? No, but it is an empty vessel if you are looking to be engaged by anything more than a string of explosions. Should you go see it? If you want a popcorn, leave your brain at the door, beat ‘em superhero movie, then yes, it certainly delivers on those terms. To help anyone still wavering here is my pros and cons guide to Justice League:

PROS

  • Ezra Miller. Easily the breakout star of the film. His anxious, on-the-spectrum version of Barry Allen is bang on the money.
  • Jason Momoa has real screen presence. Here he banishes the memory of his Conan the Barbarian misfire and doesn’t waste a minute of his screen time. Bodes well for the solo Aquaman movie.
  • Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. End of story.
  • It’s not Batman vs Superman. It maybe something to do with Joss Whedon’s involvement, but there is definitely a lighter tone on show here, without sacrificing the established darker, more visually textured feel of the DCEU. It is also coherent and doesn’t play out like it’s been edited by a Warner Brothers accountancy intern.
  • Its vastly more entertaining than the dull and turgid Age of Ultron.
  • Superman and The Flash have a race.

CONS

  • Unlike say, Man of Steel, it doesn’t feel like like anything is at stake here. We see very little of the outside world being threatened by Steppenwolf and his hordes. No one ever seems like they are in any real peril.
  • Steppenwolf is a weak villain. This is the central problem with the DCEU so far. With the exception of Michael Shannon’s General Zod, all of the series’ villains so far have either been underwritten CGI ciphers or pantomime turns like Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. Darth Vader and Hans Gruber would never have stood for it. Sort it out DC.
  • None of the supporting characters have anything to do. Lois Lane and Jim Gordon are completely superfluous to the film.
  • Henry Cavill’s upper lip. You can’t take your eyes away from it. Just tell him to shave off the bloody moustache and screw Universal.

One last related thing. I read a lot of fanboy commentary either slagging off DC or Marvel and that one is better than the other. This is codswallop. Both have long and ignominious histories when it comes to prostituting their intellectual property in the pursuit of greenbacks. Yes, DC has produced its fair amount of turkeys, but anyone claiming that Marvel’s slate is clean in this respect has never sat through Albert Pyun’s Captain America (1989), or the hilariously bad David Hasselhoff vehicle Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (1998). Like I said at the beginning, perspective is all.

Bat nipples for Chrissakes. DC fans had it much worse before the DCEU.

I promise that this will be my last superhero movie related post for a while. I’m in the mood to dive right back into watching and writing about a lot of my midnight movie loves, so watch this space for some treats from the underworld of cinema.

Till the next time…

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