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‘Justice League:’ an inoffensive mess

By Jonah Koslofsky

Section: Arts

December 1, 2017

I am not a DC fan. Personally, I’ve always preferred Marvel comics over their older counterparts. But I’ve always respected the archetypal nature of DC heroes. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are larger than life, and were big well before audiences were familiar with Iron Man or Thor. DC is also (indirectly) responsible for the best comic book movie of all time, as after nearly 10 years of the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, no one has been able to match the brilliance of “The Dark Knight.”

But DC—or more specifically their parent company Warner Brothers—has consistently failed to create a connected universe that can actually compete with Marvel. Now when I say “failed,” I don’t mean that the recent DC movies don’t exist—unfortunately they do—it’s that DC has failed to establish a cast of characters worth caring about over multiple films. And this failure continues in “Justice League.” Of the five recent DC movies (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman, “Suicide Squad,” “Wonder Woman” and now “Justice League”), “Justice League” is shortest at only two hours, and the result is a movie that probably won’t make you mad (unlike some of the earlier entries), but it’s not worth remembering either. And it certainly isn’t worth seeing in theaters.

The plot, the little that’s here, is a poor man’s version of “The Avengers.” An alien threat is approaching, it’s bigger than any single superhero can face, there are too many explosions—you know the drill by now. But unlike “The Avengers,” which was an unparalleled success, these characters don’t have magnetic personalities that we’re familiar with from prior movies. Don’t get me wrong, Wonder Woman is still awesome, but the movie she’s in is a lot worse than her solo outing this past summer. “Justice League” tries to set up three brand new characters: Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. The problem is that Aquaman and Cyborg are totally lifeless, but I had a bit of a soft spot for Ezra Miller’s Flash, who’s actually likeable and interesting.

Speaking of lifeless, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Superman shows up for the back half of the movie, but he’s lacking anything resembling an arc or a reason for us to care about him (but hey, that’s true for just about everybody in the movie). And then there’s Ben Affleck’s Batman, a role the actor is desperately trying to leave. The worst part is that Affleck was actually better in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” than he is here, as “Justice League’s” script essentially decided that he’s Tony Stark, which just doesn’t fit. Instead of brooding or carrying the responsibility that rests on Batman’s shoulders, Affleck becomes this upbeat hero who always has a funny quip. At least he doesn’t murder anybody in this movie (looking at you, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”). But nobody’s as awful as the villain, Steppenwolf, an entirely CGI grey mess that is totally devoid of charisma or motivation. He just sort of shows up, and is the worst villain I’ve seen in a superhero movie since we had to watch Thor fight elves.

The problem with reviewing “Justice League” is that I’d much rather talk about the drama behind-the-scenes because it’s much more interesting than anything that happens in the movie. The film was supposed to be directed by Zack Snyder, who also directed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Man of Steel,” and has, up until now, been the driving creative force behind DC’s recent movies. His style involves a lot of darkness, overly long runtimes and a reliance on gratuitous slow-mo shots. Snyder has never been very good at telling a story, but he’s pretty good at making things look cool. Why Warner Bros entrusted its billion dollar cinematic universe to him is a mystery.

However, Snyder had to leave the project in March after a family tragedy, and Joss Whedon (director of the two “Avengers” movies) was brought on board to direct the parts of the film that had to be re-shot. Reshoots are a normal aspect of filmmaking, but another director taking over a film this late into production isn’t. What’s more, the reshoots happened to take place while Henry Cavil, the actor who plays Superman, was still filming “Mission Impossible 6.” The problem? Cavil’s Mission Impossible character has a mustache, and his contract determined that he couldn’t shave until filming of “Mission Impossible” concluded. This meant that the “Justice League” visual effects team had to digitally remove Superman’s mustache, and the results aren’t… good. For most of the movie, Superman’s face looks really weird, and it’s kind of hilarious.

Between the digital mustache removal costs and the reshoots, “Justice League” ended up costing around $300 million (plus another $150 million in marketing!), making it one of the most expensive movies of all time. It’s an investment that isn’t paying off, with an opening weekend gross of $93 million in North America, which fell far below expectations. It’s unlikely the film will turn a profit, leaving the future of DC movies in serious jeopardy. What’s the point of making these things if they don’t make money? It clearly isn’t to tell a good story.

But honestly, aside from the Superman mustache shenanigans, there really isn’t anything memorable about “Justice League.” With two directors and a shortened runtime that sucks out any sign of life, all that’s left is a movie that’s nothing but an inoffensive mess. There are some signs of improvement, and I’d watch more Flash or Wonder Woman, but in general DC continues to fail to impress.

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