(WARNING: This review, for critical reasons, includes spoilers for 2017’s Justice League. If you do not wish to have major plot points spoiled for you going in, please turn back now.)
It’s a sunday matinee. The time is now for witnessing filmmaking prestige. The lights dim. The music swells. The theater is filled with rancorous anticipation. Wonder Woman left audiences hungry for more from DC, surprisingly, after a few years of lukewarm and generally disappointing entries in the franchise like the edgefest-turned-meme-fodder Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad (yes, I don’t care how hard your 21 Pilots credit song goes or how much Hot Topic merchandise you sell emblazoned with the pasty hobgoblin visage of Jared Leto, it is still not a good film).
And within the first 5 minutes, the movie opens in a pseudo-Snapchat portrait mode, and Superman utters the line “hope is like your car keys”.
That’s when I knew Justice League was certainly going to be… something.
The movie takes place pretty much directly after Batman V. Superman, making the wise decision of acting like the previous summer’s escapades with Harley Quinn and the gang never canonically happened. I can live with that. What I can not live with is the absolute melodrama with which the film begins. It opens on an overly-lengthy series of depressing takes set to a pseudo-Lorde sad song of Metropolis (and the world) post-Superman-mortem. Homeless people with the vague message “I tried” scrawled on their cardboard signs. Crows walking over newspapers stating “SUPERMAN DEAD”. Rain. Strangely uncomfortable scenes of a guy being islamophobic to storeowners. A collective color palette of wet concrete. The song, a cover of Everybody Knows, goes on to literally have the line “Everybody got this broken feeling, like their father or their dog just died”, a little too on the nose for tone.
Abruptly after this, Batman fights an alien. Yes, an alien. I have no idea what these things are, much less why aliens coexist in this universe alongside Batman. All the while his cape appears to be uncomfortably CGI-ed in for unknown reasons. Said alien explodes into green goo that makes green cubic markings, apparently meaning something to Batman and subsequently Alfred, who the DC writers are desperately trying to give as many Marvel-style comedic quips as possible, nearly all of them falling flat with everyone in my theater except for two…. very enthusiastic women next to me.
Gal Gadot, bless her heart, shows up directly after this as a palate cleanser. Through a series of stunts involving a clearly-CGI and somewhat poorly rigged computer puppet, she stops a group of armed British men from bombing a purpose-unclear public building. She lassos one of them, and in a theme-park level of fake cockney accent, he proclaims “we’re reactionary terrorists!”. Truly, fine writing. Art.
Changing tone and focus at break-neck speed, we go from this to Batman/Bruce Wayne heading to a small Norwegian village to find a recruit Aquaman, who has hair like a Coachella-opening-act DJ and eyes so piercing you can’t focus on them for more than 2 minutes or so without fearing he’s going to reach out of the screen and shiv you between the ribs. The Norwegians explain the cubes are some sort of relic, and also out Aquaman as an Atlantian. Batman makes a weak attempt at convincing him to team up, to which he responds by ripping off his shirt and uncomfortably swimming away in black hipster skinny jeans to avoid talking to Bruce anymore.
In the meantime, Wonder Woman’s Amazonian home of Themyscira is invaded by a bulky 10-foot-tall guy with horns name-dropped as Steppenwolf the Destroyer, a name which seems like it would better suit an evil 1800s oil baron than a guy who literally drops out of the sky seeking magic cubes. He wipes out dozens of Amazons before leaving with their “mother box” (I’m gonna stick with calling them the magic cubes because that somehow sounds less dumb), and the Queen of the Amazons lights a warning beacon in Greece via a flaming arrow, getting the attention of Diana/Wonder Woman. Later, Steppenwolf beats the crap out of Aquaman and steals Atlantis’ own magic cube. This obviously changes his mind about not teaming up. It would seem long ago the cubes were scattered between “tribes”, as putting all 3 together turns the world into a “primordial hellscape” as literally stated by Diana later on. The last cube, belonging to humans, appears to have been halfheartedly buried in, like, 4 feet of dirt in a weak attempt to hide it. So things aren’t looking good for Earth right now.
Luckily, Batman manages to recruit Barry Allen, or The Flash. His entire character screams that some old crusty board-exec saw Spiderman Homecoming and wanted to figure out “what the youths like nowadays”. He constantly drops food jokes, more discount-Marvel one-liners, and puns like “I’m a snack-hole!”. His apartment also has roughly 20 TVs inside, at least 5 of which can be seen playing out-of-focus Rick and Morty in some sort of attempt to be cool and appeal to “the teens”. Diana as well sways Cyborg/Arthur Curry to their side, despite his moping around in a hoodie to cover his awkward CGI robot parts up and constantly going into long spiels about how he’s a monster, more machine than man, frankenstein, etc.
Cutting to the chase, once the team is assembled it’s revealed Cyborg possesses the 3rd cube, as it was used to power his robot transformation. Batman, seeing it’s potential, begins to pitch around the idea of bringing Superman back to life with the cube’s energy. Everyone else, like the audience and presumably most reasonable people, agree that this is an absolutely terrible idea and will most likely have dire consequences if tried. Batman, being an idiot, refuses to listen, and manages to persuade them to his side by demanding they need his team-guidance to prevent what I have dubbed “The Cubage”. Cut to Cyborg and the Flash, under cover of night, cracking jokes and fistbumping while digging up Superman’s secretly buried lifeless corpse.
Following an overly-complicated Frankenstein-cube-shocking sequence, Superman is alive again! And I am absolutely livid! Like, either you go big or you go home. If you kill off Superman, I expect him to be dead for more than two pitiful movies. Like, at least go five. Either way, Superman is alive, pissed, and unreasonably shirtless, apparently not knowing who he is as he goes absolutely nuts and attempts to kill all five of the League members in front of his own memorial. This includes him slapping Batman into a cop car hard enough to make it crumple. As previously stated, everything about this was an absolutely shit idea. Luckily, Amy Adams as Lois Lane brings him back to his senses, as he zooms out of there and they make out in a cornfield.
With the gang all back together again, the team makes their way to Russia, where Steppenwolf is uniting all 3 cubes (I seem to have forgotten in the absolute barrage of information how exactly he got the last one) in an old nuclear cooling tower. The team struggles, until Superman shows up, reinvigorated, to punch Steppenwolf in the face, making Batman break into an out-of-character doofy grin. Cyborg manages to pry the cubes apart, severing their power and triggering a small explosion, sending him and Superman to the floor. “I take it back. I want to die.” groans Superman upon getting up, a sentiment that perfectly reflected my internal monologue at this point in the film where the ceiling tiles of the theater suddenly were extremely captivating. Steppenwolf has his blade smashed and is cannibalized by his own soldiers and sky-beamed outta there in a surprisingly brutal death, leaving behind nothing but his bulky CGI helmet. With his demise, the cube-lava turns into pretty space flowers like the ending of a Disney film, and everybody goes their separate ways, until the inevitable sequel who’s setup-stinger I probably missed because despite the pleas of the presumably-underpaid teenage sweeper boy waiting by the exit, I did not stay until after the credits. It was not worthy of my time.
Overall, Justice League’s fatal flaws boil down to it’s insecurity in it’s identity and it’s non-established characters. The problem of Suicide Squad doing so well with ticket sales is that now DC can’t decide if it wants to stick to it’s dark-and-gritty roots or go full loose-cannon, happy-go-lucky Marvel in the tone department, and in this experiment at mixing the two, due to it’s failure to commit to either, it fails at both. And unlike Marvel, DC has made their big teamup movie before introducing all the players in their own standalone films, which leaves me disinterested in the fates of Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg as I didn’t have a full movie before this to understand and connect to them like I did with Marvel’s lineup before Avengers. DC is certainly making movies for these characters after this, but that does little when you already made the grand entree before the appetizers.
I was hoping for DC to bounce back after Wonder Woman’s promise. I really was. But DC is going through a bit of an identity crisis trying to find how to market itself. Right now, it’s rough. Any identity crisis is. And even if this isn’t a winner, maybe, if we just ride out the bumps a little longer, like anything with a beginning, it’ll end. When? I don’t know. Let’s just hope whenever that is, I never have to hear the line “hope is like your car keys” ever again.