Justice League Spoiler Review

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: the superhero team-up extravaganza Justice League.)

You can’t save the world alone, and saving the DCEU might be even more of a challenge. After Warner Bros. and DC finally found their footing with Wonder Woman, the superhero series trips over its own cape with the cacophonous Justice League. What should be a moment of triumph for the series – the long-awaited team-up of their signature heroes – instead feels like an uncomfortable obligation. It’s like a weekend visit to grandma – you don’t want to do it, there’s other things you’d really like to be doing, but you figure you make the effort because she’ll be gone soon.

As of this writing, Justice League is underperforming even more than anyone expected. The film failed to break the coveted $100 million domestic weekend opening gross, which will no doubt lead to a string of think-pieces pondering, “What went wrong with the DCEU?” With all this in mind, it almost feels cruel to hammer Justice League more. But this is the task at hand. I come not to praise Justice League, nor do I come to bury it. Instead, I want to try to get to the heart of what makes it tick. This is a garish, visually hideous work of pop art, yet I firmly believe it has its heart in the right place: it wants to tell a fun, entertaining story about a group of people coming together to solve a huge problem, and growing as they do so. But what it wants to do, and what it actually does are two very different things. This Justice League spoiler review will highlight what works best in the film, and what doesn’t work at all.

Spoilers follow, obviously.

 

Justice League Batman

Unite The League: The Set-Up

Welcome to a world without Superman. After two distinct movies about how much of a jerk Superman is, Justice League would like to us to believe the DCEU Supes was really a symbol of hope. That is, of course, how Superman should be, but the DC films have gone out of their way to paint a portrait of a conflicted, angst-ridden Man of Steel who doesn’t understand why people won’t get off his back. Of course, death changes things. When you attend the funeral of someone who was a jerk in real life, you don’t give a eulogy about how much you disliked them.

Over a montage set to an abysmal cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”, we see a world growing uglier, and meaner, following the death of Superman. Racism, crime, misery are all on the rise, and the world at large still seems to be in a state of shock. “Everybody knows the good guys lost,” as the one of the lyrics in “Everybody Knows” say.

Ordinary criminals and jerks seem to be flourishing in the wake of Superman’s death, but so, too, are Parademon – giant bug-demon people who fly around, hissing and spitting and having absolutely no personality. You might remember them from the mind-numbingly bad dream sequence in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; the one where Batman (Ben Affleck) wears a duster over his batsuit for some reason.

Speaking of Batman, he’s feeling pretty guilty about Superman’s death. After all, Lex Luthor stoked Batman’s xenophobia to turn him against the Kryptonian, leading to a smack-down that ended with the monstrous Doomsday murdering Supes. As if to atone for his hand in Superman’s demise, Batman is hell-bent on assembling a team of heroes with extraordinary abilities to combat the Parademons. Rather than do more research into the world of superheroes, Batman has decided to put together a team of people he learned about from all those QuickTime videos on Lex Luthor’s hard drive in Batman v Superman. That team consists of:

Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who you might remember from her own movie earlier this year. After single-handedly saving the DCEU, Wonder Woman is forced to take a bit of a backseat here. While Gadot’s performance as Diana of Themyscira in Wonder Woman was one of great humor and humanity, here she does little more than strike cool poses with her shield, get saddled with painfully flat dialogue and be the subject of constant upskirt shots from directors Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon. We get it – Gadot is a very attractive woman, but the male gaze has never felt more obvious and unnecessary than it does here, contrasted against Patty Jenkins’ wonderful handling of the character in Wonder Woman.

Barry Allen, aka The Flash (Ezra Miller). He’s super quick, and super funny. Miller is the MVP of the film, playing his character as a big kid constantly amazed at everything happening around him. As written, Barry is a dud. Even an emotional scene with his imprisoned father (Billy Crudup) fails to resonate with the pathos the film wishes it did. Yet Miller is so charming here; so confident in his portrayal, and clearly the only actor having fun. It’s infectious.

Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Talks to fish. Heir to an undersea kingdom. Says things like “My man!” and “Yeah-uh!” a lot. In great shape. That’s about it! There’s not a whole lot to Aquaman here. Sorry.

Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Cyborg had his body destroyed in a car accident, so his father (Joe Morton) used alien technology to turn him into a Cyborg. As a result, Cyborg doesn’t have complete control of his robotic abilities. But he can turn his arms into guns, so that’s something, I guess?

Very little time is spent explaining why Batman thinks these are the people for the job. Instead, he assembles them one by one and then they go to work. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), the worst villain in movie history, has returned from his banishment and wants to gather up the three Mother Boxes. Just what are the Mother Boxes, you ask? Who cares! The movie certainly doesn’t. They’re MacGuffins – objects awkwardly inserted into the story to further the plot. They sort of look like the puzzle boxes from Hellraiser, only with more lightning shooting out of them.

After the Justice League has their asses handed to them by Steppenwolf, Batman suddenly gets the bright idea of raising Superman from the dead. If you thought Superman was already sort of still alive – since the last shot of Batman v Superman showing dirt rising from his coffin might suggest that – think again. Instead, Flash and Cyborg dig up Superman’s corpse like they’re in a bargain basement remake of Frankenstein, then the team drops the cold, lifeless body into the moat of water that just happens to be inside the Kryptonian ship left over from Man of Steel. This is the same magic liquid that Lex Luthor used to summon Doomsday in B v S. Just how the hell does this liquid work? Eh, who cares. All that matters is it brings Superman back to life.

Superman proceeds to kick the shit out of the Justice League, and only calms down when Lois Lane (Amy Adams) shows up and reminds him of who he is. While Superman gets his bearings, the Justice League jets off to a location that’s clearly inspired by Chernobyl, where Steppenwolf, now in possession of all three Mother Boxes, is about to become an all-powerful world-destroying machine. Superman soon shows up to help, the heroes kill Steppenwolf, and we all go home with splitting headaches.

justice league flash

An Ideal of Hope: What Works

While every frame of Batman v Superman was an oppressive, pummeling bore, Justice League often seems to be trying to be something more. It doesn’t always work – in fact, it almost never works. But it’s clear an attempt is being made. BvS seemed to radiate hatred; to throw off sour vibes of doom and gloom, almost as if someone was constantly shouting “WHY ARE YOU WATCHING THIS?!” into your ears from scene to scene. Justice League wants to be more hopeful. It wants to believe in a better world; a world of heroes.

“I don’t recognize this world,” Alfred (Jeremy Irons) tells Batman at one point. Right there with you, Al. While Justice League only scratches the surface of deeper issues, it is very much trying to be a film that reflects whatever miserable hellscape we currently find ourselves in. In such dark, troubling times, it’s very hard to hang onto hope, and it’s even harder to find heroes rising out of the rubble. Justice League lets its heroes off a little too easily: there’s no conflict among them; there’s no sign that they need to learn to work together better. They just happen to team up, and that’s it. A little more difficulty assembling the team would’ve gone a long way, but what’s here is better than nothing, I suppose.

After two films showing Henry Cavill’s Superman as a reluctant jackass, Justice League finally gets him right (I’ve written more extensively about this here). To quote a lyric from Hamilton: “And all he had to do was die.” Some will no doubt find fault in this: it’s a betrayal of the character as he’s been established in the continuity of the series. Sure, that’s true. But here’s a counter argument: why would you want to keep that continuity? Maybe I’m being old fashioned, but I’d much rather have a Superman who acts like Superman instead of one who keeps complaining about how everyone wants him to be a hero. Also, I’d say the fact that Superman rises from the grave here is a pretty good explanation for a drastic change in character. Yes, he’s acting different than he did in his other two films, but wouldn’t you assume that dying and then coming back from the dead would change a man, even a super-man?

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a writer who frowns a lot. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, /Film, Mashable, and more. You can follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413