Review: ‘Justice League’ gets a gold star for trying

Hello, darkness, my old friend…”

Well. Here we are.

After three-and-a-halfish years of this iteration of the DC Extended Universe, a span of time which has seen film quality – and level of consumer confidence – fluctuate from acceptable (“Man of Steel”) to bad (“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”) to worse (“Suicide Squad”) to rebirth (“Wonder Woman”), we have finally arrived at what, we assume, should be a benchmark for this iteration of DC superherodom.

Instead, “Justice League” feels more like a litmus test, a way to test the loyalty of its fanboys while providing a predictable story whose flashiest moments still lack any really intrigue to stand out in a saturated genre. While easier to swallow than “Dawn of Justice,” you know you have a problem when there’s more charm in your 60-second mid-credits scene than everything that has preceded it.

There’s no question the DCEU needed some major lightening-up after the downright morbid tone of “Dawn of Justice,” and though the bar had been set (very) low, “Justice League” does its due diligence in being a more fun and enjoyable movie. Keeping the affair at two hours instead of 160 minutes forces “League” to cut the fat off its bones (See ya, Lex Luthor, wouldn’t wanna be ya).

Still, there’s more cause for frustration than elation over those two hours. Most of the film’s humor comes by way of cheap one-liners. The special effects are unjustifiably bad, given the movie’s price tag. And there are simply too many times where you will find yourself asking, “Wait, what’s happening?” to pretend like the film stands on firm infrastructure.

The individual team members of the Justice League vary in their appeal. Give me a full movie of Ezra Miller’s witty and charismatic turn as Barry Allen/The Flash any day. On the other hand, I was begging for the film to inject any kind of life into Ray Fisher and Victor Stone/Cyborg.

He’s a tortured soul, sure, but that doesn’t mean the audience should be, too.

As for Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, there simply isn’t any trace of depth to be found. Some will be reeled in by his alcoholic/frat bro/just-give-me-something-to-throw-my-trident-at caricature. This critic just marveled at general lack of any impact he had on-screen.

A lot of this doesn’t matter, of course. Many fanboys will buy a ticket to “Justice League” not looking for any rich characterizations at all; they’ll just be seeking turn-off-your-brain action. The film provides that, sure.

In fact, that seems to be its only real priority – finally uniting the league to watch them kick ass – because the connective tissue between those sequences, if existent at all, is cancerous.

All the boxes are checked here: 1B villain Steppenwolf has come to Earth with his zombie-meets-“Splinter Cell” Parademon troops to wreak premature hell so his master and 1A, Darkseid, can wreak unrestrained hell. In order for that to happen, Steppenwolf needs to find the three “motherboxes” – Pandora’s Boxes, if you will, whose close proximity to each other unleashes sound and a whole lot of fury.

As is par for the course, Steppenwolf – who continues DC’s consistent streak of extremely cringe-inducing baddies – effortlessly retrieves two of them following visits to Themyscira and Atlantis.

The way the third motherbox is collected is a result of nothing short of a series of mind-numbingly dumb decisions by our heroes. It’s the kind of blatantly mediocre writing that would make any civilian bearing witness say, “These people are supposed to save us?”

“League” is plagued by that kind of nonsensical writing. The film doesn’t know how to handle the stakes of such a globe-threatening situation that it does away with them entirely.

We get an idea of what’s in for Earth via a flashback to 5,000 years ago when Steppenwolf was last defeated by the united armies of Amazonians, Atlantians and humans in a sequence that simply screams “Lord of the Rings.” But for some reason, the script’s way of defeating the GWAR-inspired Steppenwolf is laughably much less burdensome, and almost completely eradicates any need for there to be a Justice League at all.

It’s akin to witnessing a match between elite boxers, only for the fight to be over after one punch.

And it certainly doesn’t help that the film doesn’t care to build any investment in any of its characters. If Aquaman, Cyborg or Batman bit it, I think I would have cheered wouldn’t have batted an eye.

Just leave my precious Barry Allen alone. He still needs his own solo turn.

Of course, this all comes after Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”) took over the reins following Zack Snyder’s leaving the project for personal reasons earlier this year. DC’s intended release date wasn’t pushed back, presumably out of a desire to capitalize off the most momentum this DC Cinematic Universe has ever had following the success of “Wonder Woman.”

But perhaps it should have.

While we will never know how a “Justice League” solely headed up by Snyder would have looked and felt, this version – with spliced parts from two contrasting styles – feels like a puzzle with various pieces missing, to the point of near negligence.

This is supposed to feel like a greatest hits of the DCEU so far; instead it’s a dull, lazy display whose only real success lies in effectively showing why DC is currently lagging behind seemingly everyone else in the genre.

 

 

“Justice League” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller

Directed (officially) by Zack Snyder

2017

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