The universe was giving me every sign that Justice League was going to be trash. I asked four friends, who usually love going to the movies, to go to the Justice League screening and the collective answers were “I’ve got Bible study,” “I’m mentoring” and “I’m sleeping,” until finally someone said, “I guess, since the theater’s near my house.”
When we got there, a young black woman who worked for the promotions company was taking the tickets when I heard someone loudly playing Vince Staples’ “BagBak,” the song from the second Black Panther trailer. The woman was literally watching the Black Panther trailer on her phone while collecting tickets to see Justice League. If that’s not some passive-aggressive “This movie is trash and I’m just here till February so I don’t get fined” Black Girl Magic, I don’t know what is.
Turns out the signs were right: Justice League is terrible, the action sequences are bad, the cast has no chemistry and it’s a CGI nightmare in most parts. I know you’re going to see it anyway, but here’s what you’re setting yourself up for.
The plot of Justice League is perfectly serviceable: Batman (Ben Affleck) forms a team of heroes he’s been hinting at for three movies to stop an alien invasion. The problem is with everything else. We’re now five movies into the DC Comics universe (Man of Steel, Suicide Squad, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Wonder Woman), and none of these films have a firm handle on who these characters really are. When you bring them all together, it’s like awkward speed dating more than team building.
Is Cyborg (he and his dad are apparently the only speaking black people in the DC Universe) a brooding internet Frankenstein or is he the “booyah”-loving kid from Teen Titans Go? Is Ezra Miller’s Flash the anxious kid haunted by his dad’s imprisonment or is he the quirky Ross-from-Friends, Jesse Eisenberg-in-every-movie trope, forcing “comedy relief” down our throats? And Bat-fleck? The guy who is supposedly obsessed with bringing the team together but has given every indication that he wants out of the franchise? I’m not saying he phoned in his performance, but his effort was about as consistent as T-Mobile on the subway.
As little as the characters are actually together in movie time (maybe two days tops), it’s hard to see any camaraderie. Mind you, this is a superhero movie, not Moonlight—as long as the action is good and it’s visually appealing, it should be salvageable, right? Unfortunately, the action scenes and character designs are lousy, too, and suffer from a serious case of doing too much.
The problem starts with Flash (who is never actually called that name in the movie) and permeates the entire film. Between Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Hollywood has produced some really fascinating effects for showing superspeedsters. Justice League muddles everything about the Flash by only showing his powers in slow motion and constantly circling him in electricity, and he seldom interacts with anything that’s not CGI.
In Justice League’s first battle as a “team,” there is a tepid attempt to re-create parts of the incredible shootout scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past (right up to running along the walls). However, in Justice League, someone decided that it’s more fun to blur the entire background, slow everything down and make it almost impossible to contrast Flash’s speed with the world around him. You should never be watching an action sequence with the Flash and think to yourself, “Will he just hurry up?”
Instead of giving Cyborg (Ray Fisher) a RoboCop physique that is a mixture of flesh and machine, Justice League designs him like a first-generation Cylon from Battlestar Galactica, complete with a lack of genitals or flesh (which adds some interesting racial subtext to the furtive glances between Cyborg and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). (Have to make sure the tin black man with the genius IQ and the athletic background will never have sex!)
Despite being crucial to the plot, Cyborg is the only Justice Leaguer who can’t consistently control his powers, and when he does, it looks clunky. Two of the three big fight scenes in Justice League occur in dark places or with a rusted red-and-orange background, which gives the film’s big set pieces a lack of depth and a drab feeling. You’ll see the contrast in these poor cinematic choices at work in Batman’s dark and confusing opening fight with a CGI Parademon, compared with Wonder Woman’s amazing takedown of some actual real-life bank robbers. (Wonder Woman’s opening is the second-best action sequence in any DC movie behind Man of Steel’s superhuman fight in Smallville.)
Finally, maybe somebody at Warner Bros. has stock in black pixel footage, or maybe somebody in production has a weird obsession with hentai, but this is the third DC movie (Man of Steel, Suicide Squad and now Justice League) in which some large black tentacle thing has to be defeated in order to save the world. It’s getting kind of weird.
Was there anything to like about Justice League? A little. There is a semibig surprise near the middle of the movie with a really fun action scene and fight that hasn’t been spoiled by trailers. The whole setup could’ve been a game changer had it lasted longer and the chemistry between characters been better. Aquaman doing his best Khal Drogo/Wolverine impression by running around shirtless seemed to impress a few people in the audience.
There were a few witty lines of dialogue, but you’ve seen most of the punchlines in the trailers, so they weren’t as funny in the movie. The movie sets up the Flash and Aquaman for their own films (but not Cyborg), so if the movie is a huge success, those spinoff films will be coming for fans. There are a few references to other DC superheroes that may appear down the line if the movie is successful enough. Honestly, though, the way Justice League ends, there isn’t any real indication as to why this group would need to team up again except for another cash grab, no matter what the two post-credit scenes try to hint at.
If you have to see something before Thanksgiving weekend, I suspect you could drag yourself to see this movie, but I would recommend Justice League for “Redbox and chill.” That way you won’t be mad about the $2 you spent.