What do you get when you allow two separate artists to half complete the same movie? A joke. And that’s what Justice League is.
Well, here we are again. It’s only been a year and a half since Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and now it’s time for another spin with DC’s Justice League.
Despite my previous pledge to give up on these films for good, the theatrical release of Batman V Superman was only the beginning. Before the movie had even left cinemas, Warner Bros. and Snyder were touting the impending release of ‘The Ultimate Cut’, an extended version of a film that many felt was already woefully overlong, which reportedly represented the director’s original vision. Funny thing is, the second take is a vastly superior product. Due to the extra run-time, this definitive version was the connective tissue that was required to turn the dumpster fire that was the theatrical cut into the genuinely thought-provoking political thriller it was envisioned to be.
Despite all this, the poor critical and audience response to BVS hung like an oppressive cloud over the making of Justice League, a film that went into production mere days after its predecessor had opened. Word came down that a course-correction was needed. As such, Justice League was re-tooled and re-written to be lighter, more colourful, more humorous, and more in-keeping with the comic-book characterisations of its players.
After principal photography, Snyder delivered a cut of the film to the studio, who were not satisfied. Joss Whedon (celebrated director of the first two ‘Avengers’ films) was recruited to pen the script for a series of re-shoots and additional scenes which would further broaden the appeal of DC’s pantheon. But then, due to a personal tragedy, Snyder chose to depart the film, leaving the remaining photography, editing and post-production in Whedon’s hands. Oh, and the CEO of Warner Bros. said that the movie couldn’t be longer than two hours.
So…here we are, presented with a highly compromised chimera, beholden to two masters, salvaged and re-purposed to appeal to an audience which is already looking at it through squinting, sceptical goggles.
Sadly, the clashing creative styles of those two masters results in an effort that cannot stand, and one which is sometimes awful, often embarrassing, and utterly mediocre. Tonal shifts abound throughout, with traces of Snyder’s trademark dourness rubbing up against Whedon’s typical humour and whimsical banter. The abundance of one-liners and witty repartee makes the characters we’ve already met feel like entirely different people, and the ones we’re yet to met, feel totally out of place.
That’s not to say that the performances are bad per se.
Ezra Miller’s turn as the Flash draws consistent laughs, Ray Fisher manages to evoke frustration and pathos as Cyborg, and Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman has enough charisma to make it through in one piece, but none of these characters are given more than a single scene of backstory, nor do they experience a tangible arc that feels like satisfying development. They merely jump into the fray. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is strong, providing the film with most of its emotional warmth, but fans of Diana’s solo outing are likely to walk away disappointed. Finally, Ben Affleck’s Batman is completely hamstrung by the fact that the actor obviously doesn’t want to be there, a fact reflected in his every glance and movement.
Sadly, the clashing creative styles of those two masters results in an effort that cannot stand, and one which is sometimes awful, often embarrassing, and utterly mediocre.
Yet, frustratingly, the characters and their interpersonal dynamics are really all that’s available to relish, as the stereotypical CGI-laden action set-pieces are startlingly lacklustre. Throughout the film’s five or six major action beats, there is a total lack of tension, suspense or excitement. They just roll on towards the film’s disappointingly low-key finale.
Given the amount of obvious green-screen and digital trickery, a huge portion of the existing film is Whedon’s work, and this brings us to perhaps the two worst elements of the movie: the visual effects, and Henry Cavill’s face. Although the CGI used to render the film’s forgettable villain (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) is passable throughout, the obvious band-aids used to cover up the compromised post-production process completely torpedo the film. Look no further than Superman’s moustache. Or rather, Cavill’s. Throughout Justice League’s re-shoots, the British actor was required to keep a moustache he was wearing for the upcoming Mission: Impossible 6. This means that any new material involving Cavill would also require expensive digital make-up to erase his facial hair, and there’s no other way to say it: these CG effects are unbelievably fucking bad. Worse, with the exception of three shots, it appears that the entirety of Cavill’s role in the film has been re-shot. This means that Superman is parading around the film with a mouth and lower-jaw that resembles a PS2 game, and the result is so dreadful that it solicited laughs from the audience.
As a die-hard Superman fan, this was an insurmountable hurdle. As a final nail in the coffin, the film abandons the wonderful musical work of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL from the previous entries, replacing it with a generic and inappropriate score from composer Danny Elfman. Confusingly, Elfman instead chooses to reprise his own Batman theme from Tim Burton’s 1989 film ‘Batman’ as well as John William’s original Superman theme. It’s a baffling choice that is sure to annoy many.
Justice League is the fifth entry in DC’s attempt to rival MARVEL’s beloved cinematic universe. Each one of these movies goads us with the promise that next time they’ll be better, but the damage they’ve left in their wake erodes any remaining goodwill.
In a movie season where MARVEL positioned Chris Hemsworth’s new Thor: Ragnarok as an all-out comedy, it’s ironic that DC’s film about the world’s greatest superhero team has become this movie season’s biggest punchline, and I can only imagine that MARVEL are laughing themselves silly as we speak.