by George Wolf
Fair or foul, each new superhero film release spurs a check of the scorecards: Marvel vs. DC. Last year, Wonder Woman finally put a solid check in the DC column, one that Justice League only leaves frustrated and alone.
Nearly every facet of the film not only betrays a few promising avenues left undeveloped, but also its basic superhero tenets that are bettered by similar films (including the underrated Batman v. Superman). These friends aren’t super, they’re awkwardly forced and often helpless against some distracting CGI.
Perhaps even more than superpowers, big screen heroes need memorable villains, and the newly formed Justice League offers none. Instead, they have Steppenwolf.
Steppenwolf is a mass of weak computer graphics (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), born to be wild but currently in search of the three “mother boxes” he needs to unleash “the end of worlds” and send everyone back to the Dark Ages.
With Superman (Henry Cavill) still dead, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit the surly Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the young Flash (Ezra Miller) and the brooding Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to join the cause.
They have the bodies. What they don’t have are characters worthy of investment.
Director Zack Snyder has them pose, trade overly dramatic declarations, and then do some additional posing while you may be checking your watch.
Comparisons to the first Avengers film are inevitable, especially with Joss Whedon on board as a co-writer, but Justice League just cannot get any resonance from the darker tone of the DC franchise. The push to be heavy and meaningful is an empty suit, despite well-meaning lip service to refugees and the importance of science.
Ironically, as the Marvel films continue to lean more comedic, the humorous moments in Justice League, usually courtesy of Miller and Mamoa, are among the film’s best. Rather than undercutting any dramatic tension, the humor here feels more logical and organic, similar to the highly effective funny bone in the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming.
And, with Gadot back on board, the difference in Wonder Woman through a male director’s lens is hard to miss. Yes, she gets some bad ass moments that she’s more than earned, but she also gets a more sexualized, less earnest presentation.
There are two extra “stinger” scenes to send you out discussing who the JL is fighting next, but perhaps the lasting impression of Justice League is just how behind-the-curve it all looks. Steppenwolf seems lifted from an old gaming commercial you might find on that VHS tape still lurking in your basement, while Cavill’s digitally-altered mouth (to remove a contractually obligated porn ‘stache he had during reshoots) sits there proudly like a new zit on prom night.
There is substance to be gleaned from DC, Wonder Woman was proof of that. But for now, Justice League is two tired steps back.