JUSTICE LEAGUE is a film with many problems. Some are inherent in an origin-style story that introduces several characters to what the filmmakers hope will be an audience eager to follow their further, individual, adventures. Some are just inexplicable. Take the plot device that is nothing short of asinine, and which I can’t discuss without spoilers. Suffice to say that when you have a McGuffin capable of turning the planet into a Hellscape, it behooves the super heroes involved to keep an eye on it.
On the other hand, it’s not as bad as its immediate predecessor, BATMAN VS SUPERMAN, which is, admittedly, a very low bar.
We pick up the action a short time after Superman’s death. The world has been pitched into despair now that its shining knight in blue tights is no more. Not to mention his widowed mother (Diane Lane) being foreclosed out of the old farmstead. Batman (Ben Affleck), feeling guilty about having brought about Superman’s demise, remains on sociopathic guard against terrestrial evil, and the evil that he anticipates returning from outer space. He’s not wrong. A swarm of metallic moth men are scouting the earth, and their leader, Steppenwolf (voice of Ciarán Hinds issuing from the horned-hatted CGI), is plotting his rematch with the Earthlings after finding the three Mother Boxes that will be his instrument of destruction.
What are the Mother Boxes? Many things, but mostly a reason for Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne to gather together as many superheroes as he can persuade to team up against Steppenwolf and his red-eyed insectoids. The Flash (Ezra Miller) doesn’t wait for Bruce to finish the invitation before accepting with an adorable puppy-like enthusiasm. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is stand-offish until her mother (Connie Nielsen) lights a distress bonfire back on the home island, and not a moment too soon because she’s the only one who can parse Cyborg’s (Ray Fisher) suspicions. Aquaman (Jason Momoa), on the other hand, responds by just stripping down and jumping into the nearest ocean. As for Superman (Henry Cavill), well, he’s dead, but not for long, and don’t assume that resurrection will make him keen to join in.
Of course, they will all come together in the end, but, alas, the end does not come soon enough. For all the fracas, this is a curiously inert piece of action filmmaking. The dialogue borders on the cheesy with intermittent leaps headlong into the cheddar. The brightest spot is Miller. He’s not just the comic relief with his befuddlement over brunch, and wide-eyed delight/terror at being in the thick of battle, he’s also a perfect audience surrogate, giving voice to what any of us would be thinking when confronted with a colossal extra-terrestrial bent on ending the world.
Cavill is the same Boy Scout he was in BVS, whether being nice Superman, or discombobulated just-risen-from-the-dead Superman, but he does spend a not insignificant amount of screen time displaying an exquisitely sculpted torso. Even occasionally flexing it. One takes one’s amusements where one can in a bad film. And unapologetically. Particularly when his scenes with the dewy-eyed Amy Adams as Lois Lane are so completely uninvolving.
Fisher is stolid rather than brooding trapped in a robot’s body with only half a face to work with, and Momoa, while intensely charismatic, has lines as plodding as the plot. Gadot, however, is bullet-proof, radiating cool confidence and fierce intensity. Her comment late in the film about working with children is all too acute. Indeed, essays could well be written about why male superheroes are overgrown boys while the women are the adult supervision.
But I digress. Perhaps because discussing Affleck’s Caped Crusader is almost as grating as his performance. There is an irksome arrogance coupled with a wooden delivery and a complete lack of the charisma with which Momoa so effortlessly oozes. It’s not unlike the special effects, which become monotonously repetitive in a script that is borderline incoherent and that’s a shame. Incoherence might have jarred some life into this mess.
JUSTICE LEAGUE made me sad. It also made me curious to see the Aquaman chapter of the saga, if only to see what Momoa can do with a decent script. It also made me genuinely look forward to Miller’s solo outing as The Flash. Small comfort from such a would-be splashy film.