Justice League

© 2017 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC

(L-R) RAY FISHER as Cyborg, GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman, EZRA MILLER as The Flash and JASON MOMOA as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ JUSTICE LEAGUE, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

For as long as I can remember I just wanted to do what was right. I guess I’m not quite sure what that is anymore. And I thought I could throw myself back in and follow orders, serve. It’s just not the same.
– Steve Rogers

As a moviegoer, you steel yourself before a film like this, “I have no expectations.  I just want it to be fun.  Anything beyond that is gravy.”

But gravy has texture.  And this review has spoilers…

Wonder Woman thwarts a terrorist plot using the Lasso of Truth to credibly work in the expository monologue in which the bad guy explains his scheme.  In the real world, the terror is the motivation, so threatening to do it seems rather counterproductive.  This opening is punctuated, unsubtly, with slow-motion scenes of (hold your laughter) a skinhead kicking over a fruit stand while a hijabi recoils in horror.  I did not make this up.  This was an actual scene, in an actual movie, that actually cost over a third of a billion dollars to produce.

It’s equally funny (or painful) to observe the way in which this prologue beats us in the head:  Nazis and other evil proliferated because Superman is dead and the world is an irredeemably horrible place.  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s that the movie is irredeemably horrible.

Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, directed by Zack Snyder, JUSTICE LEAGUE is one of the ugliest and most disorganized films I have ever seen.  It’s offensively ugly, as with an establishing shot of the Amazonian lands of Themiscyra.  Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN introduced us to the gilded fortresses and lush vistas of this mythical land.  As if to purposely insult her work, a seconds-long CG sequence that feels minutes-long presents this magical place in the most unimaginative, boring, flat angle humanly possible.

On the heels of Jenkins’ critically- and commercially-successful film, JUSTICE LEAGUE unites Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman with Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), to defeat the horribly-animated Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds voicing what vaguely resembles a horned Liam Neeson in one of several absolute wastes of talent herein).

In some kind of unpoetic symmetry that would make George Lucas proud of his worst rationalizations, this “Save The World” plot steals from the Marvel universe twice–THE AVENGERS (2012) invokes the Cosmic Cube from Marvel’s Tales of Suspense (1966) which was then copied in D.C. Comics’ Fourth World series (1970-73).  Like the Cosmic Cube (the “tesseract” in the movies), the Mother Boxes are an Asimovian abstraction; both are technologies so advanced they’re sufficiently indiscernible from magic.  In cinematic terms, they’re the same MacGuffin.

The picture makes a great deal of hullabaloo about the Amazonians as protectors of the Earth from the wrath of various gods and demigods.  In a massive battle, reminiscent of Tolkien’s War of the Last Alliance, the Amazonians, Atlanteans, and humans, fight off Steppenwolf.  He attempts to combine the Mother Boxes into the world-shattering Unity the same way Thanos from the Marvel universe acquires the Infinity Stones to combine them on the Infinity Gauntlet.

When Steppenwolf returns centuries later, their Mother Box is housed in a fortress.  The Amazonians went to considerable trouble to protect this artifact.  We see enormous doors and a series of gigantic barricades and then, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in film:  Steppenwolf bursts through an earthen side wall like the Kool-Aid Man.  Cue Rich and Randolph’s “Yakety Sax”.

Ultimately, the Unity can only be stopped by the cooperation of these heroes with extremely disparate abilities which somehow the writers have to cripple at key moments to arrest what might otherwise become an incomprehensible plot.  Aside from a casting stroke of genius–Ben Affleck plays a smug asshole–Wonder Woman, essentially a living god, could blow the thing apart with her magical bracelets but D.C. always saves the worst deus ex machina for last.

Anyone who can read IMDb understands that Warner Bros. has no choice but to revive Superman (Henry Cavill) because we’re now stuck in a nuclear arms race of apocalypses and reboots.  Aside from his drawn-out re-appearance (it’s neither a twist nor a delight, more of a slow dribble), it’s nice to see Superman bring back some of the lightness-of-foot of the old Justice League cartoons–particularly his sporty banter with Ezra Miller’s Flash.  In spite of the much-needed booster shot of levity into a crassly-dark core franchise that perverted the concept of the incorruptible Übermensch, the film remains a visual and conceptual hot mess.  Warner Bros. usually gives us at least two acts of somewhat noble conceits before unraveling in the third.  JUSTICE LEAGUE is a cacophonous mess from start to finish.

Some of that is going to be blamed on the untimely family tragedy suffered by Snyder necessitating the last minute rewrites by Joss Whedon, but the video game cutscene-quality animations, digital composites, and generally horrible editing on a $300 million budget seem consequences of a franchise caught off guard by Marvel and serially incapable of gaining a proper footing.

Setting aside the laws of thermodynamics for a moment, where is this idiot who keeps inventing these world- and universe-destroying MacGuffins and what was he thinking?  Yes, I’m sure there’s a backstory that began with good intentions and it’s probably documented in the errata of some comic book appendix somewhere that nobody who sees JUSTICE LEAGUE has either time or inclination to read.  It’s not in the film, nor do we see how the Box protected by the race of Men is recovered.  I guess it was just accidentally unearthed at some point.  Next time, throw it in a volcano or something…