Review: Justice League
DC Comics continues its current disastrous reboot attempt
For the past ten years, the Marvel-Disney empire has cranked out fun, family-friendly, CGI slug fests to massive success. According to Forbes, Marvel movies have grossed over 12 billion dollar as of this July. Warner Brothers originally stuck with the darker, character driven, CGI absent Dark Knight trilogy. These Batman films are not just regarded as good “superhero movies” but as truly great films. The Dark Knight is even ranked as the third best film of all time by IMDB. But five years ago Warner Brothers, under the direction of Zack Snyder, attempted to “Marvelize” their intellectual property with Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and of course Wonder Woman. With the notable exception of Wonder Woman, all of these movies have been widely lampooned by press and viewers alike for terribly confusing plots and a lack of consistency. Justice League is no exception. In their attempt to capitalize on the Avengers’ success, Warner Brothers made a rushed film that fails in four key ways.
The first notable difference from Avengers is that Justice League hardly developed its characters. Detail-oriented Disney-Marvel studios produced five films before releasing The Avengers, fleshing out Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America, before throwing them together. Before Justice League, DC Comics only gave Wonder Woman and Superman their own films; Batman got half a movie, and Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman were five minute cameos. Instead of setting up Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman with their own origin stories, DC introduced them in the most boring way possible: QuickTime videos on Wonder Woman’s laptop. Anything, and I mean anything, would be more interesting. Needless to say the chemistry between these heroes is awkward since we only get allusions to their powers and stories.
Second, Justice League’s villain is truly horrendous. Steppenwolf is an alien invader with an incredibly original plan to terraform Earth to make it into his home planet. The villain is devoid of any personality; he’s a CGI monster with an axe who wants to kill everyone — that’s it. Now I wouldn’t say this was too egregious considering the legions of CGI villains without personalities in Marvel, but this isn’t Marvel. The DC Comics stories have such rich villains; I’m still scratching my head as to why we didn’t see Lex Luther, Joker, Bane, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Scarecrow, Brainiac, or even Gorilla Grodd. Anyone would have been better than Steppenwolf. Also, the villain is so inferior to Superman that it’s almost boring when the Man of Steel saves the day. The final battle culminates with Superman using his ice breath to freeze Steppenwolf’s axe, so don’t be expecting any groundbreaking action scenes.
Third, Justice League has some serious technical problems. This is a movie done almost entirely with CGI. Now, Marvel uses heavy amounts of CGI as well, but it’s done flawlessly and blended with real costumes and set pieces. In Justice League, everything from the villains, sets, capes, and cars to mouths (yes, mouths) are digitally added. The main villain, Steppenwolf, looks like half finished CGI. His face is neither sharp nor colorized, it just looks like it needs more work. A far cry from Christopher Nolan filming on the streets of New York or meticulously constructing every set for the Dark Knight trilogy, Justice League sloppily green screens nearly every scene. The Gotham City rooftops and Superman’s Kansas cornfields are especially cartoonish. Instead of building a practical, Iron Man-like costume for Cyborg, Zack Snyder digitally added the entire thing, making it look really fake. Both Superman and Batman’s capes are CGI (and it’s terribly obvious). Finally, Henry Cavill (Superman) had a mustache while filming, because he was also shooting for another movie. As a result, the studio had to CGI his mouth on in post-production, and they didn’t get it right. But sloppy digital effects aren’t where this film’s problems end; there were also about a dozen scenes shown in the trailer that never made the movie. This may be understandable, but it leads to my final point.
Fourth, Justice League doesn’t know what it is. The film was initially helmed by Zack Snyder, the director behind dark films like 300 Rise of an Empire and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. After a personal tragedy, Snyder stepped aside, and the film was taken over by Joss Whedon, director of the much lighter Avengers. Snyder and Whedon are about as polar opposite as you can get in Hollywood, and it shows in the movie. In his last outing, Ben Affleck’s puffy Batman was a cold-blooded killer, branding criminals like animals and shooting foes with his machine gun-laden car. In the Whedon reshoot, Batman is now a joke-cracking, self-sacrificing optimist whose darkest moment is when he makes fun of Wonder Woman’s old boyfriend. This 180-degree change leaves Affleck’s once intimidating Batman just insincere and dry. Batman’s confusing performance is a microcosm for the whole film. It visually looks like another depressing Snyder film, but sounds like an upbeat Whedon movie. The characters are drawn very darkly but have seemingly forced comical banter. It’s a weird mix that doesn’t work in the end.
Justice League had the worst opening weekend of any DC Comics movie ever. Warner Brothers must now figure out whether they want to keep patching the sinking Snyder DC Comics raft or restart with something fresh. The famed performer Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” DC Comics needs to be a first-rate version of themselves, instead of a second-rate version of Marvel.
R. Alexander Arroyo is a first-year Political Science major. He enjoys jazz, seafood, and sketching. Contact him at Rarroyo@nd.edu.