Justice League doesn’t care much about the details of why you should be rooting for these characters to come out on top; it’s much more focused on showing off their respective superpowers. That leads to at least one stunning fight scene, but also several scenes stuffed with little more than weightless CGI.
And the sequences where no one’s fighting are nothing more than comedic, quippy interludes. Since the film makes only a slapdash effort to introduce the characters and their backgrounds, it strands some characters with nothing really to do.
Fisher’s stylish Cyborg is a prime example. He’s stuck as a part-time narrator and is used as the movie’s built-in plot advancement device, which effectively turns the character into a version of Iron Man with all the impressive gadgets and gizmos but none of the personality.
And in less charismatic and capable hands, Aquaman and the Flash would have been soulless mercenaries — that’s the limited extent to which Justice League develops the two heroes. But Momoa’s gruff charm and Miller’s boyish, skittering awkwardness give their respective characters a verve and charge that go far beyond what the script has given them. They play off each other well, and deliver a convincing and winsome group dynamic with Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Miller and Momoa also allow us to see a sunnier side to the brooding, grim DC Cinematic Universe.
The actors make the idea of standalone Aquaman and Flash solo flicks something to anticipated for, rather than a threat. That’s an impressive feat.
Warner Bros. still hasn’t solved its Batman problem
Justice League is a completely jagged movie. The topsy-turvy script is distracting, but the movie’s main flaw is that Warner Bros. and original director-writer Zack Snyder (eventually replaced by Whedon) have no idea how to make Ben Affleck’s Batman a sympathetic figure.
In DC’s comic books, Batman is a master tactician and analyst. Give him enough time and he can take down any villain and superhero with a cunning plan. He doesn’t possess superpowers that the rest of his gang of heroes do, but he makes up for it with his ingenuity.
Further, Batman also experiences grief and loss in the comics, and thus we see him develop and work through his shifting view of justice and the conflict between good and evil. Those grisly bits of humanity bleed into all of his relationships, including the ones he has with his teammates.
But Batman’s ingenuity and interiority were sloppily handled, if not altogether absent, in Batman v Superman, and they’re still an issue in Justice League.
Once again, Affleck’s Batman is just a brawler, a brooding, heaving sack of muscles. His vulnerability onscreen is almost entirely physical, as he’s more prone to getting hurt than the rest of the Justice Leaguers. And for large swaths of this film, he hides in a corner firing tiny guns; it’s entertaining in a way that perhaps isn’t intended.
Other than bankrolling the team, a constant inside joke of the movie, Batman doesn’t feel like a crucial member of the league. He feels expendable — and for a character who’s supposed to be the leader, that’s complately unacceptable. It serves to underscore that if you take away Batman’s humanity, as Justice League seems prone to doing with its heroes, you essentially rob him of what makes him great.
Snyder, who laid the foundation for Affleck’s take on the character in Batman v Superman, similarly struggled to make good use of Cavill as Superman in both that film and Man of Steel. In Justice League, Whedon has the same problem.
Before I’m accused of spoiling too much, let’s be clear that Cavill (and his mustache) has been an integral part of the Justice League’s promotional tour. It’d be silly to believe that he doesn’t appear in this movie, his death in Batman v Superman notwithstanding.
That being said, you can kind of tell where Snyder’s darker, pained vision of Superman, the one we first encountered in Man of Steel, ends, and where Whedon’s more playful one begins. Whedon clearly thinks that adding tiny bits of comedy and sizzling one-liners means humanity. But even with a bit of Whedon wisdom, Cavill is as stiff as a corpse — and that’s a issue when he’s supposed to be the center of the DC universe, and the very one character whom Affleck’s Batman is supposed to play off.
The fact that Warner Bros. has now spent three films wasting actors like Cavill (who proved he can be disarming and charming at the same time in 2015’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), not to mention the mega-talented Amy Adams, Superman’s on-screen soul mate Lois Lane, is baffling.
In the midst of Justice League, Batman takes Wonder Woman aside and mulls out loud whether he can keep on doing superhero fare, pointing out that his bruises are starting to pile up and that she could be the leader he could never be. She could save tomorrow without him, he theorizes. Being a pal, Wonder Woman shrugs it off.
The clear takeaway — that this gang would be better off without Batman being the leader — isn’t the one that Warner Bros., Snyder, and Whedon, are aiming for here. The idea of the Justice League existing without Batman is supposed to be a huge rhetorical hell to the no. In the comic versions, the league has always needed the man as much as he needs it. Sadly for Batman, by the end of this movie, the idea doesn’t sound half bad.