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As the credits rolled at the end of my screening of Justice League on Wednesday night, three dudes in the front row began cheering rapturously.
The rest of the audience was silent. For the entire film, these dudes laughed their ass off at most of the sitcom-quality gags and cheered when Superman or Wonder Woman or one of the rest made their big appearances. And I wanted to join them. Superhero movies are designed to make you cheer and make you clap. They’re made for big emotions and big screens and big action. Though those scenes were showed throughout Justice League—easy to be noticed spots when the millions of ticket holders who have filled the cinemas will react like the obedient entertainment consumers Hollywood has trained them to be—the film just didn’t deserve it.
Those exuberant fans up front at my screening were the supportive fans for whom I have respect and sympathy. DC and Warner Bros. are letting them down. They’re letting those who have dedicated their lives to reading—and loving—the DC comic books down.
I simply wanted Justice League to be good—as for myself a fan of the genre and everyone else who’s a bigger one. I wanted Justice League to be good since Wonder Woman was such a huge achievement in Hollywood for so many reasons, and this continuation of the DC Cinematic Universe should have lived up to that accomplishment.
But, the simple truth is: DC and Warner Bros. have fucked it up again.
It didn’t even take two minutes into the film’s opening scene for Zack Snyder—who directed most of the film before stepping down due to a family crisis, with Joss Whedon taking over to film the remaining sequences—to return to his most aggressive trademark tic, with Ben Affleck’s Batman performing a back flip unnecessarily emphasized by slow-mo effect. Did you know that it’s been a decade since 300 and Snyder still has that painful slo-mo fetish? The flourish happens quickly once again during the opening credits, when some random angry white dude slo-mo kicks some fruit—which I guess is supposed to signify that people are upset because Superman is dead. Oh yeah: Superman is dead, by the way. But we all know he’s going to return, so it’s not quite interesting that the movie is built around the inevitable moment when he shows up and saves everyone’s ass.
With Superman out of the frame, the movie’s plot follows Bruce Wayne as he forms his Justice League—an origin story of sorts that’s not quite interesting (and the stakes of which aren’t particularly high). This poor man’s Avengers is Wayne’s best effort to take down Steppenwolf, who is neither the hit band who recorded “Born to Be Wild” nor the Hermann Hesse novel. Nope, this Steppenwolf is a generic CGI alien form portrayed by Ciarán Hinds, who is hunting for three LEGO-style blocks that are described as, simply, “power.” (These are really random MacGuffins that give these major CGI characters an excuse to punch one another—in slow motion, as always.) Steppenwolf also has an army of android-bugs that make an extremely obnoxious noise, which you’ll just have to get used to; it annoys me to death and doesn’t stop for the most of the movie.
Wayne pretty easily recruits Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who just sort of shows up—thankfully, though, as she’s the only highlight of this film (just as the way she made Batman v Superman a smidgeon less unbearable). Rounding out the gang is the existential cyborg (the appropriately named Cyborg, as portrayed by Ray Fisher), who, from what I know, can pull off anything; The Flash (Ezra Miller), some kind of comic relief whose crazy-fast speed enables Snyder to get his slo-mo rocks off in every shot; and Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a drunken fish dude with a haunted past. But for real, Wonder Woman is the only one who is able to stop Steppenwolf, which makes me wonder why this isn’t just another star vehicle for Gadot in the first place.
Naturally, this ragtag gang of superhumans is nothing without Superman, and thus, with little trouble, they dig up his conveniently still intact body. They throw his dead body into a swamp, and he’s magically revived. As you guessed, he’s the only one worth a damn, and in the end they use him to pull apart some of those MacGuffin Blocks, which fixes everything. One thing I will say about Henry Cavill is that I certainly buy that he’s an alien from outer space, because there’s something so unsettling about his perfect body and stiff line delivery when he says stuffs like: “Well, I believe in truth, but I’m also a big fan of justice,” he says, which borders on parody. (Or maybe it’s Kryptonian sarcasm?)
As messy as the script seems, at least one line stands out as the most remarkable—and most timely—part of the movie. The Flash asks Bruce Wayne a question which we’ve all been wondering for years: What exactly are Batman‘s superpowers anyway? Wayne, with the all his sincerity, simply responds: “I’m rich.” I just can’t think of another line of dialogue that can better represent 2017 in a nutshell.
In the end, the bad guy loses, and the good guys win. There is definitely nothing surprising—right down to the Marvel-style post-credits sequence, in which Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerbergian Lex Luthor breaks out of jail and suggests that his fellow baddies form “a league of our own.” If Suicide Squad 2 doesn’t pan out, at least there’s a foundation for Justice League 2: A League of Their Own.