Movie Review: Justice League

justice_leagueAfter the really impressive showing with the standalone Wonder Woman movie by Patty Jenkins, my wife and I were really looking forward to Justice League. How excited were we? We decided to organize a family movie day with relatives visiting us for Thanksgiving, and we took the time out of our PTO to watch this movie with my brother-in-law. My other relatives went to see Murder on the Orient Express (which is good, btw, and very faithful to Agatha Christie–worth seeing, but Jenny and I had already gone the week prior). Before going, we discussed the Rotten Tomatoes score for Justice Leagure (currently 39%), and I read some reviews. This allowed me to temper my expectations a lot.

It didn’t help.

Justice League is simply irredeemable on any level, as a movie. Before we even get started, this is a solid 2/5. If there is a 3 hour Director’s Cut, I might watch that to see if Zach Snyder had even tried to do enough backstory before the editors cut out too much. How bad was it? When the movie finished, my wife and I looked at each other and just laughed. She left after watching the first end credit scene (which was really early in the credits). She asked me to watch and tell her if anything interesting happened. The thing was, I was already leaving my chair after we had exchanged a look.

So why a 2? Flash’s humorous one liners for me, maybe. For my wife, we talked about Jason Momoa’s naked torso. You know what? If that’s what you need, here are some images. You don’t have to see the movie.

#MomoaForTheLadies

Henry Cavill also gets shirtless screen time. The Cyborg gets shirtless but his body is metal, so you’re not getting a treat for that, sorry. Some of the Amazons have stomachs showing instead of breastplates, but the media frenzy over this is hardly worth mentioning. It’s not even close to what kills this movie. So what’s the problem here?

Zach Snyder is the problem. Now, before I go on, I know that Zach Snyder is still dealing with a family tragedy, even months later, and he will always be dealing with this tragedy. As a fan of movies, and as someone who has literally watched every DC movie to date, that shouldn’t impact my ability to like this film.

I’ve also watched all Zach Snyder films. I loved 300. I really, really liked Watchmen, which many people do not. I did like Man of Steel also. But as far as pacing and exposition go, he just seems overwhelmed in many of his recent movies especially. Justice League is an absolute train wreck of storytelling.

If you watch this movie, please try to tell me what Steppenwolf’s actual powers are. It’s only in hindsight, and after reading people who love the comics describe Darkseid, that I had any idea that Darkseid’s potential arrival was the real menace. Do you remember the Batman fantasy of Darkseid in Batman vs. Superman? No? Me neither. There’s no reintroduction of the threat.

The only flashbacks you’re going to get is to a previous fight with Steppenwolf where he actually had these three devices that when put together cause a mystery scenario, and that apparently did nothing. It literally just called in a Green Lantern who apparently got killed with no backstory, united the Atlanteans, humans, and Amazons and they beat back Steppenwolf. So, you find out Steppenwolf is defeatable by lightning-wielding Atlanteans, but he apparently didn’t get afraid then. Why is that important? I don’t want to give that away, if you’re actually going to watch this.

As with many Zach Snyder films, he gets too engrossed in the original material, and his editors can’t chop, cut and frame the movie in a way that makes cohesive sense. The villain is not at all menacing enough to warrant this team. This is not in any way an equivalent matchup to Loki and the Avengers or anything else really. Steppenwolf attacks a random deactivated nuclear power plant in Russia, instead of a major metropolis to make this seem like a real threat. Sure, he was going to destroy the world… or was he? It was only after the movie that I realized the Darkseid threat. There was NO introduction of this threat. There is no cutscene of Darkseid. There is no real ominous warning about Darkseid. Apparently, Zach Snyder and his editors believed that we all know the comic source and we understand the real threat is bigger than Steppenwolf.

No. No, we do not. My poor brother-in-law kept turning to me and asking me questions. Who is that? Where does he come from? What is going on here? That’s Cyborg. His dad appears to have made him, but we don’t even get a minor genesis story. He’s apparently mad at not knowing what’s going on with him. I’m mad about not knowing what’s going on too, and I’m an author who prides myself on being able to predict and understand things quickly. It wasn’t that I was completely lost during the story. I got a lot of what was going on, but I was also super disappointed in the lack of storytelling, drama, suspense, or anything else.

Everything seemed forced. Did Superman struggle with his rebirth? No. He came out, no holes, ready to fight with good guys, despite the fact that he obviously remembered some of them. And the Batman thing? Remembering him and what happened and not remembering that they teamed up? The whole Louis Lane thing? For it to work, it would have needed more time, and it’s not like it needed a lot. Maybe some very dramatic pauses where she is looking at something and is interrupted from dreaming about Superman. Just constantly. Then this would have been more emotional. It seemed forced though. The whole movie seemed forced. One bad transition after another. No backstory.

You kind of needed origin stories for both Aquaman and Cyborg. Even a short 5 minute backstory for each would have done this. My brother-in-law shouldn’t be confused about who the heck this guy is. Neither should I. I don’t read the comics. Why should I HAVE to read the comics to understand what is going on? Guide me through it. “What’s Aquaman’s deal?” I’m not even sure he was introduced as such. I just knew Jason Momoa was going to play Aquaman because who hasn’t watched trailers and read into this before seeing it. And even with all of my research and understanding of the basics here, I wasn’t just lost, I was really, really disappointed.

And remember, I had tempered my expectations. If this would have just been spectacle and fun, then I would have been fine. That was literally my expectation, but it wasn’t even that. The grave digging scene was a bit chuckle-worthy with Flash. Him tripping over his feet was funny. He was basically the affable side kick in comics–the humorous guy. But like my brother-in-law said later,

“Wasn’t he in X-Men?”

“No, that was Quicksilver, but Marvel and DC have many similar characters. I mean, even Deadpool has a counterpart in DC.”

“Oh, really? Who’s Superman’s counterpart?”

“Um… maybe Hulk or Thor? The problem with Superman is he’s just all powerful. He gets more and more powerful as his adversaries grow powerful.”

And this is a REAL problem in this movie. Holy Geez. In Man of Steel, Superman has some vulnerability. He’s taken to his limits and he is even taken to a moral/ethical limit. Like it or hate it, it was a powerful scene at the end. In this movie? Superman is not at all kept in check in any way. Even Flash can’t keep up with him in terms of speed, his real gift. Superman can’t even be distracted. That’s why there really hasn’t been a pure Marvel counterpart to Superman. You created something ridiculous, and although Superman has faced real challenges in comics, it doesn’t translate in this movie. This was a laughably hollow climax.

I’ve seen reviews from “critics” or “average reviewers” who claim that everyone stood and clapped at the end of their showing. That absolutely did not happen with ours. No one clapped. Most people left without staying to watch the final end credit bonus screen where you learn that a man with no name is showing up. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this works. The X-Men ending where the four horsemen and the Apocalypse preview? That was actually really interesting. I wasn’t as interested in Lex Luthor’s vision of the future. I didn’t even know why or what he was doing.

Apparently, staying true to the comics means you have to just view Lex Luthor as chaotic evil and just against Superman no matter what. In the original Superman movies, you at least understood what Lex was doing. He had a plan, and it was self-serving. Even in later movies, you still felt something for Lex. Now? I feel nothing for Lex. He’s not menacing. I don’t understand him, and I really, really don’t care.

The next Justice League might be the first DC movie I don’t see, and that’s saying something. I sat through Batman vs. Superman. It was ok, but I didn’t like it and won’t watch it again. Suicide Squad I would watch again for Harley Quinn, who is an amazing character, and some of the other characters were kind of fun. After so many Zach Snyder films that I’ve been disappointed in, though? I don’t find myself very interested. Maybe if Rotten Tomatoes has a great rating for a movie he does, I’ll take a chance. Even Uwe Boll had Rampage, and I haven’t been able to make it through any of his other movies (never tried to see one in theaters, only at home when I was bored).

Again, Justice League is a solid 2/5, and it is really rare that I can’t find enough good in a movie to give it at least 3/5 score. Pros: Jason Momoa shirtless for the ladies. Flash is a fun character and should get his own standalone without Zach Snyder. Cons: Zach Snyder. Poor exposition. Bad storytelling. No backstory. Most people will be lost. Bad guy not very menacing. Team not really as interesting together as they could have been. So much lost promise. I mean Superman’s resurrection? Why is that not amazing? Movie not what it could have been.

About Rex Jameson

Rex Jameson is the author of the three novels in the Primal Patterns series and half a dozen short stories. An avid history buff and an unabashed nerd with an appetite for science fiction and fantasy, he loves to create complex speculative fiction with layered characters. He earned a PhD in Computer Science at Vanderbilt University and researches distributed artificial intelligence in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. Rex and his wife Jenny live in Pittsburgh where they enjoy hosting family and friends.

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