It is almost shocking how bad "Justice League" is. In a clear attempt to change course following the divisiveness of 2016's brooding, existentially thorny "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
" (a film which revealed ever more layers in its superior "Ultimate Cut" version), all semblances of intrigue, individuality, and storytelling texture have been gutted from the mess which has found its way to the big screen. The film, aiming to cinematically do for DC Comics what "The Avengers" did for Marvel (while, it should be said, unconvincingly mimicking the Marvel formula), lacks even an ounce of that latter superhero squad's easy, likable camaraderie. Worse still, if "Batman v Superman
" thoughtfully grappled with real-world subject matter concerning guilt, vengeance, and even terrorism, "Justice League" has absolutely nothing on its mind, each new tedious minute only placing a magnifying glass over its soulless emptiness.
The untimely death of Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) has placed the city in a vulnerable position. As crime continues to rise and Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) do their best to thwart it, a larger threat soon reveals itself. Alien god Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) has the end of the world on his mind, but before he can transform Earth into his own hellish homeworld he needs to collect three powerful mother boxes, two of which are guarded by the Amazonians and Atlantians, respectively. Bruce and Diana know they won't be able to defeat Steppenwolf on their own (Bruce, after all, lists his wealth as his superpower), so they set out to convince a roster of new recruits with extraordinary abilities: the lightning-fast Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller); protector of oceans Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa); and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a former college football star whose life was saved from a near-fatal car accident by way of becoming cybernetically reconstructed.
Like Zack Snyder's directorial style or not, one cannot deny it is singularly his own. No doubt a result of Warner Bros. bigwigs getting cold feet and overthinking the project within an inch of its life, "Justice League" has little of Snyder's stamp outside of the inspired use of Sigrid's atmospheric cover of Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" over the opening credits. Otherwise, this has that undeniable "made-by-committee" stench which has killed any number of mega-budgeted blockbusters of yore. When your film makes the viewer long for the coherence and scope of 2015's ill-fated "Fantastic Four
," it is a sure sign something has perilously gone wrong.
Where does the picture go wrong? An easier question would be, where does it go right? (Hint: it doesn't.) The dime-store plot is virtually interchangeable with the most derivative of superhero tales, and there is no detectable sign from the glaringly truncated 119-minute theatrical version that screenwriters Chris Terrio (2012's "Argo
") and Joss Whedon (2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron
") attempted to do anything fresh with its cut-and-paste trajectory. Beyond lacking in chemistry, the protagonists have been rendered inert stick figures; not a single new facet to the returning characters' personalities, backgrounds, or psychology is broached. Ben Affleck (2016's "The Accountant
") and Gal Gadot (riding high from 2017's infinitely better "Wonder Woman
") are certainly game, but are always at the mercy of either a weak script or a hack-job edit that uses them strictly as pawns. Amy Adams (2016's "Nocturnal Animals
") also returns as journalist Lois Lane, still grieving over the loss of Clark and choosing to do "fluff pieces about kitten grooming," but one gets the irksome feeling the bulk of her role was left on the cutting-room floor. As offensively wasted as Adams is, she still manages to inject more honest emotion into her fleeting moments onscreen than everyone else around her.
The new faces, meanwhile, are haphazardly tossed into the fray before giving the audience a reason to care about them. Jason Momoa (2017's "Once Upon a Time in Venice
") cuts a striking figure as Aquaman, but he isn't asked to do more than speak in stoic monotone. As The Flash, Ezra Miller (2015's "Trainwreck
") is saddled with the bulk of the forced one-liners, but only one sort-of works (a fitting reference to "Pet Sematary
" that is diluted ten minutes later when it is needlessly repeated). As for Ray Fisher's Cyborg, he shows promise but is asked to mostly mope around in seclusion. Bless him, he keeps a straight face while uttering the film's most cringe-inducing line. The instantly forgettable villain of the piece, Steppenwolf (no relation to the classic rock band), is one of those standard-issue CGI creations with no distinguishing qualities. As for his minions, called Parademons, they remind of a cross between giant dragonflies and the Flying Monkeys from "The Wizard of Oz."
"Justice League" is an underwhelming joke right down to its too-few, never-original action sequences, the lot of them so rote and dreary they don't even deserve to be called "set-pieces." Even now, less than two hours after watching them, they have begun to fade from memory like a bland meal. Dramatically stilted and unctuously jokey, the film goes nowhere special, does nothing of note, and hasn't a thing to say about anything. For a third-act where the fate of the whole world hangs in the balancea besieged Russian family of four bizarrely stands in as a microcosm of humanitytension is nonexistent and the stakes barely raise above a sigh. When director Zack Snyder envisioned his own gritty, serious take on superheroes with 2013's "Man of Steel
" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
," there is not a chance in hell he could have imagined his third installment would conclude its climactic battle with a character exclaiming, "Booyah!" Alas, here we are, and the misbegotten results only vaguely resemble what has gone before. "Justice League" isn't the least bit rousing. It's just kind of desperate and sad.