Gosh, if you would have told me when I was 10 years old that someday I’d see (what appears to be a half-finished) CGI Steppenwolf finally come to life on the big screen, I’d first ask, “What is CGI?” After an explanation that probably involves Tron, I’d shrug and go play with my G.I. Joes or something. Steppenwolf is just one of many problems with Justice League, but for the life of me I just can’t get over that of allllll the villains in the DC universe, the decision was used to make Steppenwolf the bad guy. A villain so few non-DC readers know that there’s an elaborate exposition, then a flashback scene, just to explain who Steppenwolf is and why’s he so mad. Of all the bad villains in superhero movies, Steppenwolf is easily the worst in recent memory. He’s just a big CGI cipher for “bad guy.” He shows up, announces he’s evil, then our good guys have to fight him. With this aspect of the movie they didn’t even try, and that’s so disappointing.
I am legitimately bummed out about how much I disliked Justice League.
There’s a line in Justice League when Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), in all sincerity, screams in frustration, “Do you think Steppenwolf is OUT TEACHING ETHICS?” First, it’s such a clunky line in a movie with a lot of clunky lines. (At one point Lois Lane tells Clark Kent, “You smell good.” Superman has been in a grave for the last few months, but I guess he smells good? This got a weird response from the screening room I was in. Also, let’s not pretend it’s a spoiler that Superman is in this movie. Henry Cavill is second-billed and has been doing press. I refuse to go along with this charade.) Second, for all I know Steppenwolf is teaching ethics because I still don’t know much more about him other than he likes to swing an axe.
I liked Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel quite a bit. I did not like Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, but will concede it’s certainly Zack Snyder’s vision of what that movie should be. It’s not a particularly interesting vision, but it is a vision. Suicide Squad is barely a movie. Wonder Woman is fantastic and shows how good these movies can be. Justice League is a bit better than Batman v Superman – in that it at least moves along at an okay pace – but somehow it’s not as interesting. At least with Batman v Superman, we can dissect what Snyder is trying to say about these heroes. With Justice League being directed by both Snyder and Joss Whedon (who replaced Snyder late in production; only Snyder gets credited), we get a weird hybrid of styles that do not match up at all. There are movies like Rogue One and World War Z where entire swaths were famously reshot. But Justice League is weird because Whedon’s influence is sprinkled in – and it’s totally obvious where these Whedon sprinkles are. It would be like having a soup, then sprinkling the soup with basketballs. A scene will go from dreary serious, then all of a sudden switch to, “Hey, how about a joke?”
Seriously, I’m sitting here just stewing about this because a Justice League of America movie is something I’ve been waiting my whole life to see and this is it? We finally see all of these characters together in a live-action movie and they immediately start fighting an endless army of CGI Parademons (Batman’s role is to drive around and shoot Parademons with his Batmobile machine gun), under a CGI sky, inside some sort of CGI warehouse, in CGI Russia. My gosh, there’s CGI corn in this movie. CGI corn! Couldn’t they have gone to Kansas for one day? I’ve been to Kansas many times and there’s plenty of real corn – or maybe another corn-growing state that offers incentives to film there? I don’t know why the CGI corn got to me so much, but it did. There’s so much real corn in this world!
Hey, you’re right, I haven’t spoken much about the plot because it’s barely comprehensible. There are ancient boxes, called Mother Boxes, like Steppenwolf another element from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World corner of the DC Universe. In this cinematic iteration, they’re sort of like the Genesis device in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in that they can destroy life while creating it. (And, you guessed it, there’s a long exposition scene explaining these three boxes. There’s a lot of exposition in Justice League.) But they also seem to open up portals (of course they do), from which Steppenwolf arrives – and he’s mad. So Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) join forces to build a team of heroes that also includes a skittish The Flash (Ezra Miller, who is playing more Kid Flash here than Flash, but that’s fine); Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who was pieced back together by a Mother Box; and Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who is basically the Dan Cortese of superheroes. When this team can’t get the job done alone, they decide they need Superman back.
Remember, I’m not playing the game that Superman isn’t in this movie. But it is lousy that it takes so long for him to show up, because this Justice League team is certainly more fun to watch when he’s there. And that is a positive, because maybe in the future this can be a fun team to watch? Ezra Miller sure looks like he’s having fun, so that’s promising. The actors involved are all pretty good. They just need someone in charge to have them do something interesting – cough, Patty Jenkins, cough. (Though, who knows if Ben Affleck will ever come back for another one of these movies, so all this might be moot.)
I’ve long said that, in today’s climate, a hopeful Superman solo movie would do really well. (Wonder Woman really captured this vibe and that’s a big reason it did so well.) And Cavill’s Superman in Justice League brings us back to the hopeful Superman we remember – well, eventually. I think in the right hands we could all fall in love with Superman again: an inspiring Superman who, every now and then, rescues cats out of trees because he’s nice. (At this point I’ll take a cat-rescuing Superman over a CGI Parademon-fighting Superman.)
This Justice League in a post-Wonder Woman world is really a drag. Obviously, we all know the DC films will look radically different after Justice League as Warner Bros. takes these films in a new direction, but that doesn’t mean this movie isn’t a huge letdown. I’ll get yelled at on the internet for this review by DC fans (eh, it’s fine) but these characters mean the world to me – especially The Flash and Superman. But it wasn’t meant to be this time. But I will leave you with a little bit of hope: without spoiling anything, there’s a mid-credits scene (the first of two post-movie scenes) that involves both Superman and The Flash and it’s my favorite scene in the movie (if it even counts as part of the movie? I don’t know if it does or not, but that’s between you and your god) and it’s got a spirit that I really wish the whole film had. But it does offer hope for the future. And we all need a little hope in our lives right now.
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