It’s hard not to feel a little bad for the DC Comics films at this point.
They have the unenviable task of having to form an identity in the shadows of the Marvel Comics films, which are usually good and rarely unwatchable, and the continued glow of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. DC got off to a rocky start, and then Patty Jenkins went and made a very good “Wonder Woman.”
Yet somehow it is no surprise that “Justice League” tips the balance back in the wrong direction. Although marginally better than “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” director Zack Snyder’s latest is still a profound mess of maudlin muscles, incoherent action and jaw-droppingly awful CGI. It is big, loud, awful to look at and oh-so-dumb.
With Superman (Henry Cavill) dead and the world facing yet another devastating threat (yawn), this time at the hands of some ancient creature named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) go in search of some new recruits.
Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) is a quippy “kid” who’s excited to join the team; Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) talks like a surfer bro and looks like a Nordic bodybuilder; and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is still in the sulky “why me” phase of his superhero career.
There are some good moments, thanks in large part to the addition of Miller, whose quick, self-deprecating humor (likely a result of Joss Whedon’s script and reshoot work) and general liveliness steal scenes away from his brawnier and moodier counterparts.
But everything else about “Justice League” feels labored, from a preposterous underwater battle that comes out of nowhere to Batman’s lumbering gait (does the batsuit weigh 300 pounds)?
And never has it been so obvious that the character of Wonder Woman is now being presented through a man’s eyes. Snyder chooses on multiple occasions to let the shot linger on Gadot’s figure, whether panning up her legs unnecessarily or capturing the moment when her skirt flies up in an action sequence. It is a wildly disappointing departure from what Jenkins accomplished with the character earlier this year.
There’s even an attempt to humanize the potential destruction with a random impoverished Eastern European family struggling to defend their homestead. The story focuses in on the family’s young daughter, who, in braided pigtails picks up a can of bug spray as a defense. You’d think that this might come back and provide an opportunity for her to a) see and be inspired by Wonder Woman in action or b) at least get saved by her. It would be so obvious. But they don’t even meet.
It’s just a tiny example of how “Justice League” feels like a bunch of disconnected moments with no governing theory behind it other than to introduce characters whose stand-alone movies have already been promised to shareholders.
It’s not too late to rethink this whole thing and start over. Just keep Gadot around, please.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.