It’s hard not to feel a little bad for the DC Comics films at this point.
They have the unenviable task having to form an identity in the shadows of the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which are usually good and rarely unwatchable, and the continued glow of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, which are seeming more and more like transcendent anomalies as we get deeper into this never-ending cycle of super humans crowding our multiplexes. DC got off to a rocky start and then Patty Jenkins went and made a very good “Wonder Woman.”
And yet somehow it is no surprise that “Justice League ” tips the balances 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) and his army of giant alien mosquitoes, which look like Saturday morning Power Rangers villains, 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), a quippy “kid” who’s excited to join the team; Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) who talks like a surfer bro and looks like a Nordic bodybuilder with ombre locks and fishermen’s knits; And Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who 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 the result of Joss Whedon’s script and reshoot work) and general liveliness steals 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 and the camaraderie between the superheroes that never clicks into place, to Batman’s lumbering gait (does the batsuit weigh 300 pounds?) and Superman’s mouth which looks a little…off. It’s likely because the production had to digitally remove Cavill’s “Mission: Impossible 6” mustache for re-shoots. After experiencing this unnaturally altered face on the big screen, it seems like the worst possible compromise.
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 to get to a normal scene of dialogue or making sure that the camera is there to capture the moment when her skirt flies up in an action sequence. It is, quite frankly, gross and a wildly disappointing departure from what Patty Jenkins was able to accomplish 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 the fact that this movie has to come at this time to introduce audiences to characters whose stand-alone movies have already been promised to shareholders.
It’s not too late to re-think this whole thing and start over. Just keep Gadot around, please.
“Justice League,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of sci-fi violence and action.” Running time: 121 minutes. One and a half stars out of four. (Lindsey Bahr/ The Associated Press)