There is one thing that separates Justice League from the rest of the DC Extended Universe.
At an advanced screening, with no previews, the film wrapped in a breezy 120 minutes.
That’s hardly epic for a superhero team-up fans have been waiting decades to see, and so the film’s fleetness might be its biggest weakness. When all is said and done and the villain is defeated (spoiler alert!), you’re left with the sense that Justice League didn’t really earn it.
Part of that could be the decision to forgo stand-alone films for three of its main characters (one could argue Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a Batman film), which results in a crowded, clunky narrative heavy on exposition at the expense of character backstory and the villain’s plot.
If the best you can say to the fan sitting next to you is “It’s better than Suicide Squad,” that’s not a ringing endorsement.
Suicide Squad set a really low bar, and, like that film, Justice League suffers from jarring tonal shifts because of reshoots, here supervised by Avengers director Joss Whedon, stepping in for original helmer Zack Snyder. Although a direct sequel to Snyder’s hopelessly depressing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, one wonders how much of his dark, heavy-on-the-symbolism style was excised to make way for Whedon’s fluffier, team-focused flare.
Parts of the movie feel like a continuation of BvS, notably an opening-credits montage set to Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” (covered here by Norwegian singer Sigrid) that portends a gloomy, grittier film. The rest feels like Avengers or Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (if you’re a Buffy fan, you cannot watch Superman’s revival without thinking about Buffy coming back from the dead).
Justice League sees Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck, for now) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruiting heroes glimpsed in Lex Luthor’s secret BvS dossier (Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, Ezra Miller’s Flash, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman) to battle alien Steppenwolf (a mo-cap Ciaran Hinds) and his invading army of Parademons.
Along the way, Superman is resurrected following his death in BvS. That about sums it up.
On Superman, it’s worth noting the Khan-level naiveté on the part of DC/Warner Bros., who have withheld the character from the Justice League marketing campaign—posters, interviews, trailers, everything. There are only two possible explanations for this: 1) Cavill’s not in the movie that much, or 2) He didn’t shave his Mission Impossible 6 mustache during Justice League reshoots (as both were being filmed simultaneously), and the result is some hideous facial CGI in which the actor’s face looks thinner in certain scenes and like a Madame Tussauds exhibit in others.
Yet, even with the Man of Steel not making an appearance until the one-hour mark, the remaining cast is shortchanged. Affleck and Gadot carry the weight early, but are sidelined as the team comes together. Fisher’s Cyborg and Miller’s Flash serve the designated straight man and comic-relief roles, respectively, while Momoa—a superb casting choice—leaves us wanting much more from his solo Aquaman film next year.
Even supporting cast members, including Amy Adams’ Lois Lane and J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon, are an afterthought as the movie races toward its climax.
The CGI-infused finale, while attempting to give each of its heroes applause moments, falls back on the same “You do that, so I can do this” routine that’s been done (also poorly) in Suicide Squad and 2015’s Fantastic Four.
DC does (finally) borrow from Marvel’s successful mid-credits and postcredits scene model, and the two that follow Justice League’s finale inspire hope for a larger, lighter on-screen universe.
But fans expecting Justice League to resolve one of the strangest plot threads from BvS—Bruce Wayne’s vision of a world conquered by Superman—will be disappointed to find nothing here. Ditto for anyone hoping for a larger glimpse of the DC Universe’s big bad, Darkseid. If it was there, it might be on the cutting-room floor, like a lot of this movie.
DC has been rightly criticized for rushing its cinematic universe, trying to do in four films (three, really) what Marvel did in five.
They should have taken their time.