Justice League is a rare, anomalous jewel that pops up every few years in cinema: It can’t be described as a good movie, but it’s enjoyable at times to sit through. There are enough sporadic moments of decent filmmaking to bounce from one good scene to the next without feeling bored, so it never feels like a drag. Even during Justice League’s better scenes, however, it’s impossible to ignore the creeping feeling that something isn’t right. That something is powerful enough to distract from those periods of positivity.
The problem is that Justice League zips back and forth between extremes, trying to encompass two different movies. It happens so frequently, and without prompt, that the dizzying pace is impossible to follow. Add in mediocre acting from Ben Affleck, Steppenwolf — the most boring supervillain to grace the big screen since Victor Von Doom in Fox’s 2015 Fantastic Four — and one character’s unfortunate arc, and Justice League is proof the franchise still suffers from the same problems it did with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.
That’s one movie. The other movie, which peeks through the cracks of Justice League’s disguise, is a joy. It’s full of heart, and understands that beneath the superhero exterior the more compelling story is friendship. Like The Avengers, which co-director Joss Whedon was also responsible for, there are instances that turn our heroes into endearing individuals. Flash and Aquaman, played by Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa respectively, benefit from this treatment. Miller’s awkward and adorable Flash steals every scene with his charismatic performance, whereas Momoa’s brooding machismo plays as an unpredictable bit of charming comedy. Both are welcome additions to a bland universe that benefits from bouts of spicier characters.
Justice League is at its best when everyone forgets they’re supposed to be saving the world, and instead spends time learning about one another. Living a life of super heroism means drowning in isolation, but Justice League gives a few do-gooders the chance to find people who accept them for who they are. It’s their realization that they don’t need to be alone anymore where Justice League finds its voice; the problem is that it’s almost impossible to hear over the sound of unnecessary explosions.
Set in a world where Superman is dead and an otherworldly invasion is impending, Justice League revels in its darkness. Hope died with Superman and Earth is a worse place because of it. Crime is up, people are divided and, while Superman’s mark can be seen all over Metropolis, humanity is regressing. When ancient deity Steppenwolf descends upon Earth to try and enslave all of human civilization, Bruce Wayne sets out to build his group of metahumans.
The majority of the movie is spent on watching this team assemble, but despite taking more than an hour to reach that point, it feels rushed. While we want to enjoy more time with the ensemble cast, the focal point of Justice League never leaves Batman. It’s Batman’s journey to bring the group together, his reaction to the circumstances they find themselves in, his stand against Steppenwolf as the leader of a disorganized outfit. Justice League acts like a stand-alone Batman movie with a cast of supporting characters, and that’s one of its fatal flaws.
Batman is boring. That’s never been more clear than in Justice League, when Batman is surrounded by far more interesting characters. Batman doesn’t hold a candle to the Flash, Wonder Woman or Aquaman. Affleck’s performance is barely passible. This wouldn’t be a problem if Justice League acted as an ensemble piece, much like The Avengers did, but it can’t escape Batman’s guilt and desperation long enough to explore what’s happening with other group members.
Since much of the focus is on Batman, with any leftover attention doled out to the remaining Justice League members, Steppenwolf is just about forgotten, like he was an afterthought. Steppenwolf is an amalgamation of every bad quality a villain could have, but the major unavoidable problem is that Steppenwolf is boring. It’s not actor Ciarán Hinds’ fault, either. Steppnwolf appears whenever it feels like the movie is about to hit a lull; as if Snyder forgot what was supposed to be happening only to remember that the Justice League exists because of a threat to the world. It’s difficult to make a villain scary or worth a damn, really, if they’re never around.
All of this would be forgiven if it wasn’t for the treatment of one notable character. I can’t go into much detail about Superman without major spoilers, but the circumstances that involve his character are egregious. I wish I could explain why, but I’m trying to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. Superman is a representation of hope, but he’s not treated as such by the time the movie comes to an end.
Despite all of these problems, which can’t be ignored, Justice League is almost salvageable. There are good, cute and funny moments that the editing team should be applauded for, but there aren’t enough to distract from the beautiful, chaotic mess that Justice League ends up being. It’s difficult to try and explain whether Justice League fails or succeeds as a movie because the film feels like it’s still trying to figure out what it wants to be.
I just know that I wanted Justice League to be better than the movie I saw.