Superman is dead, the world is grieving, crime is on the rise and something is coming to conquer the world. Picking up shortly after the events in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince are searching for people like them to form a team to fight back. Joining forces with Aquaman (the brash one), The Flash (the funny one) and Cyborg (the moody one) they will fight Steppenwolf (the CGI evil one) to save the world.
Before we start, full disclosure. As a comic fan I am firmly in the camp that DC is better than Marvel. As a film fan, the best comic book films are DC, think Nolan and Burton’s Batman and Donner’s Superman. I will even defend Man of Steel as a good Superman film, at least up until the final CGI fight at the end. But DC’s Cinematic Universe is running out of steam fast and I have run out of hope waiting for things to come together. After five films the franchise is struggling and this is just merely OK as long as you lower your expectations.
The opening credits sequence for Justice League is the peak of the film. Zack Snyder put together a bravura opening sequence for Watchmen and he does the same here. A cover of Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen plays over a montage of the world as it has come to be since Superman’s death. The lyrics and the tone fit perfectly with his world. But from here things fall apart.
So what is wrong with the film?
The CGI and the Villains. Steppenwolf is an all CGI evil doer. A character that anyone not a DC comics fan will probably be completely unaware of. In a blink and you will miss it moment he mentions DC super villain Darkseid but otherwise he is completely devoid of all character. All of his henchmen are CGI as well. The issue here is that for a film so reliant on CGI it is unforgivable how poor it is.
The action sequences. Almost without exception our heroes are fighting CGI enemies in poorly staged forgettable sequences. It does not look good and you will be hard pitched to remember a single action scene within an hour of leaving the cinema.
The waste of talented actors drafted into the wider universe. New additions to the cast J.K. Simmons (Commissioner Gordon), Amber Heard (Mera) and Billy Crudup (Henry Allen) are probably in the film for less than 3 minutes each. Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Amy Adams (Lois Lane) and Connie Nielson (Queen Hippolyta) all return for brief stints, but none of whom make an impact.
The underwritten new additions to the Justice League. Jason Momoa as Aquaman has to convince us of a character nothing like the comics, but only gets to make brash comments and flick his hair. Ezra Miller as The Flash appears to have been told to be funny at every opportunity but it only works in an awkward manner and Ray Fisher as Cyborg just gets to be moody and control computers. It is a mess. I only have good will to these characters because I have seen them on the page so much, but heavens knows how they come across to people unfamiliar with the characters.
It is worth noting the difficult journey to the screen that the film has had. Director Zack Snyder was forced to abandon the film before the completion of principal photography due to the tragic suicide of his daughter. Joss Whedon (Writer/Director of The Avengers) was brought in to finish filming and rewrote enough of the script to be given a screenplay credit. It is assumed he has tried to lighten the tone and bring more humour to the film given the complaints about previous DC films. DC have also been scrambling constantly to try to pivot the tone of their films following the relative failure of Batman vs Superman and the positive response to Wonder Woman. Ultimately though it results in a film that feels half-baked.
Finally, as if admitting defeat to the current kings of comic book movies you need to stay to the very end as this has both a mid and post credit sting. Stay in your seat and contemplate how such a promising set of characters can be in such a disappointing film whilst you wait to find out how they are going to tease more films in the universe.