Why do I keep seeing superhero movies?
This year alone I saw six (including Justice League). That’s a lot of money going into the Hollywood machine! And yes, I liked three of them a lot. Two, I probably could have skipped. This one? Well…
Why am I not boycotting them? After all, a lot of them are just rehashes of other ones. Am I getting desensitized to the action blow-’em-up violence? Am I becoming more satisfied with the loose plots and broad, undefined characters?
My act of resistance was not seeing Justice League on its opening weekend. I didn’t really want to see it. It got blasted by critics, mixed reception from fans, and the most hopeful thing anyone could say to me about it was that it “was fun.”
Being “fun.” Hmmm. That can’t be a bad thing. I think “fun” can be an acceptable thing for a movie to be. So I went, and decided to gauge the film by if I had a “fun” time.
I did not have a fun time.
Justice League takes place where Batman v. Superman leaves off, but has amnesia about half of that film. Batman v. Superman was all about the world rejecting Superman, and Batman fighting him. Then Superman dies. Justice League begins with a mopey montage about the world and Batman suddenly loving Superman and mourning his death.
The film has a “plot,” but it goes through the obligatory motions with as much enthusiasm as I have about explaining it, so let’s just say that the plot’s main purpose is to get the team together and fight a CGI monster-dude. There’s Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), a newly-resurrected Superman (not a spoiler- Henry Cavill’s name was on the poster), and three new characters- the Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Flash is the energetic comic relief, Cyborg is the moody anti-hero, and Aquaman is just there to have a good time and speak to fish. All of the actors here try their best, but Fisher seems lost within all the CGI, and Miller and Momoa both seem like they are in a much more exciting movie in their heads.
Before I continue, I know there was a lot of drama and tragedy behind the scenes of the film, and I sympathize. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize it when I’ve been asked to pay to watch it. What was put in theaters is what Warner Brothers decided was a film, and a finished product.
Justice League comes across as a deeply uncomfortable movie. Not for the audience- it requires so little audience engagement that I wrote up the majority of this review in my head during it- but a movie uncomfortable within itself. The actors don’t seem like they fit with the world, the story doesn’t seem like it fits within the previous films, and each scene seems like a patchwork of lackluster efforts and organizational chaos. No scene sits and breathes easily.
For example, I rarely mention CGI and editing in my reviews. Not because they aren’t important, but because most films have professionals working on them and these are areas that are usually competently done. But Justice League can’t even do those things competently. Shots jump awkwardly from one to another, some shots are headscratchers (why do you need a shot at eye level with Wonder Woman’s rear in leather pants? Oh wait…) and some of the CGI is on the level of a video-game.
There is no point in Justice League where there was something that made me think- that looks like a distinct creative decision made by a director with a vision. Which is interesting, because the film is made by the same team behind Batman V. Superman, a film people hated much more than this film, but I think is a better film by the sheer value of having direction. It’s not a great movie by any means, but at least there Zack Snyder tried something. He made interesting casting choices and tried to say something thematically. Justice League says some things about friendship and truth and justice, but… what it actually says beyond the idea that “those things are good!” I couldn’t tell you.
This is a superhero casserole, stuffed with things people liked from other films- jokes, colors, team-ups, and is crammed in here without thought to what made them work in other films. It’s hollow, but supposedly fun. And I guess if you compare it to previous Snyder-fare it’s fun. There were a few times where a character said something on screen and a part of me went, “Oh, that was a joke.”
But have we really lowered our expectations of “fun” so low that this counts? Can’t a “fun” movie be a movie with direction and effort? Since when are metal things hitting other metal things and a stale script with a by-the-numbers villain “fun?” Why does fun have to be mindless?
So why do I keep seeing superhero movies? Because I believe in their potential. Comic book and superheros are our modern-day Greek mythology and fairy tales. They can be used as lenses in which to view our society’s fears and dreams. They can be easily paired with another genre. Just this year, Logan and Wonder Woman were landmark films and used the conventions of the genre in interesting ways.
Justice League does not push in any category. It stalls progress, and I hope that doesn’t make other movies as lazy- or “fun”- as this one.