Get ready for the biggest surprise of the year: Justice League is a stupid, incompetently made movie. I know what you must be thinking: “How could this happen? What could possibly have gone wrong to let down such a promising project? Other sarcastic comments from a cynical guy on the Internet! All joking aside, Justice League is about as bad as everybody expected it to be.
What is surprising is that not only is it easily my favorite DCEU movie to date, but it’s also some of the most fun I’ve had in a theater all year. Don’t get me wrong, this is in no way a compliment to the filmmaking on display here. Justice League is enjoyable for having finally achieved what all of the worst films in this notoriously poor franchise have yet failed to do: attain so-bad-it’s-good status. Allow me to explain further.
Man of Steel, the series first outing in 2013 was a loud, chaotic, and empty-headed showcase of excess. Henry Cavill failed to embody the character of either Superman or Clark Kent, and the plot culminated in a giant blue space laser. That having been said, if you just shut your brain off there was enough noise to keep you from falling asleep during its two-and-a-half hour runtime, and some of the visuals were interesting in spite of Zack Snyder’s insistence that all of his films should look like they were filmed through a canvas bag. All in all it was unremarkable and excessive, but mostly watchable.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was just as loud, brainless, and obnoxious as its predecessor, but had the added benefit of being nearly three hours long and essentially lacking any plot to speak of. Throw in camera work that was more or less just a series of close ups and medium shots with no sense of space, a color palate so dark it was nearly impossible to tell what was actually going on, and Zack Snyder’s insistence that all of his films should look like they were filmed through a canvas bag, and you have a truly miserable and far too long experience. Even unintentionally hysterical moments like a jar of pee signaling an explosion and MARTHA were not enough to save this film. There is no joy to be found here. Watch this movie only if you really like being bored and sad.
Wonder Woman, the generally accepted pinnacle of the series, was also mediocre. Despite generally positive critical reception, I found that the best that could be said for the film was that a DCEU entry finally managed to claw its way up to mediocrity. While I agree that the WWI setting and Gal Gadot’s surprisingly charismatic performance made it entertaining enough, it frustrates me that the majority of people tend to completely ignore how poorly executed so much of that movie really was. The fight choreography is genuinely terrible, the CG was so bad I frequently burst out laughing, the villain(s) were god awful (sweet pun), the final fight looked like a poorly rendered cutscene from the early days of the PS3, the dialogue was frequently cringe inducing, and the side characters were actually kind of racist. To me it seems like a well intentioned but sloppy film, not a masterpiece of filmmaking. It was successful in proving, on the heels of Suicide Squad, that the DCEU was capable of making watchable films and that Wonder Woman was a viable character on whom to pin a blockbuster/franchise. It may also have even convinced studio heads that there is a market for female-led blockbusters and superhero movies, something the rest of the world has known for a good long time now.
I’ve saved Suicide Squad for the end because boy howdy is that ever a doozy. I will keep this brief so I can actually start talking about Justice League, but this needs to be mentioned. Suicide Squad represents not just the low point of the DCEU, but potentially the low point of large-scale 21’st century filmmaking. It is seriously mind boggling to think just how incredibly poorly every single element of the production was handled here. It’s so awful that I am not fully convinced that it isn’t actually some kind of experimental Avant-garde art film masquerading as a blockbuster. Watch this movie if you want to know how not to make a movie, other than that its only purpose is to raise blood pressure.
I say all of that to say this: none of those movies would have scored above a 5/10 on my scale (most considerably lower), yet even the worst of them were not stupid or nonsensical enough to overcome how dreary, miserable, overlong, and generally horrible they were to watch. Justice League is.
Justice League is essentially the worst kind of hybrid between Zack Snyder’s depressing and miserable universe (yes, it still looks like it was filmed through a canvas bag, and that’s still just as terrible as its always been), and a harebrained attempt to make it more lighthearted. The result is a tonal disaster, often veering so wildly between doom/gloom and Avengers-esq banter that I had no idea what I was supposed to be feeling at any point. Eventually I just gave up and let the laughs come to me. These laughs did not come from the film’s attempts to make me laugh, but rather from the spectacular failure waiting for me at each beat of the plot.
Said plot follows Steppenwolf (sadly not the band) as he tries to unite three magical mystery boxes into some kind of earth destroying super thing. He is a hellish beast born of war and destruction, wields a razor sharp axe that only seems capable of dealing blunt damage for some reason, travels via a giant blue space laser, and his flying bug minions feed on fear. He is most notable, though, for looking like a Qunari from Dragon Age had sex with a PS2 cutscene. His motivations do not matter, and trying to figure them out simply leaves you confused. Suffice it to say, Steppenwolf is easily the most generic villain to grace the screen in a genre almost exclusively populated by generic villains.
It is up to Batman to unite the other superheroes he discovered in BVS in order to stop this totally original apocalypse. We are quickly reintroduced to Wonder Woman, and then officially introduced to Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash. Unsurprisingly, their individual backstories range anywhere from poorly thought out to completely incoherent.
For instance, Aquaman frequently helps out the people of the small town near Atlantis (which looks like it’s about six inches beneath the surface of the water), and is repeatedly seen diving back down under the water, presumably to go home. Yet when we first see Atlantis, it seems like he’s never been there before, and some character we’ve never heard of dumps a bunch of entirely useless exposition on us, none of which is ever referenced again. Would it not have made more sense to just cut out the quarter-assed backstory and get to the contrived plot? Given that it was completely unrelated to anything, it seems like its only purpose was to confuse the audience.
What is actually surprising is that most of these side characters are at the very least bearable, and at most actually quite enjoyable. In particular, Ezra Miller’s Flash was far more charming than I had expected after seeing the trailers. The other actors do a fine job, but it feels like they really don’t know their characters any better than we do. Even so, there are some decent moments shared between each of the characters, and I can see that they were trying, so brownie points for that.
The worst part of all of this is Ben Affleck. Throughout the entire film, he just seems so incredibly bored and done that it actually looks like his face froze in that sad Affleck meme from that interview he did with Henry Cavill. What’s worse is that Justice League essentially plays as a Batman movie with a large supporting cast rather than a team-up where all of the characters are given equal time in the script. This means that we have a plot that might as well have been written using a superhero movie Mad Libs book, a disinterested lead, and a CG production team that was apparently given two days to complete the entire project. Maybe Superman could save the day?
As it turns out, no. In fact, Superman is the point where this movie goes from normal run-of-the-mill stupid to off-the-hook amazing stupid. At this point, if you actually believed that Superman was going to stay dead after the end of BVS, you may actually be one of the writers on Justice League. In a brilliant move, the writers of his film decided to pin the entirety of the emotional weight of the plot on the death of Superman; the one thing nobody in the audience believed for a single second would last.
Why are the magical mystery boxes suddenly freaking out? Superman died. Why does Bruce Wayne suddenly want to form a team to protect people? Superman died. Why did Lois Lane decide to stop being a real journalist for no reason? Superman died. Why is the entire world apparently in shambles even though we see exactly no evidence of this at any point? Superman died. Superman dying sure did cause a lot of problems, but not nearly as many as are caused by bringing him back.
Remember all of that buzz about Henry Cavill not being allowed to shave his mustache because a contract for another project wouldn’t allow it, so DC said they would just digitally remove it? Turns out that was exactly as terrible and hysterical of an idea as it sounds.
The resulting effect looks something like constantly morphing silly putty, and it’s amazing. It hits that perfect trifecta of being disgusting, hysterical, and distracting as hell. During all of the scenes where they had to replace his ‘stache, I sincerely could not tell you what was happening other than that his disturbing face was doing something that kind of looked like talking again. It would actually have been less distracting to just recast Superman and blame it on the resurrection than to do what they did. I cannot emphasize enough how brilliantly hysterical it is to watch these scenes, because it’s astounding to imagine a $300 million production allowing this monster to exist.
Clayface/Superman disaster aside, his resurrection leads to a number of other problems, namely that after pinning all of the emotional weight on his character, we are reminded of how genuinely awful this version of Superman is. Henry Cavill still looks the part, but has precisely zero charm, zero charisma, and seems to be reading directly from the script. It’s bad, like worse than Ben Affleck as a meme bad. Even attempts to give him a few more traditionally corny lines (even one referencing truth and justice) feel forced and entirely out of character for the modern, neck-snapping Superman. Furthermore, there are some shot inconsistencies and logical mistakes that quite literally made me scratch my head.
I will describe my favorite one of these below, so skip the next paragraph if you don’t want minor spoilers about the way Superman is revived.
So Batman sends Flash and Cyborg to the graveyard to exhume Superman, and bring him back to the crashed Kryptonian ship from the previous films, which is now in an open roofed science center. Despite the fact that at least one of them can fly, one can run past the guards, and one can jump really high, the plan is to dress Flash up as military and drive a truck holding the corpse through the guarded gateway. Stupid, but forgivable. They then take Superman out of his coffin and submerge him in the goo Jessie Eisenberg used to create the blob monster from BVS. At this point, Superman is wearing a suit jacket, button down shirt, tie, belt, socks, and dress shoes. This makes sense, as he was buried in them. They then shock the goo using a magical mystery box, causing a massive geyser to blow Superman straight through the ceiling and out to the city. When he lands, he is wearing only pants. Where did the rest of his suit go? How did the explosion remove his jacket, shirt, belt, shoes, and socks without damaging his pants? Was Aquaman in the geyser undressing him? How did nobody else notice this? How was this allowed in a $300 million movie?
Okay, I’m back from spoilers now. I have so much so say about how wrong everything in this movie is, but in all honesty I could keep going on this for another ten pages, and nobody wants to read that. I will say this, though: after all of the things this series has been criticized for since Man of Steel, you would think they would realize to maybe not keep doing those things. It’s not that hard to find an alternative to giant blue space lasers. Perhaps don’t make the function of the world destroying magical box turning the Earth into the hell scape that your poorly animated villain comes from, because that was literally the goal of Zod in Man of Steel, and the plot of at least one Transformers movie.
So yes, Justice League is loud, stupid, brainless, and excessive. But it’s not eleven hours long like BVS or incomprehensibly terrible like Suicide Squad. It is, instead, a stupid, sloppy, haphazard mess of a movie, but one that is surprisingly watchable. Most importantly like all great B movies, it has just enough head-scratchingly dumb or hilariously incompetent moments to make it an absolute joy to watch. So cheers to 2017, the year that Hollywood made a $300 million B movie, spent $300 million on a film that’s almost as bad as Batman and Robin, and crafted the most enjoyable film in the DCEU, for a mere $300 million.