My grandparents lived in an age of Westerns. My parents grew up in an age of Musicals. Today we exist in an age of Superheroes.
1978 convinced us that a man could fly. In 1989, we danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight. At the turn of the century, evolution leapt forward. And in 2002, we learned that with great power there must also come great responsibility.
Each progression in the superhero formula had its growing pains – Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Batman & Robin, X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3 – but each also brought us closer to the present day: to that shining, livelong moment when the comic book code was finally cracked and the market was deluged by unprecedented masterpieces. From The Dark Knight to Deadpool to literally anything coming out of Marvel these days, this is without a doubt the golden age of this genre.
And in 2017, the long-beleaguered DC Extended Universe joined into the fray with a classic composition of its own: an unremitted critical darling, an enthusiastic popular success and an unbridled financial windfall for the increasingly cash-strapped Warner Bros. That movie, of course, was Wonder Woman..
Justice League represents what might end up being the last great growing pain for this genre. Alongside Fant4stic and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it is a watershed moment that stands to reshape the landscape of comic book movies. The first brought into serious focus the mounting opportunity cost of Fox doggedly holding onto their Marvel licenses. The second resulted in everybody’s friendly neighborhood wall-crawler coming home to Marvel Studios. And Justice League might just be the linchpin that sinks Warner Bros’ present attempts at making a cinematic universe to rival what Marvel seemingly mastered a full decade ago.
That’s not to say that we’ll never see another Batman movie, nor that some other mega-franchise won’t come along to take the place of the DCEU. Maybe Flashpoint will successfully push the rest button and give second life to this whole ill-considered cash-grab. Or perhaps Warner Bros’ non-canonical comic book adaptations are the way to go: simply telling good stories without tangling themselves in twenty other movies worth of continuities.
But the DCEU, in effect, is dead. Justice League killed it. It doesn’t even matter that Aquaman is already waiting in the wing for a 2018 release at this point. If Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg AND Aquaman couldn’t sell DC’s answer to The Avengers to the movie-going public, then James Wan sure as Hell isn’t going to do that with the least compelling member of that team. At this point, Warner Bros might actually save money by not releasing it to theaters.
And it’s no wonder why, either. For all of the conspiracy theories of Marvel paying off movie critics the world over to write bad reviews for otherwise good DC movies, the simple truth of the matter is that DC just isn’t making good movies these days. And if there was anything to those DC truther theories, Disney sure wouldn’t have let Wonder Woman slip through their grasp with a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Justice League is bad. It’s really, really bad. No, it’s not quite Suicide Squad or Dawn of Justice bad, but it is an exceptional level of badness that you just don’t often get to see from a major studio.
It is the Frankenstein’s monster of tentpole blockbusters: one so thoroughly worked over by Zack Snyder, Joss Whedon and Warner Bros itself that it doesn’t know which way is up. It lacks consistent characterization among its expansive cast, consistent tone between its disjointed scenes and consistent visuals within those scenes.
The film wastes so much time gathering its intrepid team members and chasing McGuffins that it hardly has time to find anything to do with them. It overcorrects the failures of its predecessors so drastically that Flash is transformed into a gaggling clown who is unbearable in every scene that he’s written into. The script is so jam-packed with cameos and Easter Eggs that one hardly knows what to focus on from scene to scene.
What’s more is that the movie is a shockingly ugly thing to look at. The film’s desaturated hues are garishly recolored to correct for the muddied look of earlier movies. The scenes that Whedon reshot – which by some accounts amount to 50% of the runtime but only 10% of its budget – are incredibly cheap-looking: like a daytime Soap Opera shot against a dirty green-screen. It’s obvious from the frequent and off-putting close-ups that most actors in any given scene weren’t actually on set at the same time as one another. And between Cyborg, Flash and the three Motherboxes, there were so many lightning and strobe effects superimposed on one another that I couldn’t bear to look at the screen as often as not.
Most disappointing of all, however, is that Justice League falls into the same trap as most other portrayals of the team. Superman is so disproportionately powerful that his mere presence completely invalidates the abilities and contributions of the other team members. It’s something closer to “Superman and His Amazing Friends” than it is a full “Justice League.”
At one point Flash, after running for what to me seemed like an eternity, catches up to the civilians that he’s supposed to help rescue, but not before Superman, who dashed off just moments before, easily catches up to him. And in the time that it takes Flash to rescue a single family in a pickup truck, Superman uproots and saves an entire apartment complex: begging the question of what Flash was even doing there in the first place.
Other than to watch Warner Bros crash and burn at the box office, there is no reason to subject yourself to Justice League. Thor: Ragnarok is easily one of the best movies this genre has ever produced and is still widely available in theaters. Coco, another excellent offering from Pixar, has just been released. Wonder, Darkest Hour and Lady Bird have all earned exceptional reviews and appear to be sizable Oscar contenders. Meanwhile, Justice League is everything that we’ve come to expect from the DCEU, which is to say “terrible.”
Buy on BluRay: Absolutely Not