Justice League Review: Another Disappointing DCEU Film
Given that the first article I ever posted on this site predicted that Justice League Part One would be a disappointment, it goes without saying that I did not have high hopes for this film. During the production of Justice League, Zack Snyder dropped out of the director’s chair and was replaced by Joss Whedon, and while I enjoyed it more than I expected to, because of this directorial change the film has problems that I did not expect at all. While Batman v. Superman was overly dark, Justice League is frequently cheesy; while Batman v. Superman attempted and failed at achieving cinematic depth, Justice League is so thematically light that it is ultimately forgettable. And although the film has different tonal problems than its predecessor, its structural issues are largely the same: Justice League jumps between its plethora of different characters and plotlines at a lightning pace, but given its runtime of 121 minutes, which was reportedly mandated by the CEO of Warner Bros., it lacks the time needed to execute its story properly. In short, while I prefer it to Batman v. Superman, Justice League Part One is another clustered DCEU film which, ironically, fails to do justice to the characters and comic-books it is based on.
The best thing I can say about Justice League, is that it is better than Batman v. Superman; the film has a better villain (although that is not saying much), better action, and a more cohesive and consistent story (although that is not saying much either). The film rarely felt agonizing to watch, and that it’s one of the best things I can say about a Justice League film speaks to how far the DCEU has plummeted in my opinion.
One of Justice League’s biggest problems is that it heavily builds off Batman v. Superman’s ending (spoiler alert), in which Superman dies at the hands of Doomsday. In this film, we learn that after Superman’s death the world is allegedly plunged into chaos, and I say allegedly because the film never shows this aside from a few scenes in the first act, one of which was revealed in the trailer, when Wonder Woman stops an armed bank robbery. Another scene displays this by showing an angry man being escorted out of a grocery store in hand cuffs, before he angrily shouts and knocks over a crate of oranges. But for the most part, there is no sense of chaos or turmoil in Superman’s absence, and because many fans, including myself, were dissatisfied with the previous portrayal of the character in Batman v. Superman, moments where Wayne spouts lines like “the world needs Superman, and the team needs Clark” come off as unearned.
But more than any one character, there are two flaws that truly hinder Justice League: the film’s structure and tepid momentum.
The lack of structurally sound script is noticeable within the first few minutes, as the film bounces around its massive and varied world, desperately trying to show everything it needs to within its two-hour runtime. In any given ten-minute interval, Justice League might jump from Batman and Aquaman, to Lois Lane and Martha Kent, to Wonder Woman and Cyborg, without giving any of the characters a true chance to shine.
Justice League’s two-hour runtime might not be a problem if it comfortably rested on the shoulders of other DCEU films, but since Cyborg, Flash, Aquaman, and the film’s villain, Steppenwolf, essentially make their debut in this film, Justice League is forced to spend a significant amount of its runtime explaining who everyone is and what they can do. The film almost completely ignores the old cliché regarding character development “show don’t tell”, and has multiple characters give short monologues which sum up their ethos and/or backstory in case audiences weren’t sure who they were.
The first act of this film constantly and clumsily jumps between different characters giving different monologues. That The Avengers in 2012 skillfully brought together six previously established superheroes and one previously established villain, while Justice League spends its time scrambling to explain its world, shows how truly terrible the DCEU’s planning has been thus far.
While it is true that Guardians of the Galaxy successfully introduced its five-character roster with a two-hour runtime, Justice League has far more plotlines from previous films to contend with and far more plotlines for future films to establish; as such, the film falls victim to a chaotically constructed narrative.
But what may be more detrimental to Justice League, is that rather than feeling like an event, such as how the first Avengers film did, watching Justice League feels like a disposable, lukewarm experience. Even Batman v. Superman felt like a cinematic event, being the first time Batman and Superman shared a screen in cinemas together; now that that initial meeting has already happened, and was squandered, Justice League feels especially forgettable.
The climax of this film, aside from often looking like a video game cutscene, feels small and somewhat anti-climactic compared to the endings of The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, or even 2017’s Wonder Woman, despite that being a stand-alone film with roughly half the budget ($149 million compared to $300 million).
All of this, in addition to the poorly received Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, is why Justice League Part One has opened to $96 million at the domestic box office, $70 million less than Batman v. Superman opened with in 2016, $37 million less than Suicide Squad, and $110 million less than The Avengers saw in 2012, the film which Warner Bros. seems to have been chasing with the DCEU since it premiered.
Because of this disappointing weekend gross, There is some talk online about a hard reboot of the DCEU, which would completely destroy the cinematic universe and allow Warner Bros. to start again from scratch.
While the fan in me would love to see this happen, since the DCEU has already squandered famous storylines in the comics like The Death of Superman and large sections of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, the amount of films in production and the number of actors and directors Warner Bros. has hired to work in this cinematic universe keep that dream from being a reality.
Justice League would probably have to gross around $500 million for serious talks of a full-fledged reboot to surface at Warner Bros., and the film will almost certainly make more than that.
Instead, going forward, Warner Bros. will have to drastically change the way the DCEU operates, or risk more box office disappointments like this one. How they should do that deserves its own article, but change needs to happen, or things are not going to get any better for Warner Bros.