REVIEW | ‘Justice League’ is by-the-numbers and lacks dramatic tension

November 21, 2017 - 3:27 PM
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Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck in 'Justice League.'

“Justice League” has a lot of baggage that it unfortunately has to make up for.

“Man of Steel” was divisive and reimagined Superman so much that he became unrecognizable to a lot of his longtime fans. “Batman versus Superman” was universally maligned by critics and more people hated it than the people loved it.

“Wonder Woman” was lucky enough to not have to carry that baggage. A different artistic team was at the helm and the story they told was far removed from the two films that it allowed her movie to be taken on its own.

With the success of “Wonder Woman,” things changed for “Justice League” mid-shooting when director Zack Snyder (who still gets full credit on the film) left the project for personal reasons and Joss Whedon took over and there was a sudden shift for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman to carry the film alongside Ben Affleck’s Batman.

Maybe Wonder Woman and Batman were meant to lead “Justice League” but because of all the baggage, it felt like it was reactionary move rather than an organic choice, which it probably was.

This is the all-important context when sitting in the theater to watch “Justice League” because it feels like half a movie. There is a plot, for sure, but it is just as simple as a powerful world-conquering being called Steppenwolf collecting three powerful objects called a Motherbox coming into the world with his legion of parademons, and the heroes must come together to stop him.

That’s it, really. There is no grounding logic to Steppenwolf’s conquest other than the fact that that is what he does. He’s just a bad guy. And now Batman and Wonder Woman must gather Ezra Miller’s Flash, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman to stop this threat.

As a simple heroes-must-gather-to-stop-a-bad-guy plot line, it’s by-the-numbers and lacks real dramatic tension. Nothing is difficult. Everything is pretty much done through talking. Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg’s origins are explained in a few bits of dialogue to make way for them to come together to stop a powerful being.

What there is a lot of is flashy super-hero fight sequences to show off each hero’s abilities and when there are moments of teamwork, it falls flat because the team never really becomes a team. Batman and Wonder Woman seem to know everything already that there is to know about these other characters. The film never takes the time to really make these characters gel. They just all of a sudden do.

And as charming and lovely as Miller’s Flash is, or as cool as they make Momoa’s Aquaman to be, or as dramatic and intense as Fisher’s Cyborg, it’s all lip service because the film never bothers to show us these character’s interior world.

Everything happens in the service of the plot. There is nothing else in the story, really, but for them to stop the powerful villain. And that makes “Justice League” so uninteresting and bland as a superhero team film.

Sure, it has funny moments and great fight scenes but except for Wonder Woman, I have no real relationship with any of these heroes other than what I know of them from the comics.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

And as you probably have guessed, Superman returns and there’s a whole lot of talk about Superman’s absence making the world an awful place, which is strange to me because all the previous films from “Man of Steel” and “Batman versus Superman” lead me to believe that people were scared of him.

Where did this reverence and love for the Kryptonian who is “more human than Batman” come from?

His return is a major aspect of the film, and again, it comes so easy. It comes off as tone deaf because the memory I have of Superman from the films that lead up to this, he was not as loved as previous incarnations and it feels like a full 180-degree turn in this one. It doesn’t feel cohesive.

And again, he is the key to winning the battle, almost like a deus ex machina that undermines whatever little team dynamics that was put into the film.

While many people had fun and say that it’s just an enjoyable comic book film, I felt very short-changed. I enjoyed every scene of Wonder Woman and wanted more for Flash and Cyborg. I felt it was a plot without a story. In an effort to lighten it up and to make it easier to digest, it lost any real flavor as a film.