Saturday, 25 November 2017

Film Review: Justice League is an incoherent mess before it even gets going


I really wanted to like this film, okay? When the initial feedback rolled in and the response was decent, I was genuinely pleased. Yes, I thought, Wonder Woman wasn't a fluke - DC can actually do this. I went into the film filled with optimism that maybe director Zack Snyder had achieved the impossible, maybe he'd found a way of pulling DC's extended universe up to the standard it always should've been. Alas, this is not quite the case.

And by "not quite the case", I of course mean it couldn't be further from the truth. Justice League may not quite dethrone last year's Batman V Superman as the crowning turd of the DCEU, but it doesn't exactly slot in far behind. Come on guys, even Suicide Squad was better than this - and all that had going for it was a couple of decent performances and some form of personality. Justice League has a singular good performance (Gal Gadot, always a pleasure) but gone is any semblance of unity and cohesion with the rest of the franchise. Justice League feels both misplaced and misjudged in every possible regard.

Let's start with the misplacing. Why are we seeing this film so soon? The main point of Justice League is to watch a group of heroes come together to fend off a threat so big that they couldn't possibly have done it single-handedly, that's what the film is going for here. And yet, most of these characters have barely appeared on screen until now, so where, pray tell, is our sense of achievement supposed to come from? Aquaman means nothing to us, Flash means nothing to us, Cyborg means nothing to us - what are we meant to be getting from them? Their backstories are frustratingly skimmed over in the film's insultingly messy first act (which should be about three films long, rather than twenty minutes - don't even get me started on that) and then our band of heroes are forced together for a frenzy of slow-mo action.

It's less awe-inspiring than it is yawn-inducing. Snyder still can't figure out how to direct his action in this franchise, resulting in a mess of horrible CGI (the film's villain is just flat out dire) and slow motion choreography, it barely evokes a single thrill across all two hours. Seeing Wonder Woman and Batman fight together, two characters the DCEU has already granted independent films to, should be exciting, but nope - they went and botched that one by pulling the Amazonian Princess into Batman V Superman. The film doesn't bring anything new to the table, it rehashes old acquaintances in bland ways and fails to make the new ones feel exciting. The groundwork simply hasn't been laid for a film of this kind.

Many, including myself, have criticised the DCEU for its incessantly grim approach to the superhero genre. Prior films were dark and dingy, heavy and devoid of humour. I'll grant writers Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon credit for at least attempting to take criticisms on board and trying something new here, but it hasn't worked. Rather than Justice League feeling lighter and more enjoyable, it feels inconsistent. Tonal issues weren't the sole reason for the DCEU's prior failings, so fixing this one element without changing anything else doesn't really come across as a re-brand, it just feels like a half baked attempt at pleasing the masses. Correct the lacklustre performances, correct the overbearing CGI, correct the dull visual palette, correct the uninspired storytelling and lack of soul. Then, and only then, might this shift in tone work out.

It would probably also help if we felt invested in what's actually taking place in the film, but there's little to be found here either. Aquaman as a character is just a non-starter (and my God is Jason Momoa bad here), Flash is fun for about a minute and a half before he crosses over into irritating, and Cyborg's potentially interesting origin story is condensed into a dull, exposition heavy flashback. Pulling this group together doesn't bode well, especially when the narrative around them is just as derivative. In a bizarre mish-mash of Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Avengers Assemble, some God-like thing called Steppenwolf is bringing his planet to Earth through the unity of some cubes - it's about as nonsensical as it sounds, and twice as boring.

I can understand why hardcore DC fans have found happiness with this film, and it certainly didn't pulverise me into the ground like Batman V Superman did, but if you aren't a fan of these characters already then I can't imagine you finding anything even remotely enjoyable here. This is a film comprised of a story that makes no sense, populated with characters that have no spark, delivering lines that make you cringe in the middle of action scenes that just don't thrill. Wonder Woman was a step in the right direction, but it might be time to call this whole thing off now and pretend that everything that wasn't directed by Patty Jenkins didn't happen. In fact, is it too late for me to pretend that anyway?

In A Sentence

Lazily directed, sloppily written and lacking any form of genuine cohesion of any kind, Justice League returns the DCEU to its uninspired, unforgiving roots.

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