Justice League Is a Big, Ugly Mess

Nov 16, 2017, 04:00 PM

Doing high school and college theater, I got used to a certain kind of pitying, deflecting, post-performance compliment—“the lighting was so good;” “what an interesting script;” “what fun costumes.” These little deceptive kindnesses told me all I needed to know, yet spared me from full exposure to the harshest truths. I’ve done the same routine myself dozens of times, because what else can we do as decent, compassionate people? Who needs mean, candid honesty when, deep down, we already know the value, or lack thereof, of what we’ve made?

But once in awhile, there comes along something so egregiously bad that trying to find something good to say about it is its own kind of cruelty; such an obvious act of reaching only highlights the production’s garish dimensions, its abject failures. And, worse still, it can encourage more. In these instances, pure and unadorned honesty is really the only way to go, difficult as it may be to deliver. And so, dear Justice League, I must say that no, the lighting is not good. The script is not interesting. The costumes are not fun. The film is, plainly stated, terrible, and I’m sorry that everyone wasted their time and money making it—and that people are being asked to waste their time and money seeing it. I hate to be so blunt, but it simply must be said this time.

To be fair, the DC movies preceding Justice League—particularly Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad—have gotten their share of criticism already. I loathed the ugly, obnoxious Suicide Squad, and found only a little to likeabout turgid Batman v Superman. I was not alone in either of those assessments. It’s been a tough road for DC, with solid enough box office but little toehold in public esteem.

So it was a nice reprieve when Wonder Woman was an unqualified hit this summer, embraced by audiences and achieving a kind of rare, dangerous victory for a DC film: it kinda felt like an Avengers movie. The franchise got a big boost, and suddenly the DC story began to look a little less dark. What a nice few months that was! But now, with cracking whiplash, arrives Justice League, the culmination of the three non-Suicide Squad DC films to come before it—a hurried and slapdash heroes-assemble affair that clatters loudly and senselessly, tossed together out of loose screws and scrap metal.

Justice League awkwardly tries to move away from much of the forbidding tone of Man of Steel or B v S, a perhaps studio-mandated attempt to lighten things up, to add some effervescence like the kind Tony Stark and friends enjoy together. After suffering a family tragedy, director Zack Snyder took a step back from the film, and Joss Whedon—borrowed from The Avengers—was brought in to bring it over the finish line. He has a co-writing credit, and his syncopated, geeky-snark stamp is peppered throughout the film. But Whedon’s humor is grafted on in too-obvious ways; it sticks out incongruously amid all the stilted mechanics of this alarmingly basic movie. All these Whedonisms have the opposite of the intended effect. They give off a strenuous hum, the desperate sound of a turd polished in vain.

If this was the best DC could do in synthesizing all their lead characters together into one ensemble spectacular, after a half-decade of planning, that’s pretty damning. Justice League is such a misguided mess—often feeling entirely unguided—that you want to intervene, softly saying, “Stop, stop, you don’t have to do this, stop.” But you can’t talk to the movie screen, so I’ll say it here. There is no real vision; no idea what the tone of these movies should be; no compelling or even coherent narrative through-line; no feel, or regard, for characterization. I know there’s another comic-book company doing this across town, and it seems to be working out well for them, but if you have no clear sense of how to build one of these franchises in a functional, let alone interesting, way, maybe stop until you do!

But there’s no stopping, no pausing f...