A decade ago, I wouldn’t have imagined a time when I’d pass up seeing a big budget, big screen Justice League movie in the theater. I love the JLA, even though there are many incarnations of the team I can’t stand. I love superhero movies. Why on Earth wouldn’t I go, barring deathly illness?
Well, I’m married and TYG isn’t a movie-goer like I used to be, so we often end up doing other stuff in our spare time. And well, Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice left me with little enthusiasm for spending more money and time with the DCEU (you can find details of my distaste for the latter film here). Particularly when I knew I’d be able to watch it a few months later on Netflix — though even there, I didn’t get around to it until a few weeks ago.
To my pleasant surprise, it’s not as awful as I expected … which is not to say it’s good. The cast are strong, and they interact well together. The idea of Batman as significantly older and more experienced than everyone but Diana works for me. The action scenes are uninspired but adequate. Gail Godot still rocks, as does Jason Momoa. Ezra Miller as Flash works well enough, even saddled with Geoff Johns’ “Barry’s determining incident is his father being convicted of mom’s murder” backstory (which would have led into Flashpoint but at least we’re spared that). And I do love the ending discussion between Clark and Bruce over the Kents regaining the family farm (“How’d you get it back from the bank?” “I bought the bank.”).
The negatives: For starters, what’s the point of Flash’s armored suit? I hate the way movies make so many costumes look like armor and it doesn’t even make sense for Barry (it’s supposed to shield him from friction but it doesn’t cover his face). Cyborg is even worse: he looks more like Iron Man with a half-helmet than someone who’s half-man, half-machine.A much bigger problem is the idea that Superman’s death has destroyed the world’s capacity for hope. I don’t think hope exists in the Snyderverse, and certainly Superman doesn’t embody it. The previous two films make him less a symbol of hope than an avatar of alienness nobody trusts because he’s soooo scary-powerful. In the DCEU I find it easier to believe the world gasped with relief when Kal-El was finally dead.
And then there’s Steppenwolf. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World has some of his wildest and weirdest characters: Granny Goodness, the Black Racer, Virman Vundabar, the Female Furies … and instead the movie’s villain is Generic Powerful Dude, a guy who can’t open his mouth without lecturing the heroes on how he will crush us, Earth will be broken, no-one can stand against him, etc., etc. He’s a minor Kirby creation, only noteworthy for the name — I kept wishing one of the Leaguers had asked him “Do you like smoke and lightning?” — though like every other character Kirby touched he’s been used extensively since. If anyone has added anything interesting to his character, it wasn’t evident on screen.
I understand them wanting to follow Geoff Johns’ New 52 origin and bring in Apokalips (it’s not a good origin, but it’s the most recent) but for God’s sake couldn’t they have used some of Darkseid’s more interesting agents? I’d have loved to see the Female Furies against the Amazons, or Judi Dench as Granny Goodness (I know, not gonna happen, but I can dream) or Dr. Bedlam driving people to madness. Alternatively they could have gone Silver Age and used Starro. True, he has no more personality than Steppenwolf, but he doesn’t talk as much, and his later tactic of planting mind-controlling starfish over people’s faces is a great visual. I’m convinced that Gerry Conway/Rich Buckler addition to Starro’s power set is the only reason he’s known as a noteworthy villain rather than as the villain who got clobbered by Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew.
So yeah, Justice League could have been a lot worse. But it could have been so much better.
#SFWApro. Cover by Mike Sekowsky.