‘Justice League’ is leagues below impressive

Warner Bros. delivers another inept DC film

ae-JusticeLeague-CourtesyWarnerBrothers

In "Justice League," the action is just not visually appealing for the most part. 

Courtesy Warner Brothers

“Justice League” has its moments — some wonderfully impactful action snapshots, some truly memorable lines, some joyously humorous gags. Yes, “Justice League” has excellent, enjoyable moments. But a movie is not merely a collection of moments. Movies have plots, characters, structure, competent visual design and writing — all things that “Justice League” sorely lacks.

Saying “Justice League” even has a plot is too generous — a plot has progression and cohesion, whereas “Justice League” has a series of events that interrupt each other. The movie starts with Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) tracking down heroes with unique abilities to form an alliance against an incoming alien invasion. All of these heroes, Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) have individual character arcs set up with various backstories and side characters to flesh out their roles. 

Then the alien conqueror Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) arrives to kick off the invasion, and all of that set-up ceases to matter as the heroes band together to fight Steppenwolf. This is Warner Bros. blatantly marketing future films within a film, as if to say, “If you want to know more, tune in next time!” So in short, “Justice League” is a film disinterested in telling the stories of its own characters.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps the intent is for the characters to explore their arcs through the action, to work together to overcome their flaws and their foes. The flaw in that plan, however, is that the action underwhelms. In and of themselves, the action scenes are nicely varied and well-choreographed, but they simply aren’t character-expressive or story-efficient. Several of them drag on for too long, especially for a story which already has no momentum. Steppenwolf as the antagonist is not conducive to storytelling because he himself has no character whatsoever. He is the ultimate generic villain — he’s big and strong, he’s evil because he’s crazy and he randomly appears and disappears whenever convenient.

The core problem with the action is that nobody can decide how strong they are or what abilities they have. This is not a small problem to have in a superhero film, where characters are in part defined by their superpowers. Is Aquaman as powerful and durable as Wonder Woman? How threatening are Steppenwolf’s minions, the Parademons? Can Atlanteans speak underwater? All of these and more are basic questions that the movie simply fails to answer, and many action scenes are simply robbed of tension as the relative gravity of the situations are not made clear.

What’s more, the action is just not visually appealing for the most part. This isn’t directed at the film’s choice of darker, dimmer colors — that’s a stylistic choice for the DC Extended Universe and a matter of personal taste. No, the visuals are unappealing because the design is simply uninspired. Cyborg and the Parademons are too monochromatically indistinct to draw the eye, and Steppenwolf looks like something pulled out of a Dungeons and Dragons handbook that’s been dropped in a puddle. Most of the battle arenas blend into each other as an endless series of murky concrete rooms. This isn’t helped by the incredibly uneven CGI, which is perfectly well-executed for the most part but distinctly unfinished in a number of places — the effect can only be described as cartoony. 

Speaking of wavering quality, the movie’s tone is also very inconsistent, reflecting the troubled production. Several scenes bear the stitch marks of jokes and quips added in after the fact. The issue is not whether these jokes are funny, as many of them admittedly are, rather they’re often inappropriate. The movie’s events are still rather serious and even darkly macabre at times, making the attempts at humor uncomfortably jarring. A funeral doesn’t really get any brighter if the eulogy ends with a sex joke.

“Justice League” is simply an insubstantial film, and what it does have still isn’t very good. It’s a film with so little grasp of basic story progression that it completely fails to execute Chekhov’s gun. For every scene that widens the eyes, electrifies the mind or warms the heart, there are three scenes that bore the brain, sour the tongue or frustrate the soul. In the end though, the film’s ineptitude is an inoffensive flavor of bad — a kind of bad that makes it worthless as a film but functional as a time-killer. Whether or not you enjoy “Justice League” depends on whether you can perform the kind of mental arithmetic to determine if two hours of mediocrity is worth a handful of great moments.

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