In a shambolic outing for Ben Affleck’s Batman, Justice League is a mindless drudge. It’s fair to say that recent DC films have hit wide of the mark, perhaps with the exception of Wonder Woman this summer. But, in Justice League, the studio has once again produced a half-baked imitation of a bad impression of a mediocre superhero blockbuster. Like the beleaguered thug stumbling away from his run-in with a vigilante, the film pants desperately towards what it hopes is a meaningful conclusion, whilst the rest of the world looks on more out of pity than anything else. Drenched in tacky CGI and ham-fisted sentiment, the production thinks little of its audience, jumping from bland plot-point to bland plot-point with no real regard for taste or ingenuity. Justice League may be odourless, but it still manages to leave a sour taste in the mouth.
We begin as the world mourns the loss of Superman, world landmarks now bedecked with black ‘S’-symbolled flags. But Batman, presumably sensing a gap in the market as well as mysterious warnings of sinister events to come, must bring together a team to help fight the gathering storm. Soon after, Wonder Woman’s homeland comes under attack from the powerful Steppenwolf who is hell bent – no prizes for guessing – on world destruction, brought on by the unification of three boxes. “They don’t contain energy,” we’re told. “They are energy.” With Superman gone, it’s up to the League to stop him.
To call the plot unoriginal would be an embarrassing understatement. Truly, it’s an appalling template that’s only been half filled. Generic villain: tick. Embattled protagonist: tick. Comic relief side-kick: tick. But the major flaw at the heart of the plot, other than devoting roughly half the runtime to establishing the premise, is one from which Marvel too suffers: the film is vacuous. When every frame is packed with omnipotent characters fighting other omnipotent characters, the action become meaningless, as infrastructure topples around our heroes like wet tissue-paper. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if we were given a reason to care in the slightest about the members of the League. But combine this with an utterly two-dimensional antagonist and you’ve a recipe for a storyline that builds no emotional bridge with its audience. What’s worse is that ‘Justice League’ knows what it should have been doing, hinting at the contours of its central figures but remarkably probing no further. Perhaps, undemanding fans will simply enjoy seeing their favourite heroes, but the rest of us remain hopelessly detached from the whole affair.
Frustrating, too, is the unsettling inconsistency in tone. One minute, we focus on Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and the turmoil that Superman’s death has left behind. The next, we’re galloping across Themyscira, running away from an absurdly powerful CGI beastie. Both are perfectly valid in their own right, but the uneven jump from the human to the mystical means the two worlds share the film uncomfortably, with the end result that it’s almost impossible to care about both in anywhere near equal measure. Such a scattergun approach — we don’t care what you like, but please God like something — lends an air of confusion to a piece with no particular emotional epicentre.
The genre has its tropes, and, true, these can be terminal in building suspense. But in this age of superhero saturation, it’s reasonable to demand something more of these films. Seeing Justice League was like getting into a time machine and going back to a point before the Comic Book cinematic explosion. It’s as if the film has forgotten the lessons of the last 15 years on how to make this kind of narrative work on the big screen. Justice League is a typical case of story-for-story-sake, which is a cardinal sin in itself. But with little understanding of either Nolan’s grit or Guardians of the Galaxy humour, it lacks ambition, imagination, and crucially, depth.
What Justice League does, it does at a reasonable standard. But the film is almost entirely hot air used as a stopgap before the next instalment. With plots this tedious, one wonders how long even the loyalist of fans are willing to delay their already-thinning gratification.