Mercifully, the circulated runtime for Justice League is false – it certainly doesn’t stretch to 170 minutes; had this been the case, the film would represent a new low for modern cinema. Instead, at a breezier couple of hours in length, this is simply an entry to rank amongst the canon of all-time worsts.
Justice League is a monument to impatience and avarice, the boardroom-governed priorities of DC’s cinematic universe. Watching Marvel’s relative successes greedily, DC has decided that it’s time for the Avengers challenger, the ensemble film bringing our established cast together for the first time.
Except, of course, that the limp Batman v Superman already brought three of the heroes into battle together. At least we’ll get introductions to The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman, then? Each is granted a few tawdry minutes as establishment, peppered with foreboding and misplaced jokes, before becoming another blurred part of the CGI-muck that passes as background to Justice League‘s main scenes.
The plot, in case anyone hasn’t been able to entirely accurately guess it, involves a stunningly dull someone invading planet earth to exploit the power of some impressively boring somethings. Ciaran Hinds as said bad guy records some voice lines, lets the audio department deepen his voice and the video guys stitch in his CGI body, and presumably tells himself he isn’t creatively bankrupt for participating. The story is jaw-droppingly lazy; the supporting characters, the foremost a family of anonymous Russians, are brazenly pointless.
As Ben Affleck’s Batman gathers a rag-tag group of supers to stop this ‘threat’, we are introduced to the film’s only glimmers of hope – its three new heroes. Ezra Miller’s Flash has the vaguest sense of comic timing, something other cast members sorely miss, and Jason Mamoa appears to at least be having fun on set as Aquaman. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is dry, but at least this represents a character trait that has deliberately been created – competence which feels out of place in this film.
More typically, even established characterisation is mind-blowingly mishandled – an early scene of heroism from Wonder Woman must surely have first been written for The Flash, as her time-defying speed saves lives. Momoa’s Aquaman, meanwhile, appears to be a frankenstein of other action character types, cobbled together in the hope that he’ll make the role memorable; he ultimately and inevitably doesn’t.
For a year-ending blockbuster Justice League looks bafflingly cheap; the effects are muddy and blurred, the colour palette evidently brightened in post-production but limited by its fundamental murkiness. Costumes look homemade at times, and the performances are uniformly flimsy. One wonders how many of these actors now regret taking on supposedly iconic roles; Jeremy Irons as Alfred seems to say his lines through gritted teeth, and even the fawned-over Gal Gadot serves up some truly half-hearted deliveries.
It is blindingly clear that Justice League has come too early for the brains at DC – their roster is still shaky, their tone of voice has been shaken up by the success of the utterly mediocre Wonder Woman, and their commercial success is an obfuscation given their shoddy output. The film, whether because of studio meddling or Zack Snyder’s departure from the project, is woefully patched together as a result. Basic editing rules are ignored, continuity is meaningless and sequences make little visual sense throughout.
The shame is that Snyder’s bizarre, misguided and dark interpretation of DC’s stories, while a clear failure, was at least identifiably attempting a style and mood. Justice League is a film which would have been terrible with him at the helm throughout, but would have been more creditable. Instead we are left with a shocking mess, completely devoid of identity, which pseudo-saviour Joss Whedon will doubtless disavow in time. Apologist verdicts on this disaster are as mystifyingly wrongheaded as the film itself.