Superman is dead! The Earth is in danger! Quick – assemble the Justice League…so they can bring Superman back to life and let him deal with it.
Technically that’s a spoiler, but it’s unclear how much of a ‘twist’ Superman’s resurrection is meant to be…despite dying at the end of 2016’s Batman v Superman (Zack Snyder), much of the marketing for Justice League (Synder again, with Joss Whedon directing some reshoots) features references to Superman. The film even opens with new footage of Henry Cavill back in the blue suit, so there’s no question of whether or not Superman will return to life – simply how it will happen. The answer, unsurprisingly, is really dumb.
While the viewers know that Supes will be back, it appears to the characters of the film that he’s gone for good. Taking advantage of the Earth seeming undefended is the new extra-terrestrial villain Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), a giant CGI alien who fulfils all the requirements of a superhero-movie villain without a single distinguishing trait. He wants to destroy the world and make it his own, with bland bad-guy dialogue and a character design so forgettable they might as well have just left the footage of Hinds in the motion-capture suit untouched. Yet while Marvel Studios will often have generic villains in favour of more colourful and developed heroes, Justice League struggles to even make that work.
Ben Affleck is back as Batman, who is trying to bring together a team of heroes to stop Steppenwolf’s invasion. Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman is a welcome return, still riding on the wave of success from her solo outing this year, and she’s joined by newcomers Cyborg (Ray Fisher), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). DC clearly wanted to get as many of its biggest characters in this film as they could, but they don’t seem to know what people like about these characters beyond their iconic natures. As a result it’s hard to care about anything that’s going on, feeling like DC is relying on audiences already liking their characters rather than developing them in any way. Even Danny Elfman’s musical score betrays this motive, utilising snippets of John William’s Superman theme and his own Batman theme to remind you of better superhero movies.
DC needed a win with this film to prove Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman wasn’t a fluke, and it didn’t get one. Joss Whedon’s script attempts to add more humour into the darker world established by Snyder but the jokes fall flat. The CGI is aggressive and cartoony, removing all sense of danger from any of the fights. The story is predictable, and the characters one-note. While it’s better as a whole than Batman v Superman, it also lacks any of the surprisingly effective scenes that its precursor had to make it memorable despite its flaws. Justice League instead ends up a film that’s never quite terrible, but never feels worth remembering.