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The opening scene of Justice League, DC’s long in gestation, superhero ensemble, features fan footage of the recently deceased Superman talking to an excited young admirer. He tells the kid about hope; about how it can seem lost at times but usually isn’t far away. He is acting like the classic Superman we all picture when we hear the name (noble, dutiful, heroic, not Batman) and telling a fan not to worry. He is lying. Fans of the assembled super people on screen should not get their hopes up.
The opening credits introduce us to this world of despair. We see various nations mourning the death of Superman to a downbeat cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows‘. We even gets shots that remind us of Bowie and Prince and a scene with some thugs harassing a Muslim shop owner. So far, so Zack Snyder. It’s grim and overbearing but so stylish that it goes down kinda easy, like a watered down version of Watchmen‘s credit sequence that serves to depress us all.
The film proper then veers away from this set up by largely ignoring the state of world affairs. This may be for the best. I don’t want to know Aquaman’s opinions on Brexit or what Cyborg thinks of Trump but you can still feel the sharp turn. It also attempts to sprinkle in comedy elements. Zack Snyder himself had to leave during production due to a family tragedy with final directing duties falling to Joss Whedon. As if that wasn’t bad enough the studio decided to change direction at the halfway point, aiming at a lighter, Wonder Woman-esque tone instead of a dour, Batman v Superman style cinematic penance approach. The result is little more than a few cheesy ‘My man’s, ‘Booyah!’s and ‘Alright’s dotted throughout the action. The Flash gets one amusing exchange before turning into a permanently gurning annoyance and in general the attempts at humour stick out like Jason Momoa in the Icelandic fishing village that he’s chosen to lie low in. It’s a lot of people fighting over the steering wheel while the audience tries not to get sick.
Structurally we have an exposition laden first half followed by a lot of bad CGI and rushed, tired, comic book movie nonsense. The film is hobbled by having to introduce so many characters and the result is an hour of the heroes stating their names and business followed by a very Fellowship of the Ring prologue sequence near the film’s midway point (!) to give the CGI baddie some backstory heft.
The entire thing feels so rushed and so ungainly that it’s hard to believe that so many people worked on it for so long. When we finally arrive at the plot, which would have felt played out a decade ago, it involves the villain’s quest after the unfortunately named Mother Boxes as the goodies attempts to revive Superman for help, incidentally rendering them obsolete as a fighting force. One action set piece seems to end in the middle and simply cut to the aftermath. When *Badly kept Spoiler Alert* the man of steel is revived as an amnesiac he gets into a fight with our heroes because Cyborg’s suit automatically attacks him. This is not something we’ve seen Cyborg do before and so the plot hinges on a weakness the filmmakers did not think to mention beforehand. The visuals throughout are often very ropey looking, especially on an unforgiving IMAX screen.
While this movie is a trudge it is, at least, a coherent-ish one. This small amount of faint praise does represent a step up from Batman v Superman. Still, we knew for so long that DC were ultimately building towards this and you can’t help but be disappointed that it’s… this. It’s the ‘Chinese Democracy’ of Superhero movies. At one point, Jeremy Iron’s Alfred jokes that the high stakes capers makes him long for the days when ‘One’s biggest concerns were exploding, wind up penguins’. You and me both, man.