Director Zack Snyder took a swing at the latest film instalment of the DC Extended Universe, Justice League. A huge swing because, with an estimated budget of $300 million USD, it’s the second equal most expensive film ever made. Unfortunately it was a swing and a miss, and given the awkward smattering of light applause at the end of the NZ premiere, I’m not alone in thinking this.
With mankind facing the threat of world domination, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) assemble a team of heroes, recruiting Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) to their cause. The league must defeat Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his army of Parademons who are hunting for three Mother Boxes, the combined energies of which will allow Steppenwolf to conquer the earth.
The plot somehow managed to be slapdash and cliché at the same time, as if someone had used a random superhero storyline generator on the internet, spun all 50 wheels and glued together whatever tropes and plot devices it spat out. Add an ensemble cast who were often in separate places on their own threads, creating a narrative that jumped all over the place, and the result was a convoluted two-hour slog that was impossible to be invested in as a viewer.
The mostly one-dimensional, boring characters made it a struggle to give a shit about them. Particularly disappointing was the treatment of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Having enjoyed her as a multi-dimensional, engaging character in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, it was frustrating to see none of that come with her to Justice League. And to put a cherry on the shit cake, she was sexualised throughout the film with low cut tops, behind-the-bum camera angles and awkward flirting making up most of the interactions with her teammates.
It’s not surprising Justice League had a big-ass budget considering it was over-saturated with CGI. The almost cartoony feel made it difficult to suspend disbelief and buy into the world of the film. But by far the biggest CGI crime was Steppenwolf, who was created using motion capture and ended up looking like a video game character, complete with a weird, expressionless face; far from the terrifying super villain he was supposed to be. A much more compelling villain could have been created by a good actor in costume and make-up.
Although there was much to dislike about the film, it had some saving graces. The humour in the dialogue landed well and the action scenes were well-choreographed and fun to watch. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman was the most entertaining character – a sarcastic, swagger-filled, bad boy loner with a heart of gold. I’m cautiously optimistic for Momoa’s performance in the upcoming 2018 film Aquaman and I hope director James Wan can harness the character’s potential and dig a bit deeper.
Overall, Justice League was a disappointing Hollywood cash grab on the back of the DC brand’s prestige, rather than a genuine attempt at good storytelling or filmmaking. Unfortunately the cash grab doesn’t seem to have worked either, if the opening weekend box office takings are anything to go by. Maybe Hollywood will learn to make money by actually making good films. One can hope.