It’s really hard not to view DC’s version of “The Avengers” without the long shadow cast by the rest of the comic book superhero genre – either Marvel’s confident execution of tone every time it tries or DC’s stumbles every time it tries.
In the pantheon of endless CGI and spendex, the Rotten Tomatoes score of 40 percent just about covers it – it’s less of a train wreck than “Suicide Squad”, slightly better than the dour humourlessness of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, lacking the wide eyed idealism everyone loved about “Wonder Woman” and still not as creatively cohesive as anything from Marvel’s well-oiled machine.
No matter what you’ve read about Joss Whedon taking over after Zack Snyder’s family tragedy, it’s also all Snyder. Just like Tim Burton’s signature style is gargoyles, white skin and gothic horror motifs, Snyder’s is action that borders on incoherent with way too many flashing CGI lights and colours. It feels like all Whedon did was insert a joke jokes anywhere he could find a quiet spot.
It also makes one wonder how upset Batman purists are – this is the latest in a long line of movies that moves Batman (Ben Affleck) even further away from the original intent of the character. Where Bob Kane and Bill Finger envisaged a masked figure stalking criminals across the rooftops of Gotham City, weilding detective skills instead of just weapons, nowadays he’s simply another computer-animated soldier in the endless battle against gods, aliens and intergalactic despots, saving the Earth from destruction rather than just avenging the murder of his parents by cleaning up the streets of one city.
As Bruce Wayne drives the Batmobile through the post apocalyptic Russian mining town that serves as the climax with some giant, Star Wars-like energy shield of crackling electicity descending all around (not one single frame untouched by computer software), you can imagine him rolling his eyes and longing for the opportunity to fling his batarang at some petty mugger.
But this is a DC movie, so that means a Grand Guignol villain from another dimension – another lame CGI monster called Steppenwolf (anyone else keep expecting him to start belting out Magic Carpet Ride?) and his army of winged insect alien things that we saw in BvS: DoJ during Batman’s apocalyptic vision.
He comes to Earth to steal three glowing cubes that will make him all powerful when they’re put together or some such rubbish, so it’s time to assemble the League. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has been living in London, occasionally donning her tiara and lasso of truth to foil dastardly plots like the museum siege that first shows her in action, and when Steppenwolf steals the first CGI box thingy from her homeland of Themyscira and her Amazon sisters warn her that he’s arrived and on the warpath, she contacts Bruce and they hatch a plan to form The League.
While she goes on the trail of a half man half machine called Cyborg (who I don’t remember from the Saturday morning cartoons), Bruce goes in search of the other metahumans, hard drinking Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and socially awkward nerd The Flash (Ezra Miller).
The erstwhile team members don’t all agree, but plot machinations bring them all together at the most dramatic critical moments and the League is formed. Even then, Bruce doesn’t think they’re strong enough, so the script has an interesting turn to use the infinity box/whatever objects to bring Superman back to life. Thankfully it’s fairly organic to the story rather than just being shoehorned in and the movie takes a decent amount of time executing it and dealing with its aftermath.
But before long it’s time to hightail it to the green screens of rural Russia to battle the parademons (who look like the winged Geonosian creatures from “Star Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones”) and stop Steppenwolf putting the boxes together or whatever the hell they’re supposed to do, the stakes completely non-existent because you know everbody here needs to be around for their own movies and sequels.
It’s not that it’s an inherently bad movie, there’s just a lot about it that could be better. When every movie in a franchise one-ups what came before, to feature such a lacklustre villain renders the whole thing a little bit more inert – watch what Taika Waititi did with “Thor: Ragnarok” by casting Cate Blanchett as Hela and giving his movie’s bad guy so much personality.
And for all the criticisms of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, at least there was some emotional driving force propelling the story forward, not just another computer generated Macguffin like the stupid box things that has some aeons-old mythology of its own but which you won’t care the least bit about.
And of course, this being the Snyderverse it’s all delivered with an ever-increading dose of CGI sound and fury that gets less coherent and has more to do with computer games and less to do with people the closer to the big finish it gets.
If “Justice League” was the only comic book movie that existed it might be more interesting, but in having seen both much better and much worse, it all just feels like we’ve seen it all before.
DVD : A featurette on the making-of.