The League of Extraordinary Superpeeps.
Nobody should come to the movies unless he believes in heroes.
— John Wayne.
An interstellar villain tries to destroy Earth, but is vanquished with punching and computer jargon, by a fresh clique of supers called the JUSTICE LEAGUE.
Batman (grizzled Ben Affleck) recruits The Aquaman (warrior Jason Momoa), and Barry Allen not-yet-called The Flash (hipster Ezra Miller), to combat an otherworldly threat; while his potential love interest, Wonder Woman (salubrious Gal Gadot), recruits a man-of-steel-parts known as Cyborg (stoic Ray Fisher). Together they beat on the supervillain called Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds). And then Superman (Henry Cavill) shows up, so everyone can go home.
For all the deflective advertising, director/co-writer Zack Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon might have called this movie TRAILERS WITHOUT SUPERMAN; or maybe HOW MUCH YOU BENCH, BRAH? Instead, they went with the name that DC comics dubbed their second ever supergroup, The Justice League of America, honed to JUSTICE LEAGUE for millennial cred. (The first ever group of comicbook supers that banded together was DC’s The Justice Society of America in 1940. The League debuted in 1960. And for historical context, Marvel’s Fantastic Four became supers in 1961, and the Avengers and X-Men teams both started cos-playing in 1963.)
And I find it hard to fathom – what – the – hell – everyone is whining about.
JUSTICE LEAGUE, which seems to have attracted every NON-lover of comics as a critic, is a fine superhero film, Movie Maniacs! It won’t win any awards, but not only does it feature literally the greatest superheroes in world history – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg – it is crafted with sincerity and humor, enough quiet interactions to humanize its gods, and enough bombast to satisfy a CGI nerd.
There is but one overarching problem with JUSTICE LEAGUE – the villain. As we all know: A hero is nothing without a compelling villain; The more interesting the villain, the more exciting the hero; Two sides of the same damaged coin; Yin and Yang… However you phrase this, JUSTICE LEAGUE is an example of the misstep of presenting a literal two-dimensional villain, thereby making all its heroes look flat.
A wormhole opens on Wonder Woman’s island of Themiscyra (featuring Connie Nielsen as Queen TouchMyBottom), and down flies the CGI villain Steppenwolf. Myriad ideas have been posited on why JUSTICE LEAGUE “fails” – from the Amazons showing too much man-ab, to Superman’s ‘stache – but it’s the not-quite-realistic computer-generated villain! Looking vaguely like Liam Neeson fashioned from runny candle wax, this Steppenwolf is no magic carpet ride. He’s a video game. It’s BEOWULF meets I AM LEGEND. DC, you idiots! You couldn’t afford one more above-the-line actor (Gary Oldman, Geoffrey Rush, Eric Bana, Dolph Lundgren, et al) to give this villain heft? Even the guy voicing this abomination, Ciaran Hinds, would have made a fearsome bad guy; instead, we get the laughable confrontation between humans and cartoon.
To make matters worse, Steppenwolf doesn’t have any compelling backstory or characteristics, except that he enjoys elocuting like Shakespeare in the Park, and comes with a big side of winged mothmen that DC lovingly calls parademons – simpleton minions that feed on fear. There is a hurried exposition on his absurd motivation: gathering three “motherboxes” that will allow him to destroy the world blah blah (although, like so many supervillains before him, he seems to have all the power in the universe at his behest even without the motherboxes – I mean, if you can take a punch from Superman and still be able to sire kids, that goes on the top of the résumé for life!). But with no foreshadowing of his reputation, without the first idea of his powers or limitations, the role itself is merely a shallow antagonist trope. There is no ambiguity in Steppenwolf, no mitigation of his evil that might turn our sympathies. He sticks the superhero landing in Themiscyra, bitchslaps a few trannies and quite easily steals the first of the three motherboxes…
Why should we care, when the Amazonians kept this coveted, planet-crushing box in an open room? The Atlanteans (Aquaman’s people) are no better, keeping their entrusted box in an open underwater room. Step two for Steppenwolf. At least the humans – who are criticized for burying their box merely three feet underground – BURIED their box!…
It is this last motherbox that Cyborg acquires, that primes the plot to reanimate Big Blue [can we get a snatch of John Williams’ epic Superman Theme? Just a snatch? No? DisaPPOINted!]– But hang on! Did the humans leave their box unguarded? Of course they did – it was buried! But if it was that easy to locate, why didn’t Steppenbro grab this one first? Or did Cyborg have to punch someone to acquire it? If so, it was so easy that the battle isn’t even shown. And if they just gave it to Cyborg, how could they know he was a good guy? Avoiding these pertinent questions, Cyborg just lands with it, and the League rendezvous at Bruce Wayne’s bat-mansion to have coffee over it.
After finding that punching and flashing and wondering and batmobiling and aquamanning and borging are not curbing Steppenwolf’s steppin’, Batman lightbulbs on a great marketing ploy – bring back Superman! The same conscience that caused Batman to attack Superman (in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE) is now eating away at him; he harbors the guilt of destroying a person who was “more human than me.” And DC can sell more dolls.
The League’s debate over using the otherworldly motherbox to resurrect the man from another world, reminds me of that discussion in STAR TREK IV to “slingshot around the sun to travel back in time.” That science-y TREK debate went something like, “blah blah slingshot around the sun to travel back in time” and someone said, “Why, that’s crazy!” and someone else said, “But it just might work!” and they did it and it worked and everyone was happy. In JUSTICE LEAGUE, the conversation was much more realistic, and went something like, “blah blah use the motherbox to bring back Superman” and someone said, “Why, that’s crazy!” and someone else said, “But it just might work!” and they did it and it worked and everyone was happy.
It’s ironic how Bruce, arguing to bring back Superman (even against Barry’s caveat of turning into PET SEMATARY), says, “Even if there’s a fraction of a chance that it might work, we have to try,” for that was his exact reason for killing Superman – the “fraction of a chance” that Superman might destroy Earth. “The world needs Superman, and the team needs Clark.” That would be Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent… you know, the guy who DIED in the last movie. Since Clark doesn’t interact with society in this film, the explanations of his return to life can be left for another sequel. And his dolls weren’t selling anyway.
Now here is an example of the “Interesting Villain” clause in action: When Superman is resurrected (like Jesus!) he is discombobulated enough to attack the entire League, thereby making him the villain for a few moments. Why is this segment compelling? No, not because Henry Cavill is shirtless, but because Superman is an interesting villain – more interesting than as a hero, even! – and the League superheroes (called “meta-humans” by Bruce, because – street cred) seem more relevant when trying to quell Superman’s anger at being woken, even if they are ineffectual against his awe-inspiring might.
One of the coolest scenes is when Superman grabs the whole League by the pussy, and Flash ramps into super-speed to try to outflank him… and we see Superman turn his head to follow the Flash! Such POWER that makes even a cucumber… moist.
JUSTICE LEAGUE opens on Superman. Cellphone footage, with excited kids asking him questions. Here’s a prime example of another reviewer going overboard derogating this movie for the sake of being kewl. Reviewer writes that Superman comes off as aloof and doesn’t interact well with the kids. No such thing! Superman coolly answers their questions (describing the symbol on his chest as “hope”), and when they ask him, “What’s your favorite thing about Earth?” he gets a faraway look, and we are allowed to substitute anything we want (Lois Lane, his job, Lois naked, the yellow sun, Lois moaning, Chinese food, Lois in doggy position, Paris coffee, Lois choking on his—it could be anything!), and it cuts away before he can answer. That’s good storytelling! However, Reviewer read that look as ‘…a somber Superman that makes us yearn for Christopher Reeve.’ You’re an imperceptive tool, Reviewer. I just wish I remembered your name.
And why this sudden love for Chris Reeve? He cut a fine visual as Superman, yes, and he was a tireless activist, and his life ended tragically, but don’t imbue him with qualities that are demonstrably absent. Remember all those jokes about The Man of Wood? 40 years later, he’s Olivier?
Movie then cuts to a world devoid of Superman. After his death in BATMAN V SUPERMAN, giant black banners bearing the “S” symbol adorn world landmarks (giving hope to fanboys that they might see Superman return in his seamless black ballet outfit and rock star mullet). Crime rages in the streets – and once again I will thunder that I DETEST the way “crime” is represented by movies like this: thugs being arrested and tipping over fruit crates in their anger; as if “crime” is these small-time hoods, when these are the bottom-rung symptom of the true crimes being committed by people in high office. A world without hope. Because of thugs in the streets. Not because Russia tampered in American elections, and the president committed high treason, no.
The first hero shot is a low angle upskirt, showing us Wonder Woman’s glorious black nun’s panties. (What was that again about empowering women?) A re-introduction to her powers as she saves civilians with her bracelets and super-speed, and prevents terrorists from blowing up a bank by kicking them sensually.
Then we see Bruce searching the arctic wasteland for Arthur Curry, “the Aquaman.” The best line: “He comes on the King Tide.” (I dunno – I just love that line!) Lion-maned, body-painted, leather-panted Jason Momoa ain’t your daddy’s yellow-and-green sea-queen, as he polishes a bottle of whiskey before diving shirtless into the tempest. When it comes to rebooting characters, Aquaman – with his Haight-Ashbury ethos, quindent (not trident!), his haughty derring-do and laughter in the face of overwhelming odds – is surely one of the coolest in superhero history. And wettest. That means YOU, ladies!
Then another great scene, done to death in the trailers: Bruce visits young Barry Allen’s man-cave and throws a bat-shuriken at him. Barry steps aside and plucks it out of the air. Listen to the sound design on this scene alone – sparkling steely shinks and crackling electricity. (Or the sound design on Cyborg walking, or the snippet of Danny Elfman’s Batman Theme when Batman appears to Gordon; throughout, this movie’s sound and music are pitch perfect.)
And the representation of Barry’s super-speed is breathtaking! An aspect which filmmakers got so wrong with Jeff East running alongside the train in SUPERMAN, the Flash’s running scenes here are accompanied by arc-lightning searing the air around him, the scarlet speedster himself tilting forward in dynamic-momentum slomo, which gives the impression he can travel much faster than Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. Flash’s quirky personality, although not canon, is very entertaining. They’ve made him post-teen (in direct competition with his ambiguously-gay TV counterpart), and he’s not a forensic scientist – he’s some kind of millennial nerd just discovering his powers, although I don’t know why they had to mess with his sleek comics costume and make him look like a Transformer.
Flash confesses to Batman before a fracas with parademons, that he is not ready for battle, that he has only “pushed people and run away”; it makes for the most poignant moment in the film, when Batman, ever the tactician, quickly gives Flash a purpose. In that gritty voice: “Save one.” That’s how heroes begin. “Save one person. Don’t talk. Don’t fight. Get in. Get one out.” He really heard Flash. It gave Batman’s character such empathy and heft.
Billy Crudup as Barry’s dad, Mr. Flash. In jail. Canon. Another solid aspect of this film is how they tie up all these minor characters in the end.
Cyborg/Victor Stone (a character created in 1980) was not in the original 1960’s Justice League (and retconned as a founding member in 2011), and I don’t care much for the character, but I understand the marketing reason he is here – for the Iron Man demographic. Doing double duty with the minority demo. Nice seeing Joe Morton (who died after creating Skynet) as Victor Stone’s father, Mr. Cyborg. Trying to keep his son alive by using the motherbox, he only succeeded in turning Victor into a cyberfreak. So Victor also fulfills the Spidey demo, by being a troubled youth (“Ever since Superman, people have been waiting for the next alien invasion. Now I gotta wonder if I’m it.”) He discovers various powers as he goes, like a constantly upgrading iPhone.
Amy Adams, as Superman’s love, Lois Lane, has so little to do and so much gorgeous to do it in. There is no time to re-establish her as investigative journalist, or even to visit with Perry White and The Daily Planet. Adams merely fulfills the role of pining girlfriend, and secret weapon to stop Superman angrily grabbing the League, to romantically grabbing hers. And I think they filmed all her scenes before Hair and Makeup could even smooth out her bed-head. Her scenes with Supes are short but poignant, and it almost seems Adams is way too talented to be “wasting” her time on a superhero movie – but her depth and crystal sotto voce lends weight to the romance. She is also the link to Superman’s mother (Diane Lane), whose reunion with her son is touching.
J.K. Simmons takes time off from abusing musicians to play Commissioner Gordon like a tight snare. (He was already J. Jonah Jameson in Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN movies. Shouldn’t there be some rule that if you were already in a Marvel movie, you can’t be in a DC movie?) Aren’t there any other actors to hire? If you want the fucking part, earn it!
One of the minor characters is a major player: Bruce’s liege, Alfred (Jeremy Irons). His few lines are profound, and I wish we had time for more. Maybe he could have reminded Batman of that batsuit with the glowing eyes that made him as strong as Superman, which would really help right now with Steppenguy. Is it at the cleaners?
The most minor character is actually the Justice League’s greatest villain in the comics, and is relegated to an Easter Egg mention by Steppendude, “For Darkseid!” simply for fanboys to gush over. Who else would be aware of this hulking New God (the analog to Marvel’s Thanos) except people who attend the theater with wraparound Steppenwolf horns?
For a movie that seemingly moves at breakneck pace, there are many heartfelt moments between the group’s members. Barry and Victor actually dig up Superman’s coffin, with Barry trying to get a fist-bump, which Victor denies him. During the final hero shot, Barry gets his fist-bump; it’s not highlighted, simply another small detail that the film gets right, and that its critics will never be attuned to.
Wonder Woman/Diana does the old “tending-wounds-intimately” scene with Batman, where they philosophize over lost loves. However, whatever sexual position Bruce is cultivating with Diana is shredded when Superman appears, and Diana is the first to gush, “He’s back!” All talk of her lost love (Steve Trevor from WWII) is forgotten, as this super woman realizes the only person who can properly pound her is a super man, and her eyes go directly to the place where he now doesn’t wear panties.
During the League’s darkest punching hour, Superman appears with the cheesy line: “I believe in truth… I’m also a big fan of justice.”
When Batman sees this, he spurts a little in his tighty-blackies.
As soon as the man of steel addresses the problem, it is resolved within minutes. This includes: saving civilians, preventing the motherbox from melding three-into-one (how Christian of it!), and defeating Steppenwolf. Quod erat demonstrandum. This movie’s slogan is, “You can’t save the world alone.”
Well, you can if you’re Superman.
And in modern film, his powers can be depicted as the most breathtaking we’ve ever seen. Every time he takes off, there is a sonic boom as he disappears in a haze of blue blur; his flying is seamless, his strength simply awe-inspiring – as when he shows the youngster Flash how it’s done, by carrying a building full of people, as Flash saves just one van-full.
But what’s the big deal with his mustache that no one can see? Poor Henry Cavill had to contractually retain a giant porn-stache for his role in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6, during reshoots of JUSTICE LEAGUE. So the LEAGUE digital artists painted over it. And the internet collapses with this news. And critics sacrifice their viewing pleasure to gaze intently at Cavill’s philtrum to nitpick single frames… Go on. Stare all you want. You’ll get so bored trying to find fault with Cavill’s perfect features, you might even start paying attention to the movie again. If it weren’t for the studios leaking the mustache imbroglio, no one would ever have known!
One of the two post-credits scenes features my two favorite supers: Superman and The Flash. They both gots to know… as they take their marks on a deserted road…
JUSTICE LEAGUE’s faults are more to do with expectations than lack of quality or fun movie-making. The plot is simple, the villain unremarkable, the story sometimes lacking in logic and depth; however, the movie itself features the greatest incarnations in filmic history of the superheroes of DC’s Golden Age, taking every aspect into account, from the production design to the performances, from the casting to the special effects.
Different age groups will have their faves – Kirk Alyn’s 1948 SUPERMAN, Chris Reeve’s 1978 SUPERMAN, Michael Keaton’s 1989 BATMAN, Christian Bale’s 2008 DARK KNIGHT; with television lagging far behind, with Linda Carter’s 1975 WONDER WOMAN, and John Wesley Shipp’s 1990 THE FLASH; with Aquaman and Cyborg never represented on the silver screen until now – but we arrive at a pinnacle in movie history with JUSTICE LEAGUE.
Cavill, with his angular face so like Reeve’s and his body built by Adonis, purveys the nuance and silent majesty of a being that can crush a planet, with creative flying scenes and mega-human power that packs a visceral punch; Affleck has shown his vigilante’s violent tendencies and a poignant side, as well as the most muscled bulk of any Batman, and tech that only a billionaire could possess; Gadot’s Wonder Woman charged onto the silver screen with female empowerment and tritones screaming, power like a goddess and thighs to match; while Jason Momoa rips apart the conventional image of the fey fish-talker to slam down his rambunctious brawler – He comes on the King Tide!; and only with modern computer graphics could we begin to visualize the surreal time-warping ultrasonic velocities of Ezra Miller’s fastest man alive.
It’s for those of us who believe in heroes, Movie Maniacs!
JUSTICE LEAGUE ends with narration that brings a tear to my eye, telling of:
“…heroes, to remind us that hope is real.
All you have to do…
up in the sky.”
Oh god, I nearly did what Batman did.