The best things about the new Justice League, directed by Zac Snyder? Hands down, they were the reclining seats and 3-D glasses that came with my $24.99 ticket at the Upper West Side AMC. I have to be frank, though. After reading the first dismal reviews, I found the movie was actually a good deal better than some critics let on.
The problem with this film, however, is essentially its creative mediocrity. The actors are all good: Ben Affleck is a credible Batman who delivers the usual pat lines; Jason Momoa (Aquaman) and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) arrive straight from central casting: intelligent, funny — they also do the best they can with a so-so script. The real standout is newcomer Ezra Miller as the Flash. He delivers his lines with aplomb and humor. Even a clunker like: “I’ve never really fought anyone before. Just pushed them and run away.” Another turkey of a line, a reference in the script to Pet Sematary, went without a single laugh — the audience was too young to remember that 1989 Stephen King horror film.
In this latest Hollywood superhero installation, the Justice League must do battle with the horrifying Steppenwolf — an alien come back from the dead — without their greatest asset Superman, who has just been killed, or temporarily buried. We’re not exactly sure what happened to the Man of Steel but he seems to be out of commission. Steppenwolf, aided by a horde of giant insects, is trying to unite three Mother Boxes: once he accomplishes that — watch out world!
The battle scenes are adeptly shot and the actors well-directed. That isn’t my main quibble with this film. If you look at the credits, you will find the usual professionals in its production/directing team.
No, what I ask myself is how this film got out of development without more kick to it. It’s the same old “bad guy with insurmountable powers inevitably gets defeated by the forces of good through a hard-to-believe last minute plot twist.” Everything is so formulaic that you sit through the movie and then almost forget what you’ve seen.
So I have a radical suggestion for Warner Brothers and their fellow executives at other studios. Seek out new talent. Randomly pick a few gifted novelists or film critics and give them a shot at developing whole new plots. They might get something actually worth watching. They could hardly do much worse. By the way, Tennessee Williams wrote some of our best scripts to date and the entire French New Wave was the work of former critics.
Justice League has made some $500 million and the argument goes that as long as these movies make money nothing will change. Manohla Dargis in The New York Times wrote that the last one of these movies was so bad, we should be happy that this one was only relatively mediocre. That seems to me a real critical cop-out. In Greek mythology, there was always a lesson to be learned from the Gods—whether it was about hubris or jealousy or what have you. Justice League takes the myths of the Atlanteans and Amazons and reduces them to platitudes about Good and Evil, Light and Darkness. Movies are made to entertain but also to enlighten: audiences deserve better than Justice League, as do those fine actors in this film.