Alright, sit down, shut up and buckle in. We’re going into this thing together and we’re either going to make it out the same way or die in the middle of this review. Here’s the gist: in 2017, the actual literal weasels that run Warner Bros. Pictures found a cursed VHS in an Ark of the Covenant style chest in the 666th warehouse on the Warner lot. For some reason unbeknownst to God or man, they released this plague upon the public viewing audience of planet Earth and, in another Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque twist, melted down the cinematic franchise they were trying to build in one fell swoop, possibly causing the death of art everywhere. In simple terms, the 2017 movie Justice League was an unmitigated disaster for everyone involved, and quite a few who weren’t: the studio, the viewing audiences, the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the tall, the short, David Duchovny, and even the unborn. You and I are going to be spending a lot of the next 15-20 minutes together while I rant at you about what a flaming piece of giraffe feces this movie is. Settle in, grab some snacks, and wait for the bombs to stop dropping before you peek your head out of the foxhole. You understand me, Marine? Hoo-ah. Let’s get cracking.
PART I: A BAD BEGINNING
Before we can talk about the Category 5, career killing disaster that was Justice League, we need a little context of how the rest of DC’s cinematic universe was progressing at the time. In a word: AAAAHHHHHH. In a sentence: AHHHHHH THE FLAMES THE FLAMES THEY BURN, GOD WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS TO ME? Let’s head over to Reno, Nevada, on a beautiful June day in 2013. A young moppy haired idiot of a boy and his favorite uncle go to see Man of Steel. The movie does a wonderful job taking the icon of hope and justice that is Superman and wiping the collective asses of a thousand awful writers with his backstory and lore, in the process turning him into yet another mopey dunce of a character with little to no personal development and a list of damages to public and private property that put him more in line with a space-terrorist than a space-hero/Jesus allegory. The kid with the moppy hair and dumb grin leaving the theatre doesn’t know it yet, but this movie sows the seeds of everything that is to come afterwards and the destruction of the universe of comics he so loves. He is about to be cast out of the promised land that the first five years of Marvel movies have created and into the cold Stygian void of the depressingly awful DC Extended Universe (DCEU). “Weep sore for him that goeth away; for he shall return no more, nor see his native country” (Jeremiah 22:10).
Next up on deck is the title that proves true one of the most famous Shakespeare quotes “Brevity is… wit”. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) explodes onto the scene with a ripped Ben Affleck, a curmudgeonly Jeremy Irons, and an altogether present Gal Gadot who I am fairly sure made it into the final cut of the film. When the world asks director Zach Snyder to move away from laughably edgy effects and shaders, away from eighth grade level writing and “subtle” symbology that is only subtle if you spell SUBTLE like I just did there, away from mischaracterizing classic comic characters and destroying seminal works like The Dark Knight Returns with his awful adaptations, he plants himself like a tree beside a river of shit and tells the whole world “No, YOU move” (see Captain America: Civil War (2016) if you want to see good directors and actors play good versions of good characters). Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Who the Hell Cares at This Point flops and flops hard. It sucks so bad it almost makes Suicide Squad (2016) look good. Haha. No it doesn’t. We should probably talk about that one next.
Suicide Squad was definitely a movie that was in theaters. Don’t watch Suicide Squad.
Wonder Woman (2017) was alright. Was it basically a 1:1 retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), with multiple scenes and plot points lifted directly from that movie? Well, I mean… I mean- like, YES, ok, but… I… I don’t know. It was set in WW1 and not WW2? It was okay. The plot meanders around like a lazy river ride, checking off every generic “fish out of water” trope as it passes them by. Gal Gadot is cool. Female superheroes are good to have in the mainstream. But that fact alone doesn’t make it a good movie. If this is the hill I choose to die on, so be it.
Now we’re all caught up. Things are looking rough for the DCEU, but a movie with a massive fan following both from decades of comics as well as a tremendously well received Bruce Timm animated series in the early 2000s and a plethora of serviceable, if not great, films preceding it was basically made to print money, right? RIGHT? Why is no one saying that I’m right? Why are you all laughing? What did I do wrong?
PART II: OUR HEROES, THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
Before we get into the complexities of how god-awful the plot, direction, framing, production, advertising, theming, symbology, and placement of this film in the wider DC Universe are, let’s play a game with our favorite league of do-gooders. I’m going to list their names, then I’m going to tell you their key attributes, which I picked up from years of watching them in cartoons and having very few friends as a child. We’ll only count main continuity and major elseworlds pieces here (stories set in weird alternate universes and the like)—everything that a summary of the character should include without the weirder stuff (The Doom that Came to Gotham is like a very bad acid trip to read, if you’re interested in that sort of mental anguish). After that, we’ll do a brief write up of how they are portrayed in the stunning betrayal of fan trust that is Justice League.
BATMAN: Oh, this one’s easy. He’s Batman. He’s one of the smartest men on earth, a master of martial arts, a brilliant detective who’s always quick on his feet. He’s a no-nonsense ball-buster who does what needs to be done in any situation, even at the cost of his own life. He always has a contingency plan, and he’s always working to be one step ahead of the enemy. He doesn’t kill, and he’s against guns. Bam. Done.
IN THE MOVIE: Batman is a bumbling idiot who transitions between being too weak to fight one single minion of the Big Bad and powerful enough to be thrown into a car half a football field away by a zombified Superman (yeah, you read that right. It hurts to say that you did, but you did) with only a couple of bruises. He drunkenly stumbles from fight to fight, losing over and over again and pissing off his teammates when he inevitably says the wrong thing that gets him a super powered punch in the ribs (this happens like 4 times or something). He struggles to keep up with regular human conversations, which could be a cool commentary on how he’s isolated himself after some serious backstory stuff going down, but it’s actually because all of the screenwriters attached to this movie spent the first 20 years of their lives locked in small cages and have only recently learned the English language. He has a big ol’ spider robot that shoots a bunch of big old guns (which is kind of okay since he uses guns on other species sometimes). He throws himself into plans that have virtually no contingencies attached, neglects to plan escape routes, and is as good a detective as Sherlock Holmes would be if you beat him with a brick over his stupid double-brimmed cap until he was dead. Batman in this movie is about as useful as Garth from Wayne’s World would be in the exact same situations. He sucks. He has no powers, no brains, no tricks, no nothing. He is a disappointing wet towel of a man who should stare at himself in the mirror and figure his life out, because the whole vigilante thing is clearly not working out.
WONDER WOMAN: Much like Superman, Wonder Woman is a beacon of hope and inspiration for everyone, especially the young women of both the DC Universe and our own. She’s an amazingly good fighter, usually capable of fighting Superman to a standstill in most of her incarnations. She’s an Amazon Princess, with a fierce warrior’s sense of loyalty and pride, and she doesn’t give up the fight.
IN THE MOVIE: Wonder Woman had a boyfriend, kind of, and he died in World War 1. Captain America made it out of the same situation, but not Steve Trevor. Funny how those two act so much alike, by the way. Weird coincidence. Anyway, this made her so sad that no one saw her again for a hundred years and she did absolutely nothing of value in the world until now (maybe some stuff in the 80’s, although who the hell knows how they’re going to make Wonder Woman 2 fit in). Great message of female empowerment there, DC. Keep it up. Nearly everyone she knows and loves is killed by the big bad guy and she gets over it quicker than I did the death of my beta fish when I was a kid. Oh, and Superman effortlessly beats the stuffing out of her. He does that with everyone, actually (we’ll get to that in a little bit). So, let’s recap: the death of one boy who she liked sent her spiraling away from public life for 100 years, but watching all of her closest ageless semi-immortal friends die is just another Tuesday. Whatever, sure. I can’t bring myself to care about how badly she is characterized in this movie. I think Wonder Woman is rubbing off on me.
CYBORG: Cyborg occupies a unique and interesting niche in the DC Universe. As both a black man and a cyborg (by the way, clever name, DC, really knocked it out of the park with that one) he is discriminated against like none of the other Justice Leaguers are. Despite all of this, he still fights for what’s right and he still uses his incredible mind and technology to solve problems no one else can. He struggles with his robot body and, in many popular incarnations, has a tendency to overindulge with video games and pizza in his time off. He’s been part of the Justice League since 2011.
IN THE MOVIE: Cyborg mopes and spends half of the movie in a baggy sweatshirt because he’s so sad and troubled (read: because halfway through production Snyder realized he didn’t have the money he needed for all that moustache CGI he knew someone was going to have to go back and do, and hurriedly found some desperate way to cover up the most CGI intensive member of the main cast for the majority of the movie). Once he gets into the game, he solves one problem because he knows about the one thing that his dad told him about. He defuses the bomb that everybody knew was going to get defused. Does he have any particularly interesting pieces of dialogues or cool ways to move the plot forward? What movie do you think you’re watching? Obviously not.
FLASH: Flash is a jokester. He moves faster than everyone else, and so does his mind. He can crack a joke when the time comes for it, but he’s also the emotional heart of the League. Depending on the incarnation, he’s either stupidly overpowered or on level with everyone else. That doesn’t really matter though, as he’s willing to make the Tony Stark Nuke style sacrifice play to save the world. He’s charismatic and maybe even a little suave.
IN THE MOVIE: You’re always laughing at Flash, not with him. The first time you see the awkward guy being funny because he’s awkward, you giggle. The tenth time you see it happen, you’re ready to get out of your recliner and burn the whole system down if he makes one more GODDAMN JOKE ABOUT NOT HAVING ANY FRIENDS. WE GET IT, YOU’RE WEIRD, YOU’RE QUIRKY, YOU’RE THIS MOVIE’S ZOOEY DESCHANEL. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP TELEGRAPHING IT SO OBVIOUSLY! DOES NO ONE AT WB PICTURES KNOW HOW PEOPLE TALK TO EACH OTHER ABOUT THINGS? WHAT IS GOING ON IN THIS DUMPSTER PILE OF A “FILM”?
Aquaman: I’m tired. He’s a fish man. He talks to fish. He’s a king. Honor, moral code, good of his people. All that jazz. Very strong will. Black Manta is a cool villain. Can we get Black Manta in the Aquaman movie? We can? I’m awake again. Who’s the director? James Wan? Okay.
IN THE MOVIE:
Aquaman is not a king in this movie. He’s an alcoholic hard-rockin dude with major flow who insistently finds stupider and stupider objects to “surf” on. Surf, you know, because HE’S FROM THE OCEAN. God I need a drink. Let’s round the league out with the Boy Scout in Red Go-Go Boots.
SUPERMAN: If you’ve made it to this point in the review, I’m going to tell you a secret: every person who says that Superman is boring because he’s too powerful is an idiot. His strength should not be the question of the movie or story he is in. What makes him fascinating as a character is that he has the power to kill anyone in the world without a thought, but he chooses to save us all instead. Mining that one aspect of his character has given innumerable writers innumerable beautiful stories. Now I’ll give you until the end of this paragraph to guess what they do with him in the movie. Go on, take a guess, there’s many wrong answers. Don’t pick one of those, though. Alright, check the next section to see if you were right.
IN THE MOVIE: Superman is dead for most of this movie. That is good for Superman, since he does not have to deal with the rest of the idiots in the Justice League. That is good for the League, as Superman proves within the first minute of his Christ-like resurrection that he is able to single-handedly beat the other members of the League into the ground just as easily as he does literally everything else in this movie. Justice League desperately tries to make up for two movies where Superman does nothing but mope around and kill innocents. They do a very bad job. They say that “Superman was a beacon of hope, he could save us with just his positivity!” or something dumb to that effect. He wakes from the dead (like Jesus), beats up his friends (like Jesus?) and beats up the bad guy (like Jesus). Bam. Done. No more movie. It’s over now. Yes that was really it, now get out, you little gutter snipes. Hope you didn’t like Superman or anything, this would have sucked a lot.
PART III: THE “PLOT”, A VERY FUNNY JOKE THAT WB PICTURES PLAYED ON AUDIENCES, ART EVERYWHERE, AND GOD HIMSELF
We’ve gone through the characters. I’ve been doing a lot of work writing this bad boy, now it’s your job. In the space below, pretend that you are a screenwriter for Justice League and jot down some plot ideas. If you really want to feel like a WB writer, don’t write and draw some pictures in crayon. If you really want to feel like one of the Justice League writers, eat some of the crayons and whatever kind of paste you have nearby before starting.
Whatever you just wrote down is better than the actual plot. At some level, you have to understand that building a plot out of these characters is like trying to put together a puzzle out of two corner pieces, a rotting fish, a copy of Seinfeld Season 8, and an ICBM. It doesn’t work. But then you realize that the plot writers also wrote the characters and you lose all sympathy for them.
Speaking of sympathy, please have mercy on me. It’s 4:18 in the morning and I’ve been writing this for exactly 2 hours now. I was going to go do more, but I’m doing that whole sleep thing instead. If there’s any interest, I’ll jump back in and tell you how the actual plot, theming, and shot composition of this movie prove that no one that was functionally literate or even not blind worked on it. Goodbye and godspeed.
Image Credits: IMDb