Despite being one of the most expensive films ever made, Justice League released to widespread disappointment and criticism from fans, and mixed (but leaning on bad) reviews from critics. That’s not to say everyone hated the film, to this day there’s a lot of fans as well as critics who have praised the film’s action set-pieces and the performances from the cast. The film had an undeniably troubled production, as Zack Snyder had to step down after the tragic passing of his daughter, and Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the film in post-production. This splintered vision has been the subject of much debate, leading to a rise in a cult of Justice League-fanatics who demand the release of the ‘Snyder Cut’ of the film. This movement is based on the idea that even before stepping down Snyder was at odds with the studios involved about the direction and vision from the film, and there’s been lots of rumours as well as images from an early screener that leaked online to corroborate the theory that Snyder had a different vision for many scenes. It is also public knowledge that when stepping up to finish the film, Joss Whedon filmed additional scenes and altered pre-existing scenes. Now, would I personally want to see the infamous ‘Snyder Cut’? Undoubtedly so, as a self-proclaimed cinephile if that version does actually exist and ever sees the light of day I would happily give it a watch to see how different that version would be and if it would change my opinion of the film. Do I think that cut actually exists? Not in any meaningful way….I believe there may have been a working cut, pre-visual effects that is closer to Snyder’s final vision but I have little to no faith that it is in any way ready to be released nor do I think Warner Bros will ever go through the trouble of getting it to that point. And finally, I think the problems that run through Justice League are too deeply ingrained into the film to be fixed by the mythical directors-cut regardless of how much control Snyder could be given.
Ever since 2012 and the release of the MCU’s first ever superhero team-up, The Avengers, fans have been eager to see the titular DC collective on the big screen. We saw the abysmal misstep only a year previously when DC tried to bring the Suicide Squad to the big screen. But surely with three previous films to set up over half of the group, Justice League could rival the success of their Marvel counterpart….right? Unfortunately not. The film is an incoherent mess that falls short at pretty much every single hurdle.
The first issue is the overall premise, because a lot of the characters have only had slight mention in the previous films, the story awkwardly constructs a reason why all of the heroes need to come together to begin with. And this ends up coming through the introduction of Steppenwolf, perhaps the most shallow and paper-thin villain in any comic book movie, his motivation is to destroy the Earth just because he tried thousands of years ago. And in order to do this, he requires three ‘mother boxes’, again another unsubtle macguffin that conveniently is located in the three realms where our heroes reside. Creating a link between Wonder Woman’s Amazons, Aquaman’s Atlantians and Cyborg (who was initially created through experiments with the box’s power). This cheap exposition and coincidence is so mind-numbingly annoying because it’s apparent from the very beginning how lazy the writing is, even if Steppenwolf had any form of motivation aside from “he’s evil”, it might be bearable, but it’s just so haphazardly thrown together. So after this threat, Batman has to convince our other heroes to join together to ward off Steppenwolf, now that Superman is dead. So the first hour or so revolves around the introduction of the characters and eventual teaming up, meanwhile Steppenwolf starts to gain power as he finds each of the mother boxes. The second half of the film revolves around the reviving of Superman, complete with cgi’d out moustache, before leading to the climactic battle with Steppenwolf. Ultimately every encounter with Steppenwolf feels so incredibly underwhelming, there’s no agency in the fights as Steppenwolf feels like such a nothing villain. It feels like he’s the villain the characters fight before revealing the true villain of the film, except there is no such reveal and he is the be-all-end-all.
The special effects and cgi in the film are really messy. I already hinted previously about the infamous edited out moustache that Henry Cavil’s Superman suffers through, I understand that it was a problem of production and contractual obligations but it is still so egregious in a film of this size. Early on in the film, Wonder Woman prevents a bank robbery but the whole sequence is visually repelling with it’s over the top slow-motion, and obnoxious camera movement. This is a perfect example of how the special effects serve as a detriment to the film, and this is not even considering the complete lack of plot relevance this sequence has. But these problems are just as apparent in other sequences like the design of the bug-like villains, with Cyborg’s inclusion in scenes (although this is not to say that I didn’t like his design, it’s just more so how the effects fit alongside the rest of the actors). While sometimes the effects really enhance a scene I felt that the majority of the time the film felt cluttered, especially in some of the action scenes.
When I went into this so detached from the franchise, I knew the film was critically panned by a lot of people, and judging from my own experiences with the DCEU I wasn’t expecting a lot, but the biggest criticism I can level at the film is just how boring it is. In a film where the world famous Justice League is teaming up for the first time in cinema history, the plot is so limp, I never found it engaging even at the best of times. There were too many elements that felt underdeveloped both thematically, and within the characters. Maybe one day the Snyder cut will be released and fix all of my issues, but I don’t hold out hope on either of those two counts.