Just when you thought the Man of Steel was dead and the Bat of Gotham had flown the coop, your favorite band of heroes are needed more than ever. They’re going to need all the help they can get, however, as the arch villain Steppenwolf aims to unleash hell on earth. Climb aboard Zack Snyder’s moody, semi-witty “answer” to Marvel’s The Avengers this weekend. Justice League is a shoddy amalgamation of several mini-stories thrown together to justify a series of hyper-realistic, hypo-exciting slugfests.
Gotham is crumbling under the weight of corruption and the Dark Knight’s (Ben Affleck) transience, while Metropolis has become unmoored since the loss of Superman (Henry Cavill). Themyscira and Atlantis are floundering at the departure of their precocious heroes—Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). The forces of evil thus descend upon Earth with the return of Steppenwolf, an axe-wielding demigod from the planet Apokolips. The heroes will need every power and pun they can find to stop Steppenwolf from unleashing primordial fury, recruiting hometown talent in Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) and Barry Allen (Ezra Miller).
Sound like a lot all for one movie? It definitely is.
There is plenty to like about Justice League including both light-hearted and dramatic elements. While the story’s justifications for its fight scenes often falter, Snyder’s movie nonetheless offers lively spectacle with frequent brawls and beatdowns. The occasional laugh crops up as well, usually with the awkward, hyper-millennial demeanor of Allen. Admittedly, Justice League is most refreshing when it imitates Marvel’s style of humor along with engaging and well-directed battles.
The key problem with this movie, however, is that it doesn’t support this conflict and humor with nearly enough story and backdrop. We’re introduced to three entirely new heroes in Justice League. We also must keep track of three others, all while learning the bare necessities about our villain in a one minute flashback before being thrown into the dizzying madness.
Also, why on earth are Steppenwolf’s prized possessions called “Mother Boxes”? Much of Justice League feels like a child in a sandbox playing with action figures. Characters fly in left and right while murmuring cliché, broad-based observations before jumping back into the fray. Heroes take sudden detours around a fight until the very last moment, when they come swooping in to save the day in increasingly-dramatic fashion. Unsure if a hero’s actions are important? Don’t worry, Snyder will slow it down for you.
Overall, Justice League succeeds in providing eye-gouging spectacle. It comes up short though in the substance department, which matters most. Our heroes are brooding and overly serious, rarely in the mood for anything other than dramatic stare-offs. DC is clearly going for a darker, grittier version of Marvel’s The Avengers, given the confluence of Allen’s wit and Snyder’s heavy-handed film style. By trying to imitate Marvel while also adding their own flair, DC doesn’t really get much of either. Instead, they produce a forlorn compilation of mini-stories that only grasps for the amount of substance absolutely necessary to justify a couple of super-slugfests. Justice League earns a 6/10 in my book, falling well short of its franchise rival Marvel in character development and general substance. For an engaging, light-hearted trek into the superhero multiverse this weekend, go see Thor: Ragnarok instead.