Justice League

Sarah Ward

The superhero team-up film gets the DC gang together in a routine, choppy and dull fashion.
Justice League

When we first meet the crew of crime-fighting characters that comprise Justice League’s titular group, they’re wishing they had a boy band’s certainty. They don’t have any semblance of a direction, let alone one. Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (Ben Affleck, Live by Night), brings the gang together courtesy of his wealth and resources, but they’re far from a united cohort. Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Keeping Up with the Joneses), is sympathetic and helpful, and university student Barry Allen, aka The Flash (Ezra Miller, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), eager to fit in; however Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa, The Bad Batch), is reluctant, while Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher, TV’s The Astronaut Wives Club), initially verges upon hostile.

Within the Zack Snyder-directed film’s screenplay, as written by Chris Terrio (Argo) and added to by Joss Whedon (Avengers: Age of Ultron), their disharmony is hardly surprising. Viewers have seen Batman and Wonder Woman cross paths in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the other characters briefly pop up in the same feature, though their abilities and opposition to evil forces remain their own inherent commonalities. Perhaps, then, the messy movie that results shouldn’t come as a surprise either. If nothing else, Justice League is the sum of various moving parts being thrown together to further a franchise that’s coming to fruition by force, rather than with enthusiasm. 

Indeed, the details here couldn’t be more bland and bluntly calculated, even if they involve a plethora of DC Comics’ heroes teaming up on screen for the first time. Following on from the events of Batman’s showdown against Clark Kent, aka Superman (Henry Cavill, Sand Castle), humanity has lost its hope — and it doesn’t even know that a new alien foe, Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds, Silence), has set his sights on collecting three boxes that will destroy the planet. Assembling the band of caped crusaders is the only solution, though there’s a gaping absence that has to be dealt with. With the film marking the fifth in the company’s extended cinematic universe, it charges its protagonists with mopping up past carnage, dealing with the threat at hand and laying the groundwork for more adventures to come. 

It should all sound familiar. The number of superhero features that have been there and done that before is growing so sizeable that, if they comprised a comic book character rather than an on-screen canon of comic book character-fuelled films, they’d soon be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Different names, same scenario is the recognisable refrain that’s playing as episodic escapades, CGI onslaughts and slow-motion altercations come and go, placing a considerable burden on the central figures themselves to retain attention.

Less than six months have passed since Wonder Woman, the movie, gave Wonder Woman, the icon, a memorable solo debut — and a spirited, sincere female protagonist leading the charge in a fun and thoughtful film helmed by a female director. The gains it made for DC’s cinema series aren’t negated by Justice League, which reverts to leering at Diana Prince’s physical assets under Snyder’s gaze, but this instalment in the franchise is happy to rest its ambitions on simply corralling its players into the same frame. Alas, as superhero movies from the company’s own stable and elsewhere have shown, a gathering of high-profile names isn’t enough to propel a movie forward if it feels like a mere box-ticking placeholder for future chapters. Here, other than Wonder Woman, old hands go through the motions, with Affleck continuing to appear uninterested in his role. Where newer faces are concerned, they elicit interest largely because they’re fresh commodities, but aren’t given the opportunity to do much more than introduce their characters.

Accordingly, Justice League proves akin to watching a group audition, or a band go through their first rehearsal: it’s easy and routine, and isn’t worried about breaking the mould. Further, little fits together comfortably, and various aspects vie for prominence, particularly when the Batman and Superman films’ grim mood to date clashes with an attempt to inject comedy into proceedings. Evolving from no direction within its on-screen gang to two directors working off-screen, the difference between Snyder’s work (returning after Man of Steel and its sequel) and the uncredited reshoots overseen by Whedon is glaring, and emblematic of a wayward effort. It still achieves its two aims — improving upon Batman v Superman, and leaving viewers intrigued for future Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg outings — but does so in a thoroughly choppy and dull fashion. 

Rating: 2 ½ stars out of 5

Justice League
Director: Zack Snyder
USA, 2017, 120 mins

Release date: 16 November
Distributor: Roadshow
Rated: M 

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, Metro Magazine and Screen Education. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay