While Justice League could scarcely be described as a good film, it’s cruel to call it a bad one.
After a tumultuous production marred by rewrites, reshoots and the knee-jerk reactions to the fascinating abomination that was Batman v Superman, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a great many things. It’s disjointed, oddly paced, curiously structured and as big a mess as the perpetual dust cloud that follows Pig-Pen from “Peanuts.” But there’s a big twist hidden in this strange, hodgepodge final product.
The twist is that, while Justice League could scarcely be described as a good film, it’s cruel to call it a bad one. In the pantheon of superhero movies, Marvel has always had the benefit of being first to innovate the modern iteration of “shared universe” storytelling. Truth be told, Justice League is pound-for-pound about the same quality of film 2012’s The Avengers. At times, it’s more exciting, because Snyder, for all his foibles, is a more interesting visual stylist than Joss Whedon ever will be. But that film had the benefit of build, of proper marketing and anticipation of finally seeing the stars of five previous solo adventures teaming up on the big screen. That fanboy rapture allowed audiences to overlook the film’s laughably bad opening scene, meandering first act and TV-pilot direction.
Justice League is bolstered by no such goodwill. Two baffling Superman films, one disastrous Suicide Squad movie and a lone runaway hit, Wonder Woman, mean this movie has a low ceiling. At its best, it can be little more than a moderately satisfying dessert at the end of a truly execrable four-course meal. Yes, we finally get what we’ve wanted for years, but it’s arriving in such a compromised, hurried fashion that it’s hard to feel anything beyond frustration and disappointment. That Snyder’s initial vision has to be tempered by Whedon’s collaboration and a blatant attempt to Marvel-ize the DCEU brand just makes it all the more depressing.
But even still, Justice League is a fun movie. It’s only two hours and yet it still packs in all the team-up moments and lighthearted banter for which fans have been salivating, and it aims to tell a story that’s relevant to our miserable reality. It may not be intentional that Snyder’s vision for a world without a Superman feels so close to the current American climate, but it’s a parallel that’s indisputable. That tight runtime does also cause its fair share of problems, as Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) are all being introduced for basically the first time. It’s more a testament to the performers in the cast and their easy chemistry with one another than Whedon’s shoehorned banter that makes their arcs believable. Each of the big Trinity from the last film is given a clear path to follow, but they’re sped up and truncated in a way that would hobble lesser actors.
If you’re able to get past the downright ugly design of the costumes and the drab tenor of the film’s CGI-heavy spectacle, the action itself is well-arranged and there’s something legitimately thrilling about seeing the real League, a non-dour resurrected Superman among them, all assembled onscreen. It’s frustrating that it took this long and this much chicanery to arrive at a catharsis less satisfying than an average episode of a DC animated series, but the movie works in a way it absolutely shouldn’t. Ben Affleck sells a Batman who questions the need for a deranged vigilante in a world of gods and aliens, Henry Cavill finally uses the chemistry we’ve seen in other roles for Big Blue, and Gal Gadot continues to make her Wonder Woman iconic and inspiring. Justice League clears the low bar by providing some laughs, some sights and a hopeful conclusion. That we made it across the finish line here at all is inspiring, given how truly awful this mishmash of styles could have ended up.