Justice League (dir. Zack Snyder & Joss Whedon, 2017) – After Superman’s sacrifice, Bruce Wayne enlists four other known superheroes to fight against the threat of Steppenwolf.
In a highly anticipated assembly of beloved heroes, Justice League banks on pace and humour to distract from its characterisation flaws, to little avail.
With The Avengers out on their third spin and counting, pressure on DC’s own supergroup debut continues to mount. There was never a chance that Batman vs Superman’s dismal performance would have stalled the long-gestating birth of the Justice League.
Excitement no doubt surrounds the inauguration of the beloved heroes in live action. Sadly, the team’s formation proves premature. History repeats as with the disastrous Suicide Squad, where one too many iconic characters were forced to share first appearances in a runtime of under two hours, leaving behind weak impressions.
Excepting Superman (Henry Cavill) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the remaining crew has but the actors themselves to bolster their personalities. Charm comes down to their individual charisma and brief moments of humour that worked, courtesy of Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon’s disparate albeit effective brand of gags.
Otherwise defined by vague motivations through exposition, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) seemed only present to offer their classic powers that served as mere conveniences to the conflict’s resolution.
To ride on the leader’s coattails is not much of an option. Batman (Ben Affleck) himself had first meted out his beginnings with Superman, while having to deal with a world-destroying Doomsday. Before his character truly made a mark as did his predecessors, Batman is handed the key to the League – Lex Luthor’s opportune video of four arbitrarily pre-selected metahumans.
Storytelling suffers, when the end-goal is pencilled in before the build-up. Subplots impatiently shuffle towards an unearned upshot, be it in how unwilling heroes instantly become trusting allies with newly-met acquaintances, or with Superman rising from the dead and recovering his memories like a bat out of hell.
It can be argued that the heroes need no introduction. That is especially for the caped crusader and The Flash, who has had a recent 3-year run on the telly. But Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy showed how powerful a new origins story can redefine the most familiar world. The Punisher had gone through four repetitive screen iterations, before finding a home in the relevance of today’s political climate.
Similarly, Zack Snyder’s cinematic universe could do well with his own retelling and interpretation. Instead, the over-reliance on the source material – aimed to please comic book fans – backfires with a lack of complexity, relegating the film to a mediocre rehash of dated stories. Villains suffer the same underdevelopment, as Steppenwolf repeats the genre’s ultimate cinema cliché of *yawn* conquering Earth.
From one action scene to the next, the entertaining CG-driven sequences are eventually made mundane by their predictable outcome. Mother Boxes or the Tesseract, Darkseid versus Thanos; superhero films are desperately in need of revamped story lines, thoughtful as a freedom theft conspiracy in the vein of Hydra, or a fleshed-out mercenary in Deathstroke.
But things look bleak with no end in sight for the oversaturated superhero genre, while film studios seem to stand firm in their misguided belief that bigger is better. As DC resumes its series of solo outings with potential for more focused narratives, a fan can only hope.