WARNING: The following contains full spoilers for Warner Bros.' Justice League, in theaters now.
Justice League is a big deal, for both Warner Bros. and fans. The studio banked much of the future of its franchise on the ensemble film, and hoped to demonstrate the success of Wonder Woman wasn't a fluke. Fans, meanwhile, longed to see their favorite heroes assembled on the big screen, and learn whether this fledgling DC Extended Universe can be "saved." Now, the big-budget feature has finally arrived in theaters, but it's ... just sort of there.
By now, most everyone is aware of the film’s troubled development and the many changes that took place. The film was already in production by the time its predecessor, Batman v Superman , arrived in theaters and left a divisive mark on DCEU fandom, the impact of which remains felt to this day. Director Zack Snyder also had to step down during post-production due to a personal family tragedy, leaving Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon to step in for the rest of post-production, including reshoots. As a result, the film’s tone and pacing feel all over the place, and one of the things apparently cut from the film is its ability to impact the audience.
Zack Snyder is a very controversial filmmaker, something that’s been well documented over the last decade. But if there’s one thing that can be agreed upon, it’s that it never feels like he’s a man whose work doesn't leave an impression on you. 300 and Sucker Punch are movies that are both incredibly divisive, but it's likely that we'll be talking about them for years to come. As derided as both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman are, they try to say something interesting about hero worship, responsibility to one’s fellow man, the legacy you leave behind, and so on. Thus, while reactions vary from positive to negative, there' at least something to talk about and debate. That’s not the case in Justice League, and as a result, the film is left without a soul.
Nowhere is this more clear than during the scene wherein Diana and Bruce talk about Steppenwolf’s first invasion to Earth. During that time, Atlanteans, mankind and the Amazons banded together to fight the Apocalyptan lord, along with some help from the Greek Gods and the Green Lanterns of long ago. Diana calls it the “age of heroes,” a time that was said to never come again. Obviously, the League are meant to be a modern version of this age, but it never really reaches that point where it genuinely feels that way. There are moments where the various members of the League act like heroes, yes, but these moments are brief and lack the impact to really give them weight.
Say what you will about Suicide Squad, but at the very least an attempt was made to catch viewers up to speed on that various group of misfits. The approach here, to not give every League member a solo movie prior to this one, is both a blessing and a curse, in that the interior lives of Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman get barely any time to breathe. Both Silas Stone and Mera, characters who have crucial relationships to Cyborg and Aquaman respectively, show up and then just disappear like guest stars with busy schedules. With the exception of Flash at the very end when he goes into the CSI program thanks to Bruce, there’s no forward momentum on their respective stories. Without that proper setup, they’re just random dudes in colorful outfits instead of characters in their own right.
Prior to League’s release, the two big taglines for the film were “All In,” and, “You Can’t Save the World Without a Few Friends.” The song most commonly used in the promos was The Beatles’ “Come Together,” which obviously implies unity and, at the very least, friendship. And just like Batman v Superman’s much mocked “Martha” moment or Suicide Squad’s end of act two bar scene both feel jarringly out of place, the same holds true here. The movie simultaneously wants to have these characters come together without giving them the breathing room to really bond like the MCU movies did with "Science Bros," or Sam and Bucky's hostile friendship dynamic. Flash trying to chat up Cyborg and failing to get a fist bump during their brief time together leads to the two of them sharing a fist bump at the end that doesn’t feel earned. Batman handing over leadership of the League to Wonder Woman should mean something, but there's barely any evidence at all that he's even their leader in the first place.
This would be a problem all on its own, but Justice League very clearly has its eyes on being something bigger, something greater. It was never going to escape the orbit of Avengers, both because of Whedon’s involvement with the film and also because when you get right down to it, Justice League’s story basically is the first Avengers movie. Thing is, Avengers worked in part because we had seen most of the major players on film prior to them coming together. We had a general understanding of what they were about, what their involvement brought to the overarching story. And when they finally come together for real, to suit up and then have that circle shot at the beginning of act three, it cemented itself in our collective brain, stating, “This is the Avengers -- this is a real thing you’re seeing right now.” In Justice League, there's no single moment that really cements in the mind that we’re seeing the team on the big screen for the first time; no epic clash of personalities as in Captain America: Civil War, no declaration of defiance that blooms into heroism like No Man’s Land in Wonder Woman, or even a truly striking shot of them all standing together as was the case with the Trinity fighting Doomsday last year. Something as potentially big as Superman’s return to the land of the living just comes out of left field; it may have been a foregone conclusion, because Superman, but never are we given the impression that this is why Bruce would want to get his hands on one of the Mother Boxes in the first place.
And yet, none of this is the fault of Justice League. Given the circumstances of its creation, it’s only natural that something be lost in translation in order to bring it to life. But for a superhero movie in 2017, the lack of any real impact or soul sticks out like a sore thumb. Nothing is in here that'll make you go, "What the hell was that?!" as was the case with Doomsday or Leto Joker. But at the same time, there's nothing in here that'll make you go, "What the hell was that?!" like when we saw Clark flying for the first time, or Batman going to town on Luthor's goons.
Other hero flicks this year have all had lasting impacts in some way; Logan marked the end of an era for Hugh Jackman, Wonder Woman gave much needed representation to female characters, Spider-Man and Thor were necessary changes for previously stagnant franchises. Justice League, at the end of it all, lacks any real monumental impression. Considering that this is a movie starring six of the most well known superheroes in existence, that’s a worse fate than anything Apokolips could cook up.