The concept of “show don’t tell” is often used in multiple narrative mediums to help an audience follow along with a story and can work quite well when skilled storytellers use it. The idea of characters’ actions informing the audience of who they are and explaining the rules of the world they’re living in is almost always preferable to a dialogue-driven exposition dump. One key component to this that isn’t often spoken of is how vital it is that the artist showing and not telling believe in the product that they are selling to the audience. Seriously. This is absolutely crucial.
With ‘Justice League’, Warner Brothers is trying to show the masses that they have a DC Cinematic Universe that is filled with fun action, fun times, and fun characters who have lots of fun while occasionally smiling and making quips towards one another. None of this is true. ‘JL’ is a movie that features Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who eventually team up after Batman and Wonder Woman convince them to do so because Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) is a bad dude who needs to be stopped. I’d love to give you a better synopsis than that, but the synopsis that Warner Brothers has released is total nonsense and just another lie that this studio is trying to sell you.
‘JL’ is somehow the antithesis of Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ while simultaneously being a beat for beat, generic version of that same movie. This idea of a conflicted production carries through from the opening credits to the last hollow promise from WB in the form of a post-credits scene that betrays the studios efforts of distancing themselves from ‘Batman V Superman’. This paradoxical approach to blockbuster filmmaking doesn’t end there though. While the visual tone of ‘JL’ remains aggressively dour throughout, as has been the case for most Zack Snyder flicks, the emotional tone is as erratic as Ezra Miller’s take on the crimson speeder. His eyes dart back and forth at such a breakneck speed that he only barely outpaces the tonal shifts of ‘JL’ that are likely due to Joss Whedon coming in to finish this movie after Zack Snyder stepped away to handle a family tragedy. I don’t mean to make light of this situation in any way, truly, as what Snyder and his family have had to endure this year is something truly tragic and has a real world weight that trumps any studio film you could pitch. This is necessary to bring up though, as Warner Brothers clearly didn’t know how to handle this transition in a way that didn’t deliver a flawed product.
The different approaches of Whedon and Snyder’s take the form of quippy dialogue about brunch proceeding a moody monologue about how there may not be enough heroes on Earth to stop this nebulous, albeit impending doom. The jarring shifts don’t stop there though! Most certainly not! The way these two directors use the camera to frame the women in this film, specifically Wonder Woman, is dramatically different. Scenes that I can only assume were shot by Snyder will use two thirds of the screen to pose the question “How exactly did Gal Gadot squeeze her ass into those impossibly tight leather pants” while she stands around and lobs up a joke for Miller’s The Flash to spike into the shit bucket it was puled from. Whedon on the other hand (Again, I’m only assuming based on previous films from these fellas) will add a flowing red cape to Wonder Woman’s costume that is absent from most scenes while shooting her from more heroic, powerful angles to show her ability to fix many of Batman’s problems.
These opposite flavors do occasionally create something palatable however, as there are moments when ‘JL’ shines a light on a lighter more fun world that could have been, or could still be. Momoa as Aquaman does his best to be an otherworldly surfer dude who moves through the ocean as smoothly as he does across land, dripping as much water from his beautiful locks as he does charm from his effortless swagger. Ezra Miller’s The Flash isn’t entirely exhausting either as some of his quips occasionally land. He serves a better function as the audience surrogate than he does as the comic relief, looking on in awe at these god-like heroes battling otherworldly creatures. And then there’s Cyborg. Poor, poor Ray Fisher, who appears to be a rather talented actor is given quite little to work with here. There are glimpses at a more fleshed out character with an interesting role to play, but most of this appears to have been removed in the editing bay while trying to reach a sub-two hour runtime.
Warner Brothers appears to have heard some of the criticisms of audiences and critics alike and attempted to course correct their cinematic universe, but at the expense of ‘Justice League’. Whether or not the original vision of Zack Snyder was going to please everyone, WB’s attempts to alter this so dramatically in post-production seriously crippled this movie. While taking an alternate approach to Marvel’s cinematic universe (solo flicks first, team ups later) they have matched them in one way, with their villain. Steppenwolf may perhaps be the worst comic book movie villain audiences have paid to see ever and certainly follows the mold of the MCU. A poorly defined, non-character, voiced by a magnificent actor is a tragedy made all the worse by early 2000s-quality CGI that is honestly laughable. This sprinkled into a movie that has no clear vision of its tone, characters or story makes for something nearly unwatchable. I sincerely doubt that the inevitable three hour director’s cut that Warner Brothers will release later will fix the massive problems that plague ‘Justice League’. Some audience members will see this as a glimmer of hope moving forward, but it feels more like a major step backwards coming hot off the heels of ‘Wonder Woman’ earlier this year. Please avoid this and speak with your wallets as Warner Brothers will continue to churn out shit until we stop paying for it.