“Justice League” is a milestone in American cinema: the flop with a $94 million opening weekend. That’s a lot of money for a flop to earn over a few days, but “Justice League” came with a high price tag ($300 million and change) and even higher expectations. It’s the DC Cinematic Universe’s answer to Disney’s Marvel films, and even though this one even shares a writer/director with “The Avengers,” it’s a half-as-fun movie that made less than half the opening weekend money.
Set shortly after 2016’s “Batman v Superman,” the latest entry sees Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) assembling a superhero squad to fight an invasion by a gigantic alien digital effect. Meanwhile, they yearn for Superman (Henry Cavill), who was killed in the last film but is assured a resurrection here because superhero deaths are about as permanent as a sunset.
A superhero crossover film is only as good as its heroes. As Batman, Affleck looks like he feels out of place. He fared much better in “Batman v Superman,” where his Caped Crusader vibrated with rage, malice, and paranoia. But as the wisecracking leader of a group of godlike heroes, he’s profoundly awkward, not just in the story, but to the viewer. The film makes the best character in comics a chore to watch, which is unforgivable. It’s not hard to see why Affleck is reportedly ready to bail from one of cinema’s most coveted roles.
The film properly introduces the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), three D-list comic characters with zero interesting traits between them. It’s not the actors’ fault; the script just gives them nothing to do, and even their super-powered hi-jinks are mostly the work of stuntmen and graphic designers. Filming has already been completed on an Aquaman-centric movie that’s primed to be another enormous corporate tax write-off.
Snyder, who launched the current DC movie world with “Man of Steel,” was allegedly told to tone down the gloom and doom. The result is something that lacks the grandeur and edge of his earlier films but never captures the easygoing camaraderie that so endeared the world to the Marvel movies. A family tragedy caused Snyder to step aside and hand the reigns to “The Avengers” director Joss Whedon, ensuring that what before was at least something different has now become a pale, limp imitation, a copy of a copy.
The villain—a demonic monster who wants to destroy earth, well, ‘cuz—is a forgettable CGI creation without a discernible personality. He is accompanied by an army of flying bugmen who do little other than buzz around and wait for whichever hero is onscreen to swat them. The plot involves three magic boxes that can destroy mankind, not to be confused with the five magic stones that can destroy mankind in the Marvel movies.
The sole bright spot here is Gadot, whose “Wonder Woman” was a smash with critics and audiences. Her allure as the heroine is tremendous, beauty and brawn wrapped up in one luminous package. Gadot gives us reason to yearn for a “Wonder Woman.” But for Affleck and the rest, maybe it’s time for this franchise to hang up the cape and call it a Knight.