Justice League is a fun but flawed superhero movie that’s weighed down by a lot of baggage, fair or not. By now you’ve heard about Justice League‘s bad reviews and poor initial box office, and you’re maybe wondering what the hell happened. Us too. Let’s talk through some of the issues plaguing Justice League — we’d love to hear your thoughts, too!
To preface, we’re all big Justice League fans here at LRM (our very own Joseph Jammer Medina gave it a B rating). The movie does a solid job establishing the characters, there are lots of big iconic moments, and the movie looks amazing (sometimes). Unfortunately, the various pieces and parts didn’t quite come together. There’s a list of stuff bothering us, and we’d like to talk it out before the holiday, if that’s OK with you?
Let’s break down five things that we think are at the heart of Justice League‘s problems…
And to listen to our podcast discussion on the film, check out the podcast below:
Nobody Wants To Be In Charge
Justice League is a team movie, and every team needs a quarterback. Unfortunately, for long stretches of Justice League there was no clear leader, neither Batman nor Wonder Woman aspired to be the face of the team — they knew Superman was that guy, shame he was dead. The vacuum created by their reticence to lead resulted in lots of bickering and sideways glances between the heroes — grinding the middle-act to a slog.
Eventually, the team figured out how to work together, and Batman ever-so-reluctantly directed the squad in battle. However, it still seemed like everyone was doing their own thing most of the time — the final battle between the League vs. Steppenwolf and his Parademons was chaotic and uncoordinated. Say what you will about The Avengers, but that moment when the team stood in a circle and Iron Man deferred to Cap, was thrilling and iconic… Justice League lacked such a pivotal moment.
Mandated 2-Hour Runtime Shortened Too Many Plotlines
Six major characters, a new team dynamic, flashbacks, a CG big bad, and a world-ending plot are collectively a bit much for a two-hour film. It’s a lot of stuff to wedge into any movie, but given a long-enough runway it could totally work… sadly, Justice League was assigned an impossible mission.
Because WB and DC chose to bypass origin movies for half of the team, they were compelled to intro them within Justice League. Meanwhile, Batman and Wonder Woman received extended (and unnecessary) intros, and then they both hit the road to wrangle the others. Basically, too much screentime was dedicated to meeting the team and bringing them all together. That’s fine if everything has room to breathe… but Justice League‘s scant two-hour runtime was way too spartan, and most of the character stuff felt rushed.
The one bright spot was Ezra Miller’s The Flash/Barry Allen, whose backstory was terrific; Flash’s arc was arguably the most interesting in the film. We got to know The Flash, and there was a lot to like; unfortunately for Aquaman and Cyborg, not so much. Also, the time required to get everyone into the same physical location meant that Steppenwolf’s intro and his by-the-book world domination plan were massively shaved down. The result: we got a cool team we barely knew facing-off against an lackluster adversary who’s slinging a half-baked, genocidal plot… a running battle ensues, our heroes win, high-fives all around, roll credits, the end. Sigh.
Superman’s Resurrection Was Ham-Fisted
Everybody on the planet knew that Superman was coming back, we just weren’t sure how. His absence from Justice League‘s posters and trailers created a false mystery, and it became an annoying elephant in the room. Ultimately, the team came up with a plan to bring him back, but is anyone happy with the way this was handled?
The short version: the mysterious motherboxes sought by Steppenwolf are bloody powerful — Cyborg is alive only because of them. Combining the motherboxes with leftover magical tech from Man of Steel‘s Kryptonian ship maybe-oughta resurrect Superman. Still with me? That’s an inelegant description, but it’s how it went down. Clunky as hell.
Fortunately, as a nice reward for suffering through this nonsense we were rewarded with an awesome fight between a confused-but-fighty Superman vs. the rest of the team. This brawl effectively established how incredibly powerful Superman is compared to everyone else. It worked and it was fun. Sadly, if you stop and think about this whole premise, it’s silly even by superhero standards (and kind of insults our intelligence).
Where In The World Is The Rest Of The World?
Batman v Superman, despite all its many flaws, was actually interested in exploring some very big ideas: the danger of unchecked power, the need for heroes, and the ramifications of government/corporate corruption. That’s heady stuff, and added layers and nuance to this film — and fans really, really liked it. Justice League started off strong, but then kind of quit trying — Superman was established a worldwide beacon of hope, but his absence gave rise to aggression, apathy, and anarchy. Nice! Too bad the movie goes nowhere with this concept.
Justice League opened with a clever smartphone video showing Superman shaking hands with firemen and hanging out with inner-city kids — it was a damned effective lead-in. Next, we saw a few moments of crime and mayhem in the streets following Superman’s death… and then that whole theme just kind of faded away. Once Justice League got rolling, spectacle took over and there was no more time for rumination or introspection — evil Parademons need to get punched! Great movies stick with us over the years because they invest in universal themes and resonating messages, and Justice League‘s choice to suppress its own themes turned this into just another CG spectacle.
Also, where are the world’s governments and militaries? Steppenwolf seeks violent world domination, but not a single jet or tank is to be seen. To my recollection, no one even knows that the Justice League exists, so why wasn’t anyone else fighting back. It’s strange and distracting, particularly when the UN and Congress were such prominent factors in Batman v Superman.
Luthor’s Post-Credits Cabal Was The Movie We Deserved!
Did you find the plot of Justice League confusing, flat, or paint-by-numbers? The story essentially boiled down to: a big-bad and his minions seeking out a powerful MacGuffin that can destroy the planet. Yawn. How many times has this alien invasion premise been the focus of a superhero film? It’s tired and cliched. Also, Steppenwolf was a terrible choice as the League’s first big threat, particuarly when Darkseid is hinted as the real hand behind the curtain — Darkseid was name-dropped only once, and surely he’d pop-up in the post-credits scenes, right? Welp, that’s when things got weird.
The second post-credits scene revealed that Lex Luthor had broken out of prison and retired to his yacht. Good for you Lex, gonna lay low for a bit, yes? Nope. Luthor is assembling his own superteam — of villains! When Deathstroke hopped aboard the remaining audience in my theater buzzed with sudden interest.
An Injustice League or a Legion of Doom? Now we’re talking! Most of our modern-day superhero films focus on just one single bad guy and his minions, but in this setup Luthor would lead a collection of high-powered villains who would (ideally) counter each member of the League. Holy crap, this is awesome… why wasn’t this the storyline of Justice League? This is the frickin’ movie we all deserved to see!!! Maybe five years from now, if we’re lucky. Dammit WB!
What worked or didn’t work for you in Justice League? Let us know in the comments down below!