Here’s what to know about Justice League before seeing it this weekend: it’s the ear-buds-plugged-in-without-being-untangled version of a movie. The superhero would-be blockbuster is functional but frustrating. It’s constrained, dense with potential that remains knotted either by a lack of skill or lack of time. By all accounts, Warner Bros. continued to throw money at the problem — by bringing in Joss Whedon to finish the film after director Zack Snyder left the project following the death of his daughter (Whedon is credited as a co-writer; Snyder is the film’s lone credited director), by using CGI to de-mustache Superman in reshoots (we’ll come back to this, I promise) — but all of these efforts feel a bit like using very expensive paint to cover a crumbling wall. Justice League is the Best We All Could Do Under The Circumstances. It is the “F— it, we’ll do it live!” of movies.
The plot has the all the urgency of a high school group project and all of the excitement of a high school group project. None of the characters have perspectives or cohesive arcs. They are action figures lifted up and banged together and mouthing along to Joss Whedon’s jokes usually against a backdrop of a frankly numbing amount of CGI. Giving a plot synopsis here seems like wasted time so I’ll do it in six words, like Hemingway: gang easily unites, easily beats villain.
Look: it’s not a terrible movie (read EW’s review here). Compared to Suicide Squad it’s Casablanca (or Thor: Ragnarok). It’s not boring, and there are some funny moments. But without knowing exactly which parts are Snyder and which are Whedon, I’ll confidently say Whedon’s most valuable contribution to the film was cutting its runtime down to two hours flat.
So let’s break down what goes down together, shall we? And obviously, spoilers abound.
What was the deal with Superman’s upper lip?
This is a question with an easy answer: Henry Cavill, the actor playing Superman, was already filming Mission: Impossible 6 when he was needed for Justice League re-shoots. But his M:I 6 role required a mustache and he was contractually forbidden to shave it off. And so, instead of leaning into a hilarious movie in which Superman randomly appears with a mustache at arbitrary intervals, Warner Bros. used CGI to cover it up. “What we do is we try and pull it back from the top lip as much as possible, so they kind of wax it up, and then I have dots all over my face. And they try and put dots, which are barely visible, sort of in the various points on the face,” Cavill said in an interview.
The result is apparent in a few scenes where we get a Superman who looks vaguely like one of the humans in the Shrek universe. It’s not super noticeable if you don’t know what to expect, just this sort of nagging suspicion that Henry Cavill looks a little bit more like John Travolta than you remember him. But once you start paying attention to his upper lip: hoo-boy. I can’t wait to host a screening of this movie where the drinking game is “take a shot every time Superman descends into the uncanny valley.”
Canonically, Superman grows facial hair: he uses his laser vision and a mirror to shave it off because normal razors wouldn’t be able to cut through his super hair. And so, theoretically, Superman could have had a mustache and I think we all would have enjoyed this movie a whole lot more.
How is Ben Affleck’s performance?
The Argo filmmaker’s entire performance can be summed up by that photo of him smoking sadly on the street.
Who was this villain?
His name was Steppenwolf, which is the only even relatively cool or unique thing about him. Otherwise, it feels a little bit like someone wrote this script with “insert villain here” but no one got around to it and so they just put together the most generic CGI face a computer could render and gave it a helmet. Steppenwolf has no perspective. Even a lengthy exposition montage narrated by Wonder Woman couldn’t adequately explain his goal or purpose. He needed to collect these three boxes to destroy the Earth or turn it into a hellscape that he could rule. His minions are about as scary as finding a moth in your apartment (and look like Watto from The Phantom Menance), which you know, is kind of scary sometimes, but still. They explode in bright green goo, sometimes for no reason.
Steppenwolf pops up where he needs to pop up and then he’s defeated when he needs to be defeated. It would have been more interesting to see these superheroes face off against some particularly tricky plastic shell packaging.
Was all of this just a heavy-handed metaphor for helping the environment?
So, there’s all of the nonsense shouting that Steppenwolf does about Mother Boxes. And when Batman meets with Aquaman to ask him to join the team, he makes a seemingly random aside about the ocean levels rising. “I don’t mind the ocean levels rising,” Aquaman replies, understandably. “What about if they were boiling?” Batman fires back like the most annoying speaker at a middle school assembly. This issue is dropped and never brought up again. It is not made clear how global warming relates to the threat of Steppenwolf bringing three MacGuffin
tesseracts boxes together and destroying all life on earth.
The climax of the film also takes place at a Chernobyl analog in northern Russia, in which we get a scene of Steppenwolf’s Watto-bugs flying out of a nuclear reactor. And then, when the gang defeats Steppenwolf, the land sprouts with Technicolor magical flowers like they’re on Te Fiti’s island from Moana. All of these elements together read like someone wanted to make this a heavy-handed metaphor but forgot that you actually need to make a point.
Why would the Amazons ever be in leather bikini armor?
A lot has been written online about the Amazons’ seemingly sexualized costume re-design, and although it does seem impractical for anyone to wear bikini armor that leaves your entire belly exposed, the Amazons’ costumes didn’t seem completely jarring until Wonder Woman described a flashback of the first time Steppenwolf attacked earth. Presumably, to show this is in the past, the Amazons are wearing leather armor. But… why? Was there a time the Amazons didn’t know how to forge steel? Impossible: they’re using swords. And the humans in this flashback are wearing armor made of either iron or steel—they look Viking-era. What possible explanation is there for why the Amazons would choose to defend themselves with only leather crop tops?
How does Barry Allen not know who Bruce Wayne is?
Bruce Wayne is a world-famous billionaire, one of the richest men alive. And yet when he arrives at Barry “The Flash” Allen’s house to recruit him to the team, Allen has no idea who he is. Not even a “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” In the logic of this universe, Bruce Wayne is a notorious party boy. His face has been in newspapers. How does a teen or twenty-something boy not know who he is?
That’s not how you pronounce “viola,” right?
The Flash makes a joke about playing the viola, the instrument, but he pronounces it “vye-oh-la,” like the name. Like Viola Davis. The instrument is pronounced “vee-oh-la.” I am fully aware I’m being a pedant here. Honestly, Ezra Miller was the only bright spot in this film.
How many changes of clothing did Wonder Woman bring with her from Paris to Gotham?
We see her in such a variety of the deepest v-necks and strappiest bras you’ve ever seen that one assumes she had to check a bag. I’m not going to get all “Justice League is sexist!” here because, in Justice League’s defense, we get plenty of shirtless Jason Momoa and Henry Cavill. But especially coming off Wonder Woman, it’s jarring to see a female superhero through the male gaze again, complete with all of the ass-in-leather-pants shots and low-cut tops we’ve come to accept.
How do policemen or the government not realize anything is going on if these bugs are “all over”?
Batman at one point specifically says that the Watto-bugs are “all over.” A random low-level criminal fully witnesses Batman killing one at the beginning of the movie, and, presumably, tons of other people in Gotham City have seen them. So why is the only thing we’re going on a child’s drawing that the police assume is Batman? This is 2017. We all have cell phones now. And there’s a massive infestation in Russia where there are more dash-cams than people. This movie operates in a strange vacuum in which the government seems to barely exist and fully not care about anything that’s going on. Superman comes back in full view of daytime Chicago, with multiple police officers watching, and yet no one seems to acknowledge he’s back publicly. And Lois Lane is all, “You have to give me the exclusive, wink” as if no one else would be reporting on that major story!
Why does Alfred, the fancy British butler, wear cargo pants?
Multiple pairs of cargo pants, and a cargo jacket at one point.
Why does re-animating Superman turn him into the Hulk?
Even aside from the fact that it arbitrarily — and hilariously — rips off his shirt but leaves his pants fully intact which makes him look like he’s doing karate at a suburban dojo, they give Superman the classic Hulk beats: the “calm down, big guy,” the “oh no, he’s stronger than us!” and finally, the “oh good, someone he loves to bring him back to himself.”
Why does resurrection make him evil? Why is he so furious at Batman that he was going to literally murder him? Even after coming back from the dead, you’d think he’d still fundamentally be Superman.
While they were dealing with Superman, no one was watching the final “this could end the world” cube, huh?
Steppenwolf just swoops in and grabs it, and the group is just like, “Oh, darn. I guess that means we have to do a climactic confrontation.” At that point, we were all just going through the motions of a superhero movie.
Why does it feel like no one involved in this movie saw Wonder Woman?
This is the most egregious confusion in the movie for me. There’s this attempt to shoehorn an arc onto Wonder Woman’s character that just seems to fully not make sense, either with the things we know about her from her own movie or the events we’ve seen since Batman v Superman.
So if the villain had an impetus at all, it was that he came about thanks to the world’s hopelessness and fear after Superman died. “He was a symbol of hope,” Batman scowls at Wonder Woman. “So why aren’t you?” The second half of this movie seems to be pushing is the narrative after Steve Trevor’s death, Wonder Woman was so depressed that she retreated away from being a hero and a leader.
Except… that doesn’t make sense. Even if Wonder Woman took time off from fighting crime after World War I to get her PhD in art history, presumably, she returned in Batman v Superman. She fought alongside the two of them, in her full costumed regalia. She… came back from her, I guess, deep depression about Steve Trevor. And at the beginning of this very movie, Wonder Woman stops a bank robbery by guys dressed up as James Spader from The Black List. She is standing on the roof of a building, arm and arm with a statue of Justice in broad daylight. She blocks bullets from a group of hostages. She literally saves — and presumably inspires — that whole group of people. So why is this movie gaslighting us into thinking we dreamed that entire scene?
I also find it slightly difficult to believe Wonder Woman has trouble being a leader. Anyone who saw her movie knows that she is an incredible leader. Think back on the way she strode through No Man’s Land to liberate that French town. She led them. And if they’re asking us to believe that the trauma of Steve Trevor’s death somehow diminished that ability in her, again, it doesn’t hold up. Diana saw her lifelong mentor slain in front of her at the beginning of Wonder Woman and it only inspired her to be better. And Trevor died before her final faceoff against Ares. I don’t buy it.
The thesis of “A man’s death ruins a woman’s life” is applied to all three female characters we get in this movie: Wonder Woman, who apparently has been so sad for 60 years that she forgot how to be a leader; Martha Kent, whose farm is being foreclosed on now that Superman is dead, for some reason; and Lois Lane, a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter who is now doing cat-grooming pieces. Hey, that is a bad thesis.
Why wouldn’t Bruce Wayne have helped Martha Kent earlier?
So, like I said, Superman’s mom’s farm is being foreclosed on at the beginning of the movie. But then, miracle of miracles, Bruce Wayne buys the house back at the end of the movie so everyone gets a happy ending (he actually buys the entire bank, which seems entirely unnecessary. Banks sell foreclosed properties.)
But why wouldn’t Bruce have helped Martha earlier? First, he’s guilty enough about Superman’s death that he’s willing to do a very weird and incredibly risky thing to bring him back to life. But also: wasn’t the whole “Martha” thing the whole point of Batman v Superman? They had to save Martha! And then Bruce Wayne, whose own Martha died and who felt such kinship with someone for having a mom who shared the same name, just…. effed off? No follow up “Hey, how are you?” emails?
Does Bruce Wayne not know what sarcasm is?
This is possibly the strangest line reading of a movie that also includes Superman saying the words “I’m also a big fan of justice.”
So the gang is in the Batcave, trying to figure out where Steppenwolf brought the three boxes. Cyborg helpfully points out that it would have to be somewhere with no electricity or satellite cover. “Well that narrows it down,” Batman says sarcastically because that is a phrase most people do use exclusively sarcastically. “Not enough,” Cyborg replies completely earnestly.
I cannot wrap my mind around this interaction. What is going on here? It does narrow it down! Does Bruce Wayne not think that? Is he just being sarcastic out of habit? And since his tone is definitely sarcastic, what’s the deal with Cyborg’s reply?! You’d think the appropriate response is, “Wait, Bruce, actually it does narrow it down.” And then Bruce would say, “No, you’re right. Sorry I was being snippy. We all burn a lot of calories doing this and for some reason, The Flash seems to be the only one that matters for.” Or is Cyborg the one who doesn’t understand sarcasm here and just interpreted Batman’s (rude and incorrect) comment earnestly because of something to do with his robot brain. The only plausible explanation in my mind is that Bruce Wayne was being sarcastic, but in a dumb way where sarcasm didn’t apply, and Cyborg just tactfully took him literally as to not make him feel bad.
Why wasn’t this movie just a full night of The Flash and Cyborg digging up Clark Kent’s body?
It is kind of adorable that the two newbies to the group are assigned the intern work, or like they’re first-year featured players on SNL or something. But I would have rather watched a whole movie about that night they spent together, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-style. Just two superhuman teens chatting as they do a weird, macabre task for a disaffected billionaire. Does anyone have Tom Stoppard’s number?
Joss Whedon wrote the whole “Wonder Woman goes over to dress Batman’s wounds” scene right?
It had Whedon written all over it. They might as well have been Natasha and Bruce Banner, or Inara and Mal from Firefly. Their “sexual chemistry” was so forced and artificial, so cringe-inducingly not Wonder Woman that as the scene began to click into place, the girl in the theater next to me loudly went, “Oh no.” Same, random theater girl. Same.