"Justice League" Aims Low, Falls Short

Twenty-five years ago, director Steven Spielberg and the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic brought dinosaurs back from extinction. The arrival of convincing computer-generated imagery was a tectonic shift for the movie industry, the aftershocks of which are still being felt today. In the case of “Justice League,” it’s in Hollywood’s increasingly cavalier application of the tech – and Warner Bros.’ stunning inability to convincingly remove an actor’s mustache.

The odd case of Clark Kent aka Superman (Henry Cavill) and his computer-generated upper lip might seem trivial in the context of a rock ‘em sock em’ comic book movie, but it’s an appropriate symbol of the project’s innumerable failings; of its destiny as a case study in how not to make a superhero team up movie. The tale of how this follicular fiasco came to be is a strange mix of tragedy and comedy.

May 2017: Director Zack Snyder leaves “Justice League” during post-production because of the death of his 20-year-old daughter. Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”) is brought in to finish the film, one believed to be much lighter than its grim, stupid predecessor “Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.” But buzz is bad and massive reshoots are called, requiring the entirety of the main cast. Henry Cavill is in the midst of filming “Mission: Impossible 6” for Paramount and the studio refuses to let him shave his mustache. Warner Bros. elects to resume shooting “Justice League” with a mustachioed Clark Kent and remove his facial hair digitally.

It is noticeable – and hilarious – in the final product, Supes’ uncanny upper lip comprising about eighty percent of the character’s screen time. Along with a hideously rendered, personality-free villain, the pic’s shoddy CGI is nearly poetic in its representation of a hasty, disjointed assemblage of two conflicting visions; a bad movie fused to a different bad movie.

Snyder’s half of the film is noticeably stiff compared to Whedon’s, while Whedon’s hinges on half-baked witticisms that clash loudly with a look that can only be described as a two-hour ad for a freemium combat app.

Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) spends act one putting together a team in anticipation of battling the aforementioned villain Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and his army of flying minions. Wayne, Gotham’s favorite sourpuss and premier deliverer of dreadful one-liners, easily convinces Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Barry Allen aka The Flash (Ezra Miller) to join him. Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) are harder nuts to crack, but they’re presumably worn down by Bats’ glum proselytizing, eventually punching in at highly convenient moments.

Act two is dedicated to resurrecting Superman (he died at the end of “Batman V Superman”), taking the character’s Christ figure allusion to its literal extreme. Despite complications – Supes is not very happy about being brought back from the dead – act three sees the sextet fight Steppenwolf, and then the movie ends, which ranks among its least predictable developments. None of these plot points should be qualified as spoilers because at no point in the picture is there any indication that anything else could happen.

These are the utterly pedestrian narrative beats Snyder, Whedon, and Warner Bros. collaborated to hit upon, resulting in one loud, boring superhero film whose rare high points call to mind Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies – because it proudly rips them off. In a gross bit of self-plagiarism, composer Danny Elfman quotes his original “Batman” theme while Whedon injects some warm but transparent visual nods to the grandfather of comic book movies.

Creatively on par with a phoned in Saturday morning cartoon, “Justice League” will inevitably appease those fans only looking to see the Justice League on the big screen. Viewers looking for a meaningful departure from the gloom and doom of “Batman V Superman” won’t find it. What they will find is a meaningless, creatively barren exercise in bailing a sinking ship; a studio performing a “Weekend At Bernie’s” with a cadaver of a franchise, propped up with a brighter color scheme and dad jokes.

This summer’s “Wonder Woman” was good; may the movie gods bless us with an equally good sequel. But the DC Extended Universe doesn’t deserve her. Or us. No matter the lure of a “Justice League” movie after decades of waiting, keep a stiff upper lip. Mustache or no mustache.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: November 17, 2017
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenwriters: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciaran Hinds, Amber Heard
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action)