In their desperate attempt to catch up with the Marvel Universe, DC and Warner Brothers have forgotten that it's usually a good idea to set up your characters before you plunge them into a story. Apart from the fluke success of Wonder Woman, the DC Universe has been a disastrous failure in every regard. Justice League was the big hope to tie it together and work on some of that Wonder Woman good will. It has not achieved this.
That's not to say Justice League is a bad film; it's not. But it's certainly not a good film. And the odds were stacked against it; of the five principal characters, only two of them have had their own films to give us any kind of backstory. A common issue for me with these films is trying to figure out what I've missed in one of the tangent films that I haven't yet seen. In this case, I was convinced I was missing major information on the Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman and I assumed they had at least been set up in previous films. Upon doing a bit of research it turns out I have seen all the DC films. This is not a good sign.
With so many characters to establish, and with little to no background on most of them, the start is certainly stuttering. We stagger from one world to another with our only common thread being Bruce Wayne. This should work, because he is setting up a team - any number of heist movies have been able to do this with fresh characters - but here it just feels slow and lazy. It might have something to do with the fact that it's extremely obvious that Ben Affleck wants absolutely nothing to do with Batman any more.
Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg, also seems very out of place, but to give him credit, it's not like he had a lot to work with in his character. It also looks like his face has been digitally added in post. I assume that he was actually on set playing the body of the cyborg also, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was just stood in a motion capture studio with no other actors to work from as there is no chemistry to be found here. The other hero actors step up and get the job done, and there is enough personality in The Flash and Aquaman to suggest there is some hope to be had with their upcoming solo efforts although neither of them are used to any great effect here.
What is painfully clear here is that Zack Snyder is not an actor's director. There are only the most superficial elements of character at work and it's generally just a bridge to get us to the next set piece. The script isn't bad, and it's a solid balance of story and action but it's pretty obvious which bits are getting the most attention from the director. It should go without saying that the film suffers from Snyder's over the top action style with an abundance of slow motion and unrealistic fight scenes.
Another problem (for my tastes) is the choice of villain. Here we are going into full on God/alien mode and it transforms the film into fantasy. It's a personal dislike so obviously I'm judging it harshly but I think on an objective level also it just doesn't work. Even in Wonder Woman, where the bad guy was a literal God, it was mostly grounded in reality and only really let loose for the final confrontation. Any God that takes the form of David Thewlis is clearly not too fantastical. But here we have a giant horned bringer of death who just wants to watch the world burn. It loses any sense of reality extremely quickly.
In a similar vein, the action is deliberately placed away from the major city centres that normally bear the brunt of the abuse in these films. This may have been a decision of budget, or perhaps a sensible choice to try and distinguish it from other franchises. Most likely, it was to offset the repercussions of the major collateral damage that so often goes ignored in the aftermath. Whatever the reason, in doing so, we remove the immediate human threat that allows us as an audience to relate to what's happening on screen. The rather pathetic attempt they do have to bring people into a position of danger is so poor as to actually be laughable. It's so out of place that it seems like it may have been added in as reshoots, and in context it actually comes across as an incredibly irresponsible decision by our heroes when they stop saving the world so they can go and help out a handful of stragglers.
The other major plot point is the rebirth of Superman, who had been killed at the end of whatever film it was where he died. I'm sure we've already covered how pointless it is to kill off characters that everybody knows are going to come back to life because it makes all the emotional outpouring seem insincere and the suspension we're supposed to have about whether or not they will return is completely abated. There is certainly no difference here and the whole Superman storyline is null and void. At least when they do get him back he can get on with doing his usual Superman thing, but if the history of Superman has told us anything, it's that he is an extremely boring character. Putting him with other people doesn't help.
The ultimate goal for a film like this has to be to create a piece that is greater than the sum of its parts. Create great characters and then bring them together. For all its faults, it's exactly what the Marvel franchise are doing to great effect. But for DC, they haven't even bothered making the parts before bringing them together and the result is a charmless and soulless bit of action fluff. Aquaman and The Flash are basically absent in the film and even Wonder Woman could probably be cut out pretty easily. The film we get is Batman resurrecting Superman with the help of his new Cyborg sidekick and then they defeat a common enemy. And if you stripped it down to these core elements you could probably concentrate on them more and give us a decent film. Just establish one new character per film, and do it properly.
Watchable and solid, but completely unspectacular. 6/10