I feel bad for Justice League. It’s a film that doesn’t even really have a filmmaker at this point. Zack Snyder delivered a cut of the movie, he left the project, Joss Whedon heavily reshot the film, and then Warner Bros. mandated a cut that needed to be two hours. The result is a film whose crowning achievement is modest coherence. Unlike the disastrous Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, you can follow the plot from A to B to C and the one-dimensional character motivations make sense. But when the landscape of the superhero genre has become so rich and diverse, don’t fans deserve more than a movie whose claim to glory is “This isn’t the utter disaster is could have been”? In place of disaster, Justice League is a largely bland, forgettable affair that has nice moments scattered throughout and the promise of a better tomorrow, but outside of Wonder Woman, that’s all the DCEU ever really offers: the promise that the next movie will be better. And sure, Justice League is better than Batman v Superman, but that doesn’t make it good.
After a brief prologue featuring Superman (Henry Cavill) that presents the character in a better light than Man of Steel and Batman v Superman combined, we cut to the present day where everything is sad because Superman is dead and we’re treated to a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” (which is weird because Warner Bros. already owns the rights to “Batman’s Song (Untitled Self-Portrait)”). But there’s not much time to dwell on sadness because a new threat is coming—Intergalactic invader Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), who leads an army of insect-like parademons and plans to reclaim three powerful “Mother Boxes” stashed away on Earth. With no Superman to protect the planet, Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) head out to form an alliance with the lovably awkward speedster Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the stoic Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), and the [personality to be introduced in Aquaman, coming to a theater near you, December 2018] Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa).
And that’s pretty much the movie: Steppenwolf is coming to get the Mother Boxes, which will destroy the world, so five superheroes team up and try to stop Steppenwolf. The plot can’t do much more heavy lifting than that, and it takes all of the movie’s effort just to hold together what feels like a forgotten Justice League of America story where an intergalactic invader comes to ruin everyone’s day. There’s no time or effort put towards character building, giving the team a personality, crafting themes, or challenging expectations. Justice League’s most impressive feat is that it doesn’t completely fall apart before your eyes.
You can also feel the consequences of Warner Bros. not putting in the time and effort to give these characters their own movies so we would be on board with them as individuals and have a baseline understanding of their differing viewpoints when they bounce off each other. Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg all function like Wonder Woman did in Batman v Superman—characters who do enough to get our attention, but the task of making us care about them will come in a different movie. Batman v Superman, for all its faults, kind of gets away with it because Wonder Woman isn’t a large part of the movie, but Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg are center stage in Justice League and there’s no hiding how little we know or understand them.