If there is a production hell, this film spent most of its time in it.
From re-writes and re-shoots to changes in cast and the replacement of director Zack Snyder, Justice League saw it all. Taking that into consideration, it’s better than can be expected - but far from good or any sort of DCEU redemption. Which leaves us wondering: how the franchise will move on from here?
Heroes assembling, all over again
At the core of the issue is the narrative, which adds so little to the mix it becomes painful to sit through.
Following the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we now live in a world where the threat of mighty otherworldly beings is real. No one is more frightened than Batman, who assumes the responsibility of gathering individuals with special abilities, in the wake of Superman’s death (NOT, but you knew that already). The latter's apparent demise has sent a wave of panic and paranoia across the world and the future of the planet is uncertain, yada yada. Repercussions have been a key theme of the DCEU films so far, and while they're thought-provoking, Justice League doesn’t expand on this and quickly lets the action take over.
Characters we don't care about, yet
Called to action are Batman’s recruits. Aquaman, the Flash, Cyborg and Wonder Woman. Out of these the one we’ve only really met is Wonder Woman, and she remains the sole character here that the audience has reason to care about. In a cast of actors who already seem bored of their roles, Gal Gadot is every bit the ray of light she was in Wonder Woman. She isn’t the world’s greatest actress, but her energy and passion is infectious. She’s the best thing about the whole film, but Justice League struggles to give her more to do than play a mother figure to the group of misfits, providing doses of encouraging words and love.
That’s because the other characters take so much time to develop. Brief backstories for Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg are hurriedly crammed into the first half of the film – where they come from, how they feel about their powers and hints at where they got them. Sure, they’ll probably eventually get their own installments to flesh things out, but all that time spent establishing characters we don't care about is harakiri for Justice League.
Batman is still confused
A character we truly have reason to care for is Bruce Wayne. He isn’t likeable by any means, with a confused moral compass and some seriously dark demons within, if his questionable motives in Batman v Superman revealed anything. But this could've been his journey had Justice League been more prudent with the two-hour screen time.
As an audience, we want to see how he reconciles with the guilt and rage after the events of the previous film, and more interestingly, his response to the increasing realisation that he now exists in a world that doesn’t need a hero like Batman anymore. Instead, he's been assigned a role that's a cross between Nick Fury and Inspector Gadget, responsible for assembling the League, and providing firepower and cool kit to battle with. On several occasions, he literally arrives at the scene minutes after the rest who can fly. This isn’t the resourceful Batman we know.
That said, Batman does have one fantastic line, in which he tells a lost Flash what to do in his first ever superhero rescue. Without revealing what was said, we wish the film would deepen this dynamic between Bats and the gang. He's seen plenty and has got wisdom to impart.
Superman stops whining
Thankfully, the brief appearance Superman gives does bring him closer to the Man of Steel we know and love. (And no, that isn't a spoiler - it’s no secret that he returns because he’s in the poster, for crying out loud. This also happens to be the year of pointless deaths and resurrections that don’t mean anything, so let’s get used to it.)
He isn’t dark and brooding any more. He's taken the chill pill we were hoping for and ditched the existential conundrums, embracing the fact that he's essentially a god. He’s unstoppably powerful, calm and confident, dishing out countless one-liners (albeit some terrible ones, like: “I’m a fan of justice."). His return may not be substantial, but it's cheer-inducing stuff in classic comic-book fashion.