Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

By Jarrod Jones. While the current box office climate absolutely demands that it exist, Justice League doesn’t really have to. It’s an underdeveloped and simultaneously overproduced botch-job, a response to Marvel Studios’ many successes more than anything else. Most of all, it exists to atone for the sins of Zack Snyder’s odious Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But all it really does is move along as though the last bit only happened in song, or legend. Or something.

The canary in the coal mine, to borrow a low-tier cliché because who cares, should have been the trailers. Zack Snyder trailers used to look good — great, even. Remember Watchmen? Its first trailer was really something, wasn’t it?

Justice League, while technically a Zack Snyder picture (he left the production around March of this year), had hideous trailers. With its increasingly garish sequences of nightmare CGI set under a booming truck stop soundtrack, the trailers to Justice League should have been our signal to peace the fuck out and find another way to spend two hours of our time. So if those trailers didn’t sway you, if you’re still “All In,” as the Warner Bros. marketing department has somewhat dementedly put it, let me take the opportunity to suggest: Maybe don’t be?

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

If you have any love in your heart for the DC Universe, Justice League might entertain you from time to time. Despite what I’ve already said, there are actually glimmers of a real movie in here. Ezra Miller as The Flash, for instance, isn’t entirely awful. His power set is interesting, even if the film doesn’t do much with it, and Miller has enough aw-shucks charm to offset the general feeling of obligation. Superman is in it! And… that’s certainly something I could dedicate a entire article about. (No spoilers in this review. I promise.) Gal Gadot remains the star at the center of things. Without her, this entire enterprise would be for naught.

The rest of it is a slog, even at its hacked-down, two-hour running time. Joss Whedon (who certainly must take half of the screenwriting credit/blame) came in during WB’s most desperate hour to clean things up as much as he could. The jokes that appear in Justice League — and, my god, are there jokes — have Whedon’s thumbprint all over them. Ezra Miller takes almost the full brunt of Whedon’s energy while the rest of the cast either glowers or halfheartedly participates in the jackassery. It has a bewildering effect. (Ben Affleck looks especially frustrated throughout the movie.)

Did you watch the Ultimate Edition™ of Batman v. Superman? Then you might recognize Steppenwolf, the film’s central baddie. He’s voiced by Mance Rayder from the last semi-decent season of Game of Thrones, and maybe he did the motion-capture too, who can say. Steppenwolf is a computer-generated golem, a pesky distraction, a frustrating boss fight in a shitty PS2 fantasy game. (With the animation to match.) He’s there to tease a bigger, presumably even more heinous villain, but the prospects of that enemy’s appearance will depend on how much money people spend on this. Put simply, Jack Kirby’s cinematic 100th birthday present was indeed Thor: Ragnarok. No contest.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Justice League is its story, which is most certainly cribbed from the first seven minutes of The Fellowship of the Ring, a underwhelming McGuffin chase expanded into a two hour film that somehow manages to also borrow from Whedon’s The Avengers. And then the movie dives headlong into a midstream subplot that manages to undo Dawn of Justice‘s appalling ending by basically looking into the screen and saying, “Yeah, sorry about that.” The film grinds to a halt to make amends with its audience for another movie. I’m not kidding.

But it must be said that at its core, Justice League has heart. It tries, good lord does it try, to make people happy. The film’s colors have been amped up to counter Snyder’s gloomy aesthetic. Characters actually smile, occasionally, even though the world is literally falling apart around them. Danny Elfman’s chaos of a score is a mash-up of DC movie Greatest Hits — it doesn’t make the film any better, sadly, but it’s something. After three disappointing films and one raging success, Warner Bros. seems like it’s finally — finally — learning to embrace its own superhero franchise. I suppose that sums up Justice League pretty succinctly: It has what it takes to please its audience, but it wields that power begrudgingly.

Directed by Zack Snyder.

Produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg, and Geoff Johns.

Screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon

Story by Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder

Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, and Ciarán Hinds.

Rated PG-13 for wanton havoc. 

2.5 out of 10