Justice League

Justice League ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Any time you watch a superhero movie you've got to be willing to suspend disbelief. But the levels on which viewers of this corporate Frankenstein's monster are asked to do so are next-level egregious.

In some ways the entire production is a huge pretense—the pretense that you're watching a movie at all when in fact it's fully evident that you're watching a heavily focus group-tested pastiche of marketing strategies. You could easily mistake the finished product for some kind of two-hour long YouTube supercut made from toy commercials, music videos, episodes from animated (and superior) TV adaptations of these characters, and long passages quoted directly from the competition at Marvel.

There's also the laughable suspension of disbelief that's required to tolerate the inane plot premise that Superman might actually stay dead. No one who watches this film will be surprised in the least when that character is somehow miraculously reanimated. And it's an insult that the clear intellectual leader of this entire cinematic "universe"—Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman—is portrayed as the skeptic, the only one who doesn't believe that somehow the plot won't restore Superman to life and to hero status. Women are pretty dumb, even Wonder Women, amirite?

Maybe the original sin of all of these pretenses, though, is the premise that director Zack Snyder has any understanding at all of what has made the Superman character interesting to people for generations. This is the third straight film in which Snyder has unambiguously demonstrated that he is much more fascinated with the idea of Superman as an other, an alien, a fascistic menace than he is with what it means to be a force for good. His regard for Superman is xenophobic at its core, layered over with a facade of perfunctory hero worship.

This is abundantly evident when the other characters are—surprise!—successful in their effort to bring him back from the dead (after literally robbing his grave, no less). The Superman that emerges from the afterlife is spiteful, vindictive, disdainful of humanity, and a hair's breadth away from taking life on a whim. Snyder clearly relishes this moment as it allows him to indulge the pure recklessness and disregard for civilization that is the undercurrent of all his films.

Ultimately, after tossing aside the human form of Batman like a rag doll, Superman is pulled back from the brink by the appearance of Lois Lane. The message is plain: the other is to be feared unless he is humanized by us.

The shame of it all is that there's a generation of kids right now whose regard for these characters is being irrevocably marred by Snyder's pathetic renditions.

Wonder Woman was saved by Patty Jenkins, but Batman, as begrudgingly portrayed by Ben Affleck, is a train wreck. He's not incomparably smart, pragmatic and athletic as he has almost always been in the past. Here he's arrogant, deeply invested in his personal wealth as a basis for his righteousness, and bloated to the point of signaling visual discomfort with his own form.

The Flash has never been a source of inspiration on the level of his peers, but here he's a middle-aged man's idea of a millennial upstart—always standing outside of the narrative, always ready to indulge the lamest, most obvious quips. Also, if you're going to run incredibly fast, why would you wear a suit that looks like it was made from tin cans?

Cyborg you can basically forget about; in comics he was a fascinating intersection of privileged science, modern tragedy and street smarts. His only real role here is as "computer guy"—the one who can recite aloud whatever deus ex machina is necessary to explain away the heartless plotting.

And Aquaman, well Aquaman is actually not too bad. If you subscribe to the idea that there's always one character on the screen who serves as a kind of avatar for the director, then Jason Momoa's Aquaman is that guy. Aquaman don't give a damn. His insouciance is actually pretty entertaining, genuinely (if modestly) humorous. But it's also revealing: this character seems like he could care less about the whole affair, and that's probably an accurate summation of how the filmmakers felt about it too.

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