Sunday, December 24, 2017

Justice League: Review

A lot of heartache might be avoided if DCU screenwriters would just read their lines out loud and ask themselves if they sound sensible. I never imagined things could get worse than the “Save Martha... Martha? Why did you say that name?... It’s his mother’s name” exchange in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But Justice League pushes language past mere unmusicality (“We have to light the ancient warning fire”) into something approaching a humourless Dr Suess (“Kryptonian ship has an amniotic chamber”). It’s almost a relief, after the clanging construction of “primordial landscape of Steppenwolf’s birth wound”, to hear something as simple and unexpected as “You smell nice.”

The landscape’s still primordial – director Zack Snyder likes his scenery charred – but Justice League smells nicer than Batman V Superman. That, admittedly, isn’t saying much: Snyder’s last was as dull and daft a superhero movie as DC detractors could have hoped for. The sequel isn’t that much of a departure, but it does have a kind of grim momentum. The Avengers took 143 minutes to put together its all-star team; Snyder manages the same in an economical 120 minutes. The focus on the primary narrative – the battle between the League and Steppenwolf, destroyer of worlds (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) – is near-absolute, the individual narratives of the team members only allowed in brief interludes.

As promised in Dawn of Justice, Batman (Ben Affleck) is on a recruitment drive following the death of Superman. Spurred by attacks by winged parademons – minions of Steppenwolf – he seeks out Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Since Batman’s introductions to all (except Cyborg) were teased months in advance, there’s no surprise left in these scenes, only the feeling of being the first rung in that familiar ladder that takes any super-group from mistrust to grudging respect to team spirit.

It may have been suggested to Snyder after Dawn of Justice, to lighten up a little in his next outing. This, presumably, is why The Flash is a little too eager to crack wise (not wise enough – after rescuing a Russian family, his parting zinger is “Dostoevsky”). The pressure of being the designated joker does Miller no favours; Momoa, playing a hip merman, manages more laughs simply by looking relaxed. Fisher struggles to give his human-turned-robot personality, and Affleck looks like the Bat-life’s getting him down. Gadot alone looks poised and ready for sequels.

Whether these films to come should be helmed by Snyder is another matter. His scorched-earth aesthetic could be seen as having a certain apocalyptic grandeur, though I’ve never found it anything but dark, violent and confusing. This is matched by a tone that’s unpleasant and emotionally stunted. Had Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman not been so successful earlier this year, I wonder if Diana would have been treated with as much respect as she is here, given the fetishist trappings of previous Snyder productions. There’s a revealing moment when Aquaman, listing the abilities of his teammates, comes to Diana and says “You’re gorgeous”, before adding “strong and fierce” as an afterthought. This should come as no surprise. A film which reduces the rest of the world to a few panicky Russians would have no problem reducing a legendary immortal warrior to her looks.

This review appeared in Mint.

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