A controversial figure in life, the death of Superman has wounded the world far more deeply than could ever have been anticipated, almost as if the last beacon of light has been extinguished, people turning cold and indifferent if not actively cruel as black banners of mouring hang from landmarks, ironically displaying the Kryptonian symbol of hope.
Inevitably, there are those who will take advantage; in London a religious suicide cult is determined that others should join them in their final journey, while on the streets and rooftops of Gotham a stranger sight has been glimpsed, winged figures drawn to fear, dark angels who are targeting certain individuals for reasons unknown.
The goal towards which the DC Extended Universe has been working, it seems incongruous to realise that Justice League is the fifth film in that sequence in five years following 2013’s Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad in 2016 and Wonder Woman earlier this year, so disparate and directionless have they felt despite the lead characters shared between them.
Launched five years after the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has always seemed that DC have been scrambling to keep up with their comic book cousins, and once again directed by Zack Snyder after the rollercoasters of quality that were Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice, the parallels have never been so apparent, nor the divergences.
Separately and together, the adventures of the Avengers have been bound up with the Infinity Stones, a series of linked plotlines which will collide in the nineteenth Marvel film Infinity War next May, while here it is the three Mother Boxes sought by Steppenwolf and his Parademons which when brought together will open the dimensional gates and unleash whatever the latest flavour of apocalypse is.
Fortunately stood against them are Batman and Wonder Woman (Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, her third time in the role, his fourth including cameos in Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman) who understandably wish further recruits for their cause, Arthur “Aquaman” Currie (Conan the Barbarian‘s Jason Momoa), Barry “Flash” Allen (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them‘s Ezra Miller) and Victor “Cyborg” Stone (The Astronaut Wives Club‘s Ray Fisher).
With three origin stories squeezed into the opening act, Justice League is at least more efficient than allowing each of the new characters their own full film to explore their backgrounds of tiresomely predictable parental issues though too often it feels more like a montage than a movie, and while Snyder has taken lessons from previous criticisms they may not necessarily be the most helpful ones.
The ancient alliance of Amazons and Atlanteans coming across as a bit Lord of the Rings, the heavy exposition of the glowing Rubik’s Cubes of Doom lands with the grace of one of Snyder’s favourite collapsing buildings of which there are many, though fortunately significantly fewer than his previous films and rather than being in the heart of a city (bad) or the docklands on the outskirts of a city (a bit better), ground zero is now a conveniently near-abandoned Russian wasteland, yet this actually works against the film.
Where Richard Donner, Bryan Singer and Joss Whedon in their superhero films filled the streets with people, innocent bystanders in the way of danger, the heroes proving themselves by actually doing their jobs and protecting them, Snyder would rather the streets of Metropolis were near deserted than bog the film down with the onerous obligation of actually saving people with only one family of Russian peasants apparently in need of evacuation from encroaching digital destruction.
Running at only two hours despite the expanded core cast who deserve more screen time, Momoa and Miller both excellent despite their severely limited involvement, the shortest by far of Snyder’s three DC films is clumsy in structure as it alternates between scenes of people hitting things and scenes of them standing around and talking about the things they have just hit and deciding what to hit next while while Ciarán Hinds’ motion-captured Steppenwolf is a tedious stock supervillain who fails to get the motors running.
Driven by agenda rather than an organic story and built around the absence of Henry Cavill’s Superman as was the finale of Dawn of Justice, that foundation was always a lie and his return feels inevitable rather than epic in a narrative so deeply predictable there is not a single surprise or twist offered reducing any potential emotional impact or involvement.
Maintaining a consistent level of adequate which fails to justify the reported $300 million budget which included significant reshoots overseen by Joss Whedon, while Justice League never sinks as low as the city-levelling tantrums of Man of Steel nor does it have a single moment to match the finest scenes of that film, and what is teased in the opening scenes, a solo movie of the Caped Crusader lurking on rooftops in backlit fog and tinted shadow, would have been the better choice and frustratingly may now never happen.
Justice League is on general release now and also screening in IMAX 3D