So, what do you think used to be the most boring comic book movie ever made? Superman Returns? Iron Man 2Green Lantern? The Amazing Spider-Man? X-Men: Apocalypse? Anyway, it doesn't actually matter, because now we have Justice League, and that settles it. For right now (and I'm not optimistic enough to suppose it will stay this way for more than a couple of years), this is it: the most impressively, faultlessly mediocre and boring and pointless A-list superhero film going back through the nearly 40 years of modern superhero films. Give me a thousand Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justices, with their incomprehensible, mad genius overreach and ambition and tone-deaf operatic sweep; hell, give me a thousand Suicide Squads. They're both preferable to the absolutely dreary anonymity lifelessly slopping its way across the screen for the 120 minutes - thank God, at least it's short by modern tentpole standards - of this latest attempt to extract something functional out of the flailing DC cinematic universe.

Justice League serves as the apparent finale to one of the most bizarrely misshapen movie trilogies I have ever encountered, concluding in a very clumsy way the story of how Kal-El (Henry Cavill), last son of Krypton, came to earth to become the very mopey Clark Kent and the very smug, dour, miserable Superman of 2013's Man of Steel, turned out to have somehow been a symbol of hope and attempted to live up to that symbolism in 2016's Batman v Superman, and now spreads that hope out beyond his own alien person. "But he is dead", you would perhaps object, if you or anybody else gave a shit. Well, he comes back, and that would be more of a spoiler if Cavill's weren't the second name to show up in the credits about 90 seconds into the movie.

Anyway, the notion of all of this as director Zack Snyder's attempt at a Superman trilogy give it all at least some meager amount of weight, though it would have perhaps been better to just gone ahead with Man of Steel 2 right off, and leave dawning of justice and the leaguing of justice to other movies, so they didn't have to cover quite as much ground. This is very much a problem with Justice League; it tries to do a lot more than it can in its trim running time. I cannot say that it is one of the very biggest problems, though that's how it feels in my heart. Certainly, the first proper big-screen appearances of iconic DC heroes Arthur "Aquaman" Curry (Jason Momoa) and Barry "Flash" Allen (Ezra Miller) - and substantially less iconic Victor "Cyborg" Stone (Ray Fisher) - ought to feel more consequential and weighty than just one of three or four B-plots in a very confused condensation of the weirdest corner of the DC universe.

This will be my only paragraph of tedious comic book fan wailing: so, the plot of this film (which is basically "The Avengers but with a vastly worse villain and zero interesting scenes" - so actually, it's even more basically Avengers: Age of Ultron, right down to a finale that takes place in the former Soviet Union for really arbitrary reasons) draws a lot from Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" cycle in the New Gods title. Without going into details, it's quite possibly the most altogether bugfuck crazy material in either the main DC or Marvel universes, and while Justice League generally makes it simple and digestible - the conflict, at its core, is that the alien warlord Steppenwolf (a big CGI asshole voiced by Ciarán Hinds) wants to recover three immensely powerful energy cores called "Mother Boxes" in order to remake the planet in his own image - it's still pretty intensely wrong-headed to dive right into this part, at this point in the franchise. It's like if, after nobody liked The Incredible Hulk, Marvel had decided the right solution was to go all-in on a film centered on Uatu the Watcher. This is, let's never forget, the movie that they needed to make sure would be as appealing and successful as possible, to right a sinking ship both commercially and critically. And they went with Steppenwolf. And the Mother Boxes. This was the movie for Darkseid - that's a fucking freebie. Darkseid is a famous, comprehensible villain. It would have even let DC steal Marvel's thunder for spending a dozen damn movies not making Thanos the bad guy.

And on top if it, they don't even try to make the Fourth World material suitably Kirby-esque - we've had, in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok, two different 2017 comic book movies grabbing all they could from Kirby's zany, cosmic genius, from material that Kirby had nothing to do with initially. And now there's an actual Kirby story, and it's this anodyne, visually bland bullshit. What the Christ. Also, apologies, that ended up being two paragraphs.

The crappy, ineffective introductions of the new characters is part and parcel of the overall vibe of the film: this is a movie oozing desperation in its cautious conservatism. It is inept in the way that only something very nervously made by committee could ever be. For good or bad, the four preceding films in the DC film universe all have clear personalities derived from the people writing and directing them. Justice League has a clear personality: that personality is "just do a fucking Marvel movie and be done with it already". And so we have, for starters, the ungainly awfulness of grimdark violence specialist Zack Snyder attempting to feel his way around the zippy tone that has been unexpertly plastered on the movie: the script is credited to "Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon", a particularly of phrasing that of course means Terrio wrote the serious version that was directly in line with Batman v Superman and Whedon gave it a once-over to add his characteristic character-based quips, and that join already doesn't work; when Whedon took over as pick-up director after Snyder bowed out (following a horrible personal tragedy), that join didn't work either. I can't tell what parts of the movie are Snyder doing a fucking horrible Whedon impression (though at least the parts with slow-motion must be his), and what parts are Whedon being lazier than he's ever been in his entire career, but this is all dispiriting, generic junk. The DC films had their thing: they were grimmer and more self-consciously mythic. Trying to make them have Marvel's thing was never going to work, and doesn't.

And I mean, literally, there's not one good thing in the movie. The closest it gets to a decent action scene finds Diana "Wonder Woman" Prince (Gal Gadot) stopping a terrorist armed with a machine gun, and it never gets better than being a hugely ineffective retread of the concepts from the wonderful No Man's Land sequence in this summer's Wonder Woman. The closest it gets to aesthetic inspiration is composer Danny Elfman cribbing from his own score for the 1989 Batman - it's amazing how good it does the soul to hear that character theme return to the big screen - and John William's score for the 1978 Superman. Other than that, it's a stylistic and aesthetic fizzle, blatantly tinkered with in post-production to give everything a colorful pop that doesn't work, edited in the most aimless, artless way, to just jam shots together and call it a fight scene (it never gets worse than in the horrendous opening scene, which has some of the most jittery, unnecessary cutting I've seen in a big-budget film in what feels like years). The most noteworthy thing about any of the characters is how transparently obvious it is that Ben Affleck wishes he'd never taken on the role of Batman, and knew that he wouldn't get fired no matter how dead-eyed and flat he played the character (the runner-up is that Whedon likes the Flash best and gives him all the most Whedonesque lines; Miller's charming screwball performance notwithstanding, I grew tired of the quipping pretty much instantaneously).

It's just so drab and so soulless - such an obvious attempt at making a movie whose existence was always only meant to satisfy the Warner Bros. accounting office. This should be a movie of great pomposity and grandeur; barring that it should at least be exciting and suitably iconic to see all these characters onscreen together for the first time; barring that, there should at least be some good action scenes, the only thing Zack Snyder has ever been consistently able to offer as a director. But watching the film, the only thing I could ever think is that nobody involved in its creation cared about it, believed in it, or wanted to be there. It's soporific, tediously functional (and only barely that), and uninteresting far beyond even what I'd have expected this genre capable of, in all my cynicism.

Reviews in this series
Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016)
Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016)
Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017)
Justice League (Snyder / Whedon, 2017)
Aquaman (Wan, 2018)
Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019)
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (Yan, 2020)
Wonder Woman 1984 (Jenkins, 2020)
Zack Snyder's Justice League (Snyder, 2021)
The Suicide Squad (Gunn, 2021)