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Professional Cynic: Justice League

VO: Ashley Bowman
Written by Sean Harris Welcome to Professional Cynic from WatchMojo UK, where we take down the towering titans of film and TV – underlining everything that’s wrong, right, weird or ridiculous about them. Today, it’s that juggernaut of superhero setbacks, “Justice League”.
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Professional Cynic: Justice League


Welcome to Professional Cynic from WatchMojo UK, where we take down the towering titans of film and TV – underlining everything that’s wrong, right, weird or ridiculous about them. Today, it’s that juggernaut of superhero setbacks, “Justice League”.

The fifth film in a franchise that seems to smile and wave at every conceivable audience expectation, before blatantly refusing to deliver on any of its potential – this was a movie that had somehow made an underdog of itself. After “Man of Steel”, “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad” were all deservedly decimated by fans and critics, “Wonder Woman” almost fooled us into thinking that the DCEU had turned a corner. But, no. And here’re the reasons why.

“Justice League” starts as any self-respecting 2010s big budget blockbuster should, with a painfully insincere podcast. Superman’s a man of the people, and he knows what a smartphone is – even if it does take an ancient looking newspaper headline to remind us where we left off. He’s dead, folks. Definitely dead. The single biggest, boldest and most bankable character in this crazy comic world is dearly departed. Yes, sir. Definitely. Dead.

But, besides those pigeons, this woefully underequipped criminal, this man kicking some oranges, and these unfortunates caught in the crossfire, don’t expect many more real-world reactions to this ever-underwhelming, out-of-touch saga. After its opening eight minutes, and despite all the skyscrapers, cityscapes and vague hints at a human population, “Justice League” rarely shows us anything of the everyday men, women and children that supposedly need saving. But more on that later.

In the interests of fair play, we should probably point out the effectively atmospheric soundtrack for the opening montage, and the impressive bullet-bending re-introduction of Gal Gadot’s character – which totally trounces the next scene, when Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne looks even more miserable than usual. We all know Affleck’s fed up with these films – and most of us don’t blame him – but the so-called Caped Crusader gets progressively more pissed off from this point forwards.

He seeks, finds and talks to Aquaman. And then leaves. It all feels fairly forced and forgettable, but thankfully a random guy in the non-descript crowd coughs, which draws Wayne’s attention to three mysterious squares painted on the wall – which are similar to those which have endlessly plagued him (for at least the last five minutes). Jason Momoa takes his top off, and there’s some classic banter between bulky blokes lacking charisma, before Batman reconvenes with Alfred to scandalously skirt over the Flash’s potentially interesting backstory, mumble something about Cyborg, and desperately try to crowbar some semblance of romantic tension by awkwardly dallying over how to invite Wonder Woman. And, as if Batman could get any less cool, he rounds the talk off by freely admitting he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on.

The Flash and Cyborg are then faintly fleshed out, before a movie high point when a Mother Box is stolen from Themyscira as part of an almost immersive fight scene. But then comes an even bigger disappointment, when a second box is taken from Atlantis – at the end of a slow and stodgy sequence to make “The Little Mermaid” look like “Lethal Weapon”, by comparison. And, in case you hadn’t caught on (or in case you’d already stopped caring) the Mother Boxes are those mysterious squares from earlier – which definitely aren’t Infinity Stones. No way.

We should note that there was another awkward, half-hearted look at the loss of Superman – Lois Lane, we hardly knew ye – and the whole Flash/Batman scene did carry a couple of laughs – but not much beyond what we’d already seen in the trailers. Other highlights include Bruce Wayne’s disappearing tool trick for Diana, a pleasant and philosophical stroll by the lake, and a poorly executed explanation of what Cyborg can actually do. All in all, there’s a distinct lack of urgency – probably because no one genuinely gives a toss about the bad guy.

Because Steppenwolf is seriously, seriously poor. Conjured out of nowhere and detailed with a backstory where the scariest part is the shiny CGI used to tell it, he seems to weirdly centre his Earthly attack on just one family of four – while everyone else supposedly carries on as usual. Nothing about this guy is even remotely ominous or even that intimidating, but it’s always best to test the water with a bish-bash-bosh fight scene, just in case. Flash’s scenes are again pretty fun, but otherwise we’re just going through the motions until Kahl Drogo saves the day.

Next, an ‘all cards on the table’ session in the Bat Cave where despite Bruce trying to convince us otherwise there’s still no real sense of an outside world, or the impending doom that it’s apparently set for. Then Batman and Alfred bicker and moan again, before the mother of all rebirths finally happens as part of a titanic twist that no one saw coming. Obviously.

But even the resurrection of Superman falls fairly flat, unfolding in the middle of an apparently deserted public park, and wrapping up in the rural fields outside his family home. And when Lois Lane isn’t making this scent-centred assertion: she and Clark are conveniently glossing over answers to pretty essential questions; ___. There is time for some Wonder Woman character development, an emotional reunion with Superman’s mother, and a fairly funny lasso of truth trick at Aquaman’s expense – but it’s already feeling like too little, too late. And the final battle hasn’t even shown signs of starting up yet.

Oh wait. There it is. Out of absolutely nowhere, and with 90 minutes of movie safely siphoned away, there’s finally something that looks a little bit frightening – even if it is just rolling hills with a red sky. Still, has director Zack Snyder been steadily building for a reason? Will various threads from the previous four films and the majority of this one all tie together for an awesome ensemble finish? Will Ben Affleck finally crack something close to a smile? No, no and no.

Batman puts on his big boy glasses, and fires a few rockets to break through the sparkly blue, clearly pointless defence shield, before full-blasting the Batmobile through a fiery landscape that will just never look real – and Alfred’s input isn’t helping anything. We all love Jeremy Irons, but as the Bat’s butler he’s just not Michael Caine, is he.

The alien insects (which we’re still not bothered by) are easily diverted, which leaves just enough time for everyone else to stand around and pick the perfect pose. Some more shots of that really unfortunate family, before they’re chased out of town by a fluorescent purple thingamajig. Batman drives backwards, buildings crash and burn, guns get broken off, and Alfred’s a pretentious bastard once again. There’s a few completely false nods toward friendships that definitely don’t exist, a few more admittedly quite enjoyable Flash sequences, and a predictably anti-climactic face off with our monotony of a monster – he’s got white eyes now, just because he can. Oh, and obviously Superman shows up to share in the spoils, and make even more of a mockery of the villain we’re already bored of anyway.

Like a plaster that just won’t pull off, the ‘action’ continues with this incredibly awkward exchange, which definitely adds nothing to the already non-existent on-screen chemistry. The Flash (who’s the only real hero here, let’s be honest) finally gets our family to safety, and Superman splits the Mother Boxes in a grand total of less than ten seconds. Before breaking Steppenwolf’s supposedly world-ending axe by blowing on it. It’s a fitting end to a flimsy tale.

And as we watch Kent buy back his old gaff, and Wayne wisecrack about all the money he has, there’s no amount of Amy Adams monologue that can make up for the time we’ve lost watching this rubbish. Like a birthday cake made of Kryptonite, it’s a disappointment so dour, it’s deadly. But apart from all of that, it’s a pretty decent movie. You should check it out.

Which film or TV show deserves the Pro Cynic treatment, next? Drop us a moan in the comments, and begrudgingly subscribe for more. You know it makes sense.
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