Every film is someone’s baby, even if it’s a baby manufactured in a lab by committee. It is first desired, then conceptualized, then conceived; it’s carried and then born, and placed in the hands of caregivers – the parents, pediatricians, teachers and child care providers – who in turn endeavor to give it a healthy life. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that no one should ever intentionally harm an infant, and one should certainly never do something as cruel as, say, punch one in the face.
But I’m going to punch this baby. I’m going to break its nose and its crush its skull. I’m going to murder this baby because it’s ugly, and it screams and never shuts up. It pisses on you when you try to change its diaper; it shits on you when you try to give it a bath. When it smiles, it looks like a rotting pumpkin, and when it laughs, the laugh is a braying, piercing sound that drives home a migraine with the cool efficiency of an icepick through the temple. When it throws up (often), it’s always on some area of carpet that you can never avoid stepping in for the rest of your life, and no matter how hard you try, the smell never comes out; thus, you’re destined to keep stepping in it, and having to go to the bathroom to try to scrub off the clinging, lemony smell of milk vomit. The stain just sits there, staring back at you, never going away, and making you hate the baby even more, until all you can do is think about how much it cost, both in terms of time and in money, to bring this horrible thing into the world, and wishing it had strangled on its own umbilical cord. And it almost did. It almost did!
Worst of all, this baby is fucking boring. When it stands up on its fat, stupid baby legs and dances for you, you want to throw something at it and knock it on its ass and delight in its pain; anything, anything at all to provide some comedy. But no, there it is: this putrid little pink lump, a tumor in a spandex onesie, screaming and shitting and living. It will always be here, because not one person responsible for its life made a single decision that made any sense — like, say, to ensure it didn’t turn into a repulsive and thoroughly unlikeable creature with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But you just had to have that baby, didn’t you? You just had to have it, because everyone else was having one, and then two, and then on and on. It was fashionable to have this baby. It was THE THING TO DO. If you keep having them, it’s a SHARED UNIVERSE. And now the only way to silence the shrieking and to stop your home from smelling like the inside of someone’s dead asshole, is to stop feeding it, stop spending your money on it, and let it die. Let it shrivel. Let it turn into a moldering little husk to dry up and flake away once the worms and maggots and beetles have stopped feasting on its emaciated corpse.
This baby is named “Justice League,” and it is in desperate need of a quick death rather than the slow, protracted one audiences have endured since “Man of Steel” forced a diaper blow-out all over movie screens back in 2013. This latest installment is the fifth child in a dysfunctional family conceived by a patriarchy of shallow bean counters who can rock a graph but neither learned when to wear a condom, or when to pull out. We can all argue whether it’s director Zack Snyder’s misguided parenting, or the impulsive ME TOO! aspect of trying to artificially construct a legacy franchise of interconnected films simply because their rivals at Marvel Studios are doing so with unparalleled success. “Look, their house is bigger than ours! They have a nicer kitchen! And everyone just loves their kids! LET’S MAKE BABIES, TOO!” The problem is, no one bothered to figure out what made those other kids so adorable, because Warner Brothers is too busy outfitting their brood in garish Adult Baby Clothes that shoot a Stupid Parent beacon directly into space to warn the aliens that we’re still not ready for their technology yet.
Who do we fault for this unholy genetic mutation? Do we blame Snyder, or foster parent Joss Whedon (who was brought onboard late in the game to reshoot a sizeable portion of what was a notoriously troubled production)? Or do we blame the executives at Warner Brothers, who, in owning the entire DC Comics universe, ejaculated too quickly at the sight of the folks at Marvel taking their time to make sweet, sweet love and produce a relatively bright, happy, vibrant stock? Wherever you point the finger, this rotten assembly of ugly kids are dressed up in mismatched, conflicting colors: neither fun nor studious; tucked and buttoned with great care, while simultaneously creased and rumpled. Their teeth are brushed but their unwashed hair is sticking straight up. Any attention to detail is undermined by haste and compression and urgency. LOOK AT OUR KIDS! PAY MONEY TO WATCH OUR KIDS PLAY! JUST DON’T POINT AND LAUGH WHEN THEY KEEP FALLING ON THEIR FACES BECAUSE WE PUT THEIR SHOES ON THE WRONG FEET.
“Justice League” is a hyperactive child fed nothing but Pop Rocks and Soda. It can’t calm down, it can’t sit still, and it refuses to do what we want it to do. It’s ADD-addled and spins itself in frenzied circles until it collapses on the floor, unable to move; then, after an interminable stretch during which we’re staring at its chest and hoping it’s stopped breathing, it gets up again, inhales another bag of Skittles, and then spins around until it ruptures day-glow, sugary diarrhea all over the couch. It keeps shrieking, trying to make its pain yours because it isn’t mature enough to articulate its thoughts. And how can it? You can’t blame something for being inherently unable to communicate what it wants; but then you realize it’s the byproduct of self-absorbed stage parents who were more concerned with how their success was perceived than whether their child ever learned to use a knife and fork instead of eating their mashed potatoes with sticky, booger-crusted fingers.
See, the thing is, we’re not just talking about bad movies, here. There are two greater issues at play. The first is the imminent death of the cinematic experience: a revolution of apathy ushered in by a wave of competing technology, including, but not limited to, professional grade home theater systems, portable media, and an unprecedented glut of competing product. In a year in which ticket sales are hitting new lows, and when those who still venture to the local multiplex can’t shut up or get off their cell phones during the movie, it’s no wonder that the entire industry is terrified. Just last week, 20th Century Fox was in talks to sell to Disney. Anyone who fails to grasp the troubling implications of a media giant looking to board up their windows against the coming storm is probably a fan of movies like this, or “Transformers,” or endless remakes and soft reboots and every other Lowest Common Denominator Product the studios are churning out for the people of Walmart. These films are killing the industry with huge openings and sharp drop-offs. It’s all McDonalds, all the time, and the non-stop production of cinematic fast food is silencing bold and innovative voices trying to do more than to pander to some idiot tweeting through the entire film. LOL @AQUAMAN IZ SOOO HAWT ROFLMAO #JUSTFUCKINGKILLME
The second issue here is that the entire DC Universe pantheon of heroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and all the others – are an important component of our shared cultural heritage. We’re not just talking about “superheroes,” or Kids’ Stuff; these characters, along with Spider-Man and all the Marvel roster, represent our latter day mythology. You don’t have to like it, but it’s undeniable, much like the fact that the Earth is round and “Justice League” sucks. These stories are told the same way as the sagas of old, and feature modern reinterpretations of Hercules, Beowulf, or that dude with the holes in his hands. These are tales meant to inspire children and adults alike, and to reflect our social needs in a manner that is allegorical, and therefore more easily deconstructed and understood for what the components are and what they represent. This stuff is meant to teach us about ourselves and one another, goofy costumes notwithstanding.
And that’s what makes it so maddening to watch iconic characters fully-realized for the first time in a way they never could before, and to see them squandered, tainted, and utterly wasted on an entire generation who doesn’t know any better and probably doesn’t care. In an age in which we’re spoiled on long-form television with high production values and episodic structure, we forget that once upon a time, comic books filled that same purpose. It’s only now, with the relatively recent advances in special effects, that we can suspend disbelief and believe that Superman (Henry Cavill) can fly, or the Flash (Ezra Miller) can speed as quick as lightning, or that Cyborg (Ray Fisher) can convincingly look like a bad cartoon in every scene he’s in no wait a minute no never mind, the special effects and digital compositing in this film are absolute garbage, so forget what I said before. When trying to get your kid on the bus with only five minutes to spare, you don’t dress it, put on its coat, and take it outside, only to then take it back inside to change its outfit because you saw how your neighbor dressed their kid differently. Eventually the bus is going to show up, and you’ll be out of time; and that’s exactly what happened with “Justice League.” It’s a rush job, a two-hour Do-Over, and it shows, in terms of narrative construction, and in terms of its visuals.
“Justice League” is a film that dislikes its characters and attempts to redefine them for no reason whatsoever beyond trying to be both different and the same as Marvel. It’s constantly backtracking on the established continuity of its fledgling universe, rendering its heroes schizophrenic and the mood hovering somewhere between Manic and Depressed. Batman (Ben Affleck) still looks like a beer-bellied gorilla, but he’s now mourning the loss of Superman, despite the fact that when we last saw him, the Dark Knight was obsessed with murdering his frenemy in a variety of ways that can only be accomplished through the practice of throwing and then dragging tires. Meanwhile, the Man of Steel is resurrected from death in an unintentionally hilarious way (he’s dumped out of his coffin and floats on his back in a Kryptonian brine while the other heroes just sort of stand there and look at him). His unmoving corpse is made retroactively exciting and positively charismatic in hindsight once the reanimated version shows up in the third act, fully suited-up and ready to fight, and reintroduced with all the dramatic flair of a four year-old’s dance recital. It doesn’t help matters that, due to aggressive reshoots during which time Cavill was sporting a thick mustache for the latest “Mission: Impossible” film, the “Justice League” animators were forced to actually paint out his facial hair. This Superman has a mouth so utterly weird that it becomes the most interesting part of a film screaming at you to pay attention to it because it’s terrified that you won’t otherwise.
However, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) still sounds like she’s doing a dramatic reading of the menu at Taco Bell, and we’re given frequent shots of her ass, so that much remains consistent, at least. No Uncanny Valleys there – just an opportunity to fetishize and Male Gaze our way across the Uncanny Valley of Trump’s America.
But let’s be fair: the ladies get their own large-breasted, long-haired, human-shaped object, too! Meet Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), a superhero everyone has made fun of for decades. Even the film itself makes a point to laugh at him before we can (“I hear you talk to fish”), without anticipating that the transformation of the character from a WASP-y eugenics template in spandex into Dimebag Darrell is so desperate in its attempts to be EXTREME that the only thing missing is a bottle of Mountain Dew or Jolt Cola. He might roar like James Hetfield, but he’s one hundred percent Nickelback. The fact that he BOO-YAs and YAY-YAHs his way through the interminable runtime makes you wish he’d accidentally cut his own throat with that giant turkey fork he carries around. At least then we’d have a story, because without it, we literally don’t have one. It’s two very long hours of XBOX 360-era cutscenes in which an embarrassing special effect (Ciaran Hinds) is trying to collect magic boxes to do something for some reason. Who knows? Who cares? Someone shut that baby up, because it won’t stop screaming.
And make no mistake, “Justice League” is an ugly, ugly baby indeed. A lot of sperm from a roster of reasonably desirable male candidates has been stirred together to create this misbegotten, genetically stunted infant with a voice like nails on a chalkboard and a face even a mother could be ashamed of. The absolute best thing audiences could possibly do would be to find the nearest Pro Life protestor, grab their sign, and impale them through the heart with it. Sometimes, dead is better. Just ask Superman, whose best scenes feature him as a corpse.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
Rating PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action