Films based on DC Comics have tended to be meaner, more violent, and more downbeat than their Marvel equivalents. This is, perhaps, because of the popularity of urban vigilante Batman, brought to the screen in Tim Burton's grotesque, nightmarish films, and then Christopher Nolan's brutal crime sagas.
Justice League, the new DC film directed by Zack Snyder, begins in this vein, opening with a wonderfully noirish sequence set in Gotham city's neon-lit, rain-soaked streets, in which Batman (Ben Affleck) fights a hellish demon.
Unfortunately, the tone of Justice League rapidly changes as it leaves Gotham after the first10 minutes or so. This represents perhaps the biggest problem with the film as a whole - it lacks coherency across several key levels, including narrative, performances, tone and style.
Fans of the recent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) may disagree, but Justice League suffers, first and foremost, from the perennial problem of such "cinematic universe" fare: it relies too heavily on material from earlier films.
The story goes something like this. An apocalypse-loving villain, known as Steppenwolf is resurrected and begins to wreak havoc on the world. Along with his legion of nightmare creatures - winged, demonic things that live off fear - he is looking to find and reunite three magical boxes, known, for some reason, as "mother boxes". When brought together, this will lead to an apocalyptic event known, for some reason, as the Unity. He will then take his place "among the new gods", as he informs the viewer on finding the second box.
Batman, meanwhile, believing that "enemies are coming," assembles a team of superheroes to fight Steppenwolf. He summons Wonder Woman (Gal Godot), and together they convince Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to join them on their mission. When they discover that they are not strong enough to defeat Steppenwolf, they magically resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill).
Justice League is clearly set in a world reflecting current trends, and Snyder et al. consciously embed the film in this post-9/11, post-global warming, post-Brexit, and post-Trump context. The opening credit sequence - the best in the film - features Norwegian pop singer Sigrid's rendition of Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows behind a slow motion montage of various contemporary atrocities: a white supremacist terrorises a Muslim grocer, a homeless man sits on a rain-soaked urban street with a sign reading "I tried."
The narrative framework - the assembly of a team to take down a baddie, The Dirty Dozen superhero style - could have been the basis of a razor-sharp, effectively self-contained film.
As it is, Justice League is very uncomfortably paced; after a fine "recruitment" section, the film becomes lumped down in an uncomfortable blend of scenes full of superhero-film speeches about responsibility, justice, etc. interspersed with genuinely unimaginative action sequences, which rely far too heavily on CGI. For a director as visually inventive as Snyder, these are remarkably tedious.
Affleck, reprising his role as the caped crusader from Batman v Superman, is uninspiring. Fine at playing dramatically realistic roles, his Bruce Wayne seems tired and wooden.
Ezra Miller, as The Flash, likewise seems out of his depth, his performance silly and one-dimensional. Ray Fisher as Cyborg is forgettable. Really, only Gal Godot as Wonder Woman and Jason Mamoa as Aquaman are the only two lead actors with any charisma.
Justice League is disappointing. It's loud and colourful, that's about it.
- The Conversation