Forget Steppenwolf; the greatest threat to Warner Bros’ Justice League might end up being movie critics. With the first team-up of DC’s self-proclaimed World’s Greatest Superheroes just days away from release, the reviews are in, and to say they’re mixed would be an understatement.
Certainly The Hollywood Reporter‘s own Todd McCarthy was not a fan, writing that “the virtually humor-free script by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon (who was brought on to complete directing duties after Zack Snyder had to leave for family reasons) less resembles deft narrative scene-setting than it does the work of a bored casino dealer rotely distributing cards around a table.” The movie, he complains, is so un-involving that “you get the feeling it was a chore to make, so it’s a chore to sit through, too.”
Similarly, Richard Lawson from Vanity Fair notes, “If this was the best DC could do in synthesizing all their lead characters together into one ensemble spectacular, after a half-decade of planning, that’s pretty damning. Justice League is such a misguided mess — often feeling entirely unguided — that you want to intervene, softly saying, ‘Stop, stop, you don’t have to do this, stop.'” He continues, “There is no real vision; no idea what the tone of these movies should be; no compelling or even coherent narrative through-line; no feel, or regard, for characterization. I know there’s another comic-book company doing this across town, and it seems to be working out well for them, but if you have no clear sense of how to build one of these franchises in a functional, let alone interesting, way, maybe stop until you do!”
Others are just as unforgiving — in a beautifully purple sentence, The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw bemoans, “there is something ponderous and cumbersome about Justice League; the great revelation is very laborious and solemn and the tiresome post-credits sting is a microcosm of the film’s disappointment” — while The Independent‘s Geoffrey Macnab calls the movie “surely the most infantile of recent superhero yarns — a film that squanders the talents of an impressive ensemble cast and eschews any meaningful characterisation in favour of ever more overblown special effects,” but not everyone found the feature to be a complete disappointment.
For Julia Alexander of Polygon, the movie is “almost salvageable” — with an emphasis on the “almost.” “There are good, cute and funny moments that the editing team should be applauded for, but there aren’t enough to distract from the beautiful, chaotic mess that Justice League ends up being,” she argues. “It’s difficult to try and explain whether Justice League fails or succeeds as a movie because the film feels like it’s still trying to figure out what it wants to be.”
That’s something that Consequence of Sound‘s Allison Shoemaker also picked up on. “Justice League feels very much like a film that first had one director’s hands on it, and then another’s,” she wrote. “That’s a good and a bad thing. It’s perhaps best described as a Snyder Instagram post with a heavy Whedon filter applied over the top. If Justice League is a photo of your brunch, then it looks, sounds, and feels better than it actually is, because someone tweaked the hell out of it. It’s not as satisfying as it promises to be, but it’s still a passable breakfast.”
In a review from New York Times that displays its feelings in the headline — “Justice League, Better Than the Last One” — critic Manohla Dargis writes that “the new movie shows a series that’s still finding its footing as well as characters who, though perhaps not yet as ostensibly multidimensional as Marvel’s, may be more enduring (and golden). It has justice, and it has banter. And while it could have used more hanging out, more breeziness, it is a start.”
Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers agrees with that point about more hanging out. “The scenes of the League members together, bickering and bonding, spike the film with humor and genuine feeling, creating a rooting interest in the audience,” he writes. “Without it, the film would crumble. Let’s face it, Steppenwolf is a CGI yawn, the action sequences are often a digital blur, the soundtrack defaults to loud whenever inspiration wanes and keeping it light becomes the first step to staying superficial.”
Responses got more positive as reviewers got nerdier, it seemed. Forbes‘ Scott Mendelson compared the movie favorably to a film only a true comic book fan could love. “Warts and all, it is unquestionably an enjoyable romp,” he wrote. “Like Batman Forever back in the summer of 1995, Justice League is Warner Bros.’ attempt to retrofit their significant superhero property into a lighter, campier and more kid-friendly package. It is more artistically successful as a soft reboot than a stand-alone movie.”
At io9, Germain Lussier was won over by what Justice League teased down the road. “Even when the film around them is sloppy or ineffective, the characters are likable — charming, even. That’s not something that can be said for many superhero movies,” he shared. “So despite the fact that there are only some parts of Justice League that truly work, the whole film is a bundle of potential. It creates genuine interest and excitement for a Cyborg movie, an Aquaman movie, and a Flash movie. This film does a lot of heavy lifting, which at times hurts it immensely. But as a result a foundation has been set. We know who these characters are, what they can do, and we actually like them.”
Black Girl Nerds founder Jamie Broadnax was more blunt in her take. “I had low expectations for this movie and was pleasantly surprised,” she wrote. “Justice League delivers on its action, special effects, performance, and story. It’s a pleasant surprise to see a film with both Batman and Superman that isn’t abominable, horrendous and dreadful.”
Far more enthusiastic was ComicBook.com‘s Brandon Davis, who proclaimed that Justice League “is the real deal. It’s an epic ensemble of super heroes. It’s the most fun you’ll have with Batman and his super friends, until their next adventure together, and marks the beginning of a brand new era of super heroes on the DC side of the spectrum.” That’s a veritable rave, especially considering everyone else’s feelings on the subject.
Perhaps The Atlantic‘s David Sims sums it up best, when he writes, “Justice League feels like a pilot episode — it’s half-formed, overstuffed, and narratively a chore — but at least its gotten all those annoying introductions out of the way. And it only took five movies to get there.”