Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon’s script is most egregious in the first act. The film lurches from scene to scene with practically no connective tissue between them. Awkward exposition plagues many scenes, particular those involving Amazonians or Atlanteans. A steady stream of genuinely funny quips and banter just barely keeps the first forty minutes from being painful to watch. Thankfully, once the plot setup is finished and the disparate narratives connect, the quality of the writing improves. However, lackluster resolutions to character arcs and clumsy franchise planning continue to disrupt the movie.
The rote story at least introduces the movie’s best quality: the members of the Justice League. DC finally seems to have realized that their heroes shouldn’t be dour assholes. Charming character interactions, both funny and heartfelt, make for the most effective scenes in the film. Notably, an observation Batman makes about Superman’s humanity provides a more compelling examination of the two characters than the entirety of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) endear themselves immediately, while Gal Gadot is once again effortlessly charming as Wonder Woman. Even Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman manage to display a modicum of warmth and humor. The Flash’s neuroticism and inexperience and Aquaman’s gruff machismo contrast perfectly with the unflappable Wonder Woman and world-weary cynic Batman. The supporting cast of Amy Adams, JK Simmons, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen and Diane Lane fare more poorly, though through no fault of their own. They each appear for couple of scenes and deliver some plot-relevant information before being shuffled off.
Justice League manages to stumble in areas where director Zack Snyder’s films generally excel, with a surprisingly bland visual style. A surprisingly large portion of the movie takes place in dull, cramped building interiors or in front of green screens. Noticeably poor CGI rears its head as well. The not-quite-right upper lip resulting from the digital removal of Henry Cavill’s mustache is particularly distracting. Even when the movie does break out the spectacle, the striking imagery of Snyder’s previous work is nowhere to be found. Diminished too, are his trademark visceral, epic action sequences. Arbitrarily placed slow motion and indifferent cinematography hamper enjoyment of the fight choreography. Danny Elfman’s score is similarly lackluster, and the music is largely forgettable. The only memorable moments are taken directly from Elfman’s prior work on Batman Returns and Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel soundtrack.
Justice League effectively addresses many of the shortcomings of the DCEU, but fails in so many other areas, even franchise strengths. They’ve finally got the characters right, but creating an engaging narrative remains elusive. Hopefully there will eventually be a movie worthy of the Justice League’s superheroes, but this isn’t it.