These are old school Mego-brand toys that pre-date “action figures” by quite a few years. Young boys couldn’t hide behind euphemisms to pretend they weren’t playing with dolls. I had all of these, as well as a few more. I played with them until their costumes were frayed and various body parts were lost in action.
I wasn’t alone. Thousands, if not millions, of kids have spent countless hours with various plastic-and-felt versions of these characters, and they’ve made up countless stories about them that have never appeared in any medium. And you know what? Just about every story those kids made up would have been better than what was on the screen in the latest “Justice League” movie.
Honestly, how dense do you have to be to screw this one up?
Yes, it could have been worse. (And, yes, “Batman vs. Superman” actually was.) “Justice League” was watchable; it was mildly diverting, and, at just under two hours, it was short enough that you didn’t have enough time to truly hate it. But seldom has so much effort and talent been wasted on such a paltry and generic product.
“Generic” is probably the best term to describe this film. There have been so many iterations of each of these characters, and this movie just cobbled together the greatest hits from each of them. As I listened to Danny Elfman reprise his Batman theme from the far-superior 1989 movie, I found it depressing to hear it used in the service of a Batman with no sharp edges, unlike the menacing Keaton/Burton Dark Knight it originally accompanied.
There were even a few notes of the John Williams Superman theme played during the segment where Superman comes back to life for some reason and then starts arbitrarily beating up the other heroes to kill time. And all it did was remind me that Christopher Reeve played an iconic character, while Henry Cavill is just caretaking the brand. It also made me wonder whatever happened to Hans Zimmer’s “Man of Steel” theme, which was really quite good – probably too good for a franchise that plods on joylessly into complete irrelevance.
Which brings us to the whole Snyder/Whedon disparity, given that Joss Whedon had to finish the film after Zack Snyder had to tend to his family. This probably made the film more pleasant, as Snyder’s preceding DC movies were unrelentingly grim. But what it also did was abandon any sense of continuity in this cinematic universe.
Remember Flash’s inexplicable appearance in Batman v. Superman, when he travels back in time to tell Batfleck that “Lois Lane is the key?” I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, but it was so strange and out of place that you would assume it was a setup for something significant down the road. And, sure enough, Lois was the key to calming Superman down after an unmotivated tantrum, although the Flash didn’t travel back in time to tell anyone that. It was just a thing that happened.
At least the Flash looked like he might have been able to do something interesting, although he never did. Cyborg was a nonentity; Aquaman was Poochie. (He’s edgy, he’s in your face. You’ve heard the expression, “let’s get busy?” Well, this is an Aquaman who gets “biz-zay!” Consistently and thoroughly.) People are saying nice things about Wonder Woman in this, but I think most of that is leftover good will from her far-superior solo film. Gal Gadot is always a welcome presence, but the material doesn’t give her any opportunities to shine.
Rumor is that Ben Affleck wants out, and it shows. He shlumps through the picture like a guy who is dreading having to do the dishes and walk the dog when he gets home.
And don’t get me started on the villain. Because, really, this film didn’t have a villain.
Steppenwolf, the ostensible antagonist of this piece, is never actually in it. Yes, there’s a poor CGI rendition of some horned dude that looks like he was pasted into the frame from a 2002 video game, but his complete lack of physical presence makes him about as threatening as an Internet pop-up ad. You don’t buy that any of the flesh-and-blood actors are in the same room with him, because he’s not an actual thing, so never for a moment does he offer any peril to the proceedings. A fat guy in a Godzilla suit would have been more menacing.
This is now 15 years since Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis proved you can create a computer-generated character that can be taken seriously. Yet Steppenwolf wasn’t even as convincing as the LOTR cave troll. How did this happen?
It doesn’t help, either, that Steppenwolf’s objective is as much of a cipher as his physicality is. What is it he wants, exactly? Apparently, he’s been waiting thousands of years to get three boxes in order to turn Earth into a post-Burning Man Nevada. Why? Because, well, evil and stuff. Also he’s afraid that the Xbox he lives in might come unplugged.
Did you watch Amy Adams, a genuinely talented and charismatic actress, show up and just, you know, cry a lot? Or JK Simmons, one of the best working character actors in film, play Commissioner Gordon and do… absolutely nothing of interest? Or Willem Dafoe. a genuinely powerful and frightening screen presence, as some sort of Atlantean guy? (Oh, that’s right, his scene was cut. Never mind.)
So much talent; so much waste. And it’s going to lose a crapload of money.
So here’s an idea, DC. Go buy a bunch of old-school Mego dolls; give them to a room full of seven-year-olds, and film what they do for two hours. That’ll only cost you a few hundred bucks, and I guarantee that what those kids come up with will be more fun to watch than “Justice League” was.