Would you enjoy a chocolate chip cookie … if I told you there were cockroaches baked into it?
Whoa! The look on your face says it all. Let me see if I can talk you into taking a bite anyway.
“There are some delicious chocolate chips in there!” I could say, which would be … a true statement indeed. (Hmmm. You’re still looking a little green.)
“Cockroaches are harmless protein,” is another perfectly valid argument I could make. “They certainly aren’t going to hurt you!” (Ummm, OK, now you’re making gag-reflex noises.)
Let’s try this:
“Listen, chocolate chip cookies are your favorite, you’re not going to let some unpleasant crunchy dead insect parts here and there ruin this, are you?”
Who wants a chockroach chip cookie?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is essentially what Warner Bros., DC Comics and Zack Snyder (via Joss Whedon) are asking you to ingest with Justice League – a very big, soft, fresh-out-of-the-oven supercookie with hunks of gooey chocolate chips and also bits of dead cockroaches.
If a dog ate a box of neon crayons and puked on a casino hotel hallway carpet, you’d have the color palette
“But you can just eat around the yucky parts!” seems to be the sentiment of those who’ve sampled it already. And honestly, if you could do that without getting totally grossed out, here’s what you may enjoy from the experience:
Superman, the character, has been somewhat course-corrected since Batman v Superman and Man of Steel. He’s hopeful again, mostly upbeat, and that’s good. The Flash, as played by a wide-eyed Ezra Miller, is kind of funny and charming! Danny Elfman’s score has some great musical Easter eggs that I won’t spoil here – if you go, be sure to listen for them.
And I can confirm that Wonder Woman is indeed in the movie. She doesn’t get a whole lot to do besides fight and roll her eyes at the dumb boys – “children” is the word she uses to describe them, cue mild laughter – but hey, at least she showed up.
And truly, the “team dynamic” part of Justice League – the very thing Joss Whedon was hired to come in and punch up when Zack Snyder was pointed toward the exits – arrives in OK shape. They got the one fundamental part right.
Let’s call the “league” feeling of Justice League the actual dough of this cockroach cookie.
Now. About those cockroaches.
The very first thing you see is the RatPac-Dune logo
Ugh. What a way to start. Someone booed the title card at Monday night’s premiere in Hollywood while everyone else sat in awkward silence. Most of the ticket-buying public probably won’t even realize that this is the financing company owned by Brett Ratner, the disgraced director/producer who’s been kicked off the Warners lot for alleged sexual assault and helped pay for this mess. For those who do, it’s a bummer right out of the box.
Henry Cavill’s invisible mustache is a total disaster
From the very first frames of this film, it’s a problem. Who knew that a little bit of facial hair (which the actor refused to shave for Whedon’s copious reshoots) could present such a challenge for digital makeup artists who are used to removing all manner of flaws, including double-chins and terrible hangovers, from movie stars? Superman winds up looking like a CGI character from The Polar Express, in scene after scene, and it’s terribly distracting. It’s unconscionable that any studio executive would look at Cavill’s creepy wax-figure appearance in 2/3 of his scenes and go “You know what? That’s good enough for the biggest character in our top franchise. Print it.” Shame on them.
The villain is utterly throwaway, yet again
Big, loud, dumb and ugly – that’s “Steppenwolf,” the mythical demon creature that’s uniting the League. He’s a disgrace. He’s boring and he looks ridiculous, like one of the weightless horned wights from a fantasy video game. The monsters of Warcraft looked more tactile. His mouth moves like a rubber band in a wind tunnel. His backstory is something something wants to destroy the world something something. At least it’s Diana Prince telling that story, which gives us a moment back on Themyscira. (Remember, Wonder Woman is in this!)
It’s U-G-L-Y, and it ain’t got no alibi
Offensive to the eyes, even. If a dog ate a box of neon crayons and puked it on the carpet of a casino hotel hallway, you’d have the color palette of Justice League. The third act battle especially; its thudding and untrackable nonsense is a cinematic headache. Even Batman’s vehicles are too big and clumsy and brutalistic and ugly.
The creepy resurrection of Superman
Oops was that a spoiler? Here’s what I can tell you: Superman’s comeback is not pleasant, or surprising, or particularly well-done. It’s actually really gross and macabre, and will have you thinking more about Daniel Radcliffe’s role as a corpse in Swiss Army Man than you’ve ever cared to. You can almost smell the sepulchral stench while this all goes down. It’s not uplifting, it’s disgusting and unnatural, and the self-aware jokes about it don’t land. Yuck.
Oh! And then another ‘Martha’-type moment!
Superman isn’t too happy with Batman – he’s forgotten about the Martha connection, apparently – but then something even flimsier brings him to heel. It’s ridiculous.
Aquaman doesn’t actually swim?
He just kind of … shoots through the water. No waggle, no kicking, just some invisible supernatural forward propulsion with cavitation bubbles trailing behind. That’s a minor quibble, really – the real crime is that he has no character development whatsoever. Bruce Wayne finds him and he’s like, uh, no thanks bat-bro, don’t want to be in your club. Then he has an indecipherable underwater conversation with Amber Heard that changes his mind. Then he fights with a pitchfork. That’s it. He’s ridiculous.
Cyborg is barely a character
He’s the team’s straight man, he’s kind of the DCEU’s visual answer to Iron Man, he’s even a bit of this movie’s MacGuffin – but he’s not character. Not even close. What a waste.
The flying insect army we’ve seen before
These alien vampire insects’ sole purpose is to give the League something to repeatedly kill, just like the invading fodder (aliens, mutant blobs, Ultron clones, whatever) in all the other superhero team-ups. BOOOOOOO-RING.
The Big Thing in the Sky we’ve seen before
You know, the swirling, growing, thundering cloud of glop that’s going to destroy the world? The one from Man of Steel and Suicide Squad and The Avengers and Ghostbusters 2016 and 4,000 other movies? It’s here, too. So menacing! So … nope, not menacing. Dumb, loud, and played out.
The Fantastic Four hero shot we’ve seen before
Ah yes, that moment when our heroes stand five abreast, perfectly spaced, looking out over some great expanse, the camera slowly pulling back. At least they didn’t decide then and there what to call themselves.
The grinding gears of tone
Which is to say, all of it – the big, overarching problem. Zack Snyder started Justice League, really, way back with Man of Steel and through to Batman v Superman. Those movies weren’t for everyone, but they were at least going for something, cohering in singular dourness, over-complexity, idiosyncrasies and stylish action. Mix that with Whedon’s fizzy, upbeat, quippy collection of “moments” and ensemble balancing-acts and you’ve got a combination along the lines of toothpaste and orange juice.
“But it’s … fun! There are some great moments!” you may have read from the apology press, the increasingly identifiable group of chronically agreeable movie writers who’ve been carefully groomed by studios to say only nice things – or nothing at all – to keep the invites rolling in for early screenings, paid junket trips and red-carpet premiere parties.
And of course they’re enjoying some big, melty chocolate bits in this giant supercookie. But look carefully at their uneasy faces as they chew and swallow.
Or just listen for the faint crunching sounds.