Justice League (12A)
Running time 2hr
A SPECTRE haunts the DC Cinematic Universe. It is the spectre of Ben Affleck’s Batman, a stiff, croaky-voiced dork that distracts from all the ostensibly ‘serious’ drama going on around him, a pound-shop mock-up that shall live eternally in the shadow of Christian Bale’s legendary iteration of the character.
It may well be mistaken to call Affleck’s portrait an ‘unconvincing’ act, Justice League being a film about intergalactic villainy and spandex-clad champions, but his contribution constitutes the single most problematic component of this project to date – we need not even mention the abortive Batman v Superman screen effort.
So, let’s just get this out the way: I struggle to see even the most undemanding audience being anything but chronically underwhelmed by him, at the very least.
At this stage, it would appear DC themselves have accepted they’ll never put together a franchise with the punch, zest and consistency of quality that we’ve come to expect of Marvel Studios, even if they can make a killing at the box office; having got that monkey off their shoulders, their recent flicks have shown a small, if marked, improvement in quality.
Indeed, on paper, Justice League makes for a staggeringly ambitious sell, quite a bit more grandiose in its billing than anything DC’s competitor has attempted of late – rather than stringing them out over multiple instalments, the creators have here condensed no less than THREE original stories into a single movie, a proposition that was either going to triumph or, like Superman (sorry, I couldn’t help it), burn out spectacularly.
Regrettably, it errs, for the most part, on the side of latter.
For a little while, it looks as if the becoming of Flash (Ezra Miller) might well salvage this franchise; just as Gal Gadot’s Wonderwoman prospered for her heartfelt vulnerability, Miller gives his all in a deliciously ironic take on this lesser-known DC stalwart, a post-adolescent quipster who, despite his command of time itself, is utterly out of his depth in this fast, savage, alienated world – in one sense, the condition of the 2010s Nu-Man barmily personified.
This critic now finds himself tantalised by What Might Have Been – the character may well have soared in an adults-only action-comedy of his own à la Deadpool.
But Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa)? Hmph. You must give it to Momoa for trying to reinvent Aquaman as a contender, a trident-wielding, hard-drinking, Thor-esque geezer, divorced of his reputation as a laughing stock, the black sheep of the DC world (frankly, integrating him into the Cinematic Universe was a big risk in the first place).
But the silliness of the character is insurmountable, and he’s about as out of place here as Batman.
As for Cyborg, he’s just boring. Fisher’s clearly trying, but he basically gets the roughest deal out of a screenplay that’s doing little much for anyone on-screen.
Of course, it doesn’t help that Cyborg will be unfamiliar to all but those who can remember the Teen Titans cartoon of the Noughties – we can’t root for him in the same way we can the more established heroes (Aquaman, as aforementioned, is famous for all the wrong reasons).
We shan’t even bother with plot details, suffice to say that it’s about as big, silly and convoluted as we’ve come to expect of this genre.
But DC just can’t deliver the charm and real thrills that would set their movies apart from the herd, and Justice League does little more than belatedly confirm this.
Really, Affleck’s not the only thing letting it down.