Justice League Demoted to Cinematic B League

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By Allen Callaci

2017 set a benchmark for superhero films. Fans of the genre beheld the Clint Eastwood-esque Logan, a beat-perfect comedic team-up between Thor and the Hulk called Thor: Ragnarok, and Homecoming, a Spider-Man movie wherein Peter Parker finally acts, behaves and resembles a flesh-and-blood teenager.

This list does include the best superhero film of the year, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, a pop-culture landmark attuned to an era in which issues of gender and female empowerment stormed the barricades and reached the political forefront. Even lesser cinematic comic book efforts like the mildly disappointing Guardians of the Galaxy 2 managed to entertain and perform well at the box office thanks to the combined power of the irascible Kurt Russell, the irresistible baby Groot and a wham-bam-shang-a-lang of a soundtrack. The year-long winning streak got snapped with the same force that Bane used to break Batman’s back in 2012’s Dark Knight Rises with the release of Justice League.

While more watchable than 2016’s Batman v Superman, a joyless and dreadful piece of sludge that seemed like drinking a shot of lukewarm expired milk or chewing on a dozen sheets of tinfoil, Justice League gives us Ezra Miller’s deft comic touch as the Flash and Gal Gadot’s iconic take on Wonder Woman. In the end Justice League’s blatantly formulaic plot comes across as untouched by human hands, as icy and barren as the surface of Pluto.

The best—and maybe only—way to review Justice League is in the style of Mad Magazine, another beloved Warner Brothers-owned property. Please use your imagination to update the title of this review to read:

You know you’re watching a cold, soulless, cliché-filled, superhero blockbuster “lovingly crafted” by a roomful of overconfident marketers and risk-averse studio executives when . . .

One more skeletal, demonic creature with a CGI-created army of minions and a voice reminiscent of Cookie Monster looks to take over the universe. “Me want to destroy Justice League, rule universe and cookieeee!!!” After waiting a decade for the cinematic debut of the Justice League, who stands against them? Darkseid? Solomon Grundy? Gorilla Grodd?  No, they face off against Steppenwolf, a villain who instead of striking fear in the heart conjures up images of a dog-eared Herman Hesse paperback and the late 60’s hard rock band that gave us “Born to Be Wild.”

The film would be 30 minutes shorter if all the extended fight scenes did not appear in super-slow motion. Remember that old Bugs Bunny cartoon where a mad scientist is chasing Bugs and a bottle of ether gets broken and Bugs and the scientist start speaking and moving in extreme slow motion (…come…back…here…you…rabbit…)? Now, imagine that scene dragging on for upwards of 15 minutes with a gaggle of superheroes and a poorly realized CGI villain and you’ve got yourself the big climactic battle scene in JL (. . . come . . . back . . .here . . . you . . . Kryptonian . . .)

Justice League contains so many nods to the Marvel cinematic universe (the quips, multiple references to a larger, extended universe and post-credits scenes) that it plays as if produced by a team who stole their opponents’ playbook.

JL does not stray a single beat from the tried, true—and tired—Pokemon “Gotta Catch ‘em all” plot path in which our heroes try to prevent the villain from collecting the three mother boxes. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  You can hum it in your sleep: Nine golden rings, six infinity stones, three mother boxes and a partridge in a pear tree.

One enters Justice League with an empty stomach and the expectation of a three-course meal and leaves the theater looking for a drive-thru after eating a few hors d’oeuvres. Expect to need something to tide you over until the next superhero movie, Black Panther, opens in February.