The long-awaited centerpiece installment of Warner Bros. DC universe, "Justice League," lands in theaters this week, and already the critics are attacking it with a fire and fury that should have lovers of the franchise in fits.
Taken as a whole, the reviews paint the picture of a film that is genuinely better than its narrative predecessor, "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" in style, dialogue and general heroic bonhomie. It's not the funerary slog through brutal mischaracterizations of familiar icons that film was and sets up the DC shared universe for better things to come, they suggest. But, by and large, none of them implies that "Justice League" is something you should spend $15 and up to see on the big screen.
The tortured production is on track for a strong box-office opening according to most experts. But this ongoing critical scalding does not bode well for the long-term financial prospects of Warner Bros.'s latest installment in a series that, out of five movies, can only boast one unequivocal success (this year's "Wonder Woman"). Hopefully for the studio, the fact that Rotten Tomatoes held back its rating after suffering years of attacks by conspiracy minded fanboys will help in this weekend's grosses.
But strong initial returns or no, problems of tone, script and purpose seem seem present again in the franchise according to first reports. This comes after the studio made the conscious decision to turn away from helmer Zack Snyder's grimdark Randian take on the classic heroes for the light touch of directorial replacement Joss Whedon ("The Avengers"). Maybe they should just let "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins take over the whole damn mess at this point.
Anyways, like it or not, here the highlights (uh, lowlights?) from the first round of "Justice League" reviews.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
The movie jerks around haltingly, shuffling through visual motifs and grating, unexciting set pieces at alarming speed, with no rhythm or build. It’s like having a little kid stutteringly recap a movie for you (“And then this happened and then this happened, oh wait, but also this happened”) instead of watching an actual movie. It’s rather staggering, how pretty much nothing in the film works, not the semi-reliable old stuff, and certainly not all the new junk they’ve crammed in. Justice League sweatily wants to be both an epic and a romp, but hasn’t the patience to truly be either. It’s rote and perfunctory and bland, as if burped out by some tired algorithm. How could this be the movie that got made in the end, after all that lead-up?
Owen Gleiberman, Variety
Every moment feels like it’s been test-driven for our pleasure. As a piece of product, “Justice League” is “superior” to “Batman v Superman,” but it’s also about as close to generic as a sharp-witted high-octane comic-book movie can get. There’s hardly a trope in it you haven’t seen before.
Jason Guerrasio, Business Insider
“Justice League” is arguably [Zack] Snyder’s most infuriating work yet. A movie that has been decades in the making, we finally have some of the most iconic comic book heroes from DC united in one blockbuster — Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). I’m no superfan, but I would think we would witness these titans coming together to kick major butt. Well, we really only get around 20-25 minutes of that. Tops.
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly
It’s obvious to anyone watching Justice League next to the other DC films that the studio brass handed down a mandate to lighten the mood and make things funnier and more Marvel-y. And, to an extent, Justice League accomplishes that. But it also feels like so much attention was paid to the smaller, fizzier character moments that the bigger picture of the film’s overarching plot was a second or third priority. Some day, hopefully soon, DC will get the recipe right again and duplicate Wonder Woman’s storytelling magic. But today isn’t that day, and Justice League unfortunately isn’t that film.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
The increasingly turgid tales of Batman and Superman — joined, unfortunately for her, by Wonder Woman — trudge along to ever-diminishing returns in Justice League. Garishly unattractive to look at and lacking the spirit that made Wonder Woman, which came out five months ago, the most engaging of Warner Bros.’ DC Comics-derived extravaganzas to date, this hodgepodge throws a bunch of superheroes into a mix that neither congeals nor particularly makes you want to see more of them in future. Plainly put, it’s simply not fun.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
There is something ponderous and cumbersome about Justice League; the great revelation is very laborious and solemn and the tiresome post-credits sting is a microcosm of the film’s disappointment. Some rough justice is needed with the casting of this franchise.
Germain Lussier, io9
Many of the effects in Justice League aren’t just bad, they’re very bad. It’s very obvious which scenes with Superman were reshot, because Cavill’s digital mustache removal isn’t always seamless. Some shots with Cyborg look like he exists on multiple plains of existence.
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
The scenes of the League members together, bickering and bonding, spike the film with humor and genuine feeling, creating a rooting interest in the audience. Without it, the film would crumble. Let's face it, Steppenwolf is a CGI yawn, the action sequences are often a digital blur, the soundtrack defaults to loud whenever inspiration wanes and keeping it light becomes the first step to staying superficial. Justice League is a decent crowdpleaser, preferable in every way to the candy-assed cynicism of Suicide Squad. But sometimes shadows need to fall to show us what to be scared of. In the end, this all-star team-up is too afraid of the dark to work its way into our dreams.
Manhola Dargis, The New York Times
“Justice League,” the newest DC Comics superhero jam directed by Zack Snyder, is looser, goosier and certainly more watchable than the last one. The bar could scarcely have been lower given that the previous movie, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” was such an interminable slog. The superhero and villain dynamic is much the same (slayers going to slay, etc.), but there are a few fresh faces now and Wonder Woman has more to do than play backup. The story is a confusion of noise, visual clutter and murderous digital gnats, but every so often a glimmer of life flickers through.