For a second, the Flash seems human. Then the tension fizzles and we’re back in toyland.
Flash sees the villain – a giant who swings a flaming ax, surrounded by winged demon henchmen – and gets scared. He pulls Batman aside to confess he’s never “done battle” before. Batman, leader of the Justice League, dispenses sage advice: “Save one.” Save one hostage. “Bird by bird,” as Anne Lamott says. And so the Flash saves one. Then another. Tuns out, it’s easy. Too fucking easy. After facing real fear, there’s nothing to it. He cracks jokes.
No good movie can be this tension-free. The characters are never in danger. Nothing has gravity.
I read that the actor (Ciarán Hinds) who plays Steppenwolf, the giant supervillian, never met his costars; his entire performance was motion-captured and digitized. You feel the disconnect. It doesn’t help that Steppenwolf looks intentionally generic; his whole body has a crinkled-aluminum-foil motif best described thusly: boring. Hinds’s face is buried behind a rendering who looks like no one.
Tragedy struck director Zack Snyder halfway through filming (his daughter committed suicide), and the movie was taken over by Joss Whedon. Neither director’s gifts shine through. Snyder proved himself master of Superman action with Man of Steel (a movie I love and hate simultaneously). In Man of Steel, when Superman fights other Kryptonians (in Smallville first, then above Metropolis’s skyscrapers), they move so fast they practically teleport, and their punches land like meteors.
Whedon’s talent for dialogue cultivated genuine superhero chemistry in the first Avengers movie and over a brilliant run of genre TV shows and X-Men comics. He should be ideal here, but the mix is bad. Snyder’s fast, heavy action and Whedon’s writing are diluted. Justice League is like a decent first draft.
They forgot to add tension. We know the superheroes will win; they always do. Pressure is making the fight compelling despite its preordained outcome, and Justice League whiffs. As Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and their superhero friends fight to prevent magic boxes from destroying the world, it feels as fake as watching someone else play with action figures.