“Justice League,” while certainly never approaching the creative nadir that was the DC movie “Suicide Squad,” is really just not a good movie. It’s silly-but-not-in-a-good-way, it’s nonsensical, it’s sort of inexplicably chaotic. “Justice League” is, at the end of the day, simply a movie that’s very hard to understand what its deal is. So, in honor of that creative accomplishment, let’s take a look at its absolutely worst parts.
The Atlantis fight
Let me just say that I have complete faith that James Wan, who is one of the best filmmakers working today, will not have anything in his standalone “Aquaman” movie that looks as terrible as the Atlantis fight in “Justice League.” Whatever Warner Bros. spent on this sequence, it was too much. Woof.
Steppenwolf repeatedly talking to “mother”
“Justice League” does a pretty poor job of explaining Steppenwolf’s powerful artifacts, the Mother Boxes, which fans of the comics know are actually supercomputers with consciousness. It’s even weirder when Steppenwolf occasionally talks out loud to “Mother,” telling her (?) he’ll be feeding her soon and dropping some other weird lines. The movie never explains that the boxes are actually alive and bond with their owners so strongly that they will self-destruct if the person to whom they’re linked are killed. He’s apparently talking to the box(es). Maybe “Justice League” is actually about a guy with a computer pet who’s just trying to be a good friend and get it some snacks.
Fans who know something about Steppenwolf know that he’s actually a lieutenant of Darkseid, a supervillain arch-nemesis of the Justice League who’s bent on conquering the universe. For everyone else, Steppenwolf is a pretty obscure character, so his single off-handed mention of the fact he’s doing evil stuff “for Darkseid” is easy to miss and fairly confusing — particularly if you don’t know who Darkseid is and thought he said “Dark Side.” One assumes “Justice League” was, at one point, setting up for Darkseid’s eventual arrival. The movie as it exists is not, aside from that single line.
Paramount wouldn’t let Henry Cavill shave his “Mission: Impossible 6” mustache during “Justice League” reshoots, so Warner Bros. decided they’d just try to digitally remove it in post-production. And it is absolutely horrifying. It’s worse than CGI Peter Cushing in “Rogue One” — a cartoon-looking mouth on an otherwise human face will always look more upsetting than that entire cartoon-looking face. Our brains just can’t even fathom this thing.
That opening Superman scene
This weird little home video segment of a kid talking to Supes is a double whammy of existential pain. First, you have the whole CGI mouth thing, which is extremely obvious throughout. Then you have Superman refusing to answer the kid’s question about what his favorite thing about living on Earth is. There’s no thematic payoff to the scene later in the movie, and so it plays like the movie is just trying to dunk on itself.
Clark and Lois hanging out in a CGI cornfield
If you’re going to do an extended green screen scene, maybe it’s best not to throw an extremely colorful, eye-catching background behind your characters. Nobody told “Justice League” this, though, and so there’s a touching scene between Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Superman standing in a cornfield in Kansas that is extremely, obviously not real. The culprit is probably that glaring gorgeous sunset that makes the outline of the characters a little too obvious. The emotional reunion of Lois and Clark gets seriously undercut by the fact that nobody can stop thinking about how they’re standing on a soundstage. Throw in Superman’s CGI mouth for good measure and the whole thing turns into a very dry comedy sketch.
Nobody really cared about Superman
“Justice League” makes a big deal about Superman being dead. It’s such a blow to the world that crime and terrorism are on the rise thanks to the simple lack of hope he embodied. So resurrecting Superman mid-movie seems like it ought to be a pretty big deal, especially as it is witnessed by at least a few civilians and results and in a big public fight with at least one somewhat-publicly known hero. But almost no acknowledgment is made of Superman’s return, and while his effect on the world is part of the movie’s setup, it’s not at all part of the rest of the plot. There’s no celebration, no montage of racists not being racist anymore to call back to the opening credits. He’s just back, and the movie itself seems to care about that about as much as those ancient humans cared about the security of their Mother Box. Plus… Clark Kent was dead too. Is Superman just going to skip the alter-ego thing from now on or what?
Using the “we’re gonna do a thing that will bring the bad guy down on us” trope but no one having any clue that they’re doing it
When the Justice League decides to use a Mother Box to resurrect Superman, it seems pretty obvious that doing so will attract the attention of the villain who has spent the whole movie trying to round up all the Mother Boxes. Well, it’s obvious to us, anyway, because we’ve all seen a hundred movies, TV shows and video games with that specific trope — you know, the “OK, so we have to flip this switch in order to do something important but it’s definitely going to attract the bad guys to us and cause a big fight” trope. It’s not so obvious to the characters in the movie, though, because they never mention the possibility that Steppenwolf will show up and seem weirdly surprised when he pops in to steal the box right under everyone’s noses. I guess they forgot to make this scene make sense when they rejiggered the plot during reshoots.
Cyborg is extremely not stealthy
Cyborg (Ray Fisher) wears a hoodie when he goes out, but it does almost nothing to contain the fact that he has extremely obvious glowing lights in his face and chest. He also makes a lot of very ominous whirring sounds just by being alive. So it was pretty tough to buy that he was stealthily spying on Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne to suss out their deal before joining the nascent “Justice League,” as he was only about 25 feet away and making a lot of loud weird robot sounds. At least Diana said she was fully aware of him watching just one scene later. But still, you’d think his computer brain would have been slightly smarter.
Cyborg’s nonsensical origin recap
Introducing Cyborg in a team-up movie was never a great idea, but it takes quite a while for “Justice League” to explain what his deal even is. Injured in an explosion, Vic Stone’s cool superpowers are the result of interference by one of Steppenwolf’s weirdo Mother Boxes. The apparently sentient supercomputer of incredible power actually reshaped state-of-the-art cyborg enhancements his father Silas gave him in order to save his life after an accident. The result is that Cyborg doesn’t even know what his abilities are and, also, that nobody explains who he is or why he’s a spiffy alien robot man until about halfway through the movie. The rest of the time, the audience has to sit there, confused.
Cyborg can’t control his defense system
The good guys resurrect Superman, who immediately gets mad and makes threatening faces and stuff. And in a moment that is completely out of step with the rest of the movie, Cyborg’s cyborg parts start doing their own thing without his input. There had been no hint before then that that could happen, and it doesn’t happen again even though Cyborg doesn’t appear to take any measures to prevent that situation from arising a second time. Nobody even has the, “Yo, man, is this gonna be a problem?” conversation with him.
The ancient people who buried a Mother Box in a 3-foot deep hole next to a river
The first time Steppenwolf tried to take over Earth way back when, he was defeated by an alliance of the Old Gods, the Amazons, the Atlantians and the humans, who took his Mother Boxes entrusted to each of the civilizations to keep them safe. The Atlantians put theirs in the ocean; the Amazonians built a giant stone vault; and the humans dug a 3-foot hole next to a river and tossed their box in it. This is not the best way to hide, like, anything. It’s probably not a coincidence that this Mother Box is the only one that didn’t stay where it was for the next 5,000 years. A dog probably dug it up the next day.
The Russian family the movie keeps cutting to
Superhero movies will often throw a few random civilians in harm’s way in order to show the stakes of the situation. “Justice League” spends several scenes hanging around with a random Russian family who lives unfortunately close to Steppenwolf’s apocalyptic base, hoping to set up a last-second rescue much, much later in the movie. In the meantime, though, this family is stuck in their house hiding from monsters for, like, a week. They never get any characterization or do anything and none of the several scenes about them do anything to push the story forward. This is extremely not how to get the audience to care about regular people in the middle of supervillain danger.
Superman showing up and being easily capable of winning the fight at any moment
The Justice League’s final fight with Steppenwolf doesn’t exactly go poorly but, as we’ve seen demonstrated multiple times in the movie before, he’s seemingly a match for any of the super-strong members of the team, and maybe even for all of them. Enter Superman, who dodges Steppenwolf’s attacks, pummels him about the face, and is generally capable of putting the supervillain down without a lot of help. But that’s not especially dramatic — so Superman bails mid-fight to go save a building full of civilians. Having a guy on the team who can handle basically any problem on his own kind of undercuts the need for a team, and it sure feels like “Justice League” is looking for a way to get Superman out of there as soon as he shows up. Poor planning for your climax, that.
Diana doing The Flash thing and then forgetting she can do that for the rest of the movie
Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) introductory scene in “Justice League” is actually pretty cool. A terrorist group takes over a bank intent on exploding a bomb that will wipe out several city blocks, apparently because they think that will help push society back to the Dark Ages, which is a good thing for some reason. Whatever — Diana beating people up is what matters, and that goes pretty well. Until, that is, terrorist leader Roose Bolton levels a machine gun on the hostages. Rather than take him out, Wonder Woman moves super-fast to block all of the dozens of bullets he fires with her gauntlet (and casually move one guy out of the way). We know Wonder Woman is extremely super, but apparently racing bullets is now in her repertoire. Kind of makes The Flash (Ezra Miller) obsolete. Then again, she doesn’t use this ability for the rest of the film, even when it would have been super useful in the various fights with Steppenwolf.
What does that smell like? Fear
While it was a little frustrating that Superman could have obviously ended the battle with Steppenwolf whenever he felt like, it was just plain goofy what finally brought him down in the end. An earlier, easily missed line in “Justice League” pointed out that his henchmen, parademons, feed on or otherwise are attracted to fear. So when Superman et al. started really giving it to Steppenwolf in a way that suggested he might not win, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) took a second to point out that he was afraid. The exchange itself was weird — Aquaman asking, “What does that smell like?” and Batman responding, “Fear” — but then Steppenwolf was overwhelmed as his own troopers suddenly decided to turn on him. This was a guy that was batting away Amazons like they were actually insects earlier in the movie, mind, so his ultimate defeat at the hands of his own not-especially smart bugmen felt pretty forced. LOL.