After the success of Wonder Woman earlier this year, there were whispers of the DC Extended Universe finally getting its act together. After all the major characters assemble in this hodgepodge of a film, there is one burning question at the end of it all; how can a $300m film look so cheap?
This sense of incompleteness can be traced to a hectic production schedule; after director Zack Snyder stepped aside due to personal issues, Joss Whedon, once the golden boy of DC’s rivals Marvel, came in to help with rewrites and reshoots. In what was originally a near three-hour film, 50 minutes has been shaved off, or, in all likelihood, been hacked at, resulting in a mess of a film that, rarely for DC, isn’t boring.
The action picks up a few months after Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death – banners and placards commemorating the hero dominate cityscapes around the world, with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) in particular feeling guilty about his involvement in the events. After Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) and Aquaman’s (Jason Momoa) respective civilisations are threatened by Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), Batman rounds up a gang of superpowered individuals to thwart the villain in his plan to conquer Earth.
Whilst the story is hardly imaginative – the three cubic tools used by Steppenwolf are eerily reminiscent of the Helix from the Marvel Universe – the incohesive narrative and incompetent storytelling surprisingly works in the film’s favour. Plot-points are shoddily explained but, thankfully, rarely dwelled upon; the film occupies a curious middle-ground between excitement and boredom, eschewing elongated action sequences for a seemingly random collection of scenes that attempt to flesh out the group.
The Flash, both lightning-fast in his speech and running speed, is the supposed comedic relief of the squad, with Ezra Miller’s skittish awkwardness being more irritating than humorous. As with any ensemble movie, there’s always one member who gets left by the wayside, with this role being assumed by Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), a former college athlete who has been cybernetically reconstructed following a car accident; his dissatisfaction with life only surfaces in a scene where the dialogue is just as robotic as the character himself.
This is in line with the rest of the development; Wayne’s ruggedness is merely a symbol of Affleck’s own disinterest in the franchise, with the inclusion of tired, wry remarks feeling like a half-baked attempt to inject some life into the character. Momoa channels his inner Vin Diesel, chanting “ooo-raaa” as he catches a ride on the Batmobile like it’s a supercar – a temporary break from his usual exercise of parading around shirtless. Whilst the change in tone (undoubtedly an input from Whedon) is welcomed, the execution is often cringeworthy, creating a new dilemma as to whether to revert to darkness or continue with the light-heartedness.
Snyder’s colour palette is now a little brighter – the much-derided rain from Batman vs Superman is gone - but the comic-book aesthetic still looks cheap, highlighting some woeful CGI in the process. This appears in the widest possible vistas – the final battle has a disgusting red backdrop – and also the quieter moments, with a warehouse-based scene inexplicably needing visual bolstering. It’s emblematic of a series of films that prioritise style over substance; a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that the aesthetic is often ugly.
The noticeable difference between this film and its predecessors is the shortening of battle sequences; rather than having a sizeable chunk dedicated to fighting, the action (as uninteresting as it is) is now more spaced out, meaning the film never gets bogged down. Whilst that may be more a product of studio interference than directorial vision, it results in a far more pleasant experience – a happy accident of sorts. It’s more a barometer of how low expectations for DC are; forget the destruction of buildings, the biggest injustice of all is the fact that the sheer incompetence of the production has resulted in an improved product.