• Michael T. Christensen

DC's “Justice League: War” Review, Part 2: It's Like "The Avengers," But Terrible

This article was originally published March 4, 2014:

Welcome back to the review of DC’s latest leaving, “Justice League: War.” Last time, we learned that Darkseid was coming to Earth. Well, a big dude who looked sort of like Darkseid was coming to Earth. Also, there are a bunch of heroes, but mostly they’ve just been beating each other up.

Spoiler alert: This movie blows.

As you’ll remember from yesterday, football player Victor Stone had been turned into a half-robotic superhero. Cyborg is having some trouble with his new form, complaining about a buzzing nobody can hear, and asking if this is what it took for his dad to care about him. Flash runs off to help with the fight (and to leave the Stones to resolve their issues), and Cyborg examines the portal, where the computer in his head gets an information download from the portal-computer. This is actually a well-done moment, where we see the parademons’ former missions on other planets and hear the parameters of the parademons’ programming – basically, they find habitable planets, terraform them to their needs, and transform the populous into parademons. It’s a cool metaphor for the indoctrination of a culture under the leadership of a conqueror, in this case Darkseid. The portal turns back into the motherbox, and Cyborg takes it. Shazam shows up, and recognizes Vic under the armor.

Flash shows up where Green Lantern and Batman are fighting aliens, and it’s clear GL and Flash go way back. Flash is honored to meet Batman, but Green Lantern tries to warn him that Batman is a tool – but Batman is actually a fan of Flash’s work and how tight and efficient it is (of course you would, Batman). Wonder Woman flies in and takes on an entire squadron single-handedly. She introduces herself, and the very first thing Green Lantern says is, “dibs.” He goes to say hello, but Superman swoops in between them and glares at him like he’s Billy Zabka staring down Ralph Macchio for hitting on Elisabeth Shue.

Sweep the leg, Clark.

Cyborg shows up, and when Wonder Woman attacks him, thinking he’s one of the bad guys, he accidentally blasts her. Superman prepares to beat him into pulp, but Flash defends Cyborg, saying he saw him in action at S.T.A.R. Labs and that he’s one of the good guys. Shazam also shows up, and the gang is all here. Cyborg explains that the aliens are terraforming Earth, and at that moment the sea catches fire and big terraforming engines pop out of the ground throughout the city. Batman observes that the aliens aren’t killing people, but abducting them, and taking them through the portal to be transformed. And then Darkseid arrives.

A few jets try to take him down, but he blasts them apart with his laser-eyes, which do that awesome Darkseid thing of changing direction in mid-air. Green Lantern tries to take on Darkseid single-handedly, but Darkseid smashes the construct, backhands Hal into the side of a building, and then two parademons show up out of nowhere and start wailing on Hal while he’s down.

It is hilarious.

Shazam also tries to show off for Diana by taking on Darkseid, but it doesn’t go much better. Green Lantern tries again, and Darkseid breaks Hal’s arm. Look, DC, if you don’t want me to like Hal Jordan, just say so. You don’t have to keep putting him in stuff and pretending he’s cool. Just bring back John Stewart instead, and I think we’ll all be happier.

Darkseid sends a laser beam after Superman and Flash each, and they are forced to move fast to try to outrun the beam chasing them down. There’s a well-done moment where Flash says, “Come on, Barry, you’re moving fast, so think fast,” and uses the beam to destroy a squad of parademons that were menacing a crowd of civilians, essentially solving several problems at once because he’s the only hero in this movie who acts like one. Superman, meanwhile, gets shot in the back, knocked out, and abducted by parademons.

Green Lantern is ready to take on the entire army to get Superman back, broken arm and all (you can’t say he doesn’t try), but Batman says he doesn’t have to prove anything. He says that, out of all of them, Hal and he are the only normal humans in the group. Green Lantern counters with, “You’re pretty south of normal,” which actually made me laugh. Batman takes off his mask and confesses his identity and secret origin, which feels entirely contrived and over-the-top and motivated by the fact that that’s something that heroes do when they trust each other and the plot requires that it’s time for them to spontaneously trust each other now. Batman convinces Hal to stay and lead the other heroes (basically telling him that, since Hal never shuts up, he’s the perfect guy to inspire them with a speech), while Batman will try to get Superman back by himself. Then Batman lets himself get taken by parademons through a portal to Apokalips, where he starts to search for Superman.

This is actually sort of a smart move on the film’s part – Superman and Batman are the most commercially successful (some might say the only commercially successful) characters out of this batch, and removing them from the main battlefield means that the others have to step up and save the day without them. It also works because Batman doesn’t exactly thrive in battlefield scenes – he’s at his best when he’s sneaking through enemy territory with a single-minded goal. This puts our heroes into their respective elements, except for Superman, who is busy being brainwashed and converted into a parademon, because if you have him around it’s hard to justify the fight lasting more than a few minutes.

Green Lantern gives an absolutely terrible speech, and they come up with an absolutely terrible plan: since Darkseid blasts those beams from his eyes, they are going to blind him with Wonder Woman’s sword. Seriously. That is the entire plan. Cyborg suggests that he could the systems to reverse the portals and send the aliens back home, and they all agree he should do that, but then they don’t do that, and instead focus on the “let’s blind Darkseid” plan.

There’s a sort of nice moment where Shazam gushes about working alongside Vic, and Cyborg says he’s not that guy anymore, and he doesn’t belong anywhere anymore. They fight some aliens, and Shazam says, “Looks to me like your place is with us.” It’s super cheesy.

The heroes fight Darkseid, and there’s a moment where Shazam recklessly charges in, and then gets scolded for not following the plan that they absolutely do not have. I do like the line where Wonder Woman says, “You are a warrior, not a child! Act like it!” and he says, “Yes, ma’am.” However, when she leaves, he says, “She digs me” to nobody in particular, and I’m once again reminded that this movie is the textbook example of how comics cater exclusively to adolescent boys.

Desaad begins the process of turning Superman into a parademon, but Batman shows up and turns off the machine. However, Superman is still under the thrall of the transformation, and he crushes Desaad’s neck and kills him (insert “Man of Steel” joke here) and tries to kill Batman. Batman says a bunch of words at him, and it’s everything you imagine he’s saying (“Snap out of it,” “The world needs Clark Kent,” etc). We don’t see the result until later, but spoiler alert, it works for some reason no reason.

The heroes’ fight against Darkseid plays a LOT like the final boss fight of a video game, where their entire obstacle is to wear him down enough to blind one of his eyes, and then wear him down again so they can do it again to the other eye. At one point, Wonder Woman says, “Come on, giant! I’m getting bored!” So am I, crappy Justice League movie. So am I. Darkseid, being boring, just responds with, “This world is mine.” This version of Darkseid is more generic than Malekith in “Thor 2,” and that’s really saying something.

They manage to blind both his eyes, and he doesn’t die or black out or surrender, because that was always a terrible plan. Cyborg tries hacking the enemy systems to reverse the portals and send all the enemies home, which really should have been “Plan A”. He manages to open the portals, and the parademons start pouring back into the portals, but Darkseid is too strong, and they have to punch him some more to get him through. As they do, he shouts, “How dare you?! I am Darkseid!” Superman shows up and shouts, “I don’t care!” So… are we supposed to care? As an audience, are we meant to have any reaction to him as a villain other than acknowledging that he is not nice? He could have been the Ten-Eyed Man and it would have been more interesting (or at least taken longer to blind him).

Cyborg tries more hacking to close the portal (this is where they say “shit” in an animated Justice League movie, so thanks for that DC), and Shazam fires lightning at him to give them enough juice to close the portal. They all punch Darkseid a bunch of times and blast him all at once the portal closes, and they win.

Shazam turns back into Billy, and Cyborg catches him. They have a nice moment where Billy says, “Hell of a catch,” and Cyborg agrees to keep Billy’s secret.

Cyborg opens more boom tubes, and all the human victims tumble out over the ocean, and Green Lantern catches them in giant catchers mitts. Batman says, “He’s good for clean-up at least,” because everything he says about GL in this movie has to be a back-handed compliment apparently. Cyborg says that the bad guys won’t be able to get back anytime soon because of science stuff, don’t worry about it. Crowds of citizens show up, and the heroes are about to leave to avoid being blamed again, when suddenly the crowds start cheering and applauding instead. They like them now!

Cut to the steps of the Capital building, where the President is speaking about how heroic they are, and the heroes stand around and whisper to each other. Batman and Green Lantern still bicker, and Superman makes a point of saying that the people are wrong, they aren’t a team. Wonder Woman says they each represent one of the Greek Gods, except Superman (“I have never met anyone like you, Superman; god or mortal,” is something a character says out loud to another character in this film). Shazam reassures Cyborg that he (Cyborg) belongs up there with them, and Dr. Stone watches proudly from the front row, because his son being turned into a superhero was the easiest resolution to their argument from earlier (why bother actually trying to solve the problem?). Green Lantern insists they aren’t friends or a team, but the others basically say, “Ah well, we’ll see. Maybe something else will happen and we’ll team up again.” It’s basically exactly the same as the ending of the Avengers. Shazam introduces them to the crowd as “the Super Seven,” everyone rolls their eyes, and then we’re into the credits.

Then there’s a mid-credits scene where we see a bunch of dead fish and sharks floating on the surface of the ocean, and a sub emerges from the water, and Ocean Master (Aquaman’s secretly-evil brother) emerges holding a dead guy, and says, “The surface-dwellers have killed our king. This is an act of war, and they will pay.”

Oh boy, you guys. The next adventure with these characters will apparently be an Aquaman story. Joy.

So, that’s “Justice League: War.” As I said earlier, it’s a lot like the Avengers movie, except nobody is likable, and the villain is completely uninteresting. It could be argued that the parademons have a bit more going on than the Chitauri did, but at least Loki had a personality. He had excellent characterization, to say nothing of his clearly-established motivations and relationships with the heroes. Over the course of the film, it became personal for each of them. Darkseid, meanwhile, is actually like the Satan of DC Comics – he’s just as happy to sit back and watch you destroy yourself, or take you apart with only his words (though he could certainly hold his own in a fight, don’t get me wrong). In this movie, however, he just punches things and says generic bad guy things like “I am death” – he might as well have been called “Scary Doom-Bad” and just been a completely different character.

As for lead characters, obviously I’ve made my opinions clear on them, but just to recap: Green Lantern is an asshat, Batman is a prick (I know he usually gets a pass for not being a team player, but it’s more glaring in this film for some reason), Superman is a bully, Shazam is a punk, and Wonder Woman is also in this movie. Flash and Cyborg are the only two who made out all right, in that they are actually characters I want to root for throughout the film. Green Lantern is the only one who had any sort of character arc (kind of), but he was also completely insufferable in a lot of fundamental ways.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this film is that it’s reinforcing a trend. We saw it in “Man of Steel,” we saw it in “The Flashpoint Paradox,” and we’re definitely seeing it in the comics that inspired this movie. That trend is in the way the stories are told (style over substance), the way the characters are treated (heroes you have no reason to root for, and villains you have no reason to root against), and the overall tone (so much blood and death and swearing, you HAVE to take us seriously NOW!). Maybe it’s because Marvel’s experiencing a renaissance of quality right now, both on-screen and in the comics, but Marvel isn’t suffering from an apparent identity crisis the way DC seems to be. DC seems embarrassed by their characters’ goofy costumes, so they cover them with distracting seams and lines and take away the underpants on the outside of the tights, and everyone talks about sex like grown-ups do (even though their treatment of sex is still surprisingly immature). DC Entertainment is apparently terrified that we will all wake up one morning and remember that they make comic books, and make them sit back at the kid’s table.

In other news, Marvel made a movie starring a talking tree and a raccoon that uses machine guns.

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