'Justice League' followed a long and winding road to actually getting made. It's a sequel, of course, to 'Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,' and it also follows 'Man of Steel,' 'Suicide Squad,' and 'Wonder Woman' in the DC movie universe. The first three movies were met with varying degrees of critical and audience displeasure; all were huge commercial hits (albeit, underperforming the previous DC 'Dark Knight' trilogy), but the industry and fans wanted more fun, more hopefulness. The films that preceeded 'Wonder Woman' were dark, brooding epics, and newer movies were to follow the path 'WW' had set and strike a different tone.
Changes were made to the already-in-prodution 'Justice League.' Even though director Zack Snyder is best known for serious action films like '300,' 'Watchmen,' and the afforementioned 'BVS' and 'MoS,' jokes were added, plot points changed, and the entire film was "lightened" to be more commercial. The rumor is, these changes left the film virtually unwatchable, and DC and Warner Bros. were looking at a $200 million disaster.
Tragedy then struck, and Zack Synder had to leave the film during reshoots and post-production due to his daughter's death. Warners turned to Joss Whedon, director of the two 'Avengers' movies, the creator of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' and a god to the film geek culture. Whedon then set about rewriting 15-20% of the script, cutting the film from three to two hours (!), and photographing extensive reshoots, many involving a mustachioed Superman (we'll get to that later). His job was to salvage this behemoth, and deliver a product that could set a new direction for the DC movies and launch them into the stratosphere were Marvel and Star Wars plays.
He failed. Instead of a $200 million disaster, they have a $300 million catastrophe - an ugly, cheap-looking mess of a movie. It's overstuffed to the point of splitting open and spilling it's crap all over the screen.
'Justice League' opens in the wake of Superman's death. His sacrifice has touched the world, and inspired hope on a planet that had just been assailed by General Zod and Doomsday. Unfortunately, Batman and Wonder Woman keep running into the beasts from Batman's dreams in 'BVS,' and they need to get a team together to fight these new invaders. Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman are the new members of the League, but they might not be enough - the team may need to reach out to an old friend for some help.
'The Avengers' followed numerous films, stories that introduced the individual characters and built arcs that would pay off during the team up. 'Justice League' does the opposite - the players are thrown together, with maybe an introductory scene or two, and that's it. There's no time to ground the situation, no time to build comraderie outside of several forced jokes. Steppenwolf is the most paper-thin villain this side of a Marvel movie, and the effects to bring him to life are laughable.
Speaking of laughable effects, we need to discuss Superman. Henry Cavill was shooting 'Mission: Impossible 6' during the reshoots of 'JL,' so the stache he grew for the Tom Cruise movie couldn't be shaved. Instead, what seems like two eight year olds attempted to do digital removal.
It is literally the worst effects work I've ever seen. The entire bottom of his face looks like a cut scene from a 2001 video game. This movie cost a quarter of a BILLION dollars, and it sports special effects worse than a Toxic Avenger straight to video crapfest. The battle scenes in this thing are smears of color, with nameless multitudes of "parademons" dying by the hundreds. There are no emotional stakes, no sense of danger for any of the characters.
Therein lies the biggest problem. This movie is an obvious mish mash of two styles, two directors, and a company that really has no idea what to do with this franchise, which should be a slam dunk. The three movies in the 'Dark Knight' trilogy are all in the top 100 films of all time in IMDB rating, and 'Wonder Woman' is right there with them. Why is there no consistent quality? Say what you will about lack of originality in the Marvel movies, but they are confidently made, and there are very few stinkers in the bunch. Even minor characters, like Happy Hogan from 'Iron Man,' are fully fleshed out. In 'JL,' Aquaman is given literally nothing to do with water, which is his entire claim to fame. The Flash is given one scene where his speed is an asset (and that scene is a cheat). The movie's theme is hope, but no one is given time to do any of this hoping.
'Justice League' is best thought of as an enema to clean out the DC movie universe before they move forward. I do not think we will see another 'JL' movie any time soon - DC is moving their universe in a solo direction, with only loose connections between the films. In fact, the end of 'JL' was supposed to introduce the big bad Darkseid, but the reshoots changed the film so it did NOT lead to a sequel. This is a good idea, since DC seems to have absolutely no idea how to do this. 'Aquaman,' directed by James Wan, is already in the can, and 'Flashpoint,' 'Wonder Woman 2' and 'The Batman' (with Matt Reeves at the helm and probably with a new Batman) are in development, along with a 'Suicide Squad' sequel and 'Batgirl.' I would also expect that Superman will surface again in a solo movie.
The Zack Synder era is over, and the quicker they move on from it, the better. 'Justice League' is a slog, a big, plodding, shoddy mess. Let's hope they haven't sullied the future of these great heroes in the process.