It’s hard to comment on Justice League without talking about the drama behind it. Whatever noble intentions there might be about separating the art from the artists, the modern world makes achieving this distance impossible thanks to blanket coverage from the moment the film is greenlit until the moment it ends up in the streaming equivalent of the Bargain Bin.
What this means is that as a viewer, you’re not going into the cinema with an open mind, ready to be entertained. Instead, you go into it like a football supporter: everyone knows Burnley won’t ever win the League - the real story is whether or not they can avoid relegation. So given the previous films were shite, and given the awkward reworking and reshoots — and the substitution of one director for another in the most tragic of circumstances — well, going into the film we’re simply wondering whether the DC Universe can salvage… something of merit.
The good news then is that Justice League isn’t quite as hateful as Suicide Squad. The re-shoots and edits are slightly less jarring (though as you watch you’re still trying to spot them). Much of the film - not just Henry Cavill’s top lip - is coated with a shitty CGI haze. There’s an intense awkwardness to some of the parts that have clearly been dropped in to make it fun. The most egregious of these sees a visual gag come at the expense of Batman, which feels like a complete betrayal of the character.
What’s also striking is that it is a reminder of just how good the first Avengers film is. Weirdly, Justice League’s story has an incredibly similar premise (magic boxes that unleash scary powers, and hundreds of cannon-fodder alien baddies for our heroes to take down in moves taken from the frames of comic-books). But as our heroes are busy explaining how a magic box does x, y and z… it just makes you think of how deftly Marvel handled the same thing, and how quickly Avengers was able to switch back to feel-good wisecracking banter between the team, rather than dwelling on exposition.
The real tragedy of Justice League, though, is surely the plight of Wonder Woman.
In Patty Jenkins’ standalone Wonder Woman film, we saw a glimpse of what the DC Universe could be. It was fun, it was entertaining - it was competently made. And part of the reason why was Gal Gadot’s performance as the title character: she seemed to master the sort-of other-worldly detachment from humans that you would expect from a woman who grew up on a magic island, while at the same time remained engaging and interesting as a character. It certainly appears as though she is perfectly suited to the role, in just the same way that it is impossible to imagine anyone but Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, or anyone but Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
Arguably, Gadot’s Diana has already become something of an icon, rivalling Christopher Reeve’s Superman or Heath Ledger’s Joker.
So it is deeply unfortunate then that she’ll be forever weighed down by the duds like Batman vs Superman and Justice League.
Every awkward handbrake turn between scenes, every time the CGI looks a bit wobbly, every time the characters look up from their dark and brooding world and crack a joke that was obviously shot as a reshoot… you just feel sad that a character we came to like in a previous film is now a part of this joyless and cynical exercise in corporate synergy. Justice League was marketed with the tagline “All In” - unfortunately that applies to Diana Prince too.
If you’re a Wonder Woman completist, it means slogging through two deeply terrible films. Even if Wonder Woman 2 cuts its losses and runs as far away from the extended universe as possible, ultimately Diana’s story and her character will need to be informed by her experiences hanging out with Batman, Superman, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg.
There is speculation that the next step in project “stop this shitshow getting any worse” is going to be a DC Universe-wide semi-reboot: apparently the Flash story getting adapted is called Flashpoint, which includes a plot contrivance that will conveniently enable the hero to rewrite history. So in a couple of years you could be paying £12 for the privilege of watching a corporate machine do some backtracking in order to make Batman seem a bit happier while keeping Wonder Woman as is.
But even if the producers go down this route, there’s always going to be a messy backstory and continuity - to the extent that it would make even the X-Men universe blush.
And that, in a sense, is why I think the plight of Wonder Woman is a tragedy. Though Gadot and Jenkins have created an icon, who has a cultural resonance far beyond normal superhero films, they’ve ultimately, like Diana Prince in Wonder Woman’s story, have been let down by a bunch of idiot men and dragged into a mess that they can’t simply avoid.