Ben Affleck is the perfect Batman for the era of Donald Trump. He’s huge and he often looks like he can barely move his arms. The nose on his mask is doing something weird that looks odder and odder the more you stare at it. He’s prone to saying gruff things that don’t really make sense. His plans involve talking a lot and not doing anything of value, and they almost always result in the situation getting worse. This is a Batman who is unintelligent, aimless, and way past his prime. Trumpy Batman is supposed to be the guiding light of the Justice League movie, which lands in theaters tonight. The team he puts together is a perfect reflection of Affleck’s surface-obsessed and unthoughtful Batman.
Let’s talk about Cool Aquaman. For decades now, Aquaman has been the butt of easy jokes: he’s got no personality and he talks to fish. Most writers have responded to Aquaman’s laughing-stock status by trying to make him extra-cool. (A recent Aquaman reboot saw the hero order fish and chips at a bar in order to demonstrate that he doesn’t give a shit about his finny friends.) Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, though, is Cool Aquaman taken to his extreme: he’s like a heavy-metal Yukon Cornelius, and he’s such a try-hard that all his coolness veers around into uncoolness again. He’s so fucking desperate to be seen as bad ass that he’s just an embarrassment.
Ezra Miller’s Flash is only slightly better. He’s supposed to be the funny wide-eyed can-you-believe-this-shit audience surrogate, but only about one out of every four of his jokes lands cleanly. The rest are awkward or just plain unfunny. And there’s not really anything to say about Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, a character who is noteworthy only for his ugly body of silvery CGI chunks.
So that leaves Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Rumor has it that after Justice League director Zach Snyder stepped off the film to deal with a family tragedy, fill-in director Joss Whedon added a bunch of Wonder Woman scenes to capitalize on her recent film’s fantastic reception. That was a smart move; Wonder Woman is the best character in the whole DC Comics film universe and Gadot is vastly improving as an actor from her wooden Fast and Furious days (though she does a few too many intense glares in this movie that all look exactly the same, and the male gaze lands on her multiple times in this movie, lingering on her body in sleazy ways that highlight the need to get more women directors behind the cameras of blockbusters immediately.)
These characters ostensibly get together because the world is awash in fear and loathing after the death of Superman in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. (One early scene seems to hint that anti-Islamic racism is on the rise because Superman is gone, which certainly is one way to try to seem relevant, I guess.) We never got to see this cinematic Superman as a figure of hope, but I guess we just have to take Batman and his pals at their word about this, because they keep talking about Superman as a figure of hope whenever the plot stops dead, which is pretty often.
Justice League is a fucking mess. The plot makes no sense. The special effects aren’t half-baked so much as shoved under a heat lamp for a minute or two. There are quite a few poorly shot close-ups of characters saying funny things that clearly happened in reshoots. Those shots are then wedged into the movie willy-nilly, with no regard for pacing or flow. It’s ugly and abrasive and dumb, dumb, dumb.
But maybe the worst misstep of Justice League is its villain: Steppenwolf. Canonically in the comics, Steppenwolf is big bad guy Darkseid’s uncle, and he’s not a major player by any means. In the film he’s a poorly animated all-CGI character who rants a lot about MacGuffins and conquest. He has no motivation, no physical presence, and he makes no sense. He’s chasing after some magic boxes that could mean the end of the world as we know it, and his tools include a large axe, a fleet of interchangeable flying monkeys who eat fear, and some tendrils of purple crystals that are supposedly a threat because they’re filmed in a slightly menacing way.
Justice League is so dumb, so obviously broken on a fundamental level, that it’s an insulting viewing experience. You’ll likely be seeing apologists on the internet saying that it’s “not a perfect film,” but that it “gets the characters right” and so it “sets the table” for future installments. To that faint praise, I say “bullshit.” Justice League isn’t a better movie than the disastrous Batman V Superman or the excrementitious Suicide Squad. It’s just tonally different from those movies — a desperate attempt to course-correct into brighter, more hopeful territory to quell fan complaints — and some overly forgiving souls may interpret that pandering as an increase in quality.
But trust me: This movie will not age well. You won’t watch it fondly on your own TV at home. It will look like a smear of gilded pixels on a tiny screen when you half-watch it in discomfort while sitting on an airplane. You won’t remember anything about it six months from now. One year from now, the silence that will surround this nearly half-billion dollar debacle will be a vacuum so deafening, so all-encompassing in its nothingness, that it may drive humans mad when they hear it. This is a void, and it consumes souls. Watching Justice League is like staring Donald Trump in the eyes and wondering at the nothing you find there.