Justice League of America (1997) – By Jonathon Pernisek

 The sad fact about trends is at a certain point, no matter how much some of us may wish for them to stay fresh and exciting, they inevitably become stale and die out, at least for a time. One film trend in particular, the superhero flick, has always interested me with its triumphs and tribulations. The success of the original X-Men film cued other studios to snatch up other comic book properties, so many in fact that now the system’s supply may be greater than the demand. Will their engine run out of steam? It’s difficult to predict, but looking back at the ‘90s, when heroes were so misrepresented they had to appear in junk like Justice League of America, I truly believe we’re better off living in indulgence rather than a creative drought. JLA is the infamous pilot film meant to introduce a new series for CBS, one that would purportedly compete with Dean Caine’s long-running Superman drama. As the fates would have it, however, the movie never aired in the United States, though according to the Internet Movie Database it did get air time in Europe. I’d have to say the Yanks won out in that situation, since this has got to be one of the worst excuses for comic-based entertainment I’ve ever seen. And it’s not that the movie is necessarily painful, either. It’s just plain interminable.

Let’s start by looking at our heroes, who aren’t so much a rogue’s gallery as they are a bunch of badly-groomed stiffs in spongy, Crayola-hued costumes. The Martian Manhunter is the wise and caring mentor as played by David Ogden Stiers, who despite having a prolific career in on-camera and voice-over work can’t help but look like a giant pickle under all of his bad make-up. The Flash is an overeating slacker who can’t get a job but has time to crack a ton of idiotic puns. He lives with Green Lantern and Atom, who consistently compete throughout the film to see just who does, in fact, have the lamest powers. Rounding out the cast are Fire, a sassy gal with terrible hair who decides to inexplicably dress in green, and Ice, who doesn’t receive her super moniker until the last forty seconds of the program. Yeah, these guys pretty much stink.

The total lack of a healthy production budget is what really cripples any chances of JLA rising above mediocrity. With almost no money to spend on exciting set pieces, what the filmmakers deliver is nothing more than a small collection of moments that begin and end in an instant. The film’s villain, oh-so cleverly dubbed The Weather Man, will unleash a not-so epic hailstorm on the people of New Metro (because fake cities are just plain awesome) only to have it be taken care of a minute later when Fire melts the precipitation…with her green fire. Hell, one of the biggest sequences—a mudslide that nearly wipes out the city—isn’t even shown. It’s discussed after the fact! It makes a man wanna lie down and cry.

So what do we get outside of these action beats straight out of a Nancy Drew book? A whole lot of talking, most of which takes place during an endless series of confessional monologues that were obviously meant to remind us of The Real World. Outside of Flash’s unemployment issues, we’re also asked to thrill as Ice talks about her lack of self-esteem and Lantern bemoans his girlfriend troubles. Because as we all know, writing that just delivers character development right to your doorstep and then proceeds to hammer it into your skull is really the best kind of writing.

I guess the moral of today’s review is that, while in this new millennium we may occasionally have to suffer through the occasional instance of superhero patchiness (I’m looking at you, Ghost Rider, at least we can look back and know how far we’ve come. Justice League of America is awful through and through, spending so much time with its heroes in their stilting everyday lives that it forgets why it was made in the first place. Don’t pick up a bootleg copy unless you’re obsessed with having a completely rounded-out collection (like this poor sap).