Justice League (1997)

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The Justice League of America is DC’s crew of heavy-hitter superheroes, predating (and almost certainly inspiring) Marvel’s Avengers. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are the three main members, they’ve had a space station base, and have fought such ultra-powerful threats as Darkseid and Brainiac. For some reason, their numerous comic authors, artists and animators have never chosen to show them as a group of sort-of nebbishes living in a small shared apartment – but now, we have this!

 

This movie belongs to our long-running review series, “Pilots That Crashed”. From SyFy’s “Lost City Raiders” to “Beastmaster 3”, we’re big fans here of “TV movies” which are nothing more than pilots for shows that never got picked up. To recoup some of the money spent on producing them, they’re repackaged and sold to low-rent TV channels, and that’s how we got to witness perhaps the most 90s piece of entertainment ever.

 

What “Justice League of America” looks like is the special feature on a DVD. Using a framing device of the cast being interviewed, in character, against a backdrop of muted grey that reminds you of school photograph day, we’re introduced to most of our heroes – The Flash, the Green Lantern, The Atom, Fire, and (with the first half operating as her origin story) Ice. They’re just normal people with normal lives until they’re needed, such as Fire having to leave an audition (to play the part of talking fruit in a TV ad) to go and save some people. It’s not terrible, just incredibly low rent. The Atom, for example, a character who in the comics can shrink so small he goes into “micro-universes”, first uses his powers to rescue a cat stuck under a porch and seems to be able to shrink to one size – about three inches tall. Not so much “Atom” as “Quite Small Man”.

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While we’re on the subject, let’s discuss characters. If you’re a fan of superhero movies, you’ll probably be aware of certain characters almost always having certain personality traits. Iron Man is a playboy; Captain America and Superman are goody-two-shoes, slightly out of time;  Batman is dour and implacable; Spider-Man is a wisecracking teenager. While they’re perhaps not at that level of fame, the Flash and Green Lantern have pretty established personalities (Flash is upbeat; Green Lantern is a parody of ultra-jingoistic types) and this movie just flat-out ignores them. Green Lantern has no personality at all, really, AND HIS OUTFIT ISN’T EVEN GREEN, but the Flash has been transformed into an unemployed sad-sack which is perhaps the weirdest choice of all. Why bother having these characters if you’re going to do this with them? It’s fun to see Ice, but only because you can remember her on brilliant sitcom “Son Of The Beach”.

 

I’ve not even gotten to the plot yet, have I? Well, the great Miguel Ferrer is “The Weatherman” (not to be confused with a member of the 1960s radical organisation the Weathermen, as if anyone would) and he has a generic super-villain idea. Ransom, etc. Martian Manhunter, the super-powerful alien member of the Justice League, must corral his troops to fight this deadly threat, while they deal with incredibly mundane real-life stuff – for instance, Fire has a teenage admirer, played by David Krumholtz, who is a complete time-filler, and would presumably have played more of a part if the show had gone to series. And Green Lantern has a girlfriend who is getting bored of his problems with intimacy, and is more in love with his superhero alter-ego than she is with him. The very mild tension is created by them briefly thinking Ice is The Weatherman, because she freezes some stuff early on.

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“Failed TV pilot” operates both as a description of what it is, and its quality. It looks exactly like a double-episode of some cheap 90s basic-cable show, and while it’s not terrible, it certainly is completely inconsequential. It could have done with a plot, or jokes that were actually funny and not slightly sad; also, Martian Manhunter is played by David Ogden Stiers, perhaps the oddest casting choice in recent memory. He’s a portly middle-aged man and looks it. Which brings me on to the superhero outfits! They are so terrible, so cheap-looking, that fellow ISCFC reviewer @kilran said cosplayers would be embarrassed to wear them. Plus, all the masks look exactly the same shape, which isn’t a huge point, but is another sign of no-one really caring at all.

 

It’s probably best to treat this the way its makers intended and ignore it. It’s never been shown on TV in the US, apparently, and has certainly never had an official release of any kind. While it’ll certainly be funnier than the upcoming “Justice League” movie, it probably won’t be better, so just save your pennies up for that one.

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Rating: thumbs down

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