Awfully Good: Justice League of America
As THE AVENGERS kicks the summer movie season in the ass, let's look back at the last time someone tried to team up a gang of superheroes.
Justice League of America (1997)
Director: Félix Enríquez Alcalá
Stars: Matthew Settle, Miguel Ferrer, David Ogden Stiers
Is there a plot?
A group of six friends humorously navigate through life, work and relationships in the city. Oh yeah, they're the universe's greatest superheroes too.
What's the damage?
BRILLIANT IDEA: Make a live action TV series based on one of the greatest comic book superhero teams. Don't just focus on one person and concentrate on doing their character justice. Throw five or six together because more is better, right? Oh, but because of rights issues, you can't use the most popular comic heroes, like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. And did we mention you have to do all of this with a paltry 1990s television budget and mediocre grade special effects? Okay…go!
1997: BATMAN AND ROBIN and this. 2012: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and THE AVENGERS. Thank you, God.
You didn't know anyone was dumb enough to make a Justice League TV show, did you? That's because you have faith in the general goodness of humanity. But in 1997 some moron exec at CBS decided all the qualifications listed above actually warranted greenlighting a TV movie that would act as the first episode in a potential series: "Justice League of America." The result is perhaps even worse than you imagined and—probably due to the human rights mandates set forth in the Geneva Conventions—the show was never picked up. This feature length pilot is exact evidence why.
"Please, take shelter under my Rape Umbrella."
The main issue here is that CBS was clearly not interested in doing right by the DC Universe and the plethora of great stories contained within. They simply wanted to capitalize on the popular success of hit shows like "Friends" and "Seinfeld." This means "Justice League of America" is more like a sitcom than a real superhero series like "The Adventures of Lois and Clark" or "Smallville." It really is "Friends" with capes.
Though his penis looked a little weird, The Flash still loved to "flash" people.
There is the occasional crime fighting, but the majority of this movie is watching the Justice League members comically (and painfully) deal with the trials of everyday life in New Metro City. The Green Lantern is having problems communicating with his girlfriend. Fire has to dress like a banana in her day job as an aspiring actress. And forget the villain holding the city hostage; the biggest conflict in the show is The Flash having to move in and share an apartment with his superpowered friends, "Odd Couple"-style. (He does the chores too fast, oh no!) The story is also randomly interspersed with mockumentary-style talking head interviews (like "The Office"), where the Leaguers recall hilarious stories about the hijinx of being a superhero…like Ice kissing someone and accidentally freezing their lips together, or part of The Atom staying shrunk after he returns to normal size.
So exactly which poor DC characters get the short end of the stick in this mess?
Green Lantern: Probably the default leader of the group, but he has major problems with intimacy—mainly that his girlfriend is more in love with his superhero persona. His ring powers look like some terrible Day-Glo neon effect from the 1980s, but it doesn't matter since he rarely ever uses them. (The most heroic thing he conjures up is an umbrella to cover his lady.) He's also played by Matthew Settle from "Gossip Girl."
The Flash: The wise-cracking, barely functioning idiot of the gang. He has no money, gets kicked out of his apartment and has to live with his teammates, who clearly don't want him. He predictably does everything too fast, which makes him constantly bored and thus very annoying. Also, his costume makes him look really, really chubby.
Fire: Sure, she can shoot heat rays from her fingers, but she can't get an acting gig to save her life! Fire used to date Green Lantern but wasn't satisfied with their sex life, so it's a little…awkward. She spends most of the movie falling in love with her teenaged stalker played a young David Krumholtz.
The Atom: A nerdy science teacher who can shrink himself to miniature size. He has the worst costume and the most worthless powers by far. While everyone else is out saving people from falling buildings during a tornado, he shrinks down to help a scared cat hiding under a porch. His friends also use him to go inside their TV to fix it.
Ice: She starts the movie as a normal human meteorologist, until she opens a briefcase in a lab and is exposed to a mystical gas that gives her freezing powers. Ice comes off like a middle aged housewife and her costume, which is shown at the end when she joins the Justice League, actually consists of Mom Jeans.
Martian Manhunter: His alien make up is so terrible you only hear his voice until he's finally revealed at the end. J'onn J'onzz is technically the leader of the League, but can't really leave their hideout since he can only assume human form for a few minutes at a time, making him completely worthless. He also says at one point, "Where I come from 300 degrees is a beach day!"—which makes no sense if he's really from Mars. Perhaps he's actually the Mercurian Manhunter?
"Whoopsie, I'm about to fall down your shirt again!"
Such an amazing team must face a truly worthy villain, right? Meet…The Weatherman! Played by "that guy"-extraordinaire Miguel Ferrer, the Weatherman is literally an evil meteorologist who dresses up like an Islamic terrorist and threatens the city with inclement weather. (Pretty much exactly like Sean Connery is last week's THE AVENGERS.) Obviously, the Justice League can easily defeat such a lame ass bad guy…except…not. The real hero of the movie? The TV Repairman! No, really, an actual television repairman, who earlier in the film uses a stick of gum to fix some broken wires. The Justice League gets trapped by The Weatherman (in their own headquarters) and all hope is lost…until someone remembers they're carrying Juicy Fruit and uses the same method to escape and save the city. Wow.
Actually these special effects are about on par with the 2011 GREEN LANTERN movie.
Obviously there was almost no way to do the Justice League…er, justice with such a small TV budget. But aside from the cheap sets, terrible effects and truly embarrassing costumes, the show's biggest issues are all creative. The story has no imagination, clearly conceived by people who have never read a comic. The script is so horrendous it has to constantly explain what's happening on screen. ("Look at Fire! She's melting the hailstorm and turning it in to rain!") Even as a sitcom, it's only laughable in how boring and cliché it is. It's all so bad a tiny part of me wishes this was actually greenlit to series, just to see how legendarily awful it would've been.
Want to see "Justice League of America" for yourself? Click below to watch the entire thing online right now!
Inexplicably bad dialogue and interviews that are supposed to be funny but aren't.
1) Some of the best superpowered moments, including The Flash eating fast and The Atom doing the limbo.
2) Meet the Justice League!
Not even sexy costumes.
Play Along at Home!
Take a shot or drink every time:
- The Flash does something fast
- Ice freezes something
- The Atom shrinks down
- The Green Lantern actually uses his superpower
- Someone does the limbo
Double shot if:
- DC's greatest heroes talk about "Touched by an Angel"