Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
DC’s movie-verse has always been between a rock and a hard place. When Marvel Studios began releasing their films nearly 10 years ago, DC was on a clock. As Marvel built their movies into “phases” culminating with a team-up Avengers movie, DC had no way to build a universe of their own without copying what Marvel did.
If they released movies to build up to something, surely the comparison would be made that “DC is just copying Marvel.” If they did something different, they took a gamble on losing the valuable build up that slowly introducing your characters over multiple movies provides.
Justice League is the latter of the two. As the newest entry in the DC Extended Universe, Justice League continues the storyline started in Man of Steel and continued through Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and the fantastic Wonder Woman. The film features an alien threat against the world and can only be stopped by a united team of super people, but lacks the true emotional punch that another superhero ensemble movie had.
The biggest challenge the film faces is a general inconsistency. WB is trying to do right and listen to audience feedback and adjust the movie, but you go from more grounded or heavy movies like Man of Steel and BvS to Justice League and the tone takes a shift. While not a bad thing, it comes across a bit jarring. However, the film’s saved by its cast of characters, which help to overcome the poor pacing and plot.
Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/The Flash is far and away the highlight of the movie. Barry is a lone wolf who isn’t fighting criminals so much as “pushing them and running away.” His wide-eyed innocence as he is more immersed into the events of the movie and realize the gravitas of what they’re up against is played wonderfully by Miller, who is a nice contrast to Grant Guston’s Barry Allen of the Arrowverse.
Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman, whose focus in this movie is the struggle of her coming out of the shadows as Wonder Woman and her role as a leader. The leadership bit feels a bit forced through a reshoot, as she definitely took charge in her own movie. Gadot is a delight, as always, and it’s just great seeing her on film.
Though I was never really a fan of Ben Affleck in the Bruce Wayne/Batman role, the bulky imposing build of Affleck has grown on me. This time around, Affleck seems a bit more lighthearted as Batman, which only strengthens my problem of having a Batman who’s been around for 20 years – you can’t go from a despondent Batman who is trying to kill Superman to a lighthearted joking Batman overnight (is it overnight? It’s hard to tell how much time has passed between movies.) And while I know the point is Batman’s newfound hope and redemption arc for his guilt over Superman’s death, it’s a hard sell to me, as we spent the entire last movie watching Batman trying to kill him.
Superman is just “there.” The first half of the movie is focused on reactions of people who miss him (Lois, MARTHAAA, Bruce, Diana), while once he gets resurrected he has a weird arc where you can’t tell if he remembers anything, to attacking the Justice League, to remembering who is is and finally showing up to stop Steppenwolf. Superman has hardly been my favorite, and as this film series moves on he feels more and more like a prop than an actual developed character.
However, once Reborn Superman returns he seems to be more in line with a light hopeful Superman, even present in a fun mid-credits scene. While I think that the “Death of Superman” was done way too soon in the DCEU to have any weight or stakes moving forward, it does help to give a nice soft reboot to him.
Our other new heroes include Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. Along with the Flash, they were all introduced on Batman V Superman via quick snippets of security footage. Both have minor arcs that set up future movies, though based on the way this movie went, I’m not too excited to see either of those movies.
Aquaman is struggling between living on land or water, and Cyborg struggles with being more machine or man. As Cyborg was born of the Motherboxers (this movie’s MacGuffin), he is the one who can overcome and separate them, though a large missed opportunity to focus on his creation and having to fight against its control was missed in this movie.
As somebody who grew up on Batman, but not much else DC, it’s exciting to be able to go into a movie and see new villains you don’t know much about. While the movie explains a lot about Steppenwolf, and how and why he is trying to conquer Earth, at the end of it he seems just a teaser for Darkseid, a mystery baddie who will probably show up in the sequel. Important to note, that his appearance and voice are both fantastic and he looks and sounds imposing.
Overall, Justice League isn’t terrible, or even that bad, and I think ranks pretty high above most of the DCEU Movies (for me personally it comes behind the fantastic Wonder Woman). It’s definitely more fun than the rest of the movies that have been put out so far. Is Justice League the fantastic saving grace that the DCEU needs to help push it forward? Sadly not. Is it a more enjoyable entry and a step in the right direction? Yes it is.
The movie is fun, which is what the DCEU needs right now. Comics mean different things to different people, and while some people love the DCEU for it’s weight which the usually more lighthearted Marvel Universe come under fire for, Justice League is the fun adventure that the DCEU (and the fandom) needs.