Justice League is the latest offering from a studio desperately trying to tap into some of that sweet, sweet superhero cinematic universe pie. Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon deliver us a film about a group of superheroes who band together to take on a CGI enemy in a film with your run of the mill generic comic book plot.
The highest praise I could probably lump onto Justice League is that it’s not as big of a train wreck as Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. It does some things okay. Some facets of it are enjoyable. And it didn’t drag to me as much as the other DCEU films have. But even so, the film is a mess and it feels exactly like what it is: not the vision of a filmmaker, but the product of a marketing team and a committee who are completely lost and don’t have any plan in place. DC/Warner have rushed so hard and fast to get here and it feels exactly that: rushed, even though Man of Steel came out back in 2013. The MCU always seemed to at least have a plan, some kind of outline. We got two Iron Man films, a Hulk, a Captain America and a Thor film before we got to the Avengers. And those movies also introduced side characters like Black Widow, Nick Fury, Hawkeye etc. and it all built towards the big climax of The Avengers “assembling” and taking on a major foe that they wouldn’t have been able to repel on their own. Not only that, but The Avengers helped launch “Phase II”, showing that there are people over at Marvel that seem to have some clue as to where they want to go. I just don’t get that vibe with any of the DC movies.
Justice League, in comparison, just feels incredibly forced. We got Man of Steel, which depicted a rather dramatic, dark and somewhat bland take on Superman, followed by an abortion of a film in Batman v Superman, and a Suicide Squad movie which had no impact on this plot. Wonder Woman is still the only shining gem in the DC film universe. Justice League is bringing us The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Sure, we can sit here and say that most of these heroes need no introduction, I’ll be the first to say that origin stories are overdone. But in the context of the DCEU, it would have added far more weight to have followed at least The Flash and Aquaman into a movie before we came to the big team up movie. I don’t need a Cyborg movie though. The character did nothing for me in this film.
Ben Affleck, once again, is solid as Bruce Wayne. He was one of the best things about Batman v Superman. He plays the older, more experienced Batman very well and it’ll be a shame if he does hang up the cape and cowl prematurely before getting to do a solo Batman film. Gal Gadot, of course, is great as Wonder Woman. We know all this already. And the movie also knows you love Wonder Woman, which is why it inserts a random action scene with her at the start of the film that’s completely unrelated to the plot in any way. The people love Wonder Woman, let’s give them Wonder Woman.
Ezra Miller as The Flash is enjoyable. I can see him not being everyone’s cup of tea, but he fills the void of comedy relief very well. And maybe I liked him purely because this universe desperately needed some lighthearted humour here and there. They just need to be careful to not make him too quippy in the future and to give his character some kind of weight.
Jason Momoa plays a badass Aquaman. Although outside of one or two scenes underwater in Atlantis, there’s really nothing aqua about him. He’s just a dude with a trident. And the underwater Atlantis scenes felt very rushed and shallow. Like they hadn’t fleshed out any ideas for Atlantis or anything at all and so they avoided showing us much of anything. I am interested to see how James Wan handles the character and the setting. But they played it fairly close to the chest with him here.
Victor Stone, the Cyborg, just didn’t click for me. The character has a small, minor arc, so at least there’s a tiny amount of development. But he’s the most forgettable and dull of the Justice League. He’s a cyborg that can do whatever the script requires at the time.
And together, this band of superheroes will take on Steppenwolf, an underwritten, generic CGI villain that you will forget all about the second you leave the cinema. I was reminded a lot of Thor: The Dark World, actually. In that there was a villain who had a devious world conquering plan of some sort, but it was all very vague and rushed and unmemorable. I still can’t remember the name of the villain from Thor: The Dark World, and give me a few days and I won’t remember Steppenwolf either.
I’ll enter spoiler territory from here on in. But as this movie follows on from Batman v Superman, we’re constantly reminded that Superman is dead. Of course, this dramatic death lasts all of half the movie, as he is randomly brought back from the dead… for reasons. There are these three MacGuffins that the villain is trying to find, and the heroes use one of these MacGuffins, combined with the kryptonian technology that Lex Luthor used to creature Doomsday in the last movie to bring Superman back to life. It’s exactly as dumb as it sounds. The whole “death of Superman” thing is so heavy handed and carries no dramatic weight whatsoever. He died in his second movie, and it was a bad movie. And he’s brought back quite early on here. The thing is, no one ever bought that Superman was actually dead. If they killed him off say, five or six movies in, then maybe it would carry some weight. If Captain America dies in the next Avengers movie (I got money on him or Iron Man), then it will matter. We’ve been with the character for years now, we followed him on several fun, cinematic adventures, and a death this many phases in would feel more than likely permanent. Killing Superman in his second film has no dramatic weight. Nobody cares. They’ve followed a drab, sad Superman through two bad movies. At best, his death is a plot device to motivate Batman and Wonder Woman to start the Justice League. And I guess that had to be the idea. But surely there are less hamfisted ways to do that than to do the Death of Superman arc.
I admittedly did like the interactions between Superman and The Flash. But also, this suffers from the same stupid thing that the Marvel movies do, and that’s find stupid excuses to make the heroes fight.
I love these characters, at least on paper. I have been reading Batman comics since I was a kid. And I love the Justice League as a whole. And I genuinely feel that Wonder Woman was a great film. But this whole DC movie franchise – Wonder Woman excluded – has been a disaster. They put their eggs in the wrong basket with Zack Snyder, and rather than plan a fun series of films that link together and form a coherent story, they’ve made a mess. Just a big old mess in a race to get that phat Marvel money. Their entire plan of attack has been “well, let’s do what Marvel did.” But when you’re being just a weaker, less fun version of the MCU, why should the public spend money on the DCEU? I hold out hope that The Batman, Aquaman and the next Wonder Woman will all be good, but Warner’s track record doesn’t look good.
In closing, it’s not the bloated mess that Batman v Superman was by a decent margin. It doesn’t drag like BvS or Suicide Squad either. There’s some fun to be had here. And maybe, maybe, it’s laying the foundation for a good series of solo films. But again, it’s every over the top Zack Snyder CGI actionfest you’ve seen before, just with the occasional Joss Whedon-ism thrown in.