It’s taken a very long time to get here, but we finally have a live-action Justice League movie. The road to the film hasn’t been the smoothest, but DC and Warner Brothers got the job done, one way or another, and now it’s time to sit back and take it in. The marketing has felt a little incomplete to me, however, without the presence of Superman, whose absence is explained by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are the holy trinity of the Justice League as well as of DC Comics, in general, so seeing all of these advertisements for a Justice League film without the signature red and blue suit being featured has made the film feel like a watered down version to me, personally. But, marketing aside, how does the actual film come off?
Right off the bat, I’m going to say that this is going to be a tough review to write. I’m not sure how to talk about it without mentioning specifics – many of which would be spoilers. I’m not going to do that, but have fun as you watch me dance around them. That’s something else to be said for the marketing: unlike most major tentpole films, the trailers and television spots gave virtually nothing away. That’s a great thing and I hope more studios go that route in the future.
So . . . what can I say? The narrative picks up as Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are picking up the pieces after the fallout from their encounter with Lex Luthor and Doomsday in Dawn of Justice. Bruce has evidence that the unknown and significant threat he has been nervous about has arrived on Earth, and he enlists Diana to help him recruit the other superpowered beings of which he is aware: Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
I don’t feel like I should comment on any more specifics outside of that. Even the villain was shrouded in mystery until just recently, so I won’t reveal them in case you have managed to remain pure and would rather not know. I’ll say that – though this particular character was created by one of the biggest legends in comic book history – I found them to be a bit underwhelming as the choice for the first movie to formally feature the Justice League. Or, perhaps, it’s just the presentation of the protagonist that falls flat. Justice League isn’t entirely unlike The Avengers in terms of structure and action set pieces, in the sense that there is one primary villain in control of an army of otherworldly creatures as they deign to conquer the planet. But, in The Avengers, the villainous figurehead was Tom Hiddleston’s Loki – a complex, charismatic, compelling character whose motivations were rooted in deeply personal issues involving the heroes. Justice League‘s villain is a powerful enough physical threat, but that’s all this particular character has to offer.
The heroes, on the other hand, are rather well-handled. Wonder Woman is still the coolest part of the entire DC Extended Universe and Gal Gadot continues to command the screen anytime she appears upon it. Batman is much closer to the Batman we know from the original comic book source material, if slightly cheekier. I staunchly loathed Ezra Miller’s cameo as the Flash in Dawn of Justice, but I take it all back. He shines in the role as the comedic relief and I was completely wrong about him. He’s my second-favorite member of this Justice League five. Aquaman – taking on the appearance established during the Peter David-helmed run on his comic in the mid-nineties – is presented in a way that helps the character make strides towards dispelling the perception that he’s a minor-leaguer who only “talks to fish”. And Cyborg makes up for his lack of a personality (by design) by proving himself an invaluable asset to the team.
The film is funnier than most previous DCEU films (with the exception of Wonder Woman) which will anger Marvel fans who will claim that WB is only aping Marvel and will also anger DC fans who hate fun things. Can’t please everyone, I guess. Or, ofttimes . . . can’t please seemingly anyone for those in the business of making major studio films. But I enjoyed the humor. It’s done at appropriate times and works pretty well. Most of the humor comes from the Flash and it’s not really “hilarious” in the way that Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man: Homecoming, or Thor: Ragnarok is, but more highly amusing. That’s not a criticism; that appears to have been the goal, and it’s met with solid results.
There is plenty of action throughout the film. As Bruce and Diana are assembling (Uh oh. Can I say that?) the League, the pace slows a bit, hurt somewhat by the fact that we all know where this portion of the story is heading. But the film has enough to offer beyond that to keep it fun. Said action didn’t leave me quite as breathless as that in director Zack Snyder’s two previous DCEU outings (Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice), though there’s one particular battle around the middle of the movie that came pretty darn close. Snyder famously departed Justice League when it was near completion after a horrific family tragedy and Joss Whedon stepped in to finish it. Despite what that 13-year-old kid on Twitter you know with 35 followers thinks, it’s impossible to know exactly what Snyder and Whedon were each responsible for without having been a part of the film, itself, so maybe the switch had something to do with the slight downturn in spectacle. Or . . . maybe it didn’t. Still, even if the excitement isn’t quite up to the standards of those two earlier films, it’s still plenty worthy of the Justice League.
I mostly got what I wanted out of Justice League: iconic characters interacting for the first time in live action, more of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, some barnburning action scenes, snippy dialogue, and some surprises along the way (stay through the credits!). I would have preferred a different approach towards the villain, but I can get over that. I suppose the Internet will likely find something minor and innocuous to obsess over and use to define the entire film, like they did with the Martha scene in Dawn of Justice. But let them refuse to enjoy life. I had fun with this movie and am ready to see what’s next in the DCEU. There is plenty of gold left to mine (Supergirl? Hello? Anyone listening out there?) and as long as the films stay above the quality of Suicide Squad from here on out (as this one easily does), then I’ll be more than satisfied.
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