Justice League Movie
The DC Cinematic Universe continues to trek on, giving us a proper “team-up” film. Many argue that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was DC’s first team-up, followed by Suicide Squad’s villain team-up, but really we’re all looking for DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers in the MCU. Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder, is an ambitious undertaking, with it having to directly compete with Thor: Ragnarok at the box office, and to show that DC is also perfectly capable of offering a quality superhero movie. Other than Wonder Woman this past summer, DC has had trouble garnering enough positivity for their shared cinematic universe. Justice League doesn’t quite lift the DC Universe to new heights, but it does surpass its previous hero-movie offerings, with the exception of Wonder Woman, of course.
CHARACTERS & PERFORMANCES
Justice League had a lot cut out for itself. It was introducing not one new hero, but three new heroes: Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa), the Flash (played by Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (played by Ray Fisher). It goes without saying that a solo outing for at least two of these characters (my picks would be Aquaman and the Flash) would’ve benefitted this movie greatly. Arthur Curry has a tremendous world for us to explore, Atlantis, and the history of Atlanteans is very rich. But here, we don’t get much of that, and understandably so; you can’t delve too much into that in a team-up film, but that’s precisely the reason why a solo film revolving around Jason Momoa’s character would’ve been really cool. Especially since Momoa’s take on the Atlantean is very likable and down to earth.
Alongside that, Ezra Miller’s Flash is very kid-like. He’s a little immature, but it’s mostly because of his inexperience with being a “hero”. He puts it very plainly himself in the movie: “I’ve never really done battle. I’ve just pushed some people and ran away.” He’s a lighter character, often supplying the comic relief, as Barry Allen does, and being able to see him and his struggle with his father and that backstory could’ve been very compelling and would allow us to empathize more with him when he’s put into these “world-ending” situations. Instead, we’re just eager for him to get over his anxiety and run fast.
As for our third newbie, Cyborg, his backstory and introduction could very well have remained here in the JL team-up, but with more of a focus on his struggle in adapting to his new body and capabilities. Cyborg sometimes feels brushed over through this movie. Ray Fisher does an admirable job with the character, but there isn’t much to like about him here. And I think that’s because we don’t have the character focus we need on him, since the movie is trying so hard to divide time between all these heroes, Batman and Wonder Woman included, plus the extra burden of the introduction of two other heroes. Justice League suffers in some of the same areas that BvS did. Much of the characterization for our newcomers feels a little rushed and not genuine.
As for the three heroes we are already acquainted with, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, we get strong performances from them. Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince is as wonderful as ever; she remains the shining light she’s always been. Henry Cavill’s Superman feels revitalized in a much better way. As wasted as his death and return were, it was a nice sequence to see Superman command the screen, but not hogging it from the other heroes. I was never against Bat-fleck; he was strong in the BvS and he remains so here. I could tell, though, that the writers lightened up the tone with his character in this movie. He doesn’t seem at all as gritty, angry, or murderous as he was in BvS. At times he’s actually pretty funny. I think it served the character for the better overall.
One thing had me smiling and engaged throughout the film was how the cast worked together. I felt a great chemistry between everyone; even with Superman’s short appearances towards the end of the film, everyone’s energy together worked very well. I’m going to say it again, I’m sorry, but this is also another reason why some more solo films prior to this would’ve benefitted this movie greatly.
One thing in particular that pulls the movie down a bit is Steppenwolf (played by Ciaran Hinds). We get a cool backstory sequence for him about a war he waged ages ago on Earth against the old Greek gods and Amazons, Atlanteans, and ancient humans. It was a cool sequence visually, but we don’t get much else to wonder about through the rest of the movie. Sometimes Steppenwolf seems extremely powerful and formidable, other times he’s like a palpable rag. Also, the CGI for the character just did not look up to standard. I think much of the effort went into making Cyborg look really cool, and the leftover budget and time were thrown on Steppenwolf. He doesn’t look terrible, but he does stick out like a sore thumb. His character also felt like more of the same. Just a looming threat, building an army or plotting in the background while we focus on our heroes figuring things out. He just simply passes as a villain. One thing that felt better, however, was the climactic fight against him with all the heroes helping out in their own ways. With how Steppenwolf was characterized and how he played out, it was a good enough fight.
WRITING & DIRECTION
Zack Snyder’s worlds also feel a little cold, gloomy, and dirty, and Justice League feels no different. Aside from our heroes not feeling quite so stoic and angry in this movie, this “darker” take on the DC comics world remains. Much of the scenery makes the world look like it’s about to rain all the time. That’s just Snyder’s thing, I suppose.
What really gets me about his direction is how jumbled his movies are. Justice League feels noticeably more grounded than Batman v Superman specifically. It has a clear intent and it doesn’t masquerade as anything other than a superhero/comic film. Batman literally walks around saying, “I’m building/assembling a team of people with special abilities”. I respect Justice League for narrowing its scope and supplying more fanservice.
The film also has some impressive fight sequences. Flash specifically gets a lot of attention with a lot of slow-motion shots of him running through the Speed Force. We even get a nod to the Flash racing Superman (that was very exciting for me)! Our alien bug soldiers didn’t look too menacing, I will say. They suffer from the same thing Steppenwolf does: they just look off. They just look like insignificant filler creatures who are there to provide our heroes something to consistently punch. But to that soundtrack, the mindless punching of non-essential bug-looking monsters doesn’t seem all that bad. It can sometimes feel pretty epic.
From a writing standpoint, it’s more apparent that when DC has a more stable focus, whether it be with a clear villain, or the process of building a team, just those small pieces of creating a story, the universe can really improve. JL feels a lot more like a genuine superhero film. It has some pacing issues, especially through the muddled character introductions and progression of some, but it can shine when they give their characters a chance to be together and interact, and just be heroes. The overall plot of Justice League wasn’t spectacular, it wasn’t groundbreaking, but it at least felt more focused, and that should be commended. It shows that DC and their writing team is looking at critic reviews from fans. I think this movie is another step in the right direction for DC, not quite as significant as Wonder Woman, but it at least gives the universe a bit more stability.
Also, we’re set up for another villain-oriented movie? We get out first look at Deathstroke, and Lex is out of prison and talking about making “a league of our own”. I wonder if this is something that will build with each solo film to come, or just something for Justice League 2. We’ve already got some villain looks from Suicide Squad, so it’ll be interesting to see where our villains are led. I will give DC some extra props for putting in the effort at least to arc the villains across films. Marvel hasn’t really done that other than Loki, and if you count Thanos.
Justice League is a solid step up from its predecessors. It has a clearer focus in terms of story and it gives our heroes some more chances to shine. It is, however, bogged down a bit by rushed introductions to characters, a lackluster villain, some messy CGI spots and appearances of some characters, namely Steppenwolf, and a basic seen-it-before plot. I still feel as though DC should have waited on this and given us some more character work through solo films. This way, Justice League would feel truly earned. It doesn’t quite, here. Who cares if it’s what Marvel did? Marvel did it right: building the universe from the ground up with its focus on the characters, rather trying to get these iconic faces together and get them fighting aliens and stuff. Hopefully, DC is counting Justice League as a win, despite its weaker box office opening numbers, and they will go and build some interesting characters with the several solo films they have slated for the future. They’ll need to do that.