Justice League: The Movie That DC Needs Right Now?
Spoiler Free Review:
Course correction was the name of the game for DC in their latest blockbuster attempt, Justice League. After hearing the feedback from the fans and the response from critics over their last few attempts, namely 2016’s now infamous Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC aimed to rein back in their properties and give their fans the film they deserved. JL takes a step in the right direction, making attempts to fix their mistakes and realign their characters to their comic book roots, but was it enough? Only time will tell what the collective movie-going population will determine of the film’s fate, but given their questionable strategy of a team-up movie early in the DCEU’s lifetime, things appear to be looking up.
Spoiler Filled Review:
Is Justice League a perfect movie? No. It still does have it’s flaws but for every negative aspect of the film there’s a positive aspect to even things out. Let’s start by taking a look at each character individually.
The Flash: One of the shining aspects of the movie was Ezra Miller’s Flash. His quick-witted (pun most definitely intended) remarks and overall uncertainty about his own abilities gave the film the comedic relief that DCEU properties have desperately been missing since Man of Steel. Making Barry a completely socially awkward loner is an interesting choice which doesn’t really vibe with his comic counterpart all too well and is probably the most questionable aspect of his character. But throughout the film we get to see Barry really learn how to embrace and hone his powers and grow as a hero which just makes all the solo Flash film complications all the more agonizing to endure as we’re forced to wait even longer to see him take center stage in his own adventure.
Wonder Woman: Fresh off her smash blockbuster hit this summer, Gal Gadot returns as the Amazonian warrior and completely dominates once more. Acting as the team’s voice of reason, especially concerning the Superman resurrection plans, as well as the secondary leader of the team behind Batman, she pulls off another solid performance and kicks serious ass once more. Starting off unsure about her return to humanity following the ending of Wonder Woman, the film explores her indecision about accepting a role as a defender of mankind. We get to see her fully embrace her role as a leader by movie’s end and triumphantly come out of the shadows to protect the planet from all threats small and great.
Aquaman: This was probably one of the largest course corrections of the movie. Aquaman has been the brunt of jokes for decades, appearing as a seemingly useless superhero especially when faced with land-based threats. Justice League aimed to change people’s minds about the Atlantean. And it seems to have worked. Mostly. Jason Momoa turns in a solid performance as the new, grittier Aquaman. Being a total badass now he turned into one of the League’s heaviest hitters, taking down Parademons with ease. The biggest question left hanging for Aquaman, however, is simply “Where was he?” Aquaman was absent from at least 60% of the movie. With the decreased screen time audiences didn’t have much time to learn about or connect with the hero, something that was desperately needed given the lack of a solo outing prior to this film. His rebranding also brings up another important question: Did DC go too far in their Aquaman course correction? They wanted to make the character a more intimidating figure instead of ‘the guy who talks to fish’ but in doing so they seem to have overshot the mark and started to enter the region of unlikeable asshole. Time will tell if DC can pull back the reigns on the character but as of right now his harsh demeanor may keep some fans at bay.
Author’s Note: Since writing this review I have been informed that modern Aquaman comics portray him as a bit more of an asshole so it seems that DC may have actually aligned him more to this newer version for the film.
Cyborg: Another new-comer to the team, Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher, plays a rather pivotal role in the movie, acting as the sole person who can begin the process to untangle the three Mother Boxes that Steppenwolf had managed to collect. Despite having a major role in the climax of the film and the events leading to the final battle, Cyborg was a fairly forgettable deus ex machina character. He was another character that was coming to terms with being a hero, and more prominently being brought back from the dead by his father as a cyborg, but mostly served as the team’s plot device driver: discovering the means to untangling the boxes, discovering where Steppenwolf’s base of operation was, causing Superman to go berserk post-resurrection. This isn’t to say Fisher did a poor job; the character was just written in such a way that he was both important but forgettable. There was also a fairly sizable timeline issue with his character. During the course of the film, Victor Stone mentions that he died the night of Superman’s death and that his father brought him back using the Mother Box afterward. The issue though was that BvS showed Bruce watching Cyborg’s rebirth prior to Superman’s death. So which is the truth? Do the writers even know? Or are they just making this stuff up as they go?
Batman: This section could almost be retitled ‘Bruce Wayne’ since Ben Affleck spends a good chunk of the movie as Mr. Wayne and not Batman. This isn’t to say this is a bad thing; Affleck does a passable job as Wayne. During the course of the movie audiences got to delve more into Bruce’s character and his motivations instead of the Bat’s. This may seem like a questionable decision but since DC had admitted that they were aiming to go with an older, more weathered Batman this approach seems appropriate. Bruce needs to use his charm and intellect more than his raw strength to join the League and take down Steppenwolf. During the course of the movie Bruce is willing to be the team’s internal villain in order to unite the rest of team to a common cause, evidenced during Bruce and Diana’s scene prior to Superman’s resurrection wherein he pushes her and taunts her about Steve Trevor, her lost love from Wonder Woman. Bruce and Diana have a solid chemistry between the two as well, working with one another and using each other’s strengths to convince the remaining League members to join up in the fight against Steppenwolf and the Parademons.
Superman: The man of the hour and the main focus of the second act of the movie. Henry Cavill reprises his role as the Man of Steel albeit in a different capacity from what we’ve seen of him before. The end of BvS left us with a dead Superman at the hands of Lex Luthor and his Doomsday creation (but let’s not dwell on that disaster much longer). When the team finally does manage to resurrect Clark with the aid of mankind’s Mother Box, we get to see a very different Kal-El from what we’ve seen in past DCEU versions. After another Cyborg deus ex machina plot driving incident, Superman begins attacking the team in a confused, post rebirthed state before finally being calmed by Lois Lane and flying back off to the family farm in Kansas. What we see of him afterward is a more light-hearted, less serious version of the Kryptonian which is exactly what the character needed. He tosses more jokes around, he humors Barry in the mid-credits scene with his cross-country race, he actually smiles now. Brooding and darkness doesn’t suit the character, especially when we have Batman and now Aquaman to cover all the brooding we could ever want, which is why it was such a mystery as to why DC decided to go that direction during Cavill’s first two outings. The new direction of Superman is underlined by his new, brighter suit which was another needed update. Overall this change in direction for Superman is a long overdue development but a much welcomed one.
Everything Else: One of the biggest concerns going into the movie was whether or not DC would be able to successfully introduce 3 new heroes as well as a new villain AND to bring them all together in a cohesive fashion. Marvel took the more logical approach in giving audiences time to adapt to these characters and get to know them before teaming them up to save the world. Despite the rush to put everyone together, DC manages to mesh their team together very nicely, introducing each new character and giving them just enough of a backstory so that these characters don’t seem like complete strangers. The movie gives each of these characters enough time to develop themselves and give them character arcs in which to grow. They even are able to give nods to other DC properties such as the Green Lantern Corp and Shazam during the Amazonian recollection of the Steppenwolf battle.
One gripe that I have left after finishing this movie: Can we please leave the damn crashed Kryptonian ship alone from here on out? The ship has played a major plot point in 3 movies now and it’s beginning to turn into a deus ex machina item as well. ‘We have a problem and we don’t know how to tackle it,’ a character would seem to say. ‘I know! Let’s go to the crashed Kryptonian ship in Metropolis!’ And BAM! problem solved.
As far as the story was concerned, it was nice and concise. It didn’t waste time chasing down unnecessary tangents; it knew what it wanted and it told the story it wanted. One thing I was a little confused about was the sudden appearance of the Parademons. We open with Batman stalking a criminal to use as bait for the creatures but where did they come from? How long has Bruce been tracking these? How did Bruce first find out about them? We first saw them in the nightmare sequence of BvS but did they show up right after the events of that movie? In fact, how far after that movie does this one take place? Despite these initial few set-up questions, which can almost be overlooked, the story afterward remains a tight thrill-ride. One other lingering question does pop up during the course of the movie: What is Steppenwolf’s overall motivation? We know that he goes around conquering worlds with the aid of the Mother Boxes and turning them into Apokolips clones, but why? This movie focuses more on Steppenwolf himself rather than how he fits into any overarching story, with Darkseid only getting a passing mention.
Comic Book Accuracy:
This movie felt very reminiscent of DC’s New 52 Justice League reboot. That story had the team being brought together through random circumstance initially as enemies. Eventually Darkseid appears threatening all of Earth causing the League’s members to put aside their differences and work together to defeat this new threat.
Now obviously in this movie we don’t have Darkseid, or at least not yet. But Steppenwolf easily fills that spot. In the comic, the characters all just happen to run into one another: Batman is on patrol in Gotham when Hal Jordan shows up and then a mysterious signal brings them to Metropolis where they have a giant battle with Superman killing Victor Stone in the process so he can be reborn as Cyborg and so on. What we see in the movie is Batman and Wonder Woman deliberately seeking out each member of the League and recruiting them. Although this works as a story element, the random happenstance meeting aspect made it seem a bit more natural.
As far as just overall character-style and their relation to the comics, DC did a fairly decent job either representing the hero’s personality or course-correcting their hero to meet their comic equivalent. We are getting a more weathered Batman for the DCEU which is something that we don’t really see in the comics, at least not when it comes to the Justice League comics, so that deviates only slightly from comic origins.
Overall Justice League isn’t the perfect blockbuster that DC was hoping for, but given that their only real victory prior to this had been this summer’s Wonder Woman it was the best outcome they could have hoped for. One thing can be said for certain: All of the ‘Aquaman is lame’ jokes can now be laid to rest.
Story - 7/10
Visuals - 7/10
Action Sequences - 9/10
Comic Book Accuracy - 6/10
Twist Factor (Unexpected DC Comedy) - 8/10
Overall Score - 7/10