Along with Netflix’s Punisher, November 17 also marked the release of Justice League. Anyone who watches my YouTube videos or has read my other articles knows that I hate the DC vs Marvel mentality that prevents people from trying to enjoy both properties. Due to my own openness to enjoy both, this weekend was an early Christmas.
After some disappointing results from BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad (don’t even get me started) I approached Justice League with cautious optimism. One of my biggest worries after seeing the trailers was that the studios would force more humour or “fun” into the film. Joss Whedon assisted with post-production but Ben Affleck has said that the tone was set prior to Whedon’s arrival. I have no problem with “fun” itself, but I hate the increasingly popular mentality that every comic book film has to be fun in order to be good. This mentality also leads to people targeting the tone as an issue if a film is poor. BvS had its share of issues, such as Eisenberg’s Luthor and the third act. The tone was the least of my worries but people flocked to that argument like moths to a flame. I was worried the filmmakers would now see adding more humour as the only key to success, as opposed to some better performances, character development etc.
I can say that most of the humour in the film works. There are some lines, particularly one from Batman, that felt out of place but the film didn’t end up being Thor: Ragnarok like I feared. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) provides most of the comic relief and will probably emerge as a new fan favourite. His Flash is young and inexperienced, serving mostly as crowd control and ancillary support in the fights. While I liked the character himself, I still have to wonder why Barry was given Wally West’s personality. Any fans of the Justice League animated show will remember Wally West’s flash as the comic relief. Meanwhile, Barry Allen is a more serious character. Miller is weaker in the more dramatic scenes, which is a surprise given his performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Maybe my friend was onto something when he said Zack Snyder’s weakness is directing actors.
However, the majority of performances either gave us something new to like or built off what we’ve seen before. Ben Affleck’s Batman is more optimistic about his ability to impact the world with the league but still has traces of the world weary Batman that many fans are probably familiar with. He has “contingency plans” and he still knows how to push people’s buttons, as demonstrated in a scene where he confronts Wonder Woman.
Gal Gadot shines as the heart of the team, the warrior who also serves as a mother to the team’s new or reluctant members. Ray Fisher actually emerged as one of my favourite performances, but the writing and runtime doesn’t allow his character to flourish, especially in the second half. Jason Momoa is decent as Aquaman. Don’t get me wrong, he is an imposing figure on screen who has probably diminished the general public’s idea of Aquaman as a loser, but this film does lead me wondering how well he will carry a solo film.
Anyone who has seen all of the trailers or even saw BvS knows it was likely Superman would return. His return is actually tied into the plot from BvS, and is something that Batman is actively pursuing in the film. It doesn’t end up being a deus ex machina like I feared and Superman’s return actually leads to one of the film’s most memorable moments. Henry Cavill could be a wooden Superman at times but I actually enjoyed his performance here.
It is clear some scenes were cut from the film, either because we are missing parts from the trailer, or the fact that the film could have used some more time to flesh out the new Leaguers. To its credit, Justice League gives us a sense of character backstories without spending too much screen time to go in depth e.g. we learn Barry got struck by lightning and we know Cyborg was in an accident, but we don’t see it. This may be due to post-production cuts or it may have been the original cut. However, it begs the question of why ten or fifteen minutes couldn’t have been used to give Cyborg, The Flash or Aquaman some more devoted screen time. Stepping into the light is a theme of the film, not referring to tone, but referring to heroes who often work alone coming together to fight an enemy. At the beginning of the film Cyborg is still coming to terms with his new identity and takes some cues from Batman, keeping to himself while he tries to better understand his body and abilities. He makes it clear he can’t fully control his body yet and this leads to some interesting conflict, but this subplot is discarded in the film’s second half.
I hate to bring up a Marvel comparison but herein lies the advantage of doing solo films prior to the team-up. My previous paragraph could end up being null if each character got a solo film first. However, I will say that doing a team up film first can also generate more interest for a solo one. With their budgets, superhero films aren’t always guaranteed box office success. Maybe a Cyborg film done prior to Justice League would not have done as well as the studio hoped? Now, I hope the film comes to fruition due to Fisher’s performance.
Speaking of Marvel comparisons, Justice League does give us a pretty forgettable villain. I was excited to hear about Steppenwolf as the villain since it meant we could soon be getting Darkseid. The design we saw in the deleted scene of BvS is discarded here for a look that is more generic and looks poorly rendered for the majority of the film’s scenes.
Steppenwolf’s plot revolves around the Mother Boxes, three devices that can combine to turn any planet into the hellish environment of his homeworld (awesome getting a reference to Apokolips). The majority of Steppenwolf’s screen time is spent in search of the Mother Boxes, which leads to a memorable fight with the Amazons and some great fights with the League.
Wonder Woman shines as the battlefield MVP for most of the film. The Flash and Aquaman get their moments as well, while Cyborg serves his own purpose. It is an old joke that Batman would be useless against physically powerful villains but decades of comics show him fighting far more powerful foes with the use of gadgets and tactics. We get some of that here but there is also plenty of time when Batman is removed from his plane or bat mobile and ends up being the weakest link. Even when he is fighting one thug at the beginning of the film he is able to execute some stunning acrobatics (complete with slo-mo) but then still takes a lot of time to take down one person when compared to his speed in the warehouse fight in the first film. Now, this film makes it clear he is getting older and is more beaten up than ever, but his prowess ends up being inconsistent throughout the film.
While CGI provides us some great shots, such as Flash’s Sistine Chapel moment, it also gives us many other scenes where CGI simply seems unnecessary or poorly rendered. The fights fights are hampered by poor CGI in places, especially for the parademons. Like Steppenwolf himself, the parademons looked better in BvS (the Knightmare scene). Additionally, the fights are somewhat diminished by the fact that we aren’t as emotionally invested since the villain isn’t that interesting. He is physically powerful and imposing but so are his opponents, we need more than that to interest us. Ciaran Hinds’s voice acting sadly seems wasted. Steppenwolf has some good lines but overall he felt like another placeholder villain with a pretty generic motive that was provided simply so the league could have something to fight.
A film should not be judged simply for what it sets up, but I have to give the theatrical cut some credit for its ability to weave in other characters and worlds in its concise running time. We get a brief glimpse of Atlantis and glimpses of important characters from other worlds, such as the Greek Gods and Green Lanterns. There are two post-credits scenes and the second one leads well into the future DCEU movies, while also providing a glimpse of a character many fans have been waiting for.
Overall, Wonder Woman is still my favourite DCEU film, but there are some things that I liked about the Justice League movie. The final fight is more entertaining, which is probably unfair since the fight combines our favourite characters. Justice League is hampered by some of the same issues from its predecessors but still surpasses BvS, Suicide Squad and after some thought I might have to say it beats Man of Steel. I might revisit this ranking in a week though.
- Wonder Woman
- Justice League
- Man of Steel
- Batman V Superman
- Suicide Squad