Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat. But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes-Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash-it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.
Justice League is the fifth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), following the release of Wonder Woman this past summer. The film was directed by Zack Snyder and stars Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash, Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman, and Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg. I didn’t have much hype for this movie going in; it felt more like an obligatory viewing. With the exception of Wonder Woman, the DCEU has had a hard time, with films produced that had some interesting ideas and performances, but ultimately fell flat in a lot of ways. I was also skeptical of how well this film could be pulled off without the lead-up that The Avengers got. Fairly recently someone made the point that just because that’s one way of going about it successfully doesn’t mean that’s the only way of doing it, however, which opened my mind up a little.
The most surprising thing about this film is just how straightforward it is. The villain Steppenwolf is coming to Earth with an army of parademons and Batman must assemble the team to defend the world. There are three “Mother Boxes” that Steppenwolf seeks in order to terraform the planet to reflect that of his homeworld. That’s pretty much it, as far as the conflict of the film. The villain is generic and has little depth, though he is quite powerful if formidability matters to you. I was reminded a lot of the DC animated films that get released, specifically with how they tell stories within an implicitly established universe, concisely introducing their characters as needed while also assuming the audience’s prior knowledge. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. The DCEU has previously had trouble with being bogged down by dark and overly serious tones and content. A story that was fairly to the point was actually quite welcome to me. The drawback to this, however, is in a sea of superhero releases every year this also made the film unremarkable.
Where it did stand out in a few places for me was its character moments. Though apparently not accurate to his comic book counterpart, I really liked the comic relief The Flash brought to the table. I also liked a few of the moments between Batman and Wonder Woman, one highlighting the realistic physical fragility of the former and another pointing out some of the failings of the latter over the past century as grief drove her to hide herself away from being the beacon of hope should could be. Cyborg’s coming to terms with his cybernetic body, while not as deeply explored as it could have been, was compelling and poignant. Aquaman was the weakest established character, with background information that was a little confusing, but the film still managed to change a character that’s frequently the butt of jokes into someone swashbuckling and powerful.
This next bit is a spoiler, but it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Henry Cavill returns as Superman in this film. Though his screen time is limited, I think Cavill’s performance as the character is more accurate than it has ever been. He’s noble and heroic while at the same time cheesy and more lighthearted, without coming off as too cartoony. There’s also a wonderful sequence, perhaps the best in the entire film, set immediately after Superman is revived. He’s angry and confused, not remembering who he is, and the Justice League has to try to subdue him. During this scene he’s absolutely frightening in a really fun way, pushing the team members to their limits while also demonstrating how powerful he is himself. My only regret with all this is that it could have made for a more interesting film if the focus of the conflict were more on Superman than a generic alien warlord.
I really don’t feel I have much else to say about Justice League, nor do I understand the particular amount of hate I’ve heard it has been getting from critics. I will stress that I found it unremarkable, but at the same time I thought it was fine. I suppose some people wanted a Justice League film to blow them away, but I was satisfied with what it brought to the table. It had some great character moments as well as a few stand-out action sequences. Most importantly it feels to me like it sloughed off some of the baggage from the previous films, in a way that I hope with show improvements for the characters’ respective films going forward.