If you know me, you know I’ve thrown expectations out the window when it comes to Justice League (2017). It was exhausting going into every DC/Warner Bros. venture expecting the worst and more-or-less having those expectations met. But when it came to Justice League, I decided to let go of those expectations and just appreciate the fact that a Justice League movie is happening; and that is really, really cool. I’ve gotten back into reading DC Comics since the recent Rebirth event, and it has fully reinvigorated my love for DC characters. Having grown up on Bruce Timm’s DC Animated Universe shows, to return to those characters after so many years of Marvel movie after Marvel movie… let’s just say that the ride has been surreal. Justice League finally getting a live, on-screen interpretation is something to absolutely be excited about.
Justice League had its fair share of bumps along the road during production; director Zack Snyder left the film for family related issues, Joss Whedon stepped in to shave off 45 minutes from the runtime, and Whedon also directed extensive reshoots with the majority of the cast. Then there are the millions spent CGI-ing Henry Cavill’s mustache off frame-after-frame because he couldn’t shave it while under contract for photography on Mission: Impossible 6 (2018). If anything, all of this time and money spent had me more intrigued about seeing the final product – on top of my initial man-child hype. While there are certainly some blatant flaws in the movie – both in the story and the visual effects – one thing is for certain: I had fun.
Justice League more or less completes the Zack Snyder trilogy of DC films – since he officially receives the director’s credit. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) discover plans for an impending alien invasion, now that Kal-El/Superman is dead (sorry if you haven’t seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and that’s a spoiler for you) and the Earth is open to extraterrestrial attack. The two set out to recruit the meta-humans they know of to unite and take on the invasion led by Steppenwolf (a CGI face voiced by Ciarán Hinds). It’s the most cookie-cutter superhero plot based on any trailer you saw, you knew it was coming. They’re not pulling any punches here, so going in not expecting The Dark Knight (2008) proved to be a good move on my part. Steppenwolf’s true weakness is the fact that he is clearly a pitstop before Darkseid (DC’s Thanos, but 10x more threatening). Darkseid’s presence is very well known in the DC Extended Universe, so there isn’t that shock and awe that we have when it is revealed at the end of The Avengers (2012) that Thanos is pulling the strings.
I certainly went into the movie with more focus on the characters than the story. Batman and Wonder Woman are both changed from the events of BvS, which is great because even Batman is a bit too nihilistic for my taste in BvS. As for the other returning characters – Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons) – they all are more or less made from the same mold of their previous movies. Nothing wrong with that, it’s not like they’re unbearable in the first movie. After rewatching BvS, I actually had a lot more fun watching a pessimistic Alfred. As for the newcomers, they play by the tropes I expected. Barry Allen/Flash, the Fastest Man Alive (Ezra Miller), is the innocent comic relief while Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is a bro-y outcast. Both Momoa and Miller nail their parts and give them life, but two things are clear: 1. Their acting is better than Snyder’s writing; and 2. Their good lines are more-likely-than-not written by Whedon for the reshoots. One performance I’m a little disappointed in is Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Gadot isn’t bad, I just think she does significantly better in her standalone movie. While this is an origin movie for the Justice League, this is also an origin movie for Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) – definitely the most recent team member to discover their gifts and clearly still learning the ropes. Cyborg certainly requires the most CGI work out of all the main characters, and there are scenes that are noticeably transparent in their artifice. However, I found myself in a forgiving mood about visual gaffs because Cyborg’s role and coming-of-age through-line is really well done, and it makes me hopeful for a Cyborg standalone film.
Warner Bros. mandated Whedon cut Snyder’s nearly-three hour runtime down to two hours or less, and the pacing really shows this. Oftentimes events happen sooner than you’d think, and there are a small handful of scenes that feel as if they’re throwing you down a Mario Tube somewhere in the middle and skipping immediately to the outcome. Pacing and runtime aside, the story isn’t completely outrageous and it certainly fits in with the slew of subpar comic book films with beams/portals and a CGI antagonist. Yet Justice League stands out from this yearly crop of blockbuster superhero flicks because watching these heroes fight together during the final battle is truly wonderful. I sat in the theater with a smile on my face thinking to myself, “This is the Justice League.”
Steppenwolf will fall into the same void as other mediocre comic book movie villains, but in a movie about the origins of a team, I can forgive the villain taking a backseat to the heroes. Of course the heroes have to deliver as well, and the talent in this movie does their best to bring a mediocre, reworked script to life. I also have to give props for not going down the “we can’t get along until the third act,” road most team-up movies love to walk. Everyone gets together almost immediately. The character interactions during action sequences have Whedon written all over them, but they give the characters and the movie some life and make the stakes feel all the more real. Man of Steel (2013)’s fight scenes feel like they have no weight to them because it’s just punch after punch with no dialogue to make you care about who’s involved.
The road to Justice League was a rollercoaster to say the least. From the relatively well-received but bleak Man of Steel; to Batman v Superman, the most divisive comic book film in the past decade; to Suicide Squad (2016), the worst comic book film in the past decade; to Wonder Woman (2017), the resuscitation the DCEU needed (but didn’t deserve); and finally to the reworked, recolored, reshot Justice League. I enjoyed it. Yes there are flaws to be found, and I will most certainly be awaiting an extended cut when the Blu-Ray comes around. The action is entertaining, Cyborg has an unexpectedly great arc, and there are even easter eggs and post-credit scenes galore for comic book nerds.
Justice League may not be as thought provoking as a Nolan-Caper, or have the comedic core of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), but it has heart where it needs it, and it’s an overall step in the right direction for the DCEU. Joss Whedon may or may not have saved this film, but seeing DC’s icons, some of the biggest names in pop culture, is a sight to behold. In a climate where Marvel has struck gold with comedic bro-tagonists, it’s actually nice to see a balance of fun and serious.