So let’s start right out by saying that it’s nice to see that Warner Bros. and DC are looking to right the ship with their DC movie universe, as Justice League is definitely a step in the right direction for the overall DCCU. This summer already kicked off with the phenomenal Wonder Woman standalone film, which showed that if the right care is taken, then there’s no reason for DC movies not to be as successful as their Marvel comic cinematic counterparts.
And I bring that up so early in this review because there’s really no avoiding the comparison of the two film universes, as that’s just the nature of the beast. Long has the rivalry between the two companies been there, but in the end, if they both produce great movies then it’s the audience that’s the true winner in it all.
Now, I’m not a straight up Marvel guy, as Batman is my favourite superhero ever; however, with Marvel’s heroes being more grounded in reality and their villains often being flawed characters that can evoke sympathy from the reader/viewer for why they are the way they are, it definitely gives Marvel an edge up when it comes to being more relatable to audiences.
The DC cinematic universe has done a fairly good job of attempting to make their larger than life characters, such as Superman, more human so that we can relate with them and feel that they suffer from some of the same problems we do, but one of the bigger problems the DCCU has faced on the big-screen so far is just how dark most of their overall product has been.
Both Man of Steel and Batman Vs. Superman were criticized for their darker tones, with both films focusing on their heroes often brooding or suffering, with little to no bright spots along the way. There’s a reason why many viewed the scene in BvS where Wonder Woman smirks after being knocked back by Doomsday as one of the film’s highlight moments, and that’s because it was fun, light and humorous in a movie that focused mainly on the darker side of man and Superman.
Luckily, Justice League does a one-eighty when it comes to the tone, as even with the safety of the world being threatened, there’s a lot more brightness to the scenes and atmosphere, and the overall feeling is a lot lighter and smooth flowing. Yes, there’s a lot more humour this time out, and those who may be skeptical will be happy to hear that it’s not wedged in in order to “be more like Marvel.”
No, it’s clear that with the revamping of the creative team behind the scenes that Justice League took on a much brighter, and hopeful tone from the outset over simply filming some extra scenes as comedic band-aids as was what reportedly happened with Suicide Squad. The characters and visuals are more vibrant; the action sequences are easy to see and not muddled by heavy shadows, and as a whole the film just looks a lot more fun.
Now, while the DCCU does seem to be getting itself back on track, Justice League does have some cons to go along with the pros. First and foremost is how all the characters are handled. This was always going to be an issue as DC and Warner Bros. chose to try and play catch-up with Marvel instead of going at their own pace and taking their time. Now, I’m not sure if they feared that the comic book bubble would burst before they got to a Justice League movie three or fours years down the road; but what’s done is done, and now they have to take the criticism for their choices.
Having Batman introduced in Batman Vs. Superman was fine, as it was based off a famous graphic novel, it allowed for Batman to be brought into this film world in a way we haven’t seen before (which isn’t an easy thing to do when it comes to Batman) and it brought together two characters that audiences wanted to see go head to head.
The problem that Justice League couldn’t avoid was that it had to properly introduce audiences to The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), while also building up a new team dynamic, a worthy villain, and tying together aspects of the previous films all while not bogging down the story while doing so.
On the plus side, Justice League isn’t a convoluted mess; however, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg do suffer from, “Listen, you were on this data drive, it says you have powers…we need your help,” introductory syndrome. I mean, I was a fan of BvS, but that flash drive was probably the worst way they could have ever gone about letting Bruce (Ben Affleck) and Diana (Gal Gadot) know that there were other meta-humans on earth.
Playing the pros and cons game some more with this aspect of the film leads arguably the biggest con to have with Justice League because of its overall importance to the DCCU and that is that there simply isn’t enough time given to the introduction of each new hero.
The Flash, whose real name is Barry Allen, is the wise-cracker of the group, and he’s supposed to be someone who’s new to this whole superhero thing and doesn’t really do much with it; however, he also has a headquarters in a warehouse, and a homemade suit made with not-so-easy to get materials. Since there wasn’t a Flash solo movie before this, it’s unclear why he has these things if he doesn’t fight crime on the regular, or how long he’s had these powers, as it sometimes feels like he’s still trying to get a handle on how to use them properly. There’s also a small side-plot with his father that’s only briefly touched upon, but really could have been fleshed out in a single movie before this team flick took place.
The same could be said about Aquaman and Cyborg, who both briefly see their solo backstories touched upon through a few throwaway lines, when we should really already know their origins and be invested in these characters beforehand. This is especially true for these three characters, as they’re new to the silver screen, so audiences that aren’t avid comic book readers know only what the film tells us about them.
What’s even crazier is that as of right now, only Aquaman has a solo film on deck out of this trio. While I’m not sure that Cyborg could handle his own independent adventure, The Flash definitely should already have one lined up, and it’s unknowns like this – while already adding more characters to the mix, such as Shazam and Black Atom – that makes it seem like the DCU is flying by the seat of their pants instead of playing the long game that Marvel Studios has been setting up for almost a decade now.
While the lack of solo films beforehand does kill the slow build of, “Oh man, I can’t wait until we see The Flash and Batman finally meet up!” I will say that a major pro of the film is the team chemistry between all five members of the Justice League is strong, as the actors really play their roles well. For example, Batman is the realist of the group, and can sometimes (most times) come off as a dick because of it. That’s how Affleck plays it, and it works with the team dynamic that everyone brings to the table.
There are also some really fantastic character moments that help add some depth to some members of the group, with the most memorable being between Bruce and Diana after a battle. It’s just a really great interaction that allows the audience to see a little deeper into the mind of a more tired, experienced Bruce Wayne.
It’s this chemistry that keeps the film moving forward at a solid pacing so you don’t get hung up on things like how quickly they were brought together, or how little investment you have in three members of the team outside of knowing that they’re good guys because they’re willing to fight the bad guy to save the world. And that leads us to the big bad of Justice League, a foe that needs to be threatening enough to hold his own against all our heroes at once.
That bad guy is Steppenwolf: a comic book villain with a name of a rock band that really doesn’t help him in the threatening department. In fact, I couldn’t take Batman seriously when he says, “Do you think Steppenwolf’s out there talking about ethics?” Sure, The Red Skull is an incredibly on the nose, generic name, but at least that sounds like someone I wouldn’t want to cross paths with in a dark alley.
Poor name aside, Steppenwolf as the main villain is another weaker aspect to Justice League, simply because he’s basically a lackey to DC’s big, big bad, Darkseid (think Marvel’s Thanos.) Steppenwolf also wants to destroy the world, while, I believe, paving the way for Darkseid. His plans are sort of unclear in the film, as it’s rumoured certain scenes to further the Darkseid storyline hit the cutting room floor during reshoots. In short, Steppenwolf wants to gather the three Mother Boxes that are spread out around the world, and combine them to lay waste to earth. Possibly for Darkseid. Maybe.
Alongside Steppenwolf are parademons, who are the foot soldiers of Darkseid. Their arrival in Gotham (and elsewhere) are what sparks Bruce Wayne to create the Justice League in fears that something bigger is coming. They’re fine generic henchmen, but between Bruce’s vision and Lex Luthor mentioning Darkseid is coming in BvS, and then only haphazardly mentioning this massive villain in a single throwaway line that could easily be missed this time out, it’s odd that a more concrete foundation hasn’t been planted if Darkseid is supposed to be a sort of DC cinematic endgame.
It’s just that Steppenwolf is a glorified foot soldier to Darkseid, so to see the team having so much trouble with him when Wonder Woman herself defeated Ares, the god of war, seems a bit far-fetched – especially if DC is second guessing whether or not it wants to go the full Darkseid route. I mean, I can’t see them not eventually battling DC’s toughest villain, but between the apparent dropped scenes to set that up, as well as what the second post-credit scene (yep, there are two, so sit tight!) hints at, it’s not entirely clear what the plan may be moving forward.
Future films thoughts aside; Justice League is just two hours in length, which is almost an hour shorter than Batman Vs. Superman. Some viewed this as a problem even before the film’s release; however, some also viewed the three-hour length of Batman Vs. Superman as an issue as well, so there’s no pleasing everyone. While I do think an extra 20-minutes or so couldn’t have hurt if it helped develop our three new heroes better, the pacing overall is fairly strong, with the action starting up right out of the gate and really never slowing down until all is said and done.
Despite its shortcomings, Justice League is a bright spot on the film resume for the DCCU. It’s loads of fun, with plenty of action-packed moments, memorable encounters, and fantastic chemistry for a team that – despite recent casting rumours – will hopefully unite again on-screen in the future.
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
Notable Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Ciaran Hinds.
Brendan Campbell was here when Inside Pulse Movies began, and he’ll be here when it finishes - in 2012, when a cataclysmic event wipes out the servers, as well as everyone else on the planet other than John Cusack and those close to him. Brendan’s the #1 supporter of Keanu Reeves, a huge fan of popcorn flicks and a firm believer that sheer entertainment can take a film a long way. He currently resides in Canada, where, for reasons stated above, he’s attempting to get closer to John Cusack.