The Justice League has finally arrived on the big screen. There’s been plenty of false starts, reboots and course corrections along the way, not to mention the long and influential shadow of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but DC’s premiere super hero team finally has a movie of their own. Was it worth the wait? Does Justice League deliver what fans have been waiting for, and perhaps more importantly, does it finally provide some firm footing for the rest of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) after Wonder Woman seemed to finally right the ship? You know, the funny thing is, it almost feels like all of these questions are of more importance than what people should be worried about; is Justice League a good movie? Forget all the expectations and universe building importance and whether it can compete with the Marvel movie making machine; movies should be enjoyable regardless of all of those extraneous issues. Well, remove this movie from all of its baggage and I can safely say that while it’s a deeply flawed movie, it’s also surprisingly enjoyable. It captures some of the same thrill and fun of Wonder Woman while finally putting DCs hero in a more, well, heroic light. I walked out having had a lot of fun and with an overall feeling of satisfaction, despite DC still struggling to really hit the bullseye with its DCEU films.
Let’s talk about the problems here first, since that seems like what everyone loves to do with DC films; nitpick them to death for their flaws while ignoring the cookie-cutter approach Marvel takes. First there’s the issue of the film essentially having two directors; Zack Snyder and Avengers alum Joss Whedon. There was some concern that the movie would feel disjointed with two directors of rather different styles contributing to the final product. Everyone keeps asking if it’s easy to spot what belongs to Joss and what belongs to Zack, and but for a few exceptions, I’d generally say no, one can’t really tell who did what. However, between pressure to lighten things up, keep it shorter, do reshoots and switch directors, there is definitely some cohesion problems. Interestingly, there’s a lot of material from the trailers that aren’t in the movie, and there are clearly some parts that feel chopped-up, likely to hit that all-important short run-time. This leads to some frustratingly unresolved themes that clearly had resolution. For example, the trailers show Bruce and Diana talking about how the age of heroes has to come again, yet in the movie, the topic of the age of heroes does come up, but we never get to this resolution of them saying while there was once an age of heroes, now is the time when it needs to come again. In short, if you’ve seen the trailers, you’re going to be waiting for a lot of scenes that didn’t make the actually movie, at times to its detriment. This gives the film an inconsistent, choppy feel and left me wondering what ended up on the cutting-room floor that may eventually make it way into an extended or director’s cut.
The other big problem is the villain, Steppenwolf. He could have been a really intriguing character, what with his ties to Darkseid and Apokolips; there’s a lot of rich mythology to mine there, and we get some hints of it. However, that’s all we get, just hints. So instead of a complicated, rounded villain, we basically get a plot-device bad guy who’s just there to give our heroes something to do. The bad guy needs to find maguffin devices (infinity stones for the MCU, mother boxes for the DCEU) in order to do some world-ending destruction blah, blah, blah. The New Gods, Darkseid, Apokolips and all of those elements created by Jack Kirby are such rich elements and so unique, it’s a shame to see any reference to all of it so watered down in this film. In all fairness, Marvel has struggled in the villain department as well, so this issue isn’t exactly a new one for super hero films of our day.
I should also note that in DC and Warner Bros.’s attempt to be lighter, shorter, and more heroic, they seemed to have left out a key ingredient that was setting the DCEU apart from the MCU; the willingness to dig deeper to more philosophical ideals. Batman v Superman, for all its flaws, offered a deep dive into the exploration of gods and men and what that relationship was like. It even dared to explore whether a good God could let evil reign in the world and still remain good. Heady stuff for a “mere” comic book movie, but enjoyable nonetheless. Similar themes could be found in Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, exploring what it means to be a hero, to be a symbol of hope, and why the fight against evil is worth the sacrifice. In its efforts to be breezier and lighter, Justice League doesn’t “waste” any time exploring “big ideas,” despite some hints that originally it might of. Early in the film when Diana is asked what she is, she responds, “A believer.” A believer in what? I need closure! That sounded liked it was going to be important in the movie, and it was just dropped. There has to be more to it than that. We can’t just believe in belief; that’s the same a believing in nothing. We have to believe in something, and more importantly, we should check and make sure we’re believing in the right thing. It’s so interesting to me that so much of the Holiday season revolves around belief—believe in Santa, believe in peace and goodwill, believe in the magic of Christmas—and yet the one belief that matters is what you believe about the baby born in a manager, Jesus Christ. Do you truly believe that he was born to be a Savior, a sacrifice for our sin, the gateway from eternal death to eternal life? It’s what one decides to believe about that one thing upon which eternity hinges.
Okay, so what about the good stuff? Well, despite spending so much time on its flaws, the fact is Justice League is a really enjoyable movie, and this is almost entirely due to its heroes. Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Superman and Cyborg are a joy to watch onscreen. Their chemistry is wonderful, they all get a moment to shine, and it’s just a blast to see them all working as a team. Plus, despite its shorter running time, Justice League is smart enough to let some of its quieter, more emotional moment actually breathe; they aren’t rushed which gives them an appropriate impact. Wonder Woman is wonderful as ever. Flash is quirky funny, and endearing. Aquaman is just flat out awesome. Batman has learned to be not quite as severe as in the last movie. And even Superman seems to have benefited from his time being dead as he’s more like Superman than he’s ever been thus far in the DCEU. Cyborg, he’s interesting, but his low-key, robotic personality has a little trouble standing out amongst his more colorful allies. That may be intentional and may suit the character, but it does make him feel like the weaklink, at least in this movie.
Justice League’s biggest success is the fact that it got me excited about seeing more from this group of heroes. I’m looking forward now to a Flash film. I actually think the Aquaman movie could be awesome. Obviously everyone wants to see more Wonder Woman, which is just reinforced here. Cyborg could be an interesting character given room of his own to develop. As for Batman and Superman, well, rather than them fighting, I would love to see some sort of World’s Finest take on the duo that shows them as the super friends they are in a different kind of team-up movie. Despite all its flaws, Justice League succeeds in building anticipation for seeing more of this universe, especially in an Easter-egg loaded and exciting (for fans) scene early on that hints at just how big this universe could get.
DC’s biggest problem with their movies is that Marvel got there first; there just no way for them to every live up to expectations or survive any direct comparisons. To their credit, they’ve tried to make them different, but we all know how people feel about something being different. (how many movies try to be franchises and interconnected universes today?) Justice League has its flaws, and it’s no Avengers, but I still found it to be a lot of fun to see all these iconic heroes on the screen working together, finally. It may not have been what it should have been, but I’d say that Justice League gets more right than wrong, and these days for the DCEU, that’s more than enough to satisfy a fanboy like me, and makes for a pretty enjoyable movie as well.
Score: 5 of 7 – Nowhere near as dark as Batman v Superman, but not as light as Wonder Woman, Justice League has some rough language, some intense action scenes, and some dark moments. More edgier than anything Marvel puts out, but not as edgy and dark as previous movies.