Ever since I experienced Batman’s return to the big screen in 2005 with Batman Begins and Superman’s own return with Superman Returns in 2006, I’ve been pining for a Justice League live-action film featuring the characters I knew and loved. That means I need Cyborg from Teen Titans, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and the Flash uniting in order to face the bad guy who was threatening the world this time. When Man of Steel released, the Internet went crazy into theories about a DC film universe that would be quite similar to what is commonly referred to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU for short). After seeing the trainwreck that was 2011’s Green Lantern, I wasn’t entirely certain that the speculation had any truth to it. Then, in October of 2014, Kevin Tsujihara (the chairman and CEO of Warner Brothers Entertainment) got on stage to announce that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would arrive in 2016 along with Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman would release the following year with a Gal Gadot as a guest appearance in Batman v Superman, Justice League: Part One (now just referred to as Justice League) would release in 2017 as well, The Flash starring Ezra Miller would premiere in 2018 (now referred to as Flashpoint), Jason Momoa’s Aquaman would also arrive in 2018, The Rock’s Shazam would debut in 2019 along with Justice League: Part Two (now untitled), Cyborg starring Ray Fisher would premiere in 2020 and last but not least a Green Lantern movie in 2020 as well.
All that sounded very promising when it happened. DC was finally getting their own cinematic universe and it was going to be awesome. Then, Batman v Superman released. It bombed critically. DC had made their first wrong move by making the film a “set up film”, in that this film was essentially trying to be more than just Batman v Superman, but also giving Superman a sequel story, trying to set up Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and Justice League all in the span of 2 hours and 31 minutes. On that basis alone, that would be cause for pause. Then, Suicide Squad hit with a indecipherable plot, characters who don’t make sense for the situation or story and just a lousy direction. Finally, in July of this very year, Wonder Woman hit and everyone loved Gal Gadot’s performance, her chemistry with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, it was funny and knew how to tell the tale without going to thick into the hows and whys and focused on giving us our first look at what was to come from DC in the future.
This week, Justice League hit theaters. We’re finally here. With the future of the DC cinematic universe at stake, does it deliver? Well, yes and no.
Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists newfound ally Diana Prince to face an even greater threat. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes — Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash — it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.
I don’t think I can describe Justice League better than that official synopsis. I could honestly just publish this right now, if I wanted to. The plot isn’t the strong point of Justice League, I’ll admit. I remember more about Thor: Ragnarok than I do of Justice League. If I had to describe it to a coworker, I’d probably just throw that synopsis out there and try my best not to blurt out spoilers. That’s the weird thing about this movie. I remember moments more than I remember the actual plot, which I would mention here, but all of the moments I’m thinking of at the moment are spoiler-heavy, sorry.
On the subject of feeling sorry, I could really feel how conflicted the development of Justice League truly was. Zack Snyder left the director’s chair to be with his family after a family tragedy, leaving Joss Whedon of Avengers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame (among many others) to pick up the pieces of a cinematic universe. Whedon does what he does here and the movie is so much better for it. The Flash is a hilariously awkward speedster, Aquaman is a redneck, Wonder Woman is the soccer mom, Batman is the overbearing dad, Cyborg is the jock and it just works so well. That’s what the Justice League of America has always been about, at least for me. The Justice League is a family. You’re going to have awkward moments, but you’re also going to need to step up when a situation goes south.
I would’ve preferred that bond built up over the course of their own individual titles and then having the catharsis of the Justice League finally uniting to face the big bad they were warned of years earlier, though. There’s something about the anticipation of a big event, something that makes all of those years of following what’s happening this time around worth it. Throughout Justice League, outside of the setup scenes that give us a tease of what’s to come in their respective solo film, we have little to no reason to care about what happens to these newcomers. We’re already attached to Gal Gadot & Ben Affleck in their respective roles, but we don’t know exactly what brought The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg to join the Justice League. It doesn’t exactly help that the newcomers feel like a joke delivery system and that when the conflict is resolved, we’re just left with a sense that we’re supposed to care but can’t.
As for mom and Dad (Bruce and Diana), I can’t exactly say they brought anything exceptionally meaningful to the table either. At times, Ben Affleck seems like he’s either over acting to compensate for the cowl he wears to play Batman or simply does not want to be there. As for Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman, I think a lot of the problems I have just resort to the way the camera lingers on her butt and boobs and the direction she was given to do a whole lotta eyebrow acting.
Speaking of direction, I think a lot of the story complaints I have are due to the editing. Right from the beginning, I felt like I was jumping ahead to the second hour of another movie I hadn’t watched yet. There’s just so much…missing. I’m not saying that I want the “Snyder Cut” that so many are talking about on Twitter, I just want clarification on what exactly was going on. Does this take place months after Batman v Superman? Minutes? Days? I don’t think we’ll ever get the answer to why a certain character knows why this will work the way they intend it to 100% of the time or why a certain character has this plan or what the plan even was in the first place.
Maybe it’s an attempt at hitting a reset button that’s slightly out of reach, which would certainly make sense, considering only one out of the four movies was a critical success. The only strange thing about this is if you’re a comic book fan like me, you know what the word Flashpoint means. A reboot of everything DC. It’s so strange that Warner Brothers would pick an ensemble film to try and right all the wrongs of three of their previous films. Sure, Flashpoint won’t be out until at least 2020, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t shuffle Justice League further down the cinematic slate so that everyone watching could get that sense of a refresh, instead of just running with it.
Steppenwolf sucks. No, not the band Stephen Wolf. The New God. Going into the auditorium, I was expecting so much more than I got. A literal god who kicked all kinds of ass and took names while doing it. Here, we get a PS3-era CGI blob expositing about how important the MacGuffins are and just taunting our heroes before disappearing to do something more important than defeating the heroes that stand united against you. What’s worse is that Steppenwolf is played by Ciarán Hinds. If you need a quick refresher, he was in There Will Be Blood, In Bruges, Stop-Loss, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Silence, just to name a few.
Justice League was fun. Expect a good time with your favorite heroes you know and love, just don’t expect much in the way of actual consequences, stakes or story. Let’s just wait and see until Flashpoint.