Warning: The following review contains spoilers for Warner Brothers Justice League.
Many DC Comics fans were skeptical heading into the premiere of Justice League; after the beating Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice took from critics and fans alike, it’s easy to understand why. While Wonder Woman is widely regarded as one of the better comic book movies in a while, and helped right the Warner Brothers ship, that’s a bad taste to wash our of your mouth. People feared Justice League would be more of the same: choppy editing and pacing, poor character development, and a subpar story with over-the-top CGI. Well, I have good news for you worried nerds! Justice League is freaking awesome!
The opening scene quickly sets the tone and gives the first trailer-elusive plot hints. Batman (Ben Affleck) tracks down one of Steppenwolf’s (Ciaran Hinds) Parademons, signaling that an alien invasion is on the horizon. He definitely comes across as more subdued than the off-the-rails Dark Knight we first saw in Batman v Superman. No longer going out of his way to harm criminals, while demonstrating the detective skills comic fans know and love. It’s clear Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death had a deep impact on Bruce Wayne and turned him back into the crusader he was meant to be. Speaking of Krypton’s favorite son, his scene is a bit more subtle. We get a glimpse of what Metropolis became in a post-Superman world. Crime has risen, and hatred and bigotry are in full force. Everything Superman stood for seems disregarded and forgotten with his absence.
Without hope, society has devolved into a much more primitive version of its former self. Metropolis is almost an allegoric representation of America: a once shining beacon shaken to its core, where fear and hatred reign instead.
From there—with the “film tone” box doubly checked—it’s time to meet the team, with actual character development this time! Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stops a terrorist attack while the other Amazons protect a Mother Box (take a quick read through the link, it’s important) back on Themyscira. Throughout Justice League she’s the heart of the team, keeping everyone’s humanity in check and stepping into more of a leadership role thanks to some tough love from Batman. He helps her to realize holding onto century-old lost love is baggage holding her back from living up to her potential as a champion of justice. As one of the strongest Justice League members, and one of the few with any prior knowledge of Steppenwolf, Diana Prince shines once again!
Turns out there’s another Mother Box in Atlantis, but we don’t find Aquaman (Jason Momoa) protecting it. As a matter of fact, he isn’t fully embracing his Atlantean heritage, leaving his wife Mera (Amber Heard) to take his place. She briefly give us his backstory, which is pretty cookie cutter. Backstory is about all that’s recognizable with this version of Arthur Curry. Momoa plays an incredibly sarcastic, carefree, and frankly badass Aquaman. While I’m not usually a huge fan of drastic changes from canon, this works oh so beautifully and fits into the team dynamic like a glove. The only problem with the Atlantic plotline is how little Mera’s featured. Granted, this should be rectified in James Wan’s upcoming Aquaman, but it would’ve been nice for her to have more than thirty-seconds of actual screen time.
A third Mother Box (See a pattern here?) was responsible for Cyborg’s (Ray Fisher) creation, which we saw in BvS. There was a lot of criticism centered around his being in Justice League at all. He isn’t an original leageur, and many thought Victor Stone would be better suited in a Teen Titans film. Warner Brothers was accused of trying to be politically correct while those same voices shouted for Jon Stewart’s Green Lantern as an alternative. Those folks are eating their words now. Cyborg is a vital part of this silver screen team. Not only does he provide another member with much needed development, his tech is literally instrumental in bringing back the Man of Steel. More on that later.
We also get the best fan service moment when he let out an iconic, “Booyah!” What’s not to love? Yes, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get a Sector 2814 Green Lantern, but at least there were momentary glimpses of the Lantern Corps fighting alongside the Amazons and Atlanteans in the past. Gives this DC fan hope that the Ryan Reynolds 2011 debacle won’t be the last standalone attempt.
Barry Allan (Ezra Miller), while never actually referred to as The Flash, comes with the usual backstory. Struck by lightning, gains superspeed powers, tries to exonerate his father in the cast of his mother’s murder. DC Comics fans know the drill. True to canon, Barry bring a light-hearted comedic aspect to the team that keeps Justice League from going full-on Christopher Nolan dark. He’s much akin to Ant Man (Paul Rudd) providing laughs while still kicking butt in the Avengers franchise. I was initially skeptical of Miller’s casting, but he held his own. It’s still my least favorite casting choice in the film, though. There’s just something slightly off there, but it’s a hard role to play alongside the television series. Still looking forward to Flashpoint!
Thankfully, Batman is much more developed as the team leader than in Batman v Superman. He’s trying to live up to Clark Kent’s example, whose death he feels responsible for, all while trying to save the world. That’s a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders. This is a Batman who knows his limitations in a world full of superpowered beings and gods. Bruce even jokes that his power is money. Whereas previous actors have portrayed one-half of the role better, Affleck is the best combination of Bruce and Batman on-screen. Keaton was the best Bruce Wayne, Bale the best Batman, but Batfleck reigns supreme balancing that duality. He leads by knowing his role and playing it perfectly. Speaking of bests, thank the comic book gods Alfred (Jeremy Irons) was written into the script. His wit and delivery makes Irons the best to play the part to-date.
Justice League presents fascinating new cinematic ground for Batman. The two previous hit-or-miss film franchises certainly broke new ground for the character, but neither ventured outside his core canon. Tim Burton’s run brought the Rogues Gallery to life and paved the way for Batman: The Animated Series; Nolan’s interpretation added realistic grit. Here, director Zach Snyder’s given us what we’ve always wanted: An epic display of DC Comic’s creative range!
The return of Superman, unsurprising after that last shot in Dawn of Justice, is probably the best moment of the film. Candidly, I admit I’m not the biggest Superman fan. That being said, though, I am well-versed in the character and found his cinematic portrayal in recent years wanting. Cavill told Cinema Blend that this was the most accurate portrayal of Superman, and boy was he right. From unbridled rage and strength when he first returns to the Boy Scout protector of truth, justice, and the American way, Cavill nails it. Hell, even as the resident Batman fan, I felt for Supes when he almost pops Bruce’s head like a balloon.
One thing I worried over was the change in directors before the final cut. When Joss Whedon stepped in for Snyder, I expected a choppily edited mess like Batman v Superman. It’s nothing against Whedon, the two just have very different visions. Much to my surprise, the story flowed nicely. Justice League is definitely more so Snyder’s film, despite reports that the re-shoots were extensive. Clearly, Whedon didn’t want to make this film his own, which I find very commendable. This is DC’s equivalent to The Avengers, not some carbon copy, so it should be Snyder’s vision.
While not as good a story as Wonder Woman, Justice League is fun from start to finish and beyond. Stick around for the mid and end-credit scenes, they’re amazing! Unlike much of the other DC Extended Universe stock, the characters are likeable, relatable, and capable of making the viewer feel a wide range of emotion. Knew they had it in them! The film’s climax is a bit quick with Superman back in the fray, but Warner Bros. made it clear from the start they didn’t want a long film. Whereas big final fights should normally be longer, that really wasn’t the point of this film. Justice League is about heroes finding their own inner-strength and joining together for the greater good of humanity. Mission accomplished.