Movie Review: Justice League (Spoiler Free.)
Justice League finally shows off DC’s super heroes as a cohesive, unified force for entertainment.
To paraphrase Lois Lane: darkness is not the absence of light, but the absence of hope that light will ever return. After the first four movies in the DC extended universe, I was losing hope that there would ever be a light at the end of the cinematic tunnel. Wonder Woman was inconsistently good, Batman V. Superman was inconsistently bad, and Man of Steel was consistently awful. I was fully prepared to bury Justice League alongside Superman. Luckily a team effort and fresh perspective gifts us a ray of light in our darkest night – a DC movie that is not just adequate but entertaining.
Justice League (2017)
After the death of Superman, Batman is haunted not only by his failure in that conflict, but also by visions of an alien invasion force. Seeking to correct his mistakes and create a force for good, he and Wonder Woman begin searching for other heroes that can stand with them against the coming darkness. Unfortunately, the darkness arrives early in the form of Steppenwolf, a maniacal demi-god who wants to convert Earth into a living hell in order to please his master. Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman unite to confront this villain and give the world hope that the Age of Heroes has returned.
The DC universe has been all over the place, both in film and comics. It stood to reason that this project would be just such a muddled mess, given the sudden personal loss that caused Zack Snyder to step away from the project, leading to many re-shoots. I was shocked that Justice League is just the opposite: a clear and concise story that honors the best of the previous films while making all of the disparate elements finally come together.
Joss Whedon does a commendable job of stepping in and putting the place in order in a respectful and elegant manner. He doesn’t Marvel-ize the DC universe but instead takes the pieces and makes them fall into place. The rough edges of the previous films are sanded down. The few bright spots are burnished to a brilliant shine. The faint glimmers of promise are blown into a sustaining fire. This still feels like Zack Snyder’s vision, but tempered by a judicious and sensitive hand that actually allows much of Snyder’s intentions to shine through the dark tones of the earlier films.
My favorite aspect of Justice League is how each hero feels important, organic, and necessary. We already know that Wonder Woman is a great character on film, and she continues to shine. Her first action sequence feels plucked from her solo film, and the Amazonians return in a meaningful and excellent sequence. Batman/Bruce Wayne feels less fear driven and reactionary, allowing the cool calculation of his character to emerge. There are also many call backs to Tim Burton’s Batman, showing a continuity that is startling. He may not be my favorite Batman, but I can see how he came to be and why he works in this universe.
The new characters are handled wonderfully. Ezra Miller’s take on The Flash is the best Spider-Man we’ve never gotten. He’s shy but covers it with bravado, jokey without being flippant, and has a strong motivation to become a hero. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is also intriguing. He broods, but only because his hero’s journey is fraught with tragedy. He feels like the grounding member of the team. Jason Mamoa gives the group swagger and brawn as Aquaman, but also has moments that hint at a larger conflict under his facade. In short, everyone feels like a real character you can relate to.
On the theme of grounding our godlings, this movie does more to introduce and humanize Superman in the first 30 seconds than all of the previous movies combined. We see pre- Batman V. Superman footage where Supes is button-holed by a group of kids who ask him questions. Some are silly kid questions like if he ever fought a hippo, and others are deadly earnest like why he likes Earth. Their questions and Superman’s halting answers cut right to the heart of this new version of the Last Kryptonian. I wanted to applaud before one minute had even gone by.
At the end of the day, Justice League is not just about saving the DCEU and rehabilitating some really poor character decisions. Justice League is wonderfully entertaining. It may be one of my favorite super hero movies of this generation. The characters are great. The conflict is compelling, and has a villain with real teeth. The CG may be distracting, but Steppenwolf is a real threat to our heroes. We get a solid introduction to him and I felt that I knew his powers and motivations in a way I didn’t get from Wonder Woman or Thor: Ragnarok. The action sequences are vibrant and well-choreographed, a marked departure from the muddy and muddled fight scenes in Man of Steel and BVS. Everything finally seems to be in place and playing in harmony.
I went into this movie reluctantly, fully ready to write off the DC films for the foreseeable future. I left the theater exhilarated and ready for more. Some people are saying that this film salvages the franchise. I have to say that I think it does more than that. It gives us a glimpse into what this universe can be, despite the missteps that plagued the early films. Instead of burying the series, I’m now really interested in seeing where it goes. The new heroes feel primed for their own adventures and I have bought into the Justice League as a concept. Who would have known?