Did Warner Bros. keep its positive momentum going in the wake of WONDER WOMAN? How did the latest release in the DCEU, JUSTICE LEAGUE, stack up?
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill and Jason Momoa
Run time: 120 minutes
When Warner Bros. announced JUSTICE LEAGUE as only the fifth movie in the DC Comics Cinematic Universe (following Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman – Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman), some complained that the studio should have followed the Marvel method more: Build up all your heroes in separate movies and THEN have them all gather together. The thinking was Warner Bros. was playing catch-up to Marvel with its movie-verse.
Yes, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN felt rushed and it felt bloated all at the same time, forcing in cameos of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg – the heroes who round out the Justice League. Worse, it was too dark, completely eschewing the essence of Superman’s character for a dark film completely devoid of hope.
JUSTICE LEAGUE is a complete reversal from the way BvS was presented. The movie is, for the most part, bathed in light and the characters show more joy and humor, allowing the film to lighten up during some of its heaviest moments. The studio was lambasted for its first three entries, and it seems they learned a sustained lesson after the significant course correction of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN movie. Right from the outset of the film, a flashback to kids interviewing Superman “for their podcast” on video, the film’s tone is more jovial. Superman was actually seen SMILING in the opening scene of the movie. I’m not sure that happened at all in Man of Steel or BvS.
Much of the movie’s story is focused on Superman and the effect his death had on the world. Bruce Wayne is still trying to atone for how he “failed him in life,” as he said at the end of BvS; Lois Lane and Ma Kent are having trouble adjusting to losing Clark Kent; and the world seems to have a little less hope. Because this is a movie based on a comic book – where death is never permanent – Superman is brought back from the dead, and Henry Cavill’s presence in the final act of the movie really lifts things up. The Man of Steel’s interactions with the rest of his teammates – especially Batman and The Flash – have the feel of an older brother coming in to help a younger sibling out of a jam. It was good to see a Superman who moved beyond being so dour, surrounded by people to whom he could relate.
Anyone who’s seen a trailer for the movie has seen how well Jason Momoa took to being Aquaman. Channeling writer Peter David’s run on the character in the 1990s – treating Aquaman as more of a Warrior King of Atlantis than the guy who telepathically talks to fish and rides a giant seahorse. His interactions with Batman here were amazing. Momoa’s care-free Aquaman made sure a lot of lighter moments in the film worked, as he cracked a joke at the perfect time. Most notable was the scene where Aquaman started to tell his teammates what he thought of them, throwing compliments at Wonder Woman at a surprising clip, before realizing he was was sitting on Diana’s lasso, which compelled him to tell the truth.
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) once again steals the show, as the actress has already become the embodiment of the character in the same way that Lynda Carter did in the 1970s. In her third appearance as Wonder Woman, I can’t imagine anyone else wielding the Golden Lasso. Having cut her teeth on four Fast & the Furious movies, she’s clearly comfortable being an action star, and it shows here, as the scenes where she’s out of the Wonder Woman costume are nowhere near as smooth as when she’s doing battle or having others approach the hero.
The other two members of the team – Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) – were fine, though nothing really stood out about them to me as particularly special. With more focus, Cyborg could be a break-out character, though he was overshadowed throughout the movie. The Flash, on the other hand, felt out of place. He was meant to serve as the every man on the team, still learning to be a hero. It’s just too bad that fans already have a live-action Flash that is a far better embodiment of the character than Miller’s portrayal. Fair or not, the cinematic Barry Allen is going to be compared to what Grant Gustin does, and I doubt Miller can even pull close to make it a race.
Another weak point for the film was its main villain, Steppenwolf. While the movie’s exposition scene for the character gave some fan service by hinting at both the GREEN LANTERN and SHAZAM properties, the character itself felt too much like WONDER WOMAN‘s Ares – an all-powerful god who lived for war and hoped to use it to end the world. The hints to his true loyalties as a servant of Darkseid were all too brief and, after the dream sequence in BvS where Batman stood in front of Darkseid’s Omega symbol, it was a disappointment to not see any set-up for a battle with the New God of Apokolips. It’s rumored that it was lost in translation when Joss Whedon took over for Zack Snyder at the end of the film’s development cycle, to make the film stand alone better, but I felt a bit cheated to not have that hint happen.
Instead, we got a cameo after the credits that sets up a decidedly more human threat for the Justice League. I won’t spoil the after-credit scenes here, but if you haven’t seen the film yet, be sure to stick around to the very end.
If Warner Bros. is to continue making movies based on DC Comics properties, I really do hope they’re more like JUSTICE LEAGUE. For a fan of the universe, it was an absolute pleasure to watch. I was so pleased with it, I may pay to watch it again.