“The world needs Superman… the team needs Clark. He’s more human I am. He lived in this world, fell in love, had a job. In spite of all that power.”

Bruce Wayne seeks to make up for being stand-offish with Superman by gathering heroes to battle a looming threat from an alien invasion – but he realizes he needs the dead Man of Steel to save the world.

Justice League (2017)
Directed by Zack Snyder
Story by Chris Terrio & Zack Snyder
Screenplay by Chris Terrio & Joss Whedon

For all the criticism the DC Comics Cinematic Universe gets, I’m not sure how much of it is fair to levy against JUSTICE LEAGUE. The dour, dark sensibilities in both MEN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN are replaced by a sense of hope. For all the danger the world is in, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the heroes they gather never give up and manage to keep a lighter mood than the previous films.

A lot of the levity comes from Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot was the best part of BATMAN V SUPERMAN, and after the character’s origins were explored in the WONDER WOMAN movie, her presence is the clear beacon of hope that Superman should have been right from the beginning of the cinematic universe.

Combine Wonder Woman’s aura with the surfing bro mentality of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman – cracking jokes constantly and being a voice of reason about the weird situations they’re putting themselves in – and JUSTICE LEAGUE manages to have a number of legitimately fun moments and character interactions that no one would have expected after the end of BATMAN V SUPERMAN.

The absolute best thing about this movie, I think, is the portrayal of Superman. Right from the onset, in a video sequence that shows some kids asking Superman some questions, the Man of Steel offers up glimpses of what the character should have been all this time. Once the Justice League manages to bring Superman back from the dead – and gets over his rage after talking to Lois – Henry Cavill offers up a great performance. He’s warm, funny and strong – a leader in every way that Batman and Wonder Woman can’t or don’t know how to be.

A Superman movie with Cavill getting a chance to act like he had the opportunity to here would be a revelation. It’s certainly something Warner Bros. should have tried before they killed off the character in his second movie appearance. It’s really a shame that Cavill seems to be done with the DCEU.

The movie could have been a lot more than it was. It had a weak villain in Steppenwolf, a minor supporting character from the Fourth World creations of Jack Kirby. Sure, the original plans for the film were for this to be the first of two parts, which would have likely led to a battle with Darkseid, the ruler of Apokolips, but when plans changed to make this its own stand-alone film, it made the villain feel less than what should have been.

The biggest problem with JUSTICE LEAGUE is everything that came before it, creating expectations the overcame what the movie tried to be. It wasn’t the grand cinematic moment that a JUSTICE LEAGUE movie should have been – it certainly wasn’t in the same ballpark of the gathering of heroes that was Marvel’s AVENGERS film – but it certainly wasn’t bad. It left open the possibility of other paths the films could take if the studio’s strategy didn’t collapse in on itself.

That’s likely going to be this film’s legacy, a string of “what could have beens” that ultimately just ended in disappointment.