Anyone who is familiar with my particular brand of nerd-dom knows where I land on the eternal struggle between Marvel fans and DC fans. I’m not hardline enough to completely ignore or blast DC products based on seeing the logo alone but I can’t deny my negative perception. If this was borne out of pure spite, that would be one thing, but the fact that DC has only produced one fantastic, post-Nolan film, is my main cause for concern. So far, we’ve been treated to bloated, CG slugfests, with little-to-no plot and hollow versions of some of the most iconic characters in comic book history. Justice League takes a few steps in the right direction but still feels like the product of a system that doesn’t quite understand what they’re trying to achieve.
You can’t talk about Justice League without mentioning the DCEU, DC and parent company Warner Bros’ attempt to catch up with Marvel and their industry standard extended multimedia universe. Justice League is supposed to be the answer to Marvel’s Avengers, a movie that came out 2012, and brought together five different heroes after five previous movies. DC is attempting to do the same after only three movies, two of which have been critically panned and with a roster that is introducing three brand new characters.
This rush job is one of the biggest missteps that Justice League spends an entire movie trying to remedy. Starting not long after the burial of Superman, we see a Bruce Wayne convinced that his primary goal in life is to stop the impending forces of doom. Hearkening back to Wonder Woman’s out of step YouTube perusal of YouTube videos diaries about meta-humans, what the DCEU refers to when they’re talking about super folks, Batman sets out to recruit “warriors” for a team. We know about Wonder Woman and the dearly departed Superman but as anyone who has been alive and watched a screen in the past two years knows, we’re about to meet the new kids.
Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash, one of which has been historically lambasted for being the lamest superhero of all time, all make their debut in Justice League. I’m happy to say that Ezra Miller absolutely steals the show as The Flash. I do wish that movies could come up with a better way of displaying superspeed but that’s a nitpick that undermines how genuinely fun this character is, injecting a huge amount of desperately needed levity into the otherwise dour proceedings. Aquaman however misses this mark.
It’s clear that the new faces are meant to bring an aspect of comedy and overall freshness to what has up until this point been a dark, over serious and bland universe. Making Aquaman into what I guess could be best approximated as a Polynesian/Scandinavian(?) surfer bro in an attempt to forego his history of lameness reeks of trying too hard. The trailer spot of him saying “My man” that has played ad nauseum for what feels like decades is, sadly, a perfect microcosm of his overall personality. The fact that his solo movie is already in production still baffles me, but maybe all characters do better when they’re out from under the Zack Snyder umbrella.
Cyborg is boring and near pointless. I really can’t make it any more clear than that and even my penchant and near narcissistic need to come up with flowery metaphors for how bad something is still doesn’t drive me enough to come up with any deeper than asking why is he even in this film. What may be even worse is that they decide to finally give him a glimmer of personality in the last five minutes of the movie along with close to 75% of the movie’s total comedic lines.
Lucky for us Wonder Woman again is a shining star and makes this film watchable and enjoyable whenever she’s on screen. I really liked seeing a bit more of her in her civilian life this time around, much of which was a very welcome retcon to her characterization. And as cool as Batman seemed primed to be, outside of his overall masochistic/psychopathic tendencies in Batman vs. Superman (BvS), his role as team dad/bankroll takes a lot of the more interesting aspects of his character out of the equation. That and the fact that I’m still really shocked the Batman is apparently cool with literally everyone knowing his secret identity.
Spending a lot of time on the characters and their confluence is important because the rest of this movie doesn’t have a lot going on. I wish I could tell you that Steppenwolf is the answer to the villain question that plagues all comic book movies but he’s just the latest in a long list of bad guys with no depth to their motivation and no weakness except, I dunno, hope and friendship? Even the plot, which goes out of its way to try and make this team up feel organic, while literally having a billionaire jetset in hopes of forming the squad, ends up feeling like a comic book fan’s fever dream.
Justice League, like most tentpole comic book films of late, is as much, if not more, a spectacle and experience as it is a film. In that aspect it succeeds, being as raucous and fast paced as a movie with aliens and meta human should be. The CG in this film is a bit better than BvS, and more of the movie takes place in, well… not the darkness but more of a redness? Sadly that’s about the extent of this movie’s charm.
There’s no real human, meta or otherwise, moments in this film. Rarely do these people feel like friends or teammates; co-workers at best. If that was the intention of all of this, that would be one thing, but for a studio and creative team that is clearly trying to establish a cinematic universe, they might be better suited with a universe shared in proximity alone. I can’t say that there’s no cohesion between the five heroes on screen but it’s segmented, scant and often forced. Without Ezra Miller and Gal Gadot, Justice League is another empty CG romp focused on a sad rich kid trying to convince some outsiders to help him fight an intergalactic bully. Richie Rich meets Rise of the Silver Surfer with more muscles and less chemistry.