Last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a critical failure and a mixed bag among fans, at best. Our review fell on the negative side, and I tend to agree. In an attempt to right the ship, Justice League made some real improvements but ended up over-correcting in the process.
The story’s premise is standard fare, packaged for easy consumption. A god-like villain called Steppenwolf is emboldened by Superman’s death and returns to Earth to find the weapons he needs to take over the world. Batman and Wonder Woman must assemble a team of heroes (Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash) to combat this new threat.
Justice League‘s strongest points are the colorful characters and their interactions with one another. Each of the five main heroes, while incomplete individually, contribute well to a cohesive whole that gives viewers a fun and engaging experience to follow.
The veteran Batman and Wonder Woman are essentially the parents of the group. Ben Affleck’s Batman is majorly toned down from the hellbent warrior introduced in BvS. He has recognized his mistakes and is ready to try working with others. While much of this development must have happened between films, it still translates well enough for viewers to fill in the gaps. The Justice League Batman lost some of his dark, epic hero tone to become more approachable, and it’s up to audiences to decide whether this tradeoff is good or bad.
Meanwhile, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to be the MVP of the DC universe. Whether opening up about her past or saving an entire line of hostages from point-blank gunfire, Gadot’s character is executed to near perfection. Her friendly rapport with Bruce Wayne (don’t worry, it’s platonic) helps get viewers quickly adjusted to the new team dynamic.
Speaking of the team, the newcomers each had a solid debut in his own way. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen seems too goofy and uncertain to be a good standalone Flash, but he’s a perfect fit within the Justice League dynamic. He serves a similar (but less impressive) role to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in the Avengers world: comedic relief mixed with a hint of heroic potential. He is also the focus in my favorite scene of the movie.
Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is probably the most one-dimensional piece in the Justice League puzzle. He’s more of a surfer dude with a trident than a regal king of Atlantis. While this Aquaman is not the clean-cut king we know, he nonetheless fits well into the group, adding some of the funniest scenes and most interesting moments. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, meanwhile, is the tortured and confused soul that brings seriousness back into the mix. While not the hero many fans wanted, Cyborg is worked into the plot more securely than expected.
These five heroes provide fans with a lot of fun moments throughout the snappy 110-minute experience. The tone is much cheerier than the doom and gloom of BvS, and the plot is much, much easier to follow. Still, if you look past the hero interactions and fight scenes, there isn’t much of an actual movie left to hold these characters up.
A few of the greatest shortcomings of BvS were its convoluted and nonsensical plot and overly edgy tone with no real substance or resolution. As if on a pendulum, Justice League swung in the opposite direction. DC’s first full-on superhero team-up is a simple and straightforward story on an accelerated runtime with a drastically brightened feel. While this intense course-correction did fix a few of the previous problems, it also left no room for some of the good parts of DC movies past.
Justice League is a hodge-podge of creative visions due to director Zack Snyder’s departure during post-production. Joss Whedon stepped in at this point, and the clash of ideas does not go unnoticed in the finished product.
In its attempt to flee from the dark and complicated feel of BvS, Justice League is far too simple and empty. The plot is as streamlined as can be, and the conflict carries no hint of tension or suspense. This is simply a group of enjoyable heroes taking on a copy-and-paste villain with no semblance of doubt about who the victor will be.
Snyder had a distinct vision for what he wanted the DC world to be, and thus far that vision has been poorly received. As a result, Whedon’s edit of Justice League feels more like a mid-tier Marvel film, and these two approaches do not mix well. There are times when the drama and intrigue of Snyder’s world threaten to reappear, only to be snuffed out by an ill-timed, Avengers-esque quip. Both types of superhero films have fans who believe in their superiority, but a movie in a tug-of-war between the two is unquestionably in a bad place.
WARNING: JUSTICE LEAGUE SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT
In a film that already suffered from oversimplification and a lack of suspense, Superman was the best way to accelerate these issues. From the moment he is deus-ex-machina’d back into existence until the credits roll, the Man of Steel does not take a single hit. While the rest of the Justice League struggles to save the world in the final confrontation, Superman swoops in and resolves things with no more difficulty than a moviegoer eating popcorn.
Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent is as stiff and awkward as ever, and Superman’s involvement left me fully incapable of taking the final act seriously. His presence essentially invalidated the journey the rest of the characters had gone through. They’re not the team who saves the day. They’re just the team who finds that one guy who saves the day.
Superman is portrayed in such a way that no conflict can conceivably threaten him. Batman v. Superman toyed with the idea that I believe is the best way to treat Superman: present his overwhelming power as the problem instead of the solution. But it seems we have backed away from this idea, and now we’re right back to the tales of the invincible god.
Verdict: I left the theater much happier with Justice League than many of its DC predecessors. It’s a fun experience that holds up as a strong film at first glance. The heroes are entertaining and likable. However, an over-streamlined plot and ridiculous resolution lend no support to the enticing surface-level qualities. An awkward mix of artistic vision between Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon leaves much to be desired at the end of the day.
- Engaging characters and interactions
- Almost universally good acting
- Superhero fun
- Rushed story on a condensed runtime
- No suspense
- Overly easy resolution
- Tonal inconsistencies