Proving Wonder Woman wasn’t just a happy fluke, Justice League boom tubes onto the playing field to finally challenge Marvel Studios’ comic book movie dominance.
Justice League is a fascinating experience as it marks a dramatic transition from a cinematic universe deemed too bleak and depressed to one that’s more lively, funny and Marvel-esque.
It’s not an incorrect assessment to say Justice League has a Marvel Studios vibe. There’s a lighter tone, more thoughtful character development and better interaction between the DC heroes. Some of that can easily be credited to Director/Writer Josh Whedon (The Avengers), who finished the film for Zach Snyder, who completed roughly 80 percent before stepping aside for a family tragedy.
There’s some bumpiness in combining the filmmakers’ visions, but Justice League is also a best of both worlds final product. It’s got Whedon’s flair for team dynamics with Snyder’s bombastic kid smashing his action figures style of directing.
Justice League’s biggest overall theme is hope. That carries throughout the movie with the characters and possibly beyond with audiences leaving more optimistic about the DCEU’s future.
At the start of the film, hope is fleeting. In the wake of Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death, a wave of hopelessness is spreading. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) know there’s more beneath the surface and are rallying allies to prevent a global invasion.
After some heartfelt pitches, they assemble Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) to fight back against Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds in a motion-capture performance) and his army of nightmarish parademons. Loki won’t have to worry about a new challenger to his best villain throne. While the CGI for Steppenwolf is generally good, there’s a certain disconnect and lack of depth to his overrun the world scheme.
One of the best aspects of Chris Terrio’s script (with assists from Joss Whedon) is how it straight up handles some of the issues moviegoers had with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This isn’t the Batman or Wonder Woman show as Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg all get a generous amount of screen time.
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Aquaman might be slightly shortchanged, but he’s got a standalone film coming next year and Momoa provides enough evidence his take on the character won’t be a laughingstock. Miller’s performance is the most frustrating as he plays Barry like a misfit incapable of genuine human interaction.
Fisher was the big surprise though as he does a terrific job making Cyborg sympathetic without being whiny. Affleck and Gadot have already put the definitive take on their respective roles and make the case they’re the foundation of this cinematic universe.
Supporting characters like Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons), Silas Stone (Joe Morgan), Henry Allen (Billy Crudup), Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and Mera (Amber Heard) are utilized just enough to provide connections to the heroes’ respective personal lives.
Some of the CGI — namely Cyborg’s crackly shell armor movements — are bad, but the character work and comic book fan only Easter Eggs more than balance it out. There’s two post-credit scenes here. In a departure from Marvel, the more important of the two is the second one, which lays exciting groundwork for the inevitable sequel.
Earlier action sequences are hard to follow, but watching a full onslaught of Amazons and a Lord of the Rings style battle make for amazing spectacles. The final battle is much cleaner and easier to fully take in thankfully.
I can’t truly rave about Justice League without including a very minor spoiler — Superman is back. How and why is best left to witness on screen, but most importantly this felt like Superman has finally joined the DCEU.
It’s not just seeing Superman in full inspiring, Big Boy Scout mode (complete with smiles and jokes!), but in terms of how Superman is used. He’s actually Superman. He’s not tossed aside to give the others a chance to shine (looking at you cartoon series Justice League), but Snyder/Whedon smartly position him as the ultimate cheat code/ace in the hole.
While I liked Man of Steel and BvS, they went against expectations for the characters. Justice League plays out much more like a film where the creators understand and appreciate the core of what makes the characters so appealing.
In a lot of ways, Justice League feels like the cinematic version of DC Comics’ Rebirth initiative. Wonder Woman was the Warner Bros./DC game changer and Justice League proves it’s ready to finally make a game out of its ‘battle’ with Marvel Studios for comic book movie supremacy.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros.