JUSTICE LEAGUE – Review
“Bruce Wayne is a rich man. He’s an aristocrat. Superman grew up as Clark Kent on a farm bailing hay, and he’s got a boss that shouts at him if he’s late to work. He’s actually more human.”
– Grant Morrison
This quote from comic book legend Grant Morrison is what’s at the heart of the problem at why so many of the recent DC films have not worked and why so few have. It’s not that these films were missing the comedy aspect like some critics and fans have expressed. I think it’s more complex than just adding a few clever one-liners. As Grant Morrison suggests, these men and women aren’t just heroes that save the world.
Even though the Marvel formula has clearly worked for the studio, the answer to DC’s prayers isn’t that they need to resemble that formula. It’s more that these stories need to show their humanity. The heroes need to resemble us… or at least remind us that they are like us. That’s why we read comic books in the first place. It’s not for the splash panels comprised of superhero poses and cataclysmic fights – it’s because we want to be reminded that inside these all-powerful Greek Gods and Goddesses there lies a reflection of ourselves.
Hearing Batman grumble, “Do you bleed?” in BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE isn’t going to do that. Nor is watching him brand criminals in a weird sadomasochistic way with the bat symbol. How we relate to the Caped Crusader is his loss. That’s something we have all felt. And it’s this feeling of loss and regret that fuels him in JUSTICE LEAGUE.
The death of Superman following the events of BvS: DAWN OF JUSTICE brings a dark cloud over the events and characters in JUSTICE LEAGUE. Hope is lost and there are feelings of shame and regret exhibited by the community as a whole. But a bigger cloud seems to be spreading as Batman faces off against an invasion of Parademons (aka- flying baddies from another dimension) throughout Gotham. In order to stop this new threat, he calls on the help of Wonder Woman and some new recruits, as you can expect. These Parademons are working alongside Steppenwolf, the new villain of the week who is on the hunt for three Mother Boxes – one guarded by the Amazonians, one by Atlantis, one by humans – that will grant him the ability to destroy Earth.
If the faceless, robotic-like henchmen, magical portal to another dimension, and a group of heroes from different backgrounds coming together all sounds familiar, then yes… you’ve seen a couple of comic-book films over the past couple of years. Despite the surface level familiarity with the proceedings, JUSTICE LEAGUE is mainly fun if solely to get to know some characters we haven’t seen previously on screen. Yes, I did say fun when describing a DC film.
The first half of the film serves as an introduction to these new faces while serving as a recruitment film. You would think with a few new recruits and a new villain to introduce that the film would feel very disjointed, but actually, the first half moves smoothly between each character-building sequence without feeling like it’s jumping from comic book panel to panel. What’s most important though is that these moments early on establish a universe where you care about the men and women behind the costumes.
Unlike some of the recent Marvel films where every character delivers sarcastic one-liners, each member of the League has their own defining characteristics. Since Batman and Wonder Woman have previously been established, more time is given to Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman. Cyborg serves as a nice departure because he’s presented more as a tragic monster than wannabe hero (like The Flash). Ray Fisher carefully portrays the Victor Stone/Cyborg character as a Frankenstein-like creation, confused about his place in life and angry with his creator for his mere existence. Flash, on the other hand, is all unbridled energy and quips. A backstory is not entirely fleshed out and works to an extent thanks to Ezra Miller’s commitment to the role, but his sophomoric dialogue fails to hit the comedic mark it’s desperately striving for. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) on the other hand, surprisingly, works even if he strays the furthest from his comic book roots. His cool whiskey-chugging, cocky swagger is a welcome departure from the rest of the motley crew, although it comes with one too many “Yeaahhh!” exclamations for my taste.
It’s when these characters come together and interact with one another where their guards begin to lower and we see their human side, bruises and all (quite literally, as seen in one tender scene between Batman and Wonder Woman). While many of these moments might be seen as Joss Whedon flexing his emotional and comedic chops (he took over directing duties after Zack Snyder left the project to deal with a family tragedy), I can’t help but wonder if some can be credited to Snyder as well. What becomes the true test for the gang and is also where the film really comes alive is when a new character enters the story at the beginning of the third act. It’s an expected surprise but is executed in a way that feels warranted while creating an exciting shake-up to the story just when it needed it.
Of course, like every one of these DC films, it all comes to an end with a CGI spectacle that is disastrously ugly and hard to watch. Between the color scheme and the effects, the finale is downright laughable. Yet, it is a perfunctory way to end a plot that wasn’t really the main focus of the story in the first place – a plot that many will complain is paper-thin instead of acknowledging that it’s a backdrop that lets the heroes of the story shine.
MAN OF STEEL and WONDER WOMAN – the two most successful films in the DC universe – work because of their simple and relatable theme. Both center around outsiders struggling to belong. Again, a human dilemma that we’ve all felt, but one that can also be used to describe the problems the DC film universe has faced finding its way. JUSTICE LEAGUE can now be added to that short list of successes (though minor in comparison to this year’s WONDER WOMAN). It’s a film that gives me hope that these heroes are discovering who they are and carving out their own identity on the big screen.
Overall rating: 3 out of 5
JUSTICE LEAGUE is now playing in theaters everywhere