For most fans, the expectations for DC’s Justice League were pretty low considering the years of poor universe-building that had been done in preparation for it.
After the misadventures of three movies from 2013’s Man of Steel to 2016’s abominably ponderous Suicide Squad, Gal Gadot‘s Wonder Woman, released earlier this year, was the only franchise entry to get any significant love from audiences.
What this meant was that the first big superheroes’ party in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) was kicking off from a really troubled spot brought upon it by its unimpressive history.
However, Justice League keeps its head above water and does admirably well to show that there’s a lot of room for growth moving forward.
The movie’s story is simple: After the *cough* death *cough* of Superman (Henry Cavill) in Batman vs Superman, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) assembles a team of superheroes to stop an ancient evil from destroying the world.
If it sounds like something you’ve seen done before, you’re absolutely right.
Much of what makes Justice League enjoyable for the audience is the grand action set pieces and the refreshing breath of humour that’s not commonplace in DC movies.
A large portion of the criticism that’s always been lobbed at DC movies has been the broody darkness that usually casts a shadow over everything else.
This is why the fun moments of Justice League come from its humorous drive that lightens the mood even when there are world-ending stakes involved.
In its bid to stop the villain, Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), from fulfilling his wish, the team does its best to keep him from assembling a trio of ancient boxes that’ll facilitate the ruin of the world as we know it.
This conflict between the forces of good and evil offers up some of the best fight sequences you’ll see in 2017.
Sure, some of them seem derivative and feel like they’ve been done to the death in other DC movies already, but the fight scenes in Justice League have a particular edge to them that make them more fun than any you’ve seen in the universe.
Steppenwolf’s clash with Amazon warriors in his quest for one of the boxes, and a particularly tasty scene in a certain hero’s Metropolis home turf are some of the best fight scenes that the movie has to offer.
Even though all the superheroes get their time to pitch in with a few jokes, newcomer Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), aka Flash, is the hub of most of it as he plays nerdy lonely speedster who needs super friends, or any friends at all.
The abundance of humour in Justice League is a huge departure from the gloomy grittiness of Batman vs Superman and it clearly works for the movie because it made it genuinely enjoyable.
For the most part, at least.
Unavoidably, DC movies are always going to be pitted against movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and that has generally not worked out well for the DCEU.
While it took Marvel four standalone movies involving different superheroes before the first big collaboration in 2012’s Avengers, DC boasts of a measly two (maybe and a half) solo movies before all of its superheroes start trading jokes in Justice League.
One of the movie’s obvious disappointments is the general apathy of its characters especially those being freshly introduced to television audiences.
Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and a hilariously nerve-wracked Flash are introduced as major members of the team with no solo movies to their names.
Yes, there are separate movies in the works already for Aquaman (2018) and Cyborg (2020), but showing up here in Justice League makes it seem like DC is putting the cart before the horse.
Due to the unfamiliarity of these characters with television audiences who don’t read the comics, their opening scenes are laden with overstuffed expositional dialogues it’s a surprise they weren’t written as text on the screen at some point.
There is not nearly enough time for the audience to soak in the backstories of these new important characters as the movie plods along from one scene to another, turning characters almost purely into exposition machines.
This is most telling in Aquaman’s case as the audience is besieged with the character’s entire history in only a matter of seconds, a history that’s pivotal to his decision to join up with the super team.
The audience knows too little about half of the Justice League team and there’s too little time to attend to them in an engaging manner. There’s no effort to pay attention to really building these important characters emotionally and this gravely affects the movie’s overall tone.
While the characters are competent in their own unique ways, they’re hardly interesting because there’s not enough time to dwell on them to matter.
An easy way to have avoided this problem is if the studio had waited for standalone movies for Aquaman, Cyborg, and Flash, before bringing them all together to fight for the world.
DC’s eagerness to get the heroes together as soon as possible means there are too many things happening in too little time, and this drags down the movie in a significant way.
CGI villains don’t often make remarkable villains, and this has proven to be even truer for superhero movies.
Steppenwolf joins the infamous company of CGI villains who only serve the singular purpose of being a visual distraction to gaze upon.
The villain, who’s the catalyst for the movie’s heroes, is a one-note bad guy who simply wants to put an end to the world for no reason other than, “Hey, look at me, look at me. I’m evil. Haha.”
Despite having a squadron of deadly drone-like Parademons at his disposal, Steppenwolf is uninspiring as a villain in a way that could be interesting enough for the audience to invest their energy.
He’s just a really big ugly guy who swings an axe around and makes mean threats about destroying the world because, reasons.
Some of his suck value can also be attributed to the fact that the movie is already overstuffed with a lot of hanging narrative threads so much that it’s hard to find the time to make the villain any more compelling than watching paint dry. Despite his general lack of gravitas, he still gets to appear in some of the movie’s most exciting moments.
The tonal inconsistency of Justice League is undoubtedly down to the fact that it had two directors, with Marvel’s Joss Whedon coming in last minute to fill in for DC favourite Zack Snyder. The narrative style of both directors are so disparate the movie bears the brunt of it.
However, despite the anchor of previous bad decisions threatening to drag it down, Justice League creates what should be a whole new direction that represents hope for the future of the DC universe.