Warner Bros. and DC have been struggling to compete with Disney/Marvel’s MCU with the DC Extended Universe, finally hitting a high note earlier this year with Wonder Woman. Now Wonder Woman and Batman assemble a team to save the world from Steppenwolf and his parademon army in Justice League, which is fun but also kind of light and not quite as impactful as it should have been for the historic first live action assemblage of DC’s finest.
Following the events of Batman v Superman, Batman (Ben Affleck) is investigating the appearance of alien parademon scouts and three mysterious box symbols that keep appearing. He’s also trying locate and recruit the three other metahuman heroes Diana (Gal Gadot) discovered in Lex Luthor’s database: Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) for a massive fight he knows is coming. The box symbols turn out to correlate to the Mother Boxes, which activate in the wake of Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death in Themiscyra, Atlantis and STAR Labs in Metropolis, bringing alien warlord Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) to Earth. If he gets all three boxes, he will join them together in the Unity and terraform Earth into an apocalyptic (Apokaliptic?) wasteland. The plot is all pretty standard superhero MacGuffin stuff but it moves at an extremely quick pace with not a lot of wasted scenes and the simplicity of the plot allows room for the characters, especially with three new major characters being introduced.
Of the new Leaguers, Aquaman and The Flash are definitely great additions and bring some fun new energy with Jason Momoa’s swaggering bad assery and Ezra Miller’s nervous enthusiasm. Both of them have some great, funny character beats and chances to shine during the action sequences as well, including a taste of the underwater action we can expect from Aquaman’s solo movie when Steppenwolf invades Atlantis. Gal Gadot is still perfect as Diana although she doesn’t have any radically new character developments besides deciding she needs to fully return to the world but she has some great action beats as always, including an awesome opening hostage rescue where she deflects an entire machine gun clip of bullets and a couple of extended fights against Steppenwolf. Ben Affleck is still a fine Batman with just the right amount of gruff grumpiness but, probably in response to BvS, they try to make him have more quips and a lot of the time it doesn’t work or just feels out of place and most of them were probably courtesy of ghost director Joss Whedon, who also probably incorporated most of the jokey bits and possibly a weird subplot involving a Russian family hiding in the middle of Steppenwolf’s base of operations. The only leaguer that doesn’t really click is Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, possibly due to his relative newness to acting, maybe because of the weird CG/prosthetics he had to wear but he just felt pretty flat for most of the movie. Steppenwolf is also kind of just a generic superhero movie villain along the lines of Ronin or Malekith from the MCU and it’s strange that they didn’t cast someone who could be imposing practically in real life as opposed to a CG shell with Ciaran Hinds’ voice.
The action in Justice League is solid overall and most of it still has Zack Synder’s style but the overuse of slo-mo actually works much better than it ever has thanks to the powers of The Flash, who sees everything as moving in slow motion while he’s in the Speed Force and there’s a few great comedic bits where they play with the slow motion concept, especially when Barry realizes there’s another character who can move as fast as he can. Batman doesn’t really have any fight or action sequence to top that incredible warehouse fight from BvS but there’s a couple of cool new Bat vehicles like the Nightcrawler walking tank and, probably one of the coolest touches in the movie, composer Danny Elfman integrates his classic Batman 1989 theme into a new piece of music that will definitely give old school fans a smile during the action. There’s also some more solid world building as characters like Jim Gordon (JK Simmons) are introduced (although in way too few scenes) and we get our first Green Lantern in a flashback to a massive Lord of the Rings style battle thousands of years earlier when Steppenwolf first arrived on Earth. Also, definitely stay all the way through the credits for a tease of what’s to come for the DCEU. Strangely, there’s only a slight mention of Darkseid and we don’t seem to be building to an appearance by him the same way we have been building to Thanos in the MCU.
Justice League, like most of the DCEU still, is rough around the edges and doesn’t have the impact of something like first Avengers film, which was a miraculous culmination of five movies. Justice League feels a little light and unsubstantial for the first ever team up of DC’s biggest heroes on the big screen but it’s a quick, fun ride overall and I’m still interested to see what the future holds even if it seems like DC/WB is sometimes just throwing random things at the wall and seeing what sticks.
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