It’s not much of a secret how much I disliked the recent DC films’ take on both Superman and Batman, both of which seemed to be obsessed with deconstructing the characters to the point that they were just unrecognizable, but without providing any real insight in return. Thanks to MAN OF STEEL and DAWN OF JUSTICE, we had a gun-toting Batman who tortured and murdered, and a Superman who was taught by his parents not to help people.
And this wasn’t the fault of the actors: Ben Affleck’s five-minute scene in SUICIDE SQUAD worked absolutely fine by me, because he acted like Batman.
So even after the total and delightfully unexpected triumph that was Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN, I still entered into Zack Snyder’s JUSTICE LEAGUE with no small amount of trepidation. And I gotta say… I liked it. I liked it a lot.
I mean, look, it’s not a perfect movie, to be sure. You can definitely tell where scenes are missing when large cuts were made to get the running time down to the studio-mandated length of under two hours. There are plot holes throughout both large and small (my favorite being that apparently Ma Kent can drive her beat-up old truck from Metropolis to Kansas in about an hour or two), and the film seems to just ignore the continuity of its own series. This film begins from the premise that the absence of Superman has made the world a worse place because everyone loved him and depended on him so much, when DAWN OF JUSTICE is entirely based on the premise that the world does not love or trust Superman. (Also, and I realize now I’m really nit-picking, but Cyborg tells Wonder Woman that the Mother Box sprang to life the night Superman died, when in DAWN OF JUSTICE we see Diana watching that very thing on a video recorded sometime earlier, well before Superman died.)
And honestly, when it comes to the latter, I don’t even think those are oversights as much as deliberate decisions intended to change the tone of these movies, continuity be damned, because both the success of WONDER WOMAN and the poor reception to DAWN OF JUSTICE has finally convinced them that people don’t like this bleak take on Superman. And if that’s the case, good for them, I say.
The film’s real flaw is its choice of villain in Steppenwolf, an entirely CGI-created character who has no real personality or charisma, and doesn’t even have much of a cool factor. I mean, imagine this same movie if instead of Steppenwolf, you had a massive, glowering Darkseid in these scenes, tearing up the scenery, setting to work turning Earth into an apocalyptic ruin, and going toe-to-toe with Superman and Wonder Woman in ground-thumping slugfests. Wouldn’t that have been better? So why not use him? Are you saving him for a later movie that may never come? You had one shot for a first amazing JUSTICE LEAGUE movie, make it count.
All that being said, I still really enjoyed JUSTICE LEAGUE. The film’s opening scene, a smartphone video of two kids talking to Superman sometime before his death, put me to ease immediately. For the first time, I saw Henry Cavill as Superman, because he finally got to play him. And when Superman returns in the film’s third act, he’s not the moody, uncertain sourpuss from the last two films; no, he’s brave, funny, confident and kind. He’s finally Superman.
Affleck’s Batman is a little wobbly in places, but overall more than acceptable as both the Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne, even if he occasionally looks like that kid stuffed into an immovable snowsuit from A CHRISTMAS STORY. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman remains as much of a highlight here as she was in her own movie, bringing heart and a light touch where it’s desperately needed, while still coming across as a warrior born. To my surprise, I really found myself liking the rest of the team too. Ezra Miller’s Flash is mostly comic relief, and he’s really more Wally West than Barry Allen, but thanks to the character’s relative inexperience, his quirks and stumbles don’t come across as rank incompetence. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman could probably stand to tone down the “dudebroism” in future performances, but he’s fun and engaging, and has a comic scene I won’t reveal that brings down the house, and has to have been an addition by writer and partial director Joss Whedon. And Ray Fisher’s Cyborg fits into the team well (which I’ve never really found to be the case in the comics), and his bonding moments with the Flash are charming and make me hope that the talked-about Flash/Cyborg team-up film actually gets off the ground.
JUSTICE LEAGUE isn’t a masterpiece, but I’m happy to say it was a really enjoyable film that makes me want to see more of these characters in this world, and coming off of DAWN OF JUSTICE, I consider that a home run. I just hope the lower-than-expected box-office numbers don’t discourage Warner Brothers from continuing. Now that they seem to have finally understood how to make movies about heroes, it would be a shame if they stopped.