DC Comics’ greatest heroes stand for truth, hope and justice. I was truthfully hoping for Justice League to finally be the breakout movie in the current DC cinematic universe, one that can compete with Marvel’s gold standard. I’m surprised to say it’s my favorite of DC’s recent films. However, it’s still a mediocre movie whose confusing plot points and character decisions will make viewers scratch their heads. The great cast of heroes can save the world, but not this story’s weak plot and haphazard beginning.
On Nov. 15, an audience of Northwestern students packed into the Century 12 theater for an advanced screening of DC’s latest film, sponsored by Northwestern University Off-Campus Life. A ticket taker wearing a Batman mask greeted everyone as they took their seats. The crowd seemed pumped for the movie as the previews ran, but there were only a few meek rounds of applause during exciting moments of the film. Many students stuck around to see the two post-credits scenes, but the enthusiasm seemed to be drained out of them.
Following the abysmal Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a lot of pressure was on Justice League to whip the DC films into shape. The success of Wonder Woman earlier this year helped ease the burden, but Justice League had to introduce new characters Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg all on its own. Despite some rushed introductions, seeing the team form and work together is by far the best part of the movie.
Taking place several months after Superman’s death in Batman v Superman, the world is without hope and threatened by Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), an ancient villain from space who wants to destroy Earth. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) bring together the other heroes to restore order and fight off the extraterrestrial invasion.
Based purely on its story, Justice League doesn’t impress. It’s obvious from the start that the heroes will team up to save the planet, and maybe Superman isn’t as dead as he appeared to be in the previous movie. Steppenwolf doesn’t have any compelling motive for wanting to conquer Earth, and he looks like a melted discount action figure due to some garbage CGI. He’s searching for three all-powerful Mother Boxes that have the power to destroy Earth. The movie glosses over any clear explanation of these plot devices and hopes the audience will just nod and pretend to understand why they’re important. Despite all this, the ensemble cast of heroes is the strongest aspect of the movie and can help the audience temporarily forget about the nonsensical plot.
If you stick through the rough first third of the movie, the heroes come together cohesively by the end. Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) are quickly introduced at the start of the movie. They each get a scene or two to briefly explain their backstory and why the audience should care about them. Sadly, these scenes don’t adequately flesh out the characters and confuse the audience more than intrigue them.
Flash’s dad is in jail for allegedly murdering his mom, and Flash is trying to prove his innocence. In an effort to save Cyborg from a deadly explosion, Cyborg’s father turned him into more machine than man, but that interesting dynamic is never fully explored in the film. The same goes for Aquaman’s split heritage between Atlantis and the surface world. There’s no emotional weight or significance to these subplots in the few minutes we spend with them. These backstories would’ve been better to unveil in the upcoming standalone movies, which DC has already announced.
Despite the awkward introductions, the Justice League members have good chemistry onscreen, which is enjoyable for casual fans and comic book lovers alike. Wonder Woman is as charming and badass as she was in her origin story from this year. Credited with most of the laughs from the audience, Flash is socially awkward around the other heroes and delightfully dorky. Thanks to Jason Momoa, Aquaman feels like an underwater rock star that can be cool and serious at the same time. Cyborg takes a little getting used to. He comes off as more of an emotionless robot than hero at first, but by the end of the movie he’s an integral member.
Despite being the main protagonist of the Justice League, Affleck has never seemed like a good fit for the Dark Knight since he debuted in Batman v Superman. He plays a more lifeless, grim and brooding Batman than any other actor before him. There’s no wit or charm to his character, and even when he does crack a joke, it comes off as forced and stilted. Affleck told USA Today this week that he wants a “cool and graceful” exit to the role in the future, and I can’t wait for it to happen.
Once the team comes together halfway through the movie, there are some fun interactions and conflicts between the characters. Batman and Wonder Woman bicker ideologically about how to save the planet, while Flash and Cyborg form a bromance over being the B-list members. Everyone teases Aquaman about his powers of talking to fish, but he proves to be much cooler and more powerful than people give him credit for. The team fights off Steppenwolf’s army in a couple of explosion-filled fight scenes, but the movie ends right when the team is starting to feel like a unified family.
Unlike Marvel’s Avengers that had several movies building to the team-up, DC doesn’t have that foundation for its characters. Justice League does a decent job of making you like these heroes, but seeing the team interact more and explore their dynamics would have helped the film. Some fans may be on board to see standalone movies, but others won’t be as hooked to the franchise.
Justice League has Joss Whedon to thank for its lighter tone and humor. Whedon, known for directing both Avengers movies, helped write the script and direct reshoots for Justice League after director Zack Snyder stepped down due to a family tragedy. Many of the jokes and gags in the film felt similar to the Marvel sense of humor, and they helped transform Justice League from the dark, serious tone of Batman v Superman. With this new direction, hopefully DC can stay on track with its upcoming movies.
As a comic book movie, Justice League succeeds. Comic book nerds like me have been waiting years to see DC’s premier team grace the big screen, and this film doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Looking at this movie as a film critic is not as fulfilling. The plot is nonsensical at times and the characters’ backstories have no impact on the audience. I can confidently say that most comic book fans will enjoy Justice League, but that may be a stretch for everyone else watching it.
Justice League is playing in theaters everywhere, including the Evanston Century 12.