One’s expectations are a funny thing. When it comes to any movie, managing them can be difficult thanks to the plethora of trailers, TV spots, and various other promotional materials that accompany any major motion picture these days (especially when they may or may not give everything about it away). And managing expectations certainly doesn’t get any easier when said movie happens to be one of the most highly anticipated movies of all time. But no matter how cynical your expectations may be, there’s always a chance that you could be pleasantly surprised. And long story short, that’s basically what happens with Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’.
Following the death of the Man of Steel in ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’ at the hands of Doomsday, Batman reassesses his crime-fighting methods by assembling a team of extraordinary individuals to protect their world from threats that they can’t defeat individually. When one such threat in the form of a mythical warrior named Steppenwolf is on the hunt for three powerful weapons hidden on Earth, Bruce Wayne enlists the aid of Amazonian warrior Wonder Woman, Atlantean royal Aquaman, cybernetically enhanced genius Cyborg, and speedster The Flash to stop him.
Aside from the outlier ‘Wonder Woman’, the DC Extended Universe has been largely disappointing. Though it has its own problems, ’Man of Steel’ also has its merits. ‘Suicide Squad’ was just a mess. And while it has its defenders, the worst offender of all has to be ‘Dawn of Justice’.
So naturally with so many misses, the expectation for the next chapter in the DCEU was pretty low despite all the hype around it. But a funny thing happened with ‘Justice League’ because it’s almost like the filmmakers have finally started listening to the feedback from their fans. And the best way we can really summarize the changes is that DC is finally having a little fun.
For starters, there was much more levity and a lot less doom and gloom. The Flash and Aquaman had a lot to do with that, but even the Dark Knight lightened up a bit and had his own quips and one-liners. This was likely thanks to Joss Whedon, who is given a writing credit on the film in addition to overseeing the reshoots. He has a bit of experience in bringing a number of heroic loners together in an extraordinary way. But this was most apparent with Superman, who *SPOILER ALERT* (but not really) comes back to life and joins the team. Big Blue was finally allowed to be the beacon of hope that he was always meant to be. He wasn’t some brooding god figure in this movie. Though there were a few moments of that, he was very relatable team player. He was even allowed to smile! It was very refreshing to see Henry Cavill finally showing off what he can really do as the Last Son of Krypton.
‘Justice League’ also wasn’t afraid to be reverent to what came before it. And I’m not talking about Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Alfred made a few references to Batman’s other adventures, some of which included “wind up penguins”. Cyborg also busted out his “BOOYAH!” catchphrase from ‘Teen Titans’ to mark a job well done. There were also plenty of Easter eggs/cameos from other corners of the DCEU that have yet to be explored on the big screen but have long and storied histories in the comics. There were just a series of small references scattered throughout the movie that added to the fun. But the best example of this is in the music. Danny Elfman’s score for the film included elements of his 1989 Batman theme and John Williams’ 1978 Superman theme. It was so good to hear these iconic songs associated with their respective characters once again.
And then, once the team really came together in the second half of the movie, that’s where we got the moments that long-time fans have been waiting to see for a long time. Just as in ‘The Avengers’, it was so great to see the team work together to take down the bad guy. Each of their individual strengths enhanced the others’ to create some really cool comic panel-esque moments.
However, to get to that point, we did have to slog through quite a bit. The first half of the movie was your typical Zack Snyder slugfest with little rhyme or reason to it other than it looked cool. Masturbatory action is Snyder’s calling card and it was definitely present in ‘Justice League’. In terms of the plot, there wasn’t a pacing issue per say as things happened when they needed to, but rather than flowing organically, plot points just happened and we moved on. ‘Batman V Superman’ scribe Chris Terrio certainly learned from his past transgressions when he crafted this script prior to Whedon getting involved, but he could still use a little work. And just as I separated the first half and the second half of the film, it did a good enough job of doing that itself with conflicting cinematic tones. Again, there are ways to do that organically, but those methods just weren’t employed in ‘Justice League’.
Additionally, Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons as the villains were an afterthought. Though powerful in his own right, there was never really any doubt that the relatively obscure bad guy would be defeated by the team. He didn’t have much characterization and was solely there to be a precursor to Darkseid, who will most definitely be the big bad down the line. And no joke, there were moments during his quest for the Motherboxes that I started to nod off because I was just bored by him. Blame probably goes to Snyder’s extended action sequences though as well, but Steppenwolf was at the center of them. At the end of the day, ‘Justice League’ was filled with the usual superhero movie tropes, but this one could have been avoided with a little out of the (mother)box thinking.
In the words of Lois Lane, “Our darkness was deep and swallowed all hope.” But now that the DCEU is moving away from the darkness of their early films, their heroes are finally getting to be who they are supposed to be on the big screen. Sure, the bar was set pretty low and there are some kinks to work out still, but overall ‘Justice League’ was pretty good. It felt more like a comic book movie than some pretentious think piece by someone that thinks that they’re above the genre. Though not exactly an all-around win, this movie was definitely a much needed pleasant surprise from DC and WB. More importantly, it gives a small glimmer of hope for the future. That glimmer maybe isn’t big enough to dish out the extra dough for IMAX 3D or any of the other frills that the movie theater offers these days, but it’s still worth the watch nonetheless.
‘Justice League’ starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, and Ciarán Hinds hits theaters on November 17, 2017.