Considering the mixed reception that most of the DCEU films have received and the production problems Justice League suffered, it would have been easy to believe that this superhero team-up would have been a disaster. Fortunately Justice League was able to beat these low expectations.
The world is mourning the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) after the events of Batman vs. Superman and sees a massive rise in crime because of it. Yet this is nothing compared to the threat that aliens have been scouting Earth for an invasion. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) sets out to form a team of superheroes ready to combat the alien invasion and replace the Man of Steel.
Justice League had a troubled production: it’s original director Zack Snyder (the man who handled the previous Superman films) left post-production because of personal issues and The Avengers‘ Joss Whedon took over editing and the reshoots.
The previous Superman films were also criticised for being too dark and Whedon was mandated to lighten up the DCEU. Whedon also had to bring Justice League‘s run time down to two hours instead of the reported two hours 50 minutes.
All these problems easily led to fans not expecting much and it was not helped by the lacklustre marketing campaign. So it is pleasing to say that Justice League was a fun experience. Justice League doesn’t match the heights of Logan, Thor: Raganork and the DCEU’s own Wonder Woman, nor does it revolutionise the superhero genre but it does the job.
The first half was clearly where Snyder’s influence was felt whilst the second when Whedon’s presence was most evident. Even before the change in director Snyder had to lighten up for Justice League because the biggest criticism against Batman vs. Superman was too dark, or more to the point too violent.
Even his scenes had an injection of humour and he has turned away from the shaky cam style that was used in the previous two Superman films. Snyder reverts back to his hyper-stylised slo-mo action sequences and they were all the better for it, especially when The Flash (Ezra Miller) uses his powers.
Warner Bros. have been racing to catch up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: they fast track their team up film without giving many of its members their own solo film. The MCU had the slow build with their characters and plot threats like the Tesseract and the Infinity Stones. Batman vs. Superman rushed in its conclusion that there is an alien threat coming to Earth despite the rest of the film making no mention of it previously.
The plot of Justice League is a combination of The Avengers‘ where an alien with an army tries to conquer Earth, the MCU’s long-running storyline regarding the Infinity Stones and even the DCEU’s own Man of Steel where General Zod tries to terraform Earth.
When compared to The Avengers Justice League does space out its action sequences more and this helps the pacing. There are some strong action set-pieces, like when the Amazons battling Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), the Justice League fighting under Gotham, a fight when the Justice League has one of its members and the big battle at the end. There are some wonky special effects like the mass of Amazon warriors but for the most part they stand alongside other blockbusters.
It is clear that a lot of story and character elements were cut from the film: it steamrolls through the storyline where Steppenwolf has to find the three Mother Boxes on Earth and the backstory where the forces of Earth have to fight Steppenwolf was the superhero version of a Lord of the Rings prologue.
The film also has a need to bring in characters like Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons) and Mera (Amber Heard) appeared for five minutes just so their characters are set up future films. Willem Dafoe and Kiersey Clemons also filmed scenes for Justice League but were cut from the final product. But this is a problem that is currently affecting a lot of cinematic universes like the MCU, Disney’s continuation of Star Wars and The Amazing Spider-man series.
Despite some of the issues the characters do have defied arcs. Bruce Wayne/Batman is the one who forms the team as an act of pendant. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) has to embrace her role as the leader and The Flash and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) bond because they dub themselves the ‘accidents’. Cyborg is the emo of the group who has to accept being a part of the group.
All five members of the Justice League give solid performances and have a moment to shine. Wonder Woman gets to kick a lot of ass and the member who fights Steppenwolf the most, The Flash is the basically a hyperactive kid who is excited to be with the team and Jason Momoa was clearly having fun as Aquaman, enjoying being a part of the action. One of the best character moments was when the Justice League are flying towards their final battle with Steppenwolf and his forces: it was a scene that seemed like it was reshoot by Whedon.
Even Superman in his limited appearance seems more like the character audiences know and love than he did in his previous two films. He is shown to be a much more noble figure and Whedon was able to bring back the fun factor. Henry Cavill was much more comfortable as the big blue boy scout.
Steppenwolf is a generic bad guy but he does the what he needs to be done: be big and imposing. He was a physical threat which even Wonder Woman struggled to fight him and Hinds was doing his best Liam Neeson impression – according to Wikipedia Hinds even asked for help from Neeson regarding his performance. Even though Steppenwolf is a little bland he is the second best victim in the DCEU so far: only General Zod tops him.
I confess, I thought Justice League was going to be a trainwreck of a film because of its production problems and the DCEU’s lacklustre performance, yet I was pleasantly surprised and found it be solid popcorn entertainment. Justice League does not bring anything new to the superhero genre but with Wonder Woman it offers a stronger foundation for the DCEU to move, even if the box-office numbers don’t look so positive.