Justice League: A ‘one step forward, two steps back’ affair
It seems as though every time DC Comics releases a movie based on their heroes, they only end up making their counterpart, Marvel Films, look that much smarter. Such is the case with their latest entry in the superhero genre, Justice League, a project in which the company’s most recognizable heroes come together to save the world. While Marvel took its time by giving each of its characters their own solo film before throwing them together in The Avengers, DC has gone the opposite direction in a vain effort of playing catch-up. Late to the box office party their rivals have been feasting on, DC gave Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman their own solo films, varying in degrees of success both critically and financially, and this movie’s efforts to up the ante and increase audience interest by introducing fan favorites Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg reeks of desperation. It shows. The result is a middling affair, a movie of wonderfully grand, emotional, grounded moments that are lost amidst the perpetual bombast that’s become a hallmark of the genre.
The plot – well, it’s inconsequential, so let’s dispense with it now. An alien threat is looming in the form of Steppenwolf (voice by Ciaran Hinds) and his army of parademons. Seems this eternal bad guy has returned to Earth to track down three devices known as Mother Boxes, which, when put together, have the power to change matter. His plan is to reconfigure our planet so that it looks like his own and serve as a home for his people. Batman (Ben Affleck) is the first to detect this threat, and he soon tells Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), seeking her help in contacting other rumored meta-humans so they may combat it together. They would be the King of Atlantis, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Scarlet Speedster, The Flash (Ezra Miller) and half-human, half-robot tech wizard Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
The film has a schizophrenic nature, resulting in a “one step forward, two steps back” rhythm that it struggles with throughout. As we see Steppenwolf (one of the worst rendered characters in the modern age of CGI films) track down each McGuffin and set his plan in motion, the movie offers nothing new. These sequences are a visual muddle, are far too loud, and, like its required third-act massive throwdown, repetitive and dull.
However, when time is devoted to the interactions between the heroes, the movie soars. Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to be a beacon of hope and is allowed to shine in a bang-up sequence in which she foils a group of terrorists. Her interactions with Affleck’s cynical Batman bring the film’s theme to life, as his eagerness to engage the aliens runs counter to her cautious approach. Their conversations are well written and thought out, as are those between the other characters. Aquaman’s arrogance and sense of entitlement clashes with them as well while Cyborg’s sense of self-doubt (he’s been created with tech from the Mother Box) is a constant source of concern. The Flash, young and exuberant, is the human factor that helps bring them all together and the humor the character supplies is much needed and very effective. Credit co-screenwriter Joss Whedon for these grounded moments, as he was able to bring a similar quality to The Avengers.
Brief hints are provided concerning the backgrounds of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg that will resonate with fans of the comics but may prove confusing for those new to the party. This is the downside to DC’s backward approach to introducing their stable of characters, though these moments are done well and give hope to each of their future solo films.
As it is, Justice League is a film that follows the superhero template to a T and suffers for it. The action is loud and empty, yet the characters are charismatic, full of life and honestly flawed. Director Zack Snyder’s problem continues to be that of focus as he concentrates on bombast when he should be looking at what makes these icons tick. They deserve better and hopefully will be in a movie worthy of their characters and the actors portraying them the second time around.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.