Warning! Possible Justice League Spoilers Below!
With the success of Wonder Woman, it’s not surprising that the latest film offering in the DCEU doesn’t live up to that same high. In Justice League, the best of the DC universe come together to stop a big bad foe, but the film gets weighed down by its large cast rather than benefiting from their appearances.
There’s a lot of story to tell in Justice League. The film briefly goes over what’s going on with Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) because of their previous recent films, but new characters like The Flash (Ezra Miller,) Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) get a sizable chunk of the film’s runtime going over their backstory. Batman and Wonder Woman spend a lot of time trying to assemble the Justice League rater than actually doing much fighting.
The film’s premise centers around the villain Steppenwolf wreaking havoc if he manages to obtain all three mysterious motherboxes that have been hidden on earth. One rests with the Amazons at Wonder Woman’s home, one with the Atlanteans in Aquaman’s territory, and the third is hidden somewhere in the land of man. This is interesting enough, but the only times it’s dealt with is when Steppenwolf shows up, tortures some humans, and eventually makes off with the motherbox.
The only arguable defenses for the motherbox’s safety come from the Amazons, who put up one hell of a fight led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen.) Themyscira has such a beautiful landscape, and every inch of it is used to try and get the motherbox out of Steppenwolf’s hands. The other attempts just feel kind of dull in comparison; a brief confrontation occurs between Steppenwolf and Mera (Amber Heard) before Steppenwolf flicks her aside and takes what he wants, and the villain manages to take the third motherbox right out from under the Justice League’s noses while they’re busy arguing. Not much action there!
That’s not to say that Justice League doesn’t attempt to make Steppenwolf seem like a real threat. He is vicious and unrelenting, but it’s hard to focus on him and his quest for the motherboxes too much with how frequently the film shifts focus. So many different storylines are occurring simultaneously that it bloats the film without adding any substance to the story.
Gadot is a highlight once again as Wonder Woman, and while she and the other superheroes do their thing, it’s Wonder Woman that puts up the best and most believable fight. Fisher’s Cyborg is coming to grips with his new identity, struggling to do the right thing and managing to make Cyborg cool. The direction the film takes for Cyborg is moody and dark, but that’s more than welcome to the black stereotype that Cyborg sometimes finds himself being.
Affleck and Momoa feel somewhat tired in their roles, which is surprising especially in Momoa’s case. His Aquaman is sneering and pompous, and he seems more like an asshole than a superhero. The brief time he spends in Atlantis with Mera lasts for mere seconds, making for another disappointment as Justice League tries to juggle all its balls and drops a few.
Miller is adorable and hilarious as the Flash, being some welcome comic relief and quirkiness to the otherwise rather somber and moody bunch. This was definitely good casting; Miller’s Flash holds his own and even manages to steal the scenes he’s in with the rest of the group. His backstory, while brief like other characters’, is endearing.
Henry Cavill returns as Superman, and his appearance in the film is another highlight even though it adds a sixth member to the League and further cramps the runtime as his backstory and other drama has to be glossed over.
I’d like to say Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Diane Lane as Martha Kent are two more characters adding a great deal to Justice League because both actors are outstanding in their roles, but they instead add more drama to the mix and no action. Justice League begins to feel like a bunch of origin vignettes, and if it’s the start of a film series, one can only hope that after introductions are made, future films can get right into the action.
With that said, Cavill’s Superman is a welcome return, but once he’s there the film manages to further lose its footing as Superman tips the balance back into the League’s favor. Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman all were getting their asses kicked until Superman shows up and rips Steppenwolf a new one. It feels like there’s less unity amongst the League because of this.
The final fight scene built up to each character playing an integral role in Steppenwolf’s demise: Wonder Woman battled him, Batman distracted his minions, The Flash sped by to give Wonder Woman the upper hand, and Cyborg went to work to disengage the motherboxes. But they just couldn’t do it without Superman. I suppose on one hand this makes sense and is key to the origins of the Justice League, but on the other it just feels like bad storytelling in this instance and in this medium.
Overall, Justice League isn’t entirely bad, but it isn’t entirely good either. It has many wonderful things going for it: a noticeably large budget, gorgeous visuals and performances from Gadot, Miller and Cavill. Its problem is that it takes on too much, making for a tightly packed film that fails to deliver a punch with paint-by-number fight scenes that end much more rapidly than they begin, interspersed with many character plots that begin to interweave…but just barely.