Justice League doesn’t justify the DCEU’s existence
Director: Zack Synder Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Erza Miller, Ray Fisher, J.K. Simmons, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds Runtime: 121 Minutes
It’s fair to say that efforts to launch the DC Extended Universe have not worked out as planned. Man Of Steel, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice & Suicide Squad, while all performing well at the box office, met their true foes in the form of film critics and DC fans across the globe. In an effort to keep up with Marvel’s ever-expanding superhero franchise, a litany of errors were made on DC and Warner Brothers’ parts including rushed production schedules, casting mistakes and extensively edited final products.
Despite the turbulence, we have finally reached our destination as the world prepares for Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman to come together for the first time on the big screen. However, while fans may rejoice at the prospect, Justice League is yet another weak addition to the DCEU, one that can neither improve on the cinematic universe that was built around it nor go as far as to justify its existence. We may have reached our destination, but was it all worth it?
Superman is dead. The world is in mourning. Its citizens are exposed to a new evil in the form of Steppenwolf: an intergalactic being hellbent on destroying Earth centuries after his first attempt was foiled. After Batman (Affleck) uncovers Steppenwolf’s plans, he must bring together the “meta-humans” of the world (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, The Flash) in order to form the Justice League.
Perhaps the most admirable aspect of the film (the 5th entry into the DCEU) is that it has genuinely made moves to learn from the franchise’s mistakes. However, Justice League feels more like a product of this troubled journey rather than the culmination of the different movies and the respective storylines that have come before. Its lighter tone stems from fears that these films were dour affairs devoid of any humour or charm. The two hour runtime makes for DC’s shortest film in the Extended Universe, following complaints that BvS took far too long to get to the point. Yet, in what could be described as a perfect example of irony, many of Justice League’s problems are as a result of these changes.
By opting for a lighter tone, the film feels disposable – more fluff than rough. While humour is a welcome inclusion, the medical procedure of surgically attaching funny bones to our superheroes seems like a botched job. In fact, Justice League can feel tonally bipolar at points, jumping erratically between light-hearted romp and serious/sullen blockbuster (the latter being more what we have come to expect from the franchise). This is not to say that there are no laughs to be had, but, instead, their inclusion feels strange when you consider the franchise as a whole.
With the considerably lighter tone in place, the events that make up Justice League’s plot never really seem to challenge the heroes in any way. Instead, we are presented with a villain (voiced by Ireland’s own Ciarán Hinds) who feels like the middleman between the team and someone/something that could truly create problems for them. Despite spending over a billion dollars and 5 years building up to this point, any anticipation or excitement seems to peak at seeing all 6 heroes in the same shot, as opposed to watching them storm and form or face any genuine challenge along the way.
While it is important to present a film at an appropriate length, Justice League is the one DCEU project that we could have spent more time with (..that is a sentiment I never thought I would express). With a strict two hour runtime there is no room for character development in any way, shape or form – a weird choice considering the film rather ambitiously introduces three new main characters into the universe, as well as a collection of others from the annals of DC comic infamy.
The Flash offers the most in terms of backstory and depth, but ultimately becomes the mandatory comic relief and Joss Whedon joke factory as the film goes on. Cyborg – a powerful and pivotal character to the overall plot of the film – is never explored in any detail beyond him being “involved in an accident”. However, in an utterly bizarre move the film takes no time to introduce Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, despite his standalone film currently being in production and scheduled for release in late 2018.
Despite the success of Wonder Woman earlier in the year, there is a lot less of Gal Gadot’s amazon warrior in this film than there, perhaps, should be. Although Gadot’s performance is weak at points (as it was in WW and BvS) Wonder Woman continues to be the most consistently motivated character in the series and, as she has proven her worth as a fan favorite, it wouldn’t have hurt to explore the character in more detail. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne – a once interesting character and easily the best part of BvS – is reduced to a bland imitation of what he was in the previous film, with Affleck offering a noticeably uncharismatic performance. It is Superman, however, who truly struggles on screen. Again Cavill fails to bring much depth to the character, despite the inclusion of both warmer and more comedic moments in the script.
In the end, Justice League doesn’t feel like it belongs in this world – a world that has, ironically, been created for it. It neither feels like a sequel to Batman vs Superman in tone nor story, and it certainly doesn’t feel like the culmination of all DCEU efforts to date. Creative decisions made at this cinematic universe’s conception have come back to haunt them, resulting in an utterly disjointed and unfocused franchise and a poor showing for arguably their most important film. Fans will probably find enough to satisfy their appetites, but this isn’t the best that they, the story, the characters or even the filmmakers deserve. Considering the other movies in the franchise and their efforts to build up to this moment, it is truly remarkable to note that Justice League feels more like a disposable standalone flick than an integral part of a cinematic universe. It’s begs the question: how sustainable is this?(2 / 5)