I’m on the record as saying it was too soon to release Justice League. Coming off the success of Wonder Woman, DC Comics finally put forth a big screen superhero film that worked on all levels. That’s the first time the studio and its parent company could claim that feat, outside of LEGO Batman, since Christopher Nolan moved away from the genre following the conclusion of his Dark Knight trilogy.
The risk and the largest potential problem for Justice League, from the outset, is DC hasn’t had enough victories to afford a misstep. If this film turned out to be subpar, the company would lose much of the momentum and optimism that arrived alongside Gal Gadot and her stunningly entertaining summer blockbuster. Before The Avengers, Marvel introduced us to many of the key contributors in the group, and thus we were more invested in them individually. Also, it helped that the movies that preceded the team-up…were generally solid.
Aquaman hasn’t had his solo moment yet, nor has Cyborg. Batman has had too many moments, but he’s still a star, and Superman has had multiple failed reboots, despite showing some potential in a still disappointing Man of Steel. The Flash has found a new audience on television, but again, many moviegoers will have never seen Barry Allen and won’t know much of his story. So, we’ve got some heavy hitters and some unknown quantities, and we’re trying to build something lasting out of it.
Did DC succeed? That’s what you want to know.
The short answer is generally yes, or at least “kinda,” although by no means is this a great movie. Wonder Woman is far better, as are all other superhero films that have released this year. That’s not QUITE as bad as it sounds, because 2017 has been filled with strong efforts, from Logan to Spider-Man: Homecoming to Thor: Ragnarok.
First, here’s the good news about Justice League: The newcomers are arguably the movie’s biggest strength outside of Gadot. Jason Momoa steps into Arthur “Aquaman” Curry fairly well, and despite constant feelings that we’re watching WWE superstar Roman Reigns, his wit and willingness not to overplay every scene serves that character effectively. Aquaman is a tough nut to crack, because it’s simply not as historically interesting as a comic, though it’s had some good runs. Momoa brings enough interest to the role that when he stars in the non-Vinnie Chase version of Aquaman, it should do well.
Also stellar is Ezra Miller, who might be the best portion of the entire movie. The Flash is a fun character, when written well, and here we get more of the Tom Holland style of Peter Parker, but on the DC landscape. He’s funny, he’s young and naive, but he’s also a hero you can get behind, especially when much of what’s going on around him is less interesting. Miller might not “feel” like Barry Allen when you first lay eyes on him, but it works by the time the credits roll.
Ray Fisher’s work as Victor Stone improves as the character grows, but again it’s hindered by the idea that so few people know much about Cyborg. By the time we’ve warmed to him, the movie is ending. He will be more useful in future projects, though he’s perfectly fine (at worst), and his back-and-forth scenes with The Flash are highlights.
Gal Gadot jumps off the screen again. She is gorgeous, beyond belief, and she’s a true star as Diana Prince. Wonder Woman was great, and in Justice League, Wonder Woman IS great. She might even be better here than in her own film, which is quite an accomplishment. She’s arguably the most important character going in, as she’s become DC’s Tony Stark. While there are bigger and more well-known heroes in the DC Universe, for the film franchise, there aren’t. She’s terrific, so much fun to watch, and she’s definitely the biggest name of the film.
Now for the bad, and there’s plenty to get to, starting with Justice League‘s rather flimsy plot. The story is predictable and surface-oriented, featuring a villain in Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) that lacks virtually any recognition to the non-hardcore audience. That isn’t entirely a bad thing in itself, because usually the first movie doesn’t feature the best antagonist, but I was much more entertained by Ragnarok in his slight screen time a few weeks ago than I was this guy, despite his power.
In fact, he may be the worst villain ever to grace a superhero film, even if some have done less with bigger names. He’s a total let down, although no one had expectations for him. To call him a minor character in the DC Universe would be an understatement. It’s almost baffling that he was the choice, quite frankly. Especially when DC really needed this thing to hum.
Justice League exists for precisely one story purpose, and it’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself. The main villain arrives due to the death of Superman, which is handled very well in the movie’s opening sequence. That open might be my favorite scene in the movie, as it’s somber, powerful, and uses an emotionally strong cover of a recent Leonard Cohen song to set the proper tone. You can see a world that’s fallen into disarray, as the enemies and subhumans have chosen the moment the planet is at its weakest to strike.
Also not good, in basically any way, is Ben Affleck, who simply cannot pull off Bruce Wayne. I’m not an Affleck-hater, by any means, but he’s horribly miscast, and his Bruce is astonishingly dull and boring. That description is apt for much of the movie’s first hour, which starts slow and comes across quite unfocused. It almost put me to sleep. Luckily, the second hour is much more exciting, and once the heroes come together, Justice League turns from a potential nap to a fun experience.
Because Batman is so instrumental to DC, and to the main plot of this movie, that for that to be the effort’s worst facet (along with the big baddie) puts it on a difficult plane. If Iron Man sucked and Robert Downey Jr. weren’t awesome, The Avengers would have suffered. That’s the case here, as with a strong Caped Crusader, Justice League‘s early stages would have been better. That said, whenever Gadot (also enormously important early and throughout) is the focus, she even makes Ben more tolerable.
Here’s what there is to say about Justice League, boiled down to the simplest conclusions. Its usually decent, sometimes pretty good, but never fantastic. The first hour is largely a trudge, and the second hour is better paced and occasionally a lot of fun. The new stars all perform adequately or in some cases very well, and you’ll leave wanting to see more from them. Ben Affleck is the movie’s weakest point, and Gal Gadot is its best.
Finally, and stop reading if you don’t like “are there post-credits scenes” answers, the single biggest highlight of the movie is the SECOND stinger that comes after the credits have finished. There are two scenes, one fairly early, and then one at the very end. That second scene is absolutely dynamite, and is on par with Samuel L. Jackson’s first appearance as Nick Fury that popped up at the end of Iron Man.
DC’s big screen existence is undoubtedly brighter today than it was this time last year, and neither of its movies this year are failures. Wonder Woman was definitely the better film by about five miles, but Justice League is pretty good. It’s passable always, pretty good in short bursts late, but falls substantially short of special. The trajectory is still advancing in the right direction, and the real hope is in a feeling that the future for DC is brighter than the present, which feels semi accurate as an assumption.
Many will like Justice League, and I can go somewhere around a C- overall grade for it, but it took way too long to develop. Once it did, it was a fairly fun ride. It’s not a disaster, and if you’re a fan of the source material, or of superhero film, you’ll find things to enjoy. I just question whether anyone, relatively speaking, will love it. My guess is no.
Justice League 2? Maybe without Zack Snyder and his slow-motion tricks and overdirection? Now THAT I can get excited about. DC has been far too dull and drab, with Marvel’s refreshing tones benefiting them greatly as of late. And as a Batman obsessive, removing Affleck as soon as possible will be a boon to all of the DC Universe going forward. He doesn’t want to be there, and we don’t want him there either.
I’m @JMartOutkick. Up and at them.