DC Comics' long-awaited team-up movie the Justice League has finally arrived in cinemas across the globe, much to the jubilation of many comic book fans. The film, however, has been a long time coming with numerous iterations being in the works at Warner Bros. for what seems like an age. While there have been a number of well-received animated adaptations, the original live-action edition was first placed in the hands of Mad Max director George Miller. Unknown circumstances, however, caused gun-shy Warner Bros. to pull the plug during preproduction, making way for the current DC Cinematic Universe in the wake of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.
Fast forward to today and the DC Cinematic Universe already has four movies under its belt. Man of Steel was the first in 2012, followed by the polarising Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Since that time Warner Bros. has released the forgetful Suicide Squad and most recently the immensely successful Wonder Woman. Justice League is the fifth film in the series and is most accurately described as the sequel to Batman v Superman. The plot picks up where we last left Batman and Wonder Woman, with the world in disrepair following Superman's demise. Bruce Wayne's paranoia regarding alien threats has finally come to fruition, as demonic creatures known as "Parademons" begin showing up around Gotham City. The flying beasts who appear to feed on fear, are in search of mysterious relics known as "Mother Boxes". These boxes are ancient devices that channel immense power. Their main capability, however, is to open doorways to other worlds. These portals known as "Boom Tubes" were synonymous with Jack Kirby's work and artistry on the "New Gods" comic book series. This element in the plot provides a convenient introduction for the movie's main villain, the demonic figure known as Steppenwolf.
Steppenwolf's sole purpose in the film is to essentially collect all three Mother Boxes that happen to be on Earth and unite them. This task, all the more easy in the midst of Superman's absence, would effectively end the Earth's existence and bring Steppenwolf's hellish world into prominence. This threat is all the more effective due to each Mother Box's location, with one being protected by Wonder Woman's race the Amazon's, and another being guarded by Aquaman's people the Atlanteans. This element in the story provides the necessary context to unite the league of heroes. The ensuing chaos forces Bruce Wayne into a greater sense of urgency, as his recruiting begins and we are introduced to three new heroes in the form of the Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman.
Meanwhile, Diana Prince has been keeping under the radar while fighting crime as Wonder Woman in Paris. She is rapidly brought out of her sabbatical however, following an urgent message from the Amazons and Themyscira, indicating the threatening arrival of Steppenwolf and his legion of followers. She promptly joins Batman on his bold quest, as they begin to convince the mysterious trio of heroes to fight for their cause. Once an alliance is formed, the five warriors have to overcome their doubts and differences to prevent Steppenwolf's goal before it is too late. From here the story develops tremendously well, highlighting the unique diversity between each character within the group. It is entertaining to watch and drives the story forward, as the League of heroes navigate through a number of stellar battles and convoluted plot points.
Director Zack Snyder returns to helm the Justice League following his extensive work on Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Snyder's dark vision is clearly on display during the early stages of the film, as his trademark slow-motion cinematic visuals display a world without hope and direction. Justice League however seems to receive an extensive number of alterations as the film progresses. The levity increases and the humour builds, while the film gradually begins to exude more light. The most plausible explanation for this is Zack Snyder's departure from the project during the editing process following a family tragedy.
The unfortunate circumstance allowed Warner Bros. to rethink their strategy, which was all the more prudent in the wake of Wonder Woman's critical and box office success. The logical candidate to take over editing duties and extensive rewrites was none other than writer/director Joss Whedon, who had already signed up to helm the newly proposed Batgirl movie. The more than capable Whedon had been on sabbatical following his immense success with Marvel's The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Whedon's involvement undeniably steers the Justice League film in a much lighter direction, which is executed extremely well for the most part. This is especially seen within the team dynamic, particularly during a series of sequences involving Whedon's trademark quirky dialogue.
Extensive reshoots since Snyder's departure are also clearly on display, with familiar Whedon set pieces, in addition to a brighter colour palate. As a result, the change to the DC cinematic tone clearly shows. There is much more humour, in addition to a distinct level of optimism. It is a positive move that should see future DC films receiving the same sort of course correction. However, this posthumous change of direction undeniably affects the film's final edit. The movie's narrative drive is stellar, but vital story beats seem to have been left on the cutting room floor due to the film's strict two hour run time. This leaves a series of plot holes and strange creative choices. As a result, it may leave audiences somewhat perplexed, especially if they are not avid DC Comics readers.
Ben Affleck's portrayal of Batman and Bruce Wayne will be polarising for some. His broody nature is back once again from Batman v Superman, however there is a noticeable positive change to his demeanour. In Justice League, he brings much more levity and optimism to his persona. This is particularly noticeable during his interaction with his trusty butler Alfred, played eloquently by Jeremy Irons. The character change also becomes all the more evident during his interactions with each individual member of the team. This is highlighted through a series of humourous anecdotes, as he subtly clashes with each unique heroes' ideology. Batman's relationship opposite Wonder Woman is also fabulous to watch. It adds a great dynamic to the story, which is only strengthened once he establishes more rapport with the Flash and Aquaman. Physically Affleck embodies an imposing Batman, arguably representing the best visual representation of the caped crusader we have seen on film to date. However, his methodical movements and fight choreography in the bat suit are far from awe-inspiring. His gadgets also leave a lot to be desired. These negatives are highlighted by the DC Cinematic Universe's constant neglect of Batman's detective origins and well established investigative skills.
Gal Gadot returns as the brilliant Wonder Woman, providing her best portrayal of the heroine so far. It has to be said that her character is much more developed during her origin movie, however, this film sees her on the road to her full potential. In some ways, she is the leader of the group, forming the necessary adhesive that keeps the Justice League together. Her aesthetic is also absolutely fabulous, however, at times, her abilities seem poorly defined, not really giving her a clear weakness aside from her emotional vulnerability. Her greatest asset to the team also seems to be her wisdom, knowledge and intuition, which is conveyed incredibly well during her interaction with the other heroes. This is particularly demonstrated opposite Batman. Her character also undeniably has the majority of scene-stealing moments, primarily due to her fantastic screen presence. In the role of Wonder Woman, Gadot is going from strength to strength. It's a real pleasure to watch.
Ezra Miller as the Flash provides the main avenue for most of the film's humour. For the most part, it is highly enjoyable, particularly during his unique interactions with Batman and Wonder Woman. However, the occasional joke does seem to miss the mark. The Flash's youthful exuberance is also a real asset to the movie, as he provides representation for the overly eager audience member who happens to be along for the ride. He is undeniably one of the most entertaining characters in the movie. The visual effects work associated with the Flash's powers are also highly original. For the most part, they are executed tremendously well, however it would have been nice to see a little more thought put into his action sequences, much in the same mould as X-Men: Days of Future Past and their use of Quicksilver. It has to be said that the Flash's special abilities could have been pushed a little further, especially with his own standalone movie on the way.
Jason Momoa as the Aquaman is also real fun to watch, conveying a cool nonchalant nature that makes the character incredibly entertaining. His humourous quips are always on point, and his likability shines right through the screen. However, much like the Flash and Cyborg, his character is slightly underdeveloped. This is clearly due to Warner Bros. strict two-hour runtime, which stifles the breathing room needed for such a fresh character. His interaction with Amber Heard's Mera is also quite interesting, introducing his unique world to audiences in a sequence that is tremendously action-packed. The brief storyline however leaves a lot to be established. For the most part, the lack of character development doesn't hurt the film, still being able to highlight Aquaman as a fascinating character for the future. Fortunately for the DC Cinematic Universe, Aquaman is the next film on their release schedule.
Ray Fisher as Cyborg is undeniably the the biggest surprise of the film. He is a profoundly interesting protagonist courtesy of Fisher's fascinatingly measured portrayal. His character design conjures up many elements synonymous with Marvel's Iron Man, however his aesthetic and usefulness to the team provides the audience with a lot of original aspects to ponder and absorb. The mysterious Cyborg is also arguably one of the biggest forces driving the plot. He also creates the incredibly convenient story beats that are responsible for the reintroduction of an essential character. His appearance in the film will only strengthen the desire for his own standalone movie.
The unsurprising return of Henry Cavill to the DC franchise is also tremendously welcome. As Clark Kent and Superman he has a number of exceptional moments in the movie, particularly lighting up the screen during a series of stellar sequences. The methodology of his return however may leave DC fans slightly perplexed. Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Diane Lane as Martha Kent also contribute to the film briefly, however both leave a significant mark. The movies musical score is also creatively constructed, featuring elements of the original Superman and Batman soundtracks courtesy of Danny Elfman.
The real strength of the film is the team dynamic that is established amongst all the heroes. Each character has a unique interaction with the other, creating a plethora of delightfully funny moments. This is much to the credit of Joss Whedon's involvement with the script rewrite. Whedon tends to have a knack for conveying interesting and entertaining character interactions within group dynamics. These strengths are clearly seen with his work in films such as The Avengers. He essentially highlights the division between each character, before establishing commonalities that bring the individuals together, as they unite forces to achieve a common goal. It would have been interesting to see Whedon's complete take on the Justice League right from the start. Joining the production so late in the film's development sees the movie suffer from plot holes and an editing style that feels savage and rushed. In spite of these obstacles, the movie does have a great flow and a fabulous narrative drive. This is especially noticeable during the final two-thirds of the movie.
The villainous Steppenwolf, played by Ciaran Hinds, is quite formidable for the most part. However, he lacks significant character development, being no more than an avenue for the introduction of more "New Gods" characters further down the line. His main motive is essentially to take over the world, which is explained loosely through a series of flashbacks involving Amazons, Atlanteans and a number of galactic guardians that are well known to DC Comics fans. Although his ultimate purpose is incredibly unknown, which will feel vague to audiences not familiar with the source material. It also has to be said that his character design feels slightly off the mark due to his overly computer generated aesthetic.
Overall, the Justice League is an immensely fun movie. However, as a story it suffers primarily due to its association with Batman v Superman. Being essentially a sequel to Batman v Superman forces Justice League to spend a lot of time rectifying poorly executed plot from the previous instalment. This has to occur while simultaneously telling a compelling story. Not to mention it also has the task of introducing three new heroes, in addition to setting up the imposing threats to come in future films. It's an exhausting task, and for the most part it does it incredibly well while maintaining its own unique style. Although, it does have a number of flaws, primarily surrounding elements the plot or more accurately the lack of plot. These negatives, however, won't affect the viewer's enjoyment.
The lack of plot is a lot to do with not adequately establishing the characters of the Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman prior to the film's release. Another factor is the strict attention to the movie's two hour run time. The Justice League could have benefited from some more breathing room, especially with the introduction so many brand new characters. However in spite of these issues, the film's overall course correction and tonal shift is incredibly positive. While the execution is not as succinct as it could have been, the film is much more bright and optimistic compared to its predecessor. As a consequence, it is a much better movie. The tonal shift is an obvious reaction to the overwhelming critical and box office success of Wonder Woman.
In summary, Justice League has many more strengths than it has weaknesses. The characters and their fabulous team dynamic are the absolute highlight, taking audiences on a wild adventure that is enjoyable and incredibly fun. Warner Bros. is undeniably learning from their previous missteps. However, there still needs to be much more focus on the 75 years worth of fabulous source material from DC Comics. Up until now the studio and the film's creators have chosen to neglect most of it.
On another positive note, eager DC fans will be delighted to know that there are two post-credit scenes much in the mould of Marvel Studios. The first is delightfully fun, aiming to answer a question that has plagued comic book fans for an age. The later, however attempts to establish the further progression of the DC Cinematic Universe. Justice League is undeniably an event film, making it a must see in cinemas everywhere.