In recent years, it has been a tough time to be both a fan of DC comics and a filmgoer. After Christopher Nolan’s brilliant and well regarded Dark Knight trilogy, Warner Brothers have had one deeply flawed yet enjoyable film in Man of Steel, two cinematic dumpster fires in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice & Suicide Squad, and one terrific film in this year’s Wonder Woman. Justice League is no Wonder Woman but that may be alright for now anyway.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a simple story about Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) bringing together a rag-tag group of super-powered misfits together to stop Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), General of Apokolips and a new God whose hunt for the ancient Mother Boxes could bring doom to our universe. That group includes Wonder Woman, played once again by Gal Gadot, The Flash played by Ezra Miller, Cyborg by stage actor Ray Fisher, and Aquaman by Jason Momoa. Miller is clearly the standout of the film gifting this version of the Barry Allen a goofball charm that is altogether separate from the one on the hit CW The Flash tv show but no less valid. Fisher’s Cyborg, on the other hand, is a slightly boring and overdone “why me, cruel world” attitude but is the only one of the team still learning to deal with his powers so that may change in future installments.
Justice League has heard most of the complaints of the previous DC films and tries to address them in different ways. Gone are the angry, death doling Batman and Superman (yes, he shows up) of the past, this film is actually concerned about human life. The Superman we get finally gives us a real Superman hopeful about, even if Henry Cavill’s real-world mustache meant that sometimes his face looks off. The tone is lighter, the jokes are frequent but also land very well. The film is shorter and the pace is brisker. While this pace can be seen as a negative as we often don’t get as much character development as you would hope for, the effort is appreciated.
One complaint that was not heard however is that of the famous line “Do you bleed?” from Batman V Superman. It was a silly line then and it’s a silly line now but it shockingly makes a reappearance here. Also, a viewer can tell that this film was made by straight men as Wonder Woman and others are shot in a much more sexual way than in her solo outing. Snyder is sure to include shots of her backside and of her skirt flapping up in rather distressingly Micheal Bay-like focus.
The music of the film also leaves me conflicted. Danny Elfman composes a score that often times sounds more like his 90’s work in sheer bounce but without the memorability of that work. It’s fine and works well but he also integrates some of his previous Batman work as well as John Williams’ 1978 Superman theme into the score. On one hand it’s nice to have nostalgic themes return to this modern take for the sake of nostalgia but on the other hand in all but one case it takes you out of the movie far more than if he had created something new or stuck with ONLY the themes Hans Zimmer, who is also briefly musically quoted, has previously used in this franchise.
The fights are mostly fun but it is the characters chemistry together that makes the film. While the climactic battle is a tad more anti-climatic than in Wonder Woman, which was also that film’s weakest point, the interplay in the scenes that surround it make it less noticeable.
What writer Chris Terrio, co-writer (and uncredited co-director) Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder have created is an imperfect film but it often feels like the comic books it is based on and the very popular cartoons they have spawned. it is also unlike the morality play; Man of Steel and the preachy yet violent mess; Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice by simply being an enjoyable popcorn movie. While we can hope for better in the future, we could surely do a lot worse.