“Justice League” excels in some ways, but hinders Batman and ends up being a so-so action film.
Warner Bros. is killing Batman.
It seems like just yesterday we were all excited to have Tim Burton’s Batman even though there was nothing else. Depending on how old you are, you either know of the dark times when superhero movies were a dream or you’re aware of a world where superhero movies are the headliners every single year. Now we have a plethora of Batman movies and so many heroes that Batman has to share his films with other icons! Considering how Warner Bros. practically ruined the character with screams of “Martha” and an emotional turn of rage that basically made him a homicidal maniac in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, maybe he needs a team to pull his character into the good graces of the audience. Alas, this film further tarnishes Batman, but as a saving grace, manages to deliver a so-so superhero experience while doing it. Wait, that’s not a good trade-off!
Does every movie need to emulate The Right Stuff?
I say this because midway through Justice League, it’s quite apparent the plot suffers at the hands of Superman’s death and Batman’s moment of attempted murder. There are no cries of “Martha” in this film, thankfully, and Batman (Ben Affleck) basically stays even-keeled, but overly so to the point where the filmmakers want to make sure we’re aware he’s way in over his head. It makes sense on a certain level since he’s well aware that, with heroes like Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Superman (Henry Cavill) flying around, an old man with gadgets isn’t going to cut it. Hence his drive to form this team.
This film manages to push Batman into humbleness more than once, from swallowing his pride as he recruits an annoying kid with no fighting experience, the Flash, to reflecting mid-climactic battle on how he really doesn’t have the tools to even help his superhero friends. It’s strange to see a character who basically started the giant superhero movie blockbuster literally take a step back and reflect on how obsolete he is. Plus, the film does the injustice of making him smile with a s--t eating grin. Ugh. To make matters worse, Batman is basically in a depressed funk the entire film and never really learns or grows from the events of the film.
If this movie is about forming a team, it does so, more or less.
And that is the biggest failing of the film. These characters don’t have arcs. They leave as they came in. Through the use of McGuffins, forced plot points and chaotic action, the characters do and say things as if reacting to the mess that’s going on is enough to build character. You won’t ever hate the film, but you won’t really care either. Flash (Ezra Miller), for instance, is a suitable comedy relief and plays an interesting role as the one character who isn’t very good at what he does. But beyond a brief intro with his father, there’s nothing for him to learn and not much for us to care about. He’s relatively unchanged by the end, even if Miller does a good job with it. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is an enigma, opening it battling with the crisis of losing his humanity and ending with him finding some reason to live. We only know this because he says it and it’s never earned since most of his time is spent analyzing things to get to the next plot point or fighting in mindless battles. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) gets the most exposition thanks to Mera, but his apparent drinking problem and lust for life is tiptoed around to give him color and not much more.
Wonder Woman gets the strongest arc of the bunch, which is going to save this film for most, especially since she’s coming off a great solo film. By the end, she’s changed and grown more confident, and at the same time, the film answers that nagging question of, “Why did she hide for 100 years among mankind?” You have to wonder if Warner Bros. ordered more of her for this film after the huge success of Wonder Woman and it definitely paid off.
The action is good and it thankfully utilizes each of the characters in battle well. A failing of these types of movies (and the comics too) is not having every character play a part, but this film captures that team aspect well. They aren’t planning or strategizing, which is an unfortunate miss given that is supposed to be Batman’s “thing,” but they play well together. You won’t care about the big villain Steppenwolf, especially since his power set seems to be impossibly strong with impenetrable skin (until the end, of course). The character is basically as strong as he needs be when fighting the heroes. For instance, he might knock Wonder Woman 100 yards and then moments later knock Flash hard enough to knock him out but if he hit him as hard as he hit Wonder Woman, every bone in his body would break, right? The Apokolips bug drones serve the conventional superhero movie purpose of endless non-human villains for the heroes to kill without falling into R-rating territory. Their design is cool when you can get a close enough look, but generally, they act as flies for the heroes to swat.
Wonder Woman comes out of this with the strongest story arc.
Probably the coolest element and the biggest take home is going to be how awesome Superman is in this film. His resurrection ends up being a distraction to the main plot–and it forces us to witness the hero-fighting-hero trope–but his power is awesome in this film. When he lays the hammer down with his powers it’s pretty clear he’s 10 times stronger than any of the other heroes, which in a way reduces their standing. Why should we even bother with these other characters when Superman is far and away better than all of them combined? His resurrection houses one of the dumbest plot holes in the film involving the villains getting the upper hand for the third act, though. This character also ends the film with a good dose of hope, and combined with Wonder Woman, viewers should be hopeful the DC movie universe is going in the right direction.
That is if you like bright heroes with big smiles. Batman comes out of this film weaker and I doubt they can turn this around for him, at least with Ben Affleck in the role. The character has now suffered two films that have reduced his purpose and his standing. If the main goal of this film was to plant seeds for each hero, it has done well enough, but at what cost?