Marvel didn’t only establish a cinematic universe with the success of movies like “Iron Man” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” it changed the shape of Hollywood. In many ways, it was no longer enough to make a good movie; every big budget flick also had to establish its own universe to compete with Marvel’s runaway money train. Others have done it successfully (some even before Marvel) but for every “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games” the average movie goer got to see, they were also subjected to a dozen “Maze Runners” and… it breaks my heart to say this, movies like “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of who even cares anymore you showed us the whole movie in the trailer.”
I honestly enjoyed “Man of Steel,” had a pretty good time with BvS, and even liked “Suicide Squad” the first time I saw it. When I tried again (sober) a few months later, however, there was no question: DC movies were so interested in establishing a universe to market future movies, they forgot to make any good ones now. That wasn’t the only problem with them, of course. Zack Snyder, who helmed “Man of Steel” and BvS is clearly an incredible cinematographer, but he’s not a very good story-teller. His movies are ripe with hauntingly beautiful imagery and not much else.
As I rewatched the director’s cut of what should have been the culmination of 30-some years of nerdery in “Batman V. Superman” recently, it was clear: Zach Snyder is just still making that smelly turd of an art film glazed in super hero spandex, “The Watchmen.” Sure, it was a pretty movie and it managed to tell a decent story, but once you got past the beauty of its aesthetic, you’re just stuck with three and half hours of some blue guy’s junk waving in the breeze on Mars while he writes breakup poetry about space. “Wonder Woman” was a blessed reprieve from DC’s general suckery, but it wasn’t enough to convince us about the franchise as a whole.
You can’t review a movie like “Justice League” without first going over all of that for a reason. DC’s critical failures leading up to their latest outing don’t just represent the elephant in the room as you take your seat in theaters, they’re weighing you down, dragging at you from the depths of bad movie hell. If you look at the social media traffic leading up to the release of “Justice League,” you’ll find words like “hope” and “please” in abundance, because fans, like me, want to like these movies… if only they’d give us a reason to.
And I’m relieved to report that they finally have.
“Justice League” is far from a perfect movie. It isn’t easy to put together an ensemble cast of protagonists, many of whom haven’t seen much screen time before, and allow for character development, a healthy plot, and a kick-ass villain. “Justice League” chose to focus on the character development primarily, the plot to a lesser extent, and its villain Steppenwolf was… well… forgettable enough that in a few weeks, a Google search for his name will go back to yielding more results for the song “Born to be Wild,” than the disposable CGI monster featured in the movie.
With that said, what “Justice League” did right was bridge the gap between DC’s quality animated universe and sub-par cinematic one. The tone of the world is both realistic and cartoonish in just the right ways to let us focus on the fun stuff. As much as I loved Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, for instance, his effort to ground the hero’s journey with financial troubles (somehow stealing stocks made them shut the power off at his house?) just reminded us that money is fleeting, my power bill is late, and maybe Batman should lay off the airplanes and focus on mutual funds.
Because his name is the first credited, this next part shouldn’t be a spoiler, but buyer beware, I’m about to talk about Superman.
Although he’s not in much of the movie, “Justice League” gives us the Superman we’ve been asking for all along. After spending two whole movies just frowning at things and generally being bummed about being a living God, this movie lets him smile and even laugh once or twice. Superman is supposed to represent the “ying” to Batman’s grumpy, angst ridden “yang,” and that has finally begun to develop.
Gal Gadot, unsurprisingly, crushes the role of Wonder Woman once again. Ray Fisher played a solid and even relatable Cyborg. Ezra Miller’s flash was a refreshing take on the character even if you’re really into the TV show he shares a name with, and my wife reports Jason Momoa’s aqua-abs were the best part of the movie, so naturally, I hate him. That aside, he takes a laughable character and manages to make him layered, intimidating and quite possibly a new fan favorite… so there must be something more to his appeal than just the abs.
Joss Whedon, who stepped in to finish directing this film after Zack Snyder suffered a personal tragedy, may have been the film’s saving grace – but it’s tough to tell where Snyder left off and Whedon picked up. The one highly noticeable difference may be Whedon’s decision to bring in Danny Elfman for the film’s score, which was a brilliant move. Not only is Elfman a legend in the movie making world who did the music on (probably) all of your favorite films, he also did the music on a number of classic Batman outings, including the Tim Burton films and the fan-favorite animated series. You can tell too, as bits of those old Batman tunes are seamlessly integrated into the score each time Batman starts kicking ass.
Is “Justice League” the best super hero movie to date? Absolutely not, but it is fun, and that’s really all any of us hoped for. With the massive success of “Wonder Woman,” followed by the downright good time that is “Justice League,” it’s starting to look like DC might be able to give Marvel a run for its money at the theaters someday.
Don’t go to see “Justice League” expecting the fit and finish of “The Avengers,” but do go see it. DC is finally getting it right, and that’s something comic book and movie fans can both get excited about.
Images courtesy of DC Films and Warner Brothers