Let’s boil Justice League down to the essentials: you get lots of action, some characters who spark (The Flash particularly and Aquaman a little less so) and some who don’t (Batman and Cyborg). The story is rather predictable (hard not to be, you could argue) and the villain (Steppenwolf) looks like a mishmash of most supervillain monsters you’ve seen in recent years. Actually, the story, involving an invasion of earth from another dimension (ok it’s a bit more complicated than that) also has a retread feel about it. Having said all that, it’s better than Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, but not as good as Wonder Woman.
It’s better because the film makers offer welcome humour, especially from Ezra Miller as The Flash, and because they flesh out their superheroes with the help of some ordinary-human off-siders. This is so with Amy Adams as Lois Lane,Diane Lane as Martha Kent and Billy Crudup as father of Barry Allen, The Flash. We’re not talking award winning acting or scripting here, but as we’ve seen from the Marvel films, the more you can humanise these characters, the better the chances an audience will invest in them.
So at times it bounces along with banter that works well. The Flash’s quip about snacking is a lovely example. And although Batman’s brooding nature often seems out of place in this team, his self deprecating remark about his wealth also scores points.
You’ve probably seen enough superhero fistfights now that your eyes may glaze over at yet another skirmish. But they can be made to feel fresh, as Thor and the Hulk’s gladiatorial clash did recently in Thor:Ragnarok. Justice League offers no great surprises but the Superman vs the rest of the team confrontation is a highlight here.
The underlying question is how this film will position the DC film universe against its rival Marvel. In an “if you can’t beat them join them” moment, the end of the film features two scenes edited into the closing credits, as Marvel has done for several years now. With Justice League being released only a couple of weeks after Thor:Ragnarok, a comparison is inevitable. Despite its efforts at banter and self deprecating humour, Justice is nowhere near as lively as Thor, and with the exception of Barry Allen/The Flash, its exploration of its characters is less than memorable.
Will Justice League win over the critics? In Zack Snyder and Chris Terrio, it has the same director and writer as Batman v Superman, and the same production company as Suicide Squad. Both of those movies had many critics groaning, although, it must be said, both made a lot of money. (Suicide Squad, $745million, and Batman v Superman, $873million)
But Justice League held out the promise of doing better on all fronts. After all, it followed the success of this year’s Wonder Woman, a big earner for Warner Brothers and a winner amongst the reviewing community. And looking through the credits of Justice League, you can’t but notice the name of Christopher Nolan as executive producer, and Joss Whedon as a screenplay writer. Nolan made the critically and commercially successful Christian Bale/Batman trilogy, and Whedon was behind the controls for the first mega-successful Marvel Avengers film. Goodness knows exactly how much influence these gentlemen had on the final product, but Justice League feels like an enterprise that hasn’t quite gelled as it should. The story is rather hackneyed, and of course is there only to be a vehicle to assemble the Justice League team.
But assembled they are, ready to earn a big box office return no doubt, and, ready to return to the screen. If you’re a fan of superhero movies you may well lap it up. If you’re not, there won’t be anything here to win you over to the genre.