Victoria Brown, Arts and Entertainments Co-Editor.
How many reviews of ‘Justice League’ (Zack Snyder, 2017) have you read that are actually positive? I bet you can count them on one hand. If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you will have probably noticed a pattern; I like the films I review. I don’t go out of my way to see a film so I can tear it to shreds. Instead, I opt for films I know I’ll most likely enjoy and be able to get a good review out of. ‘Justice League’ is no exception. I love DC’s dark and gritty aesthetic – let’s just pretend ‘Batman Forever’ (Joel Schumacher, 1995) and ‘Batman and Robin’ (Joel Schumacher, 1997) don’t exist, most DC fans do – and I’ve always preferred it to Marvel.
However, every single DC film will be compared to Marvel (notice how my ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ review didn’t mention DC at all?) ‘Justice League’ is under more scrutiny than usual for two reasons. Firstly, due to tragic personal circumstances, director Zack Snyder had to step away from the unfinished film and Joss Whedon was brought in to finish production. It would be unrealistic to expect viewers not to compare and judge ‘Justice League’ against the Marvel Universe because, ironically, its rival had a hand in creating it. Secondly, after the ‘failure’ of Snyder’s ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ in 2016. (which I adored, but that’s a separate point) So what are we left with? Great characters, a functional, if not a little generic, plot, and a hope for the future of the DC Universe.
The plot is simple: Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is assembling a team of “people with special abilities” to fight against an evil he can feel coming, while fighting his guilt over Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death. The film’s opening has a beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ by Sigrid accompanying a Snyder-esq slow-motion sequence showing the disintegration of the US since Superman’s death. It’s haunting and sets the tone for the state of the world, and adds to Bruce’s guilt. However, this ultimate evil that Bruce can feel takes the backseat to the villain of ‘Justice League’, a CGI-heavy medieval warrior known as Steppenwolf. (Ciarán Hinds) His goal is to collect ‘mother boxes’ (similar to Marvel’s Infinity Stones) in order to destroy and rule the world.
Obviously we know this won’t happen because ‘Justice League’ is just the beginning of a much bigger story. Critics have slammed this ‘weak’ plot but it’s functional, and that’s all it needs to be. The plot of Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ (Joss Whedon, 2012) isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but it did what it was required to do: open up potential for character development and advance the story of a large meta-narrative.
Despite the film’s flaws, which even the most loyal fan can’t ignore, the character development is ‘Justice League’s’ saving grace. I’m not going to lie, when I first heard Ben Affleck had been cast as Bruce Wayne (one of my favourite fictional characters) I laughed. I couldn’t see beyond his God-awful ‘Daredevil’ (Mark Steven Johnson, 2003) film, but that wasn’t fair. Affleck has proven himself to be more than worthy of bearing the weight of the Dark Knight. I would advise caution in comparing his portrayal to Christian Bale’s because the two portrayals are very different: Bale’s fit into Nolan’s gritty realism and Batman’s dark, existential psyche, whereas Affleck’s is more in tune with the original comic book Bruce. He embodies Bruce and Batman in a way Bale couldn’t. Feel free to argue with me. Critics have accused this film’s Bruce of being inauthentic because he spent almost the entirety of ‘BvS’ wanting to kill Superman, but here he is in anguish over his death. I’m sure a lot of people reading this will agree, especially considering Bruce’s complete change in attitude after the ‘MARTHA’ incident in the previous film. But that is what is key to Bruce. He hated Superman because he saw him as an alien, an ‘other,’ but it is only when he realises that Superman is a son, is loved, and has a family that Bruce can see past his built up anger. If you watch Affleck’s expressions during this scene, you can actually see the moment it clicks. YouTube channel CinemaWins does a much better job of explaining this, and I highly recommend checking their video on ‘BvS.’ Once you understand this, you can understand ‘Justice League’s’ Bruce.
The other characters are fantastic. Gal Gadot is back as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and she maintains her feminine strength and moral integrity throughout. And how excited was I when Wonder Woman’s theme played? Talk about feminine empowerment. Although, I have to say I do wish Patty Jenkin’s had more of a role in this film: there are a number of unnecessary up-skirt shots, Diana is reduced to the film’s ‘maternal nag’ role in some scenes, and is also involved in a cardboard flirting scene with Bruce. Please, for the love of God, can we have a female character that isn’t romantically interested in her teammates? Is that too much to ask?
Ezra Millar plays Barry Allen/The Flash wonderfully. We get enough snippets of backstory to build our own understanding of him, as well as genuinely hilarious one-liners, and a joy at watching him go from teenage loner to part of a heroic team where he is appreciated. Ray Fisher’s portrayal of Cyborg is a great take on the character; he’s pensive, intelligent, and well worth rooting for. I can’t wait to see more of him. And what can I say about Jason Momoa? Flaunting a beautifully designed costume that makes Aquaman seem a lot less…lame, I guess is the word, Momoa kills this role. We don’t get a lot of character development, but we get what we need for this film: a reluctant, bad-ass anti-hero with potential for a deep and meaningful character arc.
And my God, Superman. I don’t want to give too much away, but wow. This is probably the best visualisation of Clark Kent in any DC film ever. And I really mean that.
Overall, I loved ‘Justice League’. It was dark enough to be DC, but with enough lighthearted humour scattered throughout to make this less gritty that Nolan’s previous instalments. I know not everyone will like this film, but I urge you to give it a chance. If you’re willing to look deeper than the surface, you can find something truly magical in this film.
Director: Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill and Ezra Miller.