Written by Aaron Radcliff:
The DCEU has been off to a rough start, to say the least. Man of Steel was polarizing at best, Batman v. Superman was widely ragged on, and Suicide Squad was…well, it was Suicide Squad. The only film that has gotten any love in DC’s attempt to fish Marvel out of their mounds of money that they spend each day swimming in Scrooge McDuck-style has been Wonder Woman, and deservedly so. There was action, heart, fun, and somebody actually turned the lights on for a change.
DC appeared to be heading into the right direction, but people were still uneasy. With rumors of Ben Affleck trying to find his way out of his duties as Batman, delayed filming and reshoots, and so much more, it would be easy to think that the DCEU is practically dead. So did the latest ensemble effort satiate any concerns heading into the future?
Maybe I’m not the best person to speak on this issue. Truthfully, I don’t read comics. It just wasn’t my thing and the extent of my knowledge on any of these matters comes from a childhood of watching superhero-centered shows like Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Justice League. I bring this up to not only illustrate how my minuscule nerd-cred six-inch compares to the massive Meat Lover’s footlong of a majority of this franchise’s audience, but also the fact that I got a strong TV show vibe from Justice League.
The film takes place after the death of Superman. The world has been growing colder, angrier, and more fearful since the fateful events that led to the Man of Steel’s demise. Batman (Ben Affleck) has begun tracking down and recruiting other superpowered individuals to form a team to defend Earth from an imminent attack. Soon, the Dark Knight, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) must join together to defeat the planet-ending Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from bringing together the three Mother Boxes and destroying the world. But are their efforts enough?
One of the many criticisms I’ve seen levied at this film has been a paper-thin plot. While that’s true, this is where the aforementioned TV vibe comes in for me. Whereas Batman v. Superman was long and convoluted even AFTER the cuts that were made to shorten it, Justice League clocks in at only two hours. We’re left getting snippets of backstory about the newcomers to the group while also rushing from plot point A to B to C and so on, and this felt very reminiscent of the animated TV show. We aren’t bogged down with too much dialogue, which leads to convoluted storytelling and a slowed pace, which was a major undoing of BvS. Instead, we hit the major plot moments and get enough detail to fill us in on what we need and get going to the next scene.
“Well, that’s fine for a 30-minute episode but not a feature film,” I hear you say. Yes, that’s true. I’m one who loves story and being rushed through hurts a lot of films. This film could definitely have used the extra 30 minutes that BvS dawdled around with to build these new characters more and actually make the villain interesting (so much for having the “We have the better villains” trump card, DC). But the fact that the film stays relatively focused without getting too messy helps us stay engaged and knowledgeable with the story.
What was the one thing people liked about BvS? Ok, yes, Wonder Woman was fantastic, but other than that: The (albeit brief) action. That’s what we came to see. Zack Snyder and the writers of this film knew that. We WANT to see these people come together and kick some ass. We DON’T want to see them spending 95% of the movie grappling with their moral conundrums (which is fine, but shouldn’t be the entirety of a blockbuster action movie). We get much more action that the previous film and, to me, helps keep the film more enjoyable.
I’m not saying this is a perfect film. It’s far from it. The villain is bland, the new characters need more backstory, and sequel-building moments in the movie contradict a sequel-building aspect in the post-credit scene. But the new characters are great (especially Ezra Miller), the humor actually lands for a change, the story is fast enough to allow you to stay interested, the action scenes are enjoyable and relatively often, and the plot ditches the Zodiac-style confusion for a nice streamlined story.
Maybe others won’t like that, which is fair. In a normal case, I’d be inclined to agree. But for me, in this instance, it works. Maybe it’s because I’m comparing it to previous DC films or maybe it’s because I truly liked this movie, but either way, I liked what I got.
I hope the DCEU isn’t dead. Wonder Woman restored my hope and Justice League was an enjoyable time that actually got me interested in this expanded universe project.
P.S. we could TOTALLY tell when Henry Cavill came in to do those reshoots while still having a mustache.
Score: 7 out of 10
Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures