Justice League falls short of the lofty highs of the Avengers films, but still offers enjoyable entertainment fare.
This review contains spoilers. If you don’t like that kind of thing, be careful.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before – an ensemble movie featuring a group of well-known superheroes fighting off an alien invasion? No, I’m not talking about Marvel‘s The Avengers, although you’d be forgiven for thinking so. If that film hadn’t become one of the most commerically-successful films of all time, it’s doubtful that Justice League would even exist. Zack Snyder‘s new film – originally titled ‘Part One’ before it wisely dropped the overly-confident subtitle – bears many resemblances to Marvel’s own team-up movie released back in 2012, although with such heavy hitters as Superman and Batman on their side, the DC Extended Universe (because everything has to have a corresponding universe now) perhaps had even more going for it.
However, it’s not a patch on Joss Whedon’s iconic film; that much is painfully obvious. That said, there is a fun, popcorn-y movie in here that shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. Reduced, but not completely absent, are the grimdark stylings of Batman vs Superman. Justice League makes an honest attempt to lighten things up, with new characters Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) providing some decent comic relief. I’d be lying if I said I smiled more than Ben Affleck‘s Batman did in this movie, but the attempt was appreciated nonetheless. Unfortunately it’s the new characters that feel the most shafted in this film, with too much of the running time dedicated to pointless scenes demonstrating just what a meanie Big Bad Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) is. One can’t escape the feeling that these characters would have been better served by being given a movie of their own to shine before being shoehorned into the big team-up film. Ray Fisher’s tortured Cyborg in particular feels underwhelming, despite having a lot of interesting thematic ground to explore, while Aquaman gets the shortest straw of all, coming out of the film with little more personality than ‘that guy who talks to fish and drinks a lot.’
The problem is that, having rushed towards Justice League, the DC cinematic world feels underdeveloped. Apart from a few touching scenes depicting the world’s grief over Superman’s death, there’s almost no reason to care when civilians start being endangered by Steppenwolf and his insectoid minions, although a return visit to Themyscira from Wonder Woman does at least help make the world feel connected. Steppenwolf himself is a dull villain, little more than an angry Napoleonic conqueror with some serious mummy issues, and after several earlier scenes try to build him up as a serious threat, his laughable defeat in the final act by our heroes felt flat and uninspired.
If you’ve seen any of the trailers, you’ll probably have noticed a certain superhero was kept out of the spotlight. If the final shot of Batman vs Superman, with the dirt rising in his coffin, wasn’t enough of an obvious tease then yes, Superman (Henry Cavill) is handily resurrected, and his return is actually one of the better arcs in the film. His boiling post-reanimation rage, contrasted with the tender sweetness of his reunion with Lois (Amy Adams), is a lovely character moment – although it’s a shame that Clark Kent is the only character who has any real human depth. It’s also clear why his return was saved for the final act. His clear overpowered nature is demonstrated in the league’s final battle against Steppenwolf, where he overpowers both his enemy and his teammates yet underwhelms any sense of gravitas in this final showdown.
For my money, Justice League is the very definition of a ‘three star’ movie. It’s entertaining enough at the time of watching, but it leaves very little to think about as one basks in its afterglow. It’s clear that try as they may, DC isn’t going to be troubling Marvel anytime soon. That said, don’t let the more negative reviews put you off from seeing it if you’re a diehard DC Comics fan, as there’s plenty of geek-pleasing moments and references to enjoy.
Justice League (2017), directed by Zack Snyder, is distributed in cinemas by Warner Bros Pictures, certificate 12a.