Well, the time has come and gone for Warner Bros. Pictures to show their hand where their shared superhero film universe based on DC Comics is concerned. Following only four previous movies in the so-called DC Extended Universe (DCEU), they have now unleashed their big team-up of their most iconic superheroes (2016’s “Suicide Squad” being nothing like that at all), two of which had gotten proper solo films (back in 2013 and just last June) while the third shares a title in another film from early 2016, and the rest being cameos in that same movie. But back to here and now: “Justice League” has landed, and boy was it good.
While the most recent installment of the DCEU was “Wonder Woman” in the middle of 2017, the events of “Justice League” more directly branch off from March 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” The opening credits sequence hammers the point home, with the world still mourning the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), while at the same time reeling with fear from an escalating international crime rate and intensifying terrorism. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), both humbled by his poor choices in “Dawn of Justice” and re-inspired by the humanity of Superman’s sacrifice, has been trying to do damage control by investigating the greater threat that seems to hide under the current of everything that’s been happening.
When the greater that Batman’s been searching for finally materializes before him, he contacts his ally Diana Prince/Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), telling her that the time to gather the meta-humans they discovered in the files of businessman-criminal mastermind Lex Luthor has come, in order to have a team to face down that evil when it comes in force. Said evil is the otherworldly being called Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) who has at his command a seemingly infinite army of Parademons, winged creatures that are drawn to the emotion of fear.
Steppenwolf’s forces have attacked Earth in the distant past, according to Diana. He was planning to terra-form the world to something similar to his home world, using three alien power sources called “Mother Boxes,” only to be driven off by an allied army of ancient humans, Amazons, Atlanteans, Greek Gods and friendly aliens powered by rings giving off green light (foreshadowing a future DCEU installment/reboot). As said earlier, Superman’s death has scared humanity enough to draw back Steppenwolf and his Parademons from space, and in some daring and mass-murderous raids he recovers two of the lost Mother Boxes from their hiding places in Themyscira and underwater Atlantis.
Here’s where the team recruitment arc with Bruce and Diana picks up. They’re aware of superhumans named Arthur Curry/”the” Aquaman (Jason Momoa), whom Bruce fails to convince (but joins up anyway after Steppenwolf’s theft of the Atlantean Mother Box from his second home). The Dark Knight’s next recruit is an easier sell: university graduate and slacker Barry Allen/Flash (Ezra Miller), who jumps at the call because he “needs friends” who can keep up with his super-speed (as normal humans seem “too slow” around him). Lastly, Diana makes contact with Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), an academic athlete who was saved from a normally fatal car wreck by his scientist dad only to be converted into a Cyborg.
Stone’s constantly-evolving Cyborg modifications to his body are actually the last piece of the puzzle, as they were done (and powered) by the third Mother Box found by STAR Labs where Silas Stone (Joe Morton) works. While Steppenwolf is busy tracking down this last Mother Box, Bruce gets an idea born of desperation and realization that the world is lacking a larger-than-life inspirational figure: Superman, whose death he still blames himself for. His ad-hoc teammates question the ethics and risks of using the uber-powerful artifact to bring life back to the dead, but with the looming existential threat of Steppenwolf, there might be no choice.
Some critics who have viewed “Justice League” in advance may have derided the storyline as bare-bones and served only to tie one action sequence after another with quiet scenes intercut to break tension. Personally I think that complaint crosses into nitpicking, as the tying together of plot threads and elements from the preceding movies (save “Suicide Squad,” again) comes across as being decent handled, if not completely organic.
True, the rest of the non-superhero cast feel disconnected at times from the main plot, all the same they serve to add more dimensions to the superhero characters when they get to interact. There’re Amy Adams and Diane Lane as Lois Lane and Martha Kent, Jeremy Irons as the Bat-butler Alfred, JK Simmons in a one-scene wonder as Commissioner Gordon, Joe Morton as Victor’s dad Silas, Billy Crudup as the imprisoned Henry Allen, and Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta; their respective appearances are a solid reminder that outside of their team-up in the league, the individual heroes have their own social worlds and circles of friends and family.
“Justice League” has been touted as the biggest film based on DC Comics characters yet, and it definitely shows. One can’t help but be impressed by the overall behind-the-scenes leadership of director Zack Snyder, who sat on the chair for all but one (and a half) of the past films in the DCEU and can thus be considered the film universe’s patron saint. The movie flows with Snyder’s signature style and flair, and it’s amazing that he was able to hold the ship together even in light of a great personal tragedy, finally passing post-production work to Joss Whedon at the end of the main shooting schedule.
The soundtrack of the movie also gets some props with the slick work of Danny Elfman. Such is his cred that he’s had the honor of providing music for the DCEU now, and its MCU rival from Disney-Marvel (“Avengers: Age of Ultron” in 2015). His set pieces range from foreboding, to emotional, to action-packed as appropriate to the scene, and he’s even demonstrated his appreciation for the classics by sneaking in samples from both his score of the 1989 “Batman” film and John William’s iconic theme from 1978’s “Superman.”
These effectively sell “Justice League” as a bright and brilliant reconstruction of the idealistic mythos for DC superheroes that were broken down back in “Batman v Superman” and even “Man of Steel.” We can certainly appreciate this change of tactics from the grim and gritty take by Snyder on the earlier films of the DCEU. This movie effectively finishes the return to idealism that was started by Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” in June and stands as a promise of sorts for Warner-DC fans that from now on at least, their superheroes would feel like heroes in spite of their frailties and failures. I’m looking forward to see what’s in store next film.
Photo courtesy of weliveentertainment.com