With the release of the Justice League movie, fans of the DC Expanded Universe or DCEU finally got to see some of their favourite heroes team up and save the world. After the lukewarm reception of Batman vs Superman in the recent past, I went into the cinema with uncertain expectations. While Justice League has some very strong points, like excellent casting and on-screen chemistry between the actors, I could not shake the feeling that the film was trying to pack too much storytelling into too short a span of time.
Let’s focus on the film’s strengths first. The two central characters are Wonder Woman and Batman. Classic, iconic characters, (and I use that word in its proper, superlative sense, not in the modern sense where everything is “iconic”), whose appeal is near universal, The Amazon Warrior-Princess and The Dark Knight of Gotham City are each played maginificently by Israeli beauty queen and former IDF combat instructor Gal Gadot, and Hollywood heavyweight Ben Affleck, respectively. The two actors have good on-screen chemistry, and a tip of the hat should be given to the script writers for resisting the tired cliché of a love story developing between them, as duel female / male leads. Each also is written in such a way as to avoid other character-diminishing clichés, such as over-sexualizing Wonder Woman, and making Batman so brooding and gritty that he becomes a parody of himself.
Set after the events of both the solo Wonder Woman film, and the recent Batman vs Superman film, in Justice League we see both characters develop very nicely, separately and as part of a team. Wonder Woman’s naivity is gone; more world-wise and shrewd, The Princess of Themyscria comes into her own in terms of leadership. Batman is portrayed as coming from the other end of the spectrum; he’s getting old, he’s jaded, but the global threat posed by the villain of the film, Steppenwolf, with his legions of beast-like Parademons, galvanizes The Caped Crusader to pull together a team of extraordinary people to face this menacing and formidable foe, in the absence of the god-like Superman.
The two heroes forgo the cliché well-known to comic book fans of fighting each other at first until they realize they have common ground, beginning instead with an understanding that they must work together to achieve a common goal, i.e. the formation of a team that can repel the imminent alien invasion. The internal conflict for the team comes from the other members, particularly an aloof Aquaman; true to form, The Prince of Atlantis shows little concern (at first) for the affairs of the surface-dwellers. The Flash, a barely-out-of-high-school Barry Allen, is so green and unsure of his own powers that he threatens to become a liability; and finally Cyborg, filled with self-hatred, seems more interested in brooding and resenting his father for making him what he is, rather than teaming up with other heroes to fight monsters. It’s clear Wonder Woman and Batman have their work cut out for them.
As the film progresses, we see each of these characters overcome their personal challenges, under the guidance and subtle influence of the two team founders, so that by the final show-down we see them not as a collection of individuals fighting on their own, but as a dynamic team who compliment each other and combine their abilities to create a powerful force for good.
Sadly, the very thing that makes Justice League enjoyable – the variety of characters – is also its greatest weakness. As I mentioned above, having five protagonists, three of which having no on-screen back stories already established to flesh them out, gives the film a crowded feeling at times. The audience is rushed through some back story elements, seeing Aquaman dealing with Atlantean royal affairs, Cyborg’s accident and subsequent tranformation into a man-machine hybrid, and Flash trying to figure out his place in the world of superheroes.
I would say that, ideally, each character should have had their own solo film leading up to the Justice League movie. Of course, in the real world of budgets and time constraints, this might not have been a viable plan for the studio. In this case, then, they should have spread the story / stories over the course of two films, as a planned sequel, like the original Star Wars films did, to avoid the cramped feeling that took away from the film. Perhaps once the inevitable sequel comes around, the script writers will have fine-tuned the pacing of the story and be able to deliver a more balanced film with an even take on the individual characters and their role within the Justice League. For now, save yourself a few bucks and wait to watch it on Netflix.