Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) recruit a team of superheroes to defeat a powerful enemy in Justice League.
It’s honestly shocking that the plot of a Snyder-directed DC film can be summarised in one sentence, but that’s one of Justice League’s greatest strengths. Clocking in at a merciful 2 hours, the film is tight, lean, coherent, and sure of itself. While Snyder’s films always have a confidence about them, Justice League is different. It’s ‘sureness’ isn’t bolstered up by bombastic set-pieces and special effects (although those elements are present); it comes from the fact that for the first time in any of Snyder’s films with DC, the writers and the director seem to vaguely understand the characters they’re representing. They’ve shed the ‘edgy’, ‘gritty’ corners for the most part, and allowed the classic characters to breathe in a way they haven’t been able to in this series (with the notable exception of Diana Prince in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman). While Justice League is far from perfect, it runs laps around Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman (2016), because it isn’t cynical, and more importantly, it isn’t bad.
While there is a possibility that the painfully low bar set by Snyder’s previous DC outings is resulting in an unearned, positive perspective for Justice League, the perspective is there nonetheless. The plot is somewhat rote, the stakes are so high they are rendered meaningless, the final battle is a big, red, CGI mess, and there is nothing particularly inspired or fresh in the film. However, all things considered, Justice League told its story well, its characters were mostly likeable and charming, and it steered away from many of the pitfalls these films have been laden with. The literal and figurative darkness is gone; that is, the physical image is actually lighter and easier to see, and the story is handled in a way that is much less self-serious and po-faced that one would expect.
As is often the case, Wonder Woman is the MVP. Her solo set-piece and the happenings back on Themyscira are the most engaging elements on screen. Her earnestness and empathy still shows through, as well as her fierceness as a warrior. All the while the rest of the cast provide the levity and humanity these films have been missing. The weakest link is without a doubt Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne, who sits uncomfortably and unnaturally in the role. Although he’s the most seasoned and experienced blockbuster actor in the cast, he struggles to imbue Bruce with any character or personality whatsoever.
There are certainly criticisms that could be made of Justice League, however, all of them carry a second side. For instance, the villain isn’t particularly remarkable in any way. That being said, Batman v Superman took a swing on Lex Luthor and struck out massively. Eisenberg’s portrayal was insufferable (which makes sense, as he was basing the character on screenwriter Max Landis). Furthermore, some elements of the film felt compacted. This is especially obvious considering actors J.K. Simmons and Amber Heard, playing Jim Gordon and Mera respectively, have barely one scene each. Simmons gets slightly more time, but not much to do. The small roles were clearly a product of the editing. The flipside is, in previous films, additional characters and side plots resulted in an unbelievable amount of convolution.
When looking at issues like these, it’s clear DC and the filmmakers were responding to the overwhelming criticism of their previous works. In an attempt to resolve the issues, they’ve gone hard at the other side, resulting in issues of a different kind. All things considered, the flaws in Justice League are much more tolerable than those in previous films. This is because the audience isn’t being slapped in the face with a 2-and-a-half-hour runtime, unbearable villains, and absurdly convoluted plot contrivances.
It’s sad that it’s come to a point at which simply making sense, having a beginning, a middle and an end, and not being profoundly bland, is enough to seem superior to films that have come before; yet here we are. Justice League ultimately isn’t going to fool anyone; it’s no masterpiece, it isn’t the film that will dethrone Marvel, and it won’t even top Wonder Woman, but it is well and truly a step in the right direction, and a fun, albeit insubstantial time at the movies.
This film took one decade to come to fruition. A Justice League film entitled “Mortal” was scheduled to be released in 2007, but it got shelved.