All right, before we get into the meat of the review, I feel that there are a few things I have to say up front. The necessity of these disclaimers comes from a few years of debating the merits of the DCCU with friends of mine. It seems that before I can offer my opinion, I have to establish my bona fides. So here we go:
I am a lifelong DC fanboy. I cut my comic book teeth on two big anthologies that I found at my local library, one dedicated to Superman and the other dedicated to Batman. Both books had “the best of the best” stories from the characters’ creation all the way up to the late ’70s or early ’80s. My earliest memory of watching a TV show is that of the Adam West Batman (which I thought was high drama and not meant to be funny in any way, but that’s a story for another day) and the Super Friends. While I was peripherally aware of Marvel’s characters, my heart belonged to DC. I just liked the characters better. If I’m in a bookstore and looking at the comic book sections, I will usually only pick up DC collections. I think the DC animated movies and TV shows are, by and large, much better than Marvel’s offerings. I didn’t start delving into Marvel in any sort of serious way until Iron Man came out. I still claim Batman as my favorite superhero ever and I would easily put The Dark Knight into my top five superhero movies.
That’s the reason why I find the DCCU so disconcerting. I want the DCCU to be good. I want it to succeed in the same way that the MCU has. And in my grubby little opinion, it hasn’t been successful until recently. Man of Steel was a train wreck. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a small step in the right direction, but was still a convoluted mess. The less said about Suicide Squad, the better. Wonder Woman was a breath of fresh air that made me hopeful that maybe the DCCU could be, if not redeemed, then at least salvaged.
Which brings us to Justice League. Last night, I went to my local movie theater, plunked down the money for an IMAX ticket (which brought me to the same theater where I saw Thor: Ragnarok two weeks ago). And I braced myself. And rather than gush out a review late at night after returning home, I decided to sleep on the experience.
By and large, I’m okay with what I saw. It wasn’t nearly as good as Wonder Woman, but it was better than BvS by far.
So let’s talk plot: after the death of Superman in BvS, the world has lost hope and is spiraling into despair. And this is problematic, because a new threat is looming on the horizon, namely Steppenwolf, an alien bad guy who is bound and determined to conquer the world and transform it. He tried to do so long, long ago, only to fail. So he has to “redeem himself” by finishing the job. So he’s come to Earth to collect three McGuffins of Power, which will harness untold energy to do the job.
This threat is what motivates Batman and Wonder Woman to try to find help in battling the threat of Steppenwolf and his parademons. They have the leads on three potential allies: Aquaman, a reclusive figure who comes from the fabled city of Atlantis, Cyborg, a former college athlete who was transformed by one of the McGuffins into…well, you know, and the Flash, an aimless millennial drifter who is obsessed with clearing his dad’s good name. Only the Flash is willing to sign on right away. The other two take some persuading.
Eventually, though, the team gels and they come together to save the world with…
Here’s part of my dilemma. I’m usually loathe to drop spoilers into these reviews and I suppose that technically, what I was about to write would be considered a spoiler. But at the same time, Zack Snyder telegraphed it so obviously at the end of BvS that it may not be a spoiler. I guess for the sake of fairness, I’ll keep it to myself. For now. I’ll probably have more to say about it at a later date.
So let’s talk my opinion. For the most part, I liked it. It’s definitely a huge step in the right direction (which, in this case, means away from the tonal botch-job that is Snyder’s bleak vision for the DCCU). Gal Gadot continues to shine as Wonder Woman and I think I kind of liked Ezra Miller’s take on the Flash. Ben Affleck is still a pretty decent Batman (not nearly as bad as, say, George Clooney). Cyborg and Aquaman were kind of misses for me, but not nearly as bad as Superman has been up to this point.
In terms of plot, this one isn’t nearly as convoluted as that of Batman v Superman. It’s straightforward and by the numbers, which was a refreshing change. I do think that there was a sharp left turn in the middle of the plot that should have been set up better (but going into that would send me tiptoeing back into spoiler country; if you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what I’m talking about). But for the most part, I was good with what I saw.
More problematic, though, was the CGI. Steppenwolf looked like he belonged in a video game cutscene, not in the middle of a blockbuster. And one of the superheroes also suffers from some bad CGI work in longshots. It was kind of off-putting. And I think I need to reiterate this criticism from BvS: Batman and guns. Just…no. C’mon.
But this now raises a larger question: does this fix the DCCU? In my opinion, not so much. Not yet.
Here’s the problem: it’s my firm opinion that Zack Snyder was the wrong person to helm the DCCU. He set a particularly bleak vision of the world and then overlaid that darkness onto a character who shouldn’t have been so brooding and joyless. It set the DCCU starting down the wrong road and they have been course correcting for two or three films now with varying degrees of success.
It’s hard to say if I would have enjoyed this movie as much as I did if Snyder had remained in sole control of its vision and execution. I know full well that due to a family tragedy, he had to bow out and Joss Whedon played a much larger role in lightening up the tone and brightening things up. If he hadn’t done that, I can’t help but wonder if my review would have been a lot more negative.
Now I suspect some friends will say that I wouldn’t have enjoyed this movie so much without the way that Snyder set things up in the first two movies. And I suppose that, in some ways, that’s true. He did by setting the bar ridiculously low. I personally think it might be better for him to stay away from here on out. Let the DCCU continue down a lighter and brighter path. Let the characters get back to who they should have been all along. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to see some old friends in stories that they deserve.