Justice League

  • Director: Zack Snyder
  • Series Rank:  #6
  • Batman Villains:  Ciarin Hinds (Steppenwolf)
  • Batman Allies:  Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Henry Cavill (Superman), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), J. K. Simmons (Commissioner Gordon)

Movies are often judged by their beginnings and their endings.  If you were to judge Justice League just from that, what might stick with you is the truly hideous cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” that opens the film and the terrible version of The Beatles’ “Come Together” that closes it.  And that’s a shame because the film, in spite of woeful reviews is actually quite enjoyable (and Veronica was able to overcome the music and was quite moved by the opening of the film).  It takes the solid actors from Batman v Superman and loses a lot of the dour tone that had brought the fury of so many critics down upon it.  If it feels more akin to what the first Avengers film felt like, with the gathering of great heroes to face off against an alien invasion while also fighting amongst themselves, well, that’s the history of the Justice League in a nutshell.

So what do I mean by that?  Well, in JLA #200, which I reviewed here, it is mentioned that the JLA is like the answer to the old trivia question: Who is both the oldest and youngest Beatle?  (The answer is Ringo because he was the oldest but, as the last to join, he was the “youngest”.)  JLA, in spite of not only pre-dating Fantastic Four, but being the direct inspiration for it, hit 200 issues after FF did because of being a bi-monthly for a stretch.  Likewise, Flash was beaten to the film world by Quicksilver in two different film franchises even though Barry Allen (the Flash in this film) is not only responsible for pretty much all of modern DC but also all of modern Marvel.

Actually, Barry Allen in this film is a bit of a quandary for a comics fan like me.  He is the least faithful to how he is portrayed in the comics, being much younger than the others (except Cyborg), having dark hair, not yet being a police scientist and not being nearly as straight-laced.  Yet, the portrayal of him by Ezra Miller is probably the best thing in the film.  This Barry Allen is fascinating, young and frightened, trying to just prove his father’s innocence in the death of his mother, trying to push ahead and keep going, which is ironic since he can go faster than anyone else on the planet (well, maybe – don’t leave before the credits).  In a film that actually does a decent job with levity, especially considering it involves an invasion that could remake the planet into a world that is literally called Apokolips (one of the funniest moments involves Aquaman, but it’s a rewriting of a great moment in the Geoff Johns / Jim Lee Vol 1.: Origin (see the upcoming reading guide) that involved Hal Jordan, who’s not in this film), it’s Miller and his performance that provides most of the humor (which is especially nice for him since the last film I saw him in was Fantastic Beasts and while that was great, there sure wasn’t any humor involving in any moment with him on-screen and for that matter, he just got announced as being in the sequel and I have no idea how that’s supposed to work).

Back to the JL problem of coming in second.  The villain is Steppenwolf who is the uncle of Darkseid (not that this is explained to viewers who don’t know that).  When Darkseid finally shows up in a future film, he’s going to seem like an imitation of Thanos, which is unfair, since Thanos was actually directly inspired by Darkseid as Jim Starlin has freely admitted.  But for me, being second isn’t a problem, even if it might be for others.  What I care is how well it does what it sets out to do.

This film sets out to be a superhero adventure and it’s a good one.  You’ve got a big villain who needs to be beaten.  You need to gather a team together first and find a way to use your powers together.  And, in the reverse of Avengers, which had been set up by the several solo films and then could just reference bits and pieces of the character’s lives, here this film is actually setting up several of the solo adventures and thus needs to set up those pieces.  So, to that end, we get Barry’s father in jail and Victor’s alienation from his father and the fantastic kick-ass Mera, a bit of a mystery (red-headed!) woman in Atlantis who seems to at least hold intrigue for Aquaman (even if he clearly thinks Wonder Woman is hot as well).

One of the things I was most nervous about was the inclusion of Cyborg.  I hadn’t been thrilled when he was placed onto the team in the New 52 for two reasons (because he was great in Teen Titans, providing a good combo with Changeling and a foil for Wally West and because it meant that Martian Manhunter, who has always been one of my favorite characters was out of the team).  But, once I started reading it, it was clear that he functioned less as a powerhouse (like in Titans) and more as the information hub of the team (like Oracle had for years, but the New 52 had restored Batgirl’s mobility).  That’s also how he functions here, the eyes and ears of the team (as well as some serious muscle) and, played by Ray Fisher, he’s a nice addition to the team.

I had also been worried about Jason Momoa.  I wasn’t worried about Aquaman because I had read Geoff Johns’ run on his title and knew that Aquaman, when done right, was pretty kick ass.  But in Game of Thrones, Momoa really had nothing to do but glower and Conan had been terrible.  But here, Momoa provides some serious muscle, a nice touch of humor and a considerable degree of cockiness and craziness that lights the film up.

The film is far from perfect, of course, although the DC films of 2017 continue to be way better than those of 2016 (actually, by my 100 point scale, Wonder Woman alone is almost better than the two 2016 films).  By keeping it short (the studio wanted a cut of less than two hours before credits and they got it) and by having to do as much as they do to set up the future films, the story itself feels a little truncated (we get a couple of nice moments with J. K. Simmons as Jim Gordon, but we could have used more – no matter the flaws of these last two “Batman” films, they have done a good job with the main two supporting characters, since Jeremy Irons continues to be a droll and well-cast Alfred).  The main villain, Steppenwolf, is clearly just a warm-up for Darkseid, the real villain waiting for a sequel (which we better get, because if that shitty Suicide Squad which was terrible made over $300 million and gets a sequel than this better), although possibly not in a first sequel given what we get at the end of the credits.

Look, feel free to skip this film.  If you believe it will suck, then it will for you.  But if you think this could be a fun time at the movies, then you are definitely right.  They don’t feel the need to spend forever with the big fight at the end and with the way it all works out and the use of all the characters, it works really well.  This might not be as good or even as fun as the first Avengers film but it is a welcome addition to the comic book adaptation genre and one I have been waiting for pretty much my entire life.