The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has had a rough time since its beginning. “Man of Steel” was an OK starting point; “Batman vs. Superman” was a bloated mess and a terrible idea; “Suicide Squad” was actively painful; “Wonder Woman” was, well, wonderful, but it raised the question of whether it was part of a larger shift in DCEU movie quality or merely an exception. The DCEU’s fifth movie, “Justice League,” demonstrated that “Wonder Woman” was basically a fluke. While nowhere near the worst that the DCEU has produced, “Justice League” is average at best, and certainly nothing to write home about.
“Justice League” is a simple tale: Batman (Ben Affleck) assembles Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to form the titular Justice League, a group of superheroes rallying against Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), some sort of vaguely-defined alien warrior searching for magical plot device cubes that could do something to destroy the planet. There really isn’t any complexity beyond this basic premise; this could have plagued other superhero films, but whereas “Batman vs. Superman”’s major weakness was an overly long, convoluted and nonsensical plot, “Justice League’”s simplicity is probably the best approach.
Another strong point of improvement for “Justice League” over the worst DCEU films is its willingness to lighten up the tone, at least a little. Jokes are there to be had, superhero banter is plentiful when warranted and things aren’t entirely doom and gloom (except when the third act arrives with its apocalyptic implications). “Batman vs. Superman” was obnoxiously dark, and “Suicide Squad” was a wasted opportunity to make a superhero comedy movie in the vein of “Deadpool.” “Justice League” is far from being a comedy, but at least it shows a willingness to lighten up and bring the audience an occasional smile.
Contributing to the film’s few strengths are some strong performances, most notably Miller as the Flash and Momoa as Aquaman. Both bring some comic relief to the table, as well as enthusiastic and convincing portrayals of this movie’s interpretation of the characters. Affleck’s Batman is less of a grim stick in the mud compared to his “Batman vs. Superman” outing and Gadot continues to shine as Wonder Woman. Fisher’s Cyborg was less remarkable, but this is largely due to his character being given nothing but lines in service to advancing the plot to work with.
Unfortunately, while “Justice League” learns from some of the mistakes made earlier in the DCEU, there are still many glaring flaws. Like many contemporary superhero films, “Justice League” uses a generic and ugly CGI horde as its disposable enemy — except this particular horde of bugs is especially generic and ugly. Ugly, generic, undefined cubes become the focus of the film for some reason. The ugly and generic Steppenwolf fails to be an engaging — or really threatening — villain; aside from weird Oedipal calls for some “mother” (who or what his mother is was either not explained, or not explained well) there is nothing distinguishing or memorable about him.
The attempt at a plot twist was massively predictable and particularly uninspired. A certain consequence of “Batman vs. Superman” which, in all likelihood was meant to be permanent and meaningful, is completely undermined, negating its effect and also denying the film — and the DCEU as a whole — an opportunity to take a risk and make it distinct from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Anyone who saw “Batman vs. Superman” probably predicted that this event would happen, making this spoiler attempt not at all surprising.
In fact, comparisons to the MCU are possibly the most important way this movie fails. Literally everything that happened in this movie was already done in “The Avengers.” All of it. The entirety of “Justice League” is a black-and-white carbon copy of the full-color “The Avengers.” One key issue is that the characters are less well-defined because they haven’t all had standalone movies to flesh them out; however, to its credit, “Justice League” does an acceptable job of defining some of its new faces.
Verdict: Ultimately, “Justice League” just isn’t as interesting as some of the superhero movies that came before it; with “Thor: Ragnarok” being only two weeks old and far better a film than this movie ever could be, it’s hard to think of a reason to recommend this DCEU movie when Marvel has already got their movie business in the bag. It isn’t bad in an absolute sense or even by comparison to previous DCEU films, but its plot problems and failure to innovate make it a difficult title to find redeeming value in.