If we’re being honest, Marvel’s movies have been kick DC’s movies’ butts for years now. Marvel developed each Avenger in their own franchises, developed the Avengers as a franchise, and now has expanded their roster to build up to the upcoming Infinity Wars movies. DC, on the other hand, stumbled badly after The Dark Knight with the ponderous but shallow Dark Knight Rises, the well-intentioned but inartfully executed Man of Steel, and finally the somber disaster that is Batman V Superman. But after the success of Wonder Woman, we had some reason to be cautiously optimistic about the new movie. The news about the movies was positive: Joss Whedon was involved, the tone was going to be notably lighter, and Aquaman looked pretty cool. Having seen the movie I’m happy to report that, for once, it paid to be optimistic: Justice League is pretty good!
Justice League is the latest entry from the DC universe and tells the story of Batman and Wonder Woman working to build a league of superheroes to battle an incoming alien threat (yes, not unlike the first Avengers movie). They pretty quickly recruit the half-human, half-robot Cyborg, the speedy but inexperienced Flash, and the hard-drinking loner Aquaman (think of an underwater Wolverine). They discover that alien badguy Steppenwolf is looking for Mother Boxes to take over the world and so they race to find them first, particularly since the boxes appear to have the ability to….well, help even the odds. It’s the kind of movie that requires you to enjoy each member of the cast to really enjoy. Fortunately, all of the heroes do a pretty great job both ingratiating and differentiating themselves pretty quickly, though the Flash is the clear breakout. He rules this movie.
Reading the reviews for Justice League, though, you could be forgiven for thinking the movie isn’t worth your time. Critics complain about the thinly written villain, which is a valid complaint for this movie and virtually every superhero movie since The Dark Knight. I’ve seen some criticisms that Cyborg is underwritten but that wasn’t my experience; Cyborg here manages to both convey a heavy back story and later get a lot of laughs. There is definitely a feel that the movie comes from two very different minds, as some critics have noted, but the movie still feels cohesive and moves extremely quickly. This is a tight two hours, not another three hour slog through downbeat flashbacks and stilted dialogue. There may be several voices here, but the final movie is a briskly moving story that keeps you engaged all the way through.
Probably the best aspect of the movie is how much it seems to hate Batman V Superman. The events of that movie get referenced constantly. Batman’s guilt over his ridiculous actions in that movie drive most of his actions in this movie and pretty much every character here spends the movie punishing him for battling Superman in the first place (all because he had a stupid dream). In fact, this movie does a lot to repair the damage of the previous movies; you see the civilians escaping from the carnage in each attack, Batman doesn’t murder any people this time, and (I think) this movie even takes a moment to explain that bizarre “Lois is the key” dream sequence in BvS. The best adjustment is that Jesse Eisenberg’s godawful take on Lex Luthor is now confined to a post-credit sequence (sadly, he does not announce that he has to return to his home planet). Perhaps that character could be permanently confined to the cutting room floor going forward.
So go see the movie. It’s a bit silly and a bit clunky, but the good far outweighs the bad. Flash and Aquaman are worth the price of admission. The Superman you see here – particularly in the flashback that opens the movie – is more joyful and open that he’s been in either previous movie. DC seems to have finally built a team-up movie worthy of Wonder Woman (and she’s pretty excellent here too). Batman’s remorse in the movie seems to reflect DC signalling a change in the filmmaking philosophy of these movies and, thankfully, it seems to work. This is the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight, the best Superman movie since Superman 2, and another great superhero movie in a year full of great superhero movies. Go see it.