Home Reviews Justice League Hits Refresh on the DC Cinematic Universe

Justice League Hits Refresh on the DC Cinematic Universe

written by Ro November 17, 2017
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

Quick Take: Justice League pulls from the DC Cinematic Universe and its character-driven film predecessors to imagine a world where all it’s superheroes believably exist. It’s an artful and diverting reset in time-and-place. It tells a – more than – coherent story. The plot direction plays off the darker, grimmer, grittier landscape that is DC’s trademark perfectly.

Justice League wasn’t just “better than Batman v. Superman,” it clears the decks and uses this ensemble to set the stage for more richly drawn (pun intended), balls to the walls adventures we’ve always craved from the DCU with a thread of sharp and witty humor that really works…finally.

If you’re going into this film expecting a fully formed, well-oiled machine that is “The Justice League” you’re going to be severely disappointed. It’s best to keep in mind that while many may “know” these characters and their stories, in the DC Cinematic Universe, we don’t know these characters.

Joss Whedon took Zack Snyder’s roadmap and crafted a narrative that doesn’t fight with itself and opens a new door for the DCU to walk through.

In the aftermath of all that’s happened before, this is a world (Earth and the DC Cinematic Universeawaiting defining, direction, and dimension…literally and figuratively. Superman’s (Henry Cavilldead, so who are we in the aftermath? Who will defend the Earth from all those (alien and domestic) who see its people as prey?

That’s not a bad starting point as far as I’m concerned.

The overarching storyline is really straightforward. It leaves plenty of room – some will say too much room – for reshaping and defining this world and its superheroes. Justice League is lighter and funnier than previous franchise films but still keeps its edge. That edge is, in fact, sharper and more focused than ever before (not counting Wonder Woman because seriously it’s Wonder Woman) drawing on elements and lines from previous films in a way that gives them new meaning and purpose. Danny Elfman’s score subtly changes creates new associations with past locations and people brilliantly anchoring them to this plot (and I’m absolutely going to buy it).

Justice League was a great ride with some nicely woven in origin story elements from the DC Cinematic Universe along the way. However, there are no more movies – not even superhero films – where you don’t need to pay attention. Justice League has a lot going on but I didn’t feel like it was a hot mess. I learned plenty from the visual flashes and more nuanced moments to satisfy my comic nerd for the time being.

There are a lot of elements that are drop-ins from the source material or built on events or comments you may not have caught in previous movies. But if you’re expecting hand-holding, a ton of rehashing and comic history “explaining,” to get you through and up to speed, then you’re likely to leave confused and feeling like not enough made sense.

The DC Cinematic Universe needed a way to move its characters forward and the only way to get it was to make Justice League lay the groundwork. Surprisingly enough, they didn’t completely f*k it up.

It’s not perfect but I was thoroughly entertained and left hopeful at the glimpses of how (please god) these characters will be treated going forward.

Grade: B –

The (Spoiler Free) Details: Due to the disjointed dumpster-fire that is its franchise world building roots, there can’t be complex storylines at this stage of the game. The story here needed to be simple; this is a crisis situation teambuilding exercise where we haven’t met half the crew before now. I honestly think if this Justice League happened years ago, they’d have opened to nothing but positive comments. But it’s late coming so, it’s gonna take some hits for being less dense than other comic movies coming down the pipeline. Which I think is BS but…. *shrug*

Against an eerie cover of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows, the beginning visuals silently reveal a world in a state of hopeless disarray and violence. For the first time, I felt like the director and cinematographer weren’t afraid to lean into the DCU’s comic roots.

There are slowly panned shots that feel like long comic panels and flashes of action and movement that feel like you should see a “crash, bang, pow” included in the frame. Justice League doesn’t ignore previous films it instead mines them for the characters and events that best broaden the framework of its landscape without undermining its own story progression.

For the first time, the steely, blue-tinged look of the world of DC made sense cinematically. Justice League starts on a somber note that hints at story direction to come without tipping its hand (and the trailer-makers managed to restrain themselves) or giving away the whole game.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

(L-r) JASON MOMOA as Aquaman, GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman, EZRA MILLER as The Flash and RAY FISHER as Cyborg in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “JUSTICE LEAGUE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

It becomes quickly obvious, that Justice League has a primary goal – it’s not just defeating the new bad guy – and that all its small parts and emotional moments are geared towards that end. I wasn’t mad at it at all. It fits the character-driven nature of the franchise up until now but adds that missing feeling of constant forward momentum in the world storyline.

Frankly, I’m shocked at how directly (and well) this film dealt with what could have been a plot hole in the DC Cinematic Universe with massive damage potential if it had been permitted to drag out too long (That’s all you get. I’m no spoiler).

I freely admit I’ve never hated the more character history oriented angle of DC franchise films. I’ve just always felt as though the screenwriters forgot to move the overall story forward. Audiences need to do more than get to know the “people” behind a hero and their personal angst.

I think the on-screen time dedicated to bringing this group of loners out of the shadows is essentially the real beginnings of character-defining and dimension building the DCU lacks – particularly given several central characters don’t have stand-alone films to provide the audience connection – and I thought (I know I’m may be in the minority, but those people are wrong) it’s time well spent.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

BEN AFFLECK as Batman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “JUSTICE LEAGUE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) – Affleck is never going to be my Batman…ever. But he didn’t make me want to perpetually flip off the screen this time around.

Given that Batman is one of my favorite DC characters, it annoys me (greatly) to not to be wholeheartedly in favor of the character direction; but it is what it is. Affleck wasn’t too Affleck for me to be able to enjoy the movie.

In fact, he does a decent job of embodying aspects of Brue Wayne that have always been a hindrance to him being well…likable.

He’s disconnected, detached, disillusioned, and decidedly arrogant. But Batman/Bruce Wayne has always been a dark and broody guilt-ridden character and Justice League makes the most of it. He’s an aging man faced not only with his own mortality – and increasingly damaged body – but the limitations of his ability to keep his promise to a dying Superman. It was a great way to play it with an unlikable actor in the role. Seriously, I don’t like this dude but what he brought wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. I only wanted them to just kill him maybe four times before it was all said and done. His status as the only “human” among the heroes makes for more than a few laughs and tense encounters. The film also subtly plays into the ever-present joke about his inability to fly with strategic visual digs. This Batman has a more purposeful place in both the film and the DCU.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “JUSTICE LEAGUE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) – Justice League is the clear beginning of Diana fully embracing her place in the superhero pantheon of the world of man. There’s a great first visual that segues from the end of her stand-alone movie into Justice League. Have no fear, we see her get down to business fairly early on and the fight scene is packed with goodness.

Through Diana – and an action-packed return to Themyscira and encounter with Queen Hippolyta – we learn about the broad storyline and history of our bad guy of the hour Steppenwolf. This is also where you’re gonna get a ton of DC Easter eggs. Diana is the linchpin between the past and present…and the DCU. She’s a leader-in-waiting and as Justice League progresses, we see both the cost of living in the world of man has on her and her acceptance of that burden.

Whedon further integrated the use of her lasso (as it should be) into her on-screen arsenal. It makes for more some hijinx among the team members but also some iconic visual moments that will delight and relieve Wonder Woman fans. Gal again not only looks the part but brings a sense of agency and strength uniquely her on. I need the second film yesterday because…Amazons.

Wonder Woman is all badass and still has no interest in taking anyone’s sh*t. I could have done without the slow roll out of the “shipping” of Bruce and Diana but thankfully, it was easily ignored and mostly used for humorous effect by Alfred (Jeremy Irons) at Batman’s expense. She has a subtler emotional depth present that still rarely permitted when a female character that actually engages in battle on-screen. Thankfully, Gal navigated what could’ve been some trite dialogue (Whedon still knows only one type of strong woman) with aplomb and a becoming smirk.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

RAY FISHER as Cyborg in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “JUSTICE LEAGUE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) – Ray Fisher is perfect casting for the methodical, mega-dangerous, wry-witted Victor Stone. He brings a sense of realness to a beloved DC character. For many black folks, Cyborg of the Teen Titans and Justice League is the first time they saw themselves animated (and not a caricature of a person) on screen.

He’s clinging to his humanity even as he embraces his new body and all it can do. I think it’s a great way to debut Cyborg and pull back the curtain on one of the most intelligent members of the Justice League.

Justice League is just the begin of his story but’s a pretty damn good one. We get just a taste of his past and emerging abilities but they’re used to great effect and make it clear he’s a critical part of the team.

Victor has a deadpan sense of well, everything and Fisher brought this conflicted young man to life with real skill. Cyborg is intriguing and seriously believable. His struggle is the most relatable despite (or maybe because) being the one hero who can’t take his “costume” off. And that bodes well for the stand-alone movie we better damn well get in the very near future.

Through Victor, rather than Barry, Star Labs makes its real debut into the DC Cinematic Universe with Joe Morton playing Victor’s father and lead scientist Dr. Silas Stone.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

JOE MORTON as Dr. Silas Stone in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “JUSTICE LEAGUE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

This is not a world where Papa Pope being in a superhero film as the baddest biggest brain of them all doesn’t get a direct shout out. That he’s dabbling with things better left alone surprises no one. This is Star Labs after all…

Cyborg firmly launches himself into the DC Cinematic Universe with his appearance in Justice League. You’ll want more because he’s a baby superhero coming into his own and just the thought of where they can go after his introduction here is exciting to contemplate. You’ll leave pretty convinced they could’ve found a way to use him more just because it’s great to see him portrayed so well.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

EZRA MILLER as The Flash in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “JUSTICE LEAGUE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) – this is not the CW’s Flash nor has there been any attempt to acknowledge that Barry’s existence. This mean, the slow rollout of Barry’s backstory will be the most familiar to many audience members. That being the case, it may feel like he doesn’t get a fair shake on screen. But again, This baby Flash, he’s not a seasoned warrior used to taking on villains and coming away victorious.

Barry Allen hasn’t discovered his inner strength in Justice League. He’s a socially awkward, frequently ill-at-ease young man spending all his time trying to figure out how to get his father out of jail. Don’t worry, they don’t get fancy with his origin story but they do introduce it in a seriously compelling way that opens the door for a nice pick up into a full-length film if that’s the direction they want to go.

Miller’s Barry is a constant source of comedy and wonder in all the things happening around him. He’s bright-eyed, eager and unsure of himself except when it counts. His role in both the film and the Justice League eliminate the risk of film backsliding into the unrelentingly serious and morose overtone that’s dragged down more than one movie.

Barry wears his heart on his sleeve not only is it heartwarming but it makes a relatable character that much more likable.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

(L-R) J.K. SIMMONS as Commissioner Gordon, BEN AFFLECK as Batman and JASON MOMOA as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “JUSTICE LEAGUE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) – We already know going in, Aquaman is up next for his solo movie. A moment a silence to thank the maker for the blessing he bestowed upon the Earth otherwise known as Jason Momoa’s casting as Aquaman. It’s not just that he looks perfect and sounds perfect – although those are things to rejoice – this is an Aquaman who’s undoubtedly a is King. There are just hints at the personality behind the tattoos but they’re more than enough to flesh out this enigmatic character and leave the audience – panting – ready for more.

Through Aquaman we see new realms and encounter another ally of man whose fallen into myth and legend. The underwater scene and power displays are signs of good thing to come. Jason Momoa fully embraces being a seafaring outlaw and most reluctant member of the team. He’s reticent, skeptical, brash with just the right amount of sardonic humor to keep him from being one dimensional. We don’t get too much of his past here, but what we do see lines up with both the capabilities of the actor and wets your appetite for more. Aquaman is more tank than tactician in Justice League but it’s needed to keep this story moving – and make the fights believable. Besides, no one else can make walking into a wall of water to Icky Thump look so damn good.

This ensemble has a combative undertone (I really liked) that hits just the right note for strangers coming together to do danger sh*t and serve a united purpose when they haven’t even figured out who they want to be or how they feel about what’s expected of them.

This is all only the beginnings of real character development but it’s a great start. I’m actually looking forward to stand-alone films (again) that builds further on the glimpses of each hero’s personality shown here.

Justice League offers plenty of the less than expected in how it chooses to tell this story and it’s all fantastic. If you were hoping for more, remember they only had two hours. Stop being greedy.

If you’re like most DC fans, your feelings are going to be mixed about the DC Cinematic Universe until the day you die. You’ll waste a question (ok, maybe that’s just me) at the pearly gates asking why in god’s name couldn’t they get it together for so long.

Warner Brother’s started the DC Cinematic Universe without a clear direction, acted as though it didn’t really intend to connect characters and worlds, and had a barrage of writers and directors who never seemed to really “get” this superhero movie thing. Previous movies were more akin to deep character studies than superhero reveals and grand adventures.

Those films left in their wake a few memorable moments, frequent wasting of superb casting, unrelenting somberness coupled with on-screen visuals that didn’t always gel with the tone of the story being told, and unrealistic or overly diminished climaxes. All of which didn’t do much world building to hang a future ensemble film on.

We as fans are painfully aware of the unstable personality of the DC Cinematic Universe and its creators. But that’s why I’m pretty sure I enjoyed Justice League far more than a lot of other people who’ll be talking about it.

Justice League can’t be compared to the MCU ensemble films. Marvel is just so much farther along in character development and establishing emotional connections that audience buy-in for an Avengers movie is there before the first trailer drops.

Do yourself a favor, and put aside the expectation that DC Cinematic Universe is going to step up to the plate all ready to go head-to-head with Marvel’s franchise. It’s just not possible without more solid character development and world building (aka more movies that actually intend to be franchise films).

You’ll be happier if you do and it’ll be obvious that DC Cinematic Universe finally has an angle it can sink its teeth into to give you films with stories worthy of the comics and your money.

Head to the movies, give it a watch and hit us up in the comments. Let us know if you think DC’s finally heading in the right direction and what you’d like to see them integrate from the comics next!

This shouldn’t need to be said, but I will anyway. There are two post-credits scenes at the end DON’T leave before the credits finish rolling.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

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