Another DCEU entry has come, and by this point, you probably either love it or hate it. What’s worth knowing, though, is the ten years of problems that surrounded Justice League, and how all these problems reflect on what you’re seeing on the silver screen.
A movie based on DC’s most popular IP has been in development since 2007. At this point, an early version of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has been in the works. After Joss Whedon’s (Avengers) Wonder Woman and David S. Goyer’s (Dark Knight Trilogy) The Flash were cancelled, a film titled Justice League: Mortal was announced as the debut of a film series that Warner Brothers planned to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). A Justice League comprised of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, John Stewart (Green Lantern), The Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman was in the process of getting casted when the Writers Guild of America Strike put production on hold. Ultimately, the film was altogether cancelled. Warner would settle on launching a series beginning with Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern, which proved to be a critical and financial disappointment.
Years later, Man of Steel launched Zack Snyder’s DC Extended Universe with mixed to positive reception. DCEU, however, did not launch as “solid” as its Marvel counterpart; the follow-up films, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) and Suicide Squad both received negative reception from critics. It wasn’t until this summer’s blockbuster Wonder Woman when Warner began picking up its slack. As November approached, the stakes were high for Justice League. Many fans asked - will it face scrutiny like BvS or flip the switch as Wonder Woman did this year?
Plot Twist: It did neither.
Here’s what happened: Snyder (the ‘helm’ of DCEU, director of both Man of Steel and BvS), directed a majority of the film, until he had to step down during post-production to grieve the death of his daughter. Joss Whedon (who had been working with Snyder on writing some scenes) stepped in and spent two months on reshoots for the film. Some saw this as a ‘strategic’ choice from Warner; Snyder had brought negative reception to the DCEU, while Whedon ‘solidified’ the MCU with The Avengers. What we got, however, is a mixed bag from the imaginations of both Snyder and Whedon.
Many scenes featured in previews for the film did not make the cut. Multiple characters were also left on the cutting floor, including supporting characters Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) and Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe) for The Flash and Aquaman, respectively. Justice League runs for 120 minutes, a running time that seems condensed for a big superhero film. Ultimately, many viewers and critics noticed a big confusion when it comes to direction and pace.
Despite this, the film is actually relatively entertaining. No, it is not The Avengers. It doesn’t suffer from the dark, brooding tone of BvS but it also doesn’t radiate positivity like Wonder Woman did this summer. In an industry where a film like this can easily be compared to another, Justice League does a good job of standing on its own, shaky feet.
If you grew up watching the animated series Justice League or Justice League: Unlimited, you’ll like this film. Even the orange sunset the show is known for makes an iconic appearance. Cyborg also recites his signature line from the animated Teen Titans show. DCEU’s Justice League does a great job of telling a new story while pulling on your nostalgia. It also does a great job of setting a lighter, more humorous tone for future installments and dropping hints for who and what is coming (the future is looking very green and legions of villains might be coming to the DCEU). The story is very linear and it seems like they’ve taken constructive criticism from previous DCEU entries. It is the characters, however, that do most of the heavy lifting.
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman carries the film on her back as usual, for the third time since her debut in BvS. Ben Affleck’s Batman goes through minor character development, while Henry Cavill’s Superman awkwardly blends in the movie with his CGI’d off mustache (long story, just go with it). Ray Fisher, a relatively new face, debuts Cyborg (this is the part where I would usually say what they did and didn’t do well, but I can’t find myself saying something he did exceptionally well or poor). Ultimately, it is Ezra Miller (Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Jason Mamoa (Game of Thrones) as Barry Allen/The Flash and Arthur Curry/Aquaman that easily steal the scene, removing themselves from stereotypes and comparisons viewers might pull from the CW series, the comics, or Super Friends.
So should you watch Justice League? Sure. Go. Just don’t come with expectations. Many of us are guilty when it comes to showing up to the theater with torches and pitchforks, demanding Warner to step it up and produce the next Avengers or Wonder Woman, not letting a film like Justice League exist on its own. It’s worth a watch, but not worth a comparison. The film has suffered enough through ten years of development. Laud it, praise it, or bury it on your own accord, but let the Justice League do its thing.