Never let it be said that DC doesn’t respond to criticism. Over the past few months, it has made great strides in improving its Extended Cinematic Universe, adding colour and frivolity to a previously dull and downbeat franchise. So, given the studio can recognise and fix those issues, it beggars belief as to why its latest film remains riddled with problems.
The recent death of Superman (Henry Cavill) has sent the globe into a state of despair, with some people appearing to have lost hope, and others still capitalising on his absence. One who occupies the latter category is Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) – not the band, sadly, but an intergalactic warrior whose sole purpose is to conquer other worlds. Steppenwolf achieves this with the use of Motherboxes, which are essentially cubes of immense power.
Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aka Batman is among the first to predict Steppenwolf’s arrival, having met with one of his cronies in Gotham City. Together with fellow superhero Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), he goes about recruiting a group of individuals who themselves possess superhuman abilities. This group includes Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the fastest man alive; Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), a human/robot hybrid; and Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), who has a fondness for aquatic activities.
Comic-book fans will no doubt be thrilled to see these three superheroes making their feature film debut; casual moviegoers, on the other hand, might wonder what all the fuss is about. See, rather than fleshing-out their characters in an origin story, or providing them with a heroic entrance, the live-action Justice League merely namedrops its protagonists, has them converse with one-another and hopes that the audience will appreciate them.
Astoundingly, this lacklustre approach pays off, for as soon as they are introduced, these heroes assert themselves as worthy additions to Justice League – despite a rather rushed, muddled first act. All three members are charismatic and interact well with the established characters – i.e. Batman, Wonder Woman – making them reasonably fun to watch. Whoever was responsible for selecting the cast most certainly deserves a pay-rise, or even a promotion.
Conversely, these same praises cannot be applied to Steppenwolf. Whereas other superhero films add a playfulness to their antagonists – think Marvel’s Loki or Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn – Justice League’s Steppenwolf is depicted as a humourless, uninspiring figure who seeks only to (all together now!) take over the world, with no attempt being made to sympathise with his character. He may well go down in history as the worst villain ever put to film.
While its antagonist is a great source of frustration, a hateful experience Justice League is not. Its tone is a considerable improvement over two of the franchise’s previous entries, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, managing to find a balance between sincerity and light-heartedness. At times, the movie can even elicit the occasional laugh from the viewer, a feat once thought impossible in a Zack Snyder-helmed project – perhaps those much-publicised reshoots with Joss Whedon were just what Warner Bros. needed.
In addition to having a lighter tone, Justice League is literally brighter than its predecessors. The picture chooses to ignore “realism” and allows its heroes to dress in comparatively-vibrant colours, much like a certain Marvel movie that was released only a few weeks ago. Even the settings look more appealing, with lush greens and spots of purple visible in some scenes. It’s enough to make one wonder why DC’s other films aren’t as colourful.
Also alleviating the mood is the Danny Elfman-penned soundtrack. It too strikes a balance between two dichotomic approaches, being more rousing than the sedate music of Hans Zimmer, yet less bombastic than the stylings of Junkie XL. The brass-led score even contains cues to the soundtracks of much older DC films, alluding to John Williams’ iconic Superman theme and Elfman’s own compositions for Tim Burton’s Batman, which will bring a smile to even the most disgruntled viewer.
When one ignores the dreary villain and jumbled first act, Justice League is a reasonably entertaining distraction, embracing a sense of fun that really should have been there from the franchise’s inception. While the film is a promising sign of a studio on the improve, Warner Bros. has a long way to go before its superhero universe matches the quality of its chief rival.