Well, it only took two years and four films, but Warner Brothers has finally figured out a winning formula.
BQB here with a review of “Justice League.”
Character development. It’s what the Marvel Cinematic Universe excelled at and what Warner Brothers failed at, even though the winning formula was clear – make a bunch of films starring the individual heroes, then make films starring the heroes working together…repeat.
Warner Brothers went a different way in March of 2016 with the pathetic flop that was “Batman vs. Superman.” Technically, they started with “Man of Steel” years back, though at the time it didn’t appear as though there was an intention for that particular version of Superman to stick around…as far as I know anyway.
In B v S, we were flashed quick versions of Batman and Wonder Woman. The plot was hacky, like Man of Steel, it was riddled with product placement, and Lex Luthor, greatest villain of all time, was turned into a nerdy wiener played by Jesse Eisenberg.
While critics despised “Suicide Squad,” I enjoyed it, though looking back on it, I’m not sure it really capitalized on its main asset – Harley Quinn. A Joker and Harley movie is long overdue.
Bottomline – Marvel’s characters weren’t as well known to general audiences. Thus, Marvel/Disney was able to make an Iron Man flick, a Hulk flick, a Captain America flick, a Thor flick, an Avengers flick, then press repeat, minus the Hulk flick because the green guy just can’t carry a film on his own, sadly.
But the character development in the individual flicks always paid off in the Avengers flicks. We would see the individual characters suffer and face their demons and then come together as a team.
DC’s cross to bear was that prior to this attempt to copy Marvel, Batman and Superman had been done umpteen million times. However, while I still maintain that audiences didn’t need another origin story for Batman or Superman, there could have been a film to introduce us to this grittier, older, depressed version of Batman starring Ben Affleck. We didn’t need to see Bruce Wayne’s parents get capped after a night at the theater for the 1000th time, but it would have been nice to have seen a film where we jump into the new Batman’s world and see what he’s all about. For example, a Batman vs. Joker and Harley film could have done just that.
Meanwhile, “Man of Steel” was yet another Superman origin film and as Supes and Zod punched their way through 7-11 signs and IHOP restaurants, the whole thing felt very forgettable.
June of this year’s “Wonder Woman” was Warner’s first critically acclaimed hit. Wonder Woman has appeared in TV form before in the 1970s, but generally, she wasn’t as well known as Bats and Supes, so Warner had a chance to introduce her and tell us what she’s about.
Thus, in “Justice League,” the main continuity payoffs come from references to the earlier “Wonder Woman” film whereas references to B v S made me want to hurl, as I’m still doing all I can to forget that epic fail of a film.
Honestly, I feared that character development was not Warner’s forte. It felt like they were rushing these films out, not taking their time, that we were a bunch of chimps who would put our butts into the seats no matter what so they just cared about money and not plot or telling us what made the characters tick.
Thus, it felt to me like “Justice League” was destined to fail. We were introduced to new Batman and new Superman, albeit poorly, and we were introduced to Wonder Woman well, but introducing us to the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg all in the same film and somehow making us care about them seemed like a tall order and yet…they pulled it off.
Ray Fisher plays Cyborg/Victor Stone with just the right amounts of anger and sadness. Cyborg, a young man rebuilt as part-man but mostly machine by his scientist father, views himself as an abomination, subject to the will of the technology that controls him, tech that he has little control over himself. He must overcome self-hatred to serve a higher purpose.
Ezra Miller provides much needed comic relief as The Flash/Barry Allen. The Flash has appeared on TV in the 1990s to not so great results, though a more recent return to TV faired better. There were a variety of ways the film could have gone with Flash but here, they decided to go with an accidental bumbler. Hit by lightning, the kid can now run really fast. At the time of this film, he’s foiled a few petty crooks with his feet of fury, but he’s never gone toe to toe with a big bad and that leaves him scared shitless. He devours entire pizzas in one sitting without gaining weight because his top speeds leave his body depleted and a scene where he thinks he’s about to shine only to realize Superman can run as fast as he can is the highlight of the film.
I was on the fence with Jason Mamoa’s “Aquaman.” Aquaman, long panned as the lamest Justice League member due to his power of talking to fish, has always been a long haul to bring home. After all, the cartoon version featured Aquaman riding two dolphins under his feet as if they were water skis. Here, Aquaman is portrayed as a gritty merman, unsure of why he was cast out of Atlantis and left to protect a seaside community. This Aquaman is very “Point Break-ish,” an extreme adventurer type, enjoying badassery, boastful of his manliness and so on. I had mixed feelings about him throughout the film until a humorous scene with Wonder Woman won me over.
As in any film, there are flaws. Bruce Wayne doesn’t seem to give a shit about revealing himself as Batman to every new team member he meets, though I suppose if he’s going to work with these people, he has to. Also, the plot revolves around finding three boxes that hold the power to global destruction before the villain Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) can. Something about those boxes made me think about Marvel’s tesseract, though I suppose similarities between comic worlds are inevitable. There’s only so much of this shit that can be done before it all seems to mold together.
Ultimately, it’s a good ride. Would independent Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman films helped? Maybe…maybe not. Honestly, I worried about that going into the film but somehow the movie manages to give us just the right amount of back story for these three heroes – not too much, not too little – perhaps independent films would have been overkill. Now that we’ve given small doses of them to see what makes them tick, we might root for them more independently.
Amazingly, the movie finally even gets Superman right. Superman has always been a tough one. He’s the ultimate boy scout who does no wrong and basically has no flaws, so its hard to relate to him. Further, even though he can fight like anything and survive, Hollywood rarely pits him against foes worth his time. Superman shines here, though I think long term, the franchise will suffer because of the earlier decision to let Eisenberg play a geeky version of Lex Luthor rather than go with the traditional comic book version were Lex is the ultimate cunning badass.
Good story. Good plot. Good characters. It had heart and humor. I finally care about these characters. It took awhile, but WB finally got it right.