After watching Marvel get the jump on them with the shared cinematic universe, Warner brothers and DC have finally released their big team up film with Justice League, a film the has some nice moments, but is almost ruined by two critical characters.
At least is isn’t as bad as Batman v Superman….. or Man of Steel…
The basic premise of this film is essentially the same as any previous big team up superhero film: there is an alien invader that is coming to mess up our planet for some reason, and fortunately for us, one of our intrepid heroes knows exactly what is going on so that we can get a section of expository dialogue telling everyone what the hell is going on.
Once our team is finally together, we can get down to the real purpose of the film, which is naturally for Batman to be desperate to resurrect Superman and deferring all leadership to other people. If you are confused as to why Batman would come across like such a cowardly character, you are not alone. This was the first baffling aspect of the film that seriously damaged it. Batman’s character is supposed to be one of great self-confidence. If Batman were to have a power, it would be his unflappable confidence. No matter what sort of super-powerful beings he comes across, he always believes that he will come out on top. This is the same man who thought that he could kill Superman in an earlier film- and he almost did!
Apparently learning that their mothers shared the same name convinced Batman that Superman was all powerful, and without him, there was no hope of doing anything. Watching this happen was unbelievable. This is a character who famously has contingency plans to take out any other superhero if they were to turn on the others, no matter how powerful they are. Yet when he is faced with the challenge of preventing the latest weakly characterized villain with a doomsday weapon, he suddenly has cold feet and cannot do it without Superman. It was baffling; a different character had taken over and was masquerading as Batman. That is the only logical explanation for this massive shift in character.
While he was essentially begging the others to resurrect Superman, Wonder Woman was leading the opposition in wanting to try to fight Steppenwolf on their own. These roles should have been reversed. Wonder Woman, having seen Superman’s power previously should have been the one who was clamoring to bring him back with Batman serving as the opposition fearing the consequences of such a decision as well as having the confidence that the five of them that were actually alive could do it on their own. The move to make Batman into the desperate character needing to be Superman back was a massive misunderstanding of the characters and was incredibly detrimental to the film.
Beyond that, however, the film had potential. The Flash brought youth, personality and vulnerability to the team while also showing the most visible growth of any of the characters. Wonder Woman brought a grounding element to the team that, in spite of the fact that it should have been Batman, was a necessary aspect for the team. Cyborg was better than expected in his big screen debut, if not slightly under explained due to having to squeeze his premier into a team up film. Even Aquaman avoided being a laughing stock and was actually able to provide value when he wasn’t being thrown at giant bug-men. The dynamic of the team was working well with even Batman snapping out of his hypnotized state to go on an intended suicide run on the army of bug-men.
Then Superman showed up.
Earlier in the film, after the bickering about whether or not they needed to resurrect Superman, they go ahead with it and bring him back using the power of one of the magical McGuffins, Zod’s ship, and a jump from the Flash. This proceeds to bring Superman back to life which then triggers a fight between him and the other five members of the newly formed Justice League. After all, no team up film is complete without the heroes needlessly fighting each other in the middle of the film. They even managed to un-ironically squeeze in the worst line from BvS. Superman effortlessly kicks everyone’s ass before darting off to Kansas with Lois Lane for the entire second act of the film.
There are only five people in this image, and it should have stayed that way.
This is where the film is ruined. Watching Superman defeat the other heroes with such ease and then departing made the ending so obvious and clear that then entire rest of the film became dull. The five members not in need of a family reunion would go off to fight Steppenwolf. They would make some progress, but their efforts would not be enough. When it looks like our heroes are going to lose and allow the Earth to be transformed into a fiery hell-scape thanks to the McGuffin cubes. But then, at the last second, Superman will arrive and save the day!
This is exactly what happened, and what the entire audience should have been waiting for ever since the little scuff in the middle of the film. The entire third act, and struggle of the heroes is rendered entirely meaningless, as it was painfully clear that Superman would show up at some point, and everything would be fine. In fact, he went ahead and did everything better that everyone else was trying to do. Save civilians caught in the disaster zone? Check. Defeat most of the bug-men attacking everyone? Check. Fight off Steppenwolf single handedly after Wonder Woman and Aquaman struggle to bring him down together? Check. Fix the cube thing that Cyborg had been wrangling with for the entire duration of the fight? Check. He did everything! There was no point in even having a Justice League; just send Superman in and he will fix all the problems. Tension? That is overrated. It is much more satisfying to watch Superman save the day in the most anti-climactic fashion possible.
Superman did not need to be in this film. His resurrection should have either waited until the end, or have taken place in some other film where that becomes the primary goal of the film, with the fight to bring him back to his senses serves as the climax of the film. Instead, it was slapped into the center of this film and effectively sapped all anticipation, excitement and drama out of the third act as we played a waiting game of when Superman was finally going to arrive.
These two elements kill what could have been a very solid film. It may not have been as good as Wonder Woman, as DC has yet to get the hang of a final fight which doesn’t come across as an orgy of explosions and violence, but it had potential. Watching these five take on this challenge without their ace in the hole would have been exciting. It would have been fun to see them figure out ways to work around their lack of raw power and use a more tactical approach to preventing the latest apocalypse with each character having their own role. Batman and Cyborg would use their combined knowledge to orchestrate the plan of attack; Wonder Woman and Auquaman would lead the charge on Steppenwolf; the Flash could use his speed to get any remaining people to safety, fend off the bug-men, and take the McGuffin Cube from Steppenwolf. Cyborg and Batman would then defuse the super weapon with Batman then doing the most Batman thing possible: standing up to Steppenwolf and engaging him one-on-one with his powers of confidence and money and even briefly coming out on top. Each character would have had their role in taking down the threat, and it could have been immensely satisfying- potentially even more so than the ones seen in the Avengers films where Hawkeye and Black Widow just kind of mess around. Instead, the five heroes we were following for the entire film were relegated to the opening act for a headliner that couldn’t deliver the goods.