I want these films to be good. I really do.
But it’s no secret that the DCEU (that’s DC Extended Universe, to the uninitiated) has trod a troublesome road to reach the first group outing of its flagship superheroes. 2013’s Man of Steel showed some early promise, setting the scene with a darker, grittier take on the last son of Krypton, while Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was received less positively in 2016, with audiences simply not gelling with the dark, violent tone of the film. Suicide Squad, which landed just a few months later, was even less popular; with one BBC critic saying that he “was astounded by the sheer joylessness of the film-making.”
With direct competitor, Marvel Studios, storming ahead in the meantime with consistently outstanding offerings, the future of the DCEU looked bleak.
That is, until the release of Gal Gadot’s first solo outing, Wonder Woman. Gone were the oppressive, bleak tones of Batman vs. Superman and the muddled confusion of Suicide Squad. Gadot’s Diana Prince brought a sense of much-needed charm to the DCEU and the film was, debatably, even better than some of Marvel’s 2018 offerings.
So now that the long wait is over, how does Justice League fare?
It’s clear that the feedback from Batman vs. Superman was not lost on director, Zach Snyder. Gone are the brooding, ultra-violent Caped Crusader and troubled, neck-snapping Man of Steel who we have been introduced to in the previous films – I don’t think either brutally murders a single person this time around.
Likewise, the new characters – surprisingly in some cases – are all hugely entertaining additions to the existing line-up. Ezra Miller is a joy to watch as The Flash, lightening the tone considerably with a barrage of genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman also brings a remarkably bad-ass take on a character that has been previously been known as the laughing-stock of the superhero scene.
Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is perhaps the weakest of the new additions. Showing some early potential with an intriguing back story, he’s often on-hand only to provide whatever useful gadgetry is required by the plot.
In short, there’s a lot to like about this film. However, it does have its downfalls.
While the lighter tone of Ben Affleck’s performance as Batman is much needed and thankfully well-judged, Superman is now so squeaky clean that he has immediately become the most irritating member of the League. I audibly winced at the line, “Well, I believe in truth. But I’m also a big fan of justice!”
Considering that Henry Cavill’s portrayal of an ordinary young man who is grappling with his new identity as Superman was a highlight of both Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman, his seemingly overnight transformation into a character that is more reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s portrayal feels very much like a wasted opportunity.
Villain, Steppenwolf, and his army of flying CGI thingamajigs couldn’t be any less intimidating. Likewise, his quest to claim the three Motherboxes, generic items of untold – and unimaginative – power is relentlessly dull.
There’s often the sense that Zach Snyder is still continuously trying to build his universe, constantly introducing new characters, such as Commissioner Gordon and the Flash’s father, Henry Allen. The film rockets along at a blistering pace, and the audience is given previous few moments to relax and just enjoy the journey.
Justice League is a solid entry into the DCEU, with the scenes in which it shines being those where its component members are able to simply bounce off each other. However, while it seems almost unfair to compare the DCEU’s efforts to Marvel at this point, it still hasn’t quite achieved the sheer likability that its single biggest competitor is consistently delivering.
I’m hopeful that now there is significantly more of an established universe with which to build on, with some truly engaging characters for audiences to get behind, we’ll see the creative forces behind the DCEU spread start to really their wings.
Verdict: An enjoyable way to kill a couple of hours. But DC still has a long way to go before it starts to compete with Marvel.
Popcorn rating: 5/10