– by Joseph Jammer Medina

It’s finally here. After years of waiting, we finally had a chance to check out the hotly-anticipated Justice League movie. A lot certainly seems to be riding on this film. Coming on the heels of the hugely successful Wonder Woman and the year after the critically-maligned Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, audiences seem to be looking to this film as the “make it or break it” film for the DC Extended Universe.

Will this be the film that affirms the positive direction that the franchise was heading in, or will it be another step down? The answer (as I’m sure you’ve read or seen at various other outlets by now) is a little bit of both in that it’ll likely be seen as a significant step up from previous films, but a step down from Wonder Woman.

The film picks up some time after Batman v Superman, with Superman dead, and Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) working to bring an alliance of metahumans to ward off an impending invasion. Among these heroes are the crass Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the eccentric Flash (Ezra Miller), and mysterious Cyborg (Ray Fisher). The invasion in question comes from the alien Steppenwolf. His overall goal is to unite three Mother Boxes and pretty much take over the world. You know, typical villain stuff.

Justice League very much seems to be a direct response to the criticism that Batman v Superman received. You won’t find a dreary, heavy, overly-complicated plot here. Not at all. Instead, we have a light, fun superhero romp that’s high on energy and character interactions, and low on twists, turns, and idea-focused storytelling. It’s an incredibly straightforward narrative, which has its pros and cons. Let’s talk about those pros first, because there are plenty.

As mentioned above, the absence of a complex plot gives room for a lot of great character interactions. If you come into this film hoping to see a solid realization of some of your favorite DC characters, this film doesn’t disappoint. Batman and Wonder Woman are back in top form, continuing their arcs from the previous film. Batman’s own arc is a bit predictable, but I actually found Wonder Woman’s arc here to be an unexpected surprise — one that builds off of what we’ve seen in both Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman.

Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is a fittingly tragic character. While some may find him boring, I was enticed by the actor’s low-key, understated performance. He’s moody, dry, but most intriguingly, broken. Sadly, we don’t get quite enough time to fully explore him as much as I’d like, but it’s a solid backbone for any other future film.

Ezra Miller’s Flash is a revelation. He’s the perfect interpretation of the character in my mind. When put up against Grant Gustin’s generic white bread (but likable) portrayal of the same character, it stands out. This Barry Allen is incredibly smart, socially awkward, and charmingly naive. He really nails the nerdier aspects of the character, and you really get the impression that he’s a bit of an outcast — especially with all the time he spends trying to prove that his imprisoned father didn’t kill his mother.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is another great character here, but if there was one of the group who didn’t quite match up to the others, it’s him. Now, that’s not to say he was bad. He was fantastic, and they brought in some great moments for him. I just don’t think he was given nearly enough screen time, and unlike the others, I never felt like I was able to see what made him tick. Regardless, I’m still very excited to see what he has to offer in the upcoming Aquaman standalone feature.

Between the character moments, simple plot, and capacity for a handful of fun set pieces, we end ups with a product that makes for a great popcorn flick — one that capitalizes on the strengths of the core group. But, of course, keeping things simple isn’t always a good thing.

The short runtime really limits our ability to delve into these characters as much as I would have liked. Some may say that’s because they didn’t get their own standalone film, but I think it’s something that could have been resolved with an extra 15-20 minutes of breathing room. While Marvel has spoiled us into expecting to get a standalone film for most heroes before seeing a team-up, it really isn’t the only way to go.

The villain also suffers greatly here. In true Marvel fashion, he’s developed just enough to be an obstacle. Many outlets point to him being “another CGI villain,” and while that isn’t entirely incorrect, I think CGI often gets a bad rap, with people associating paper thin characters with CGI. Reminder: all Pixar characters are CGI. Caesar from the new Planet of the Apes prequel series is CGI. CGI has nothing to do with it. It’s the writing of the character that is lacking. Now, that aside, I think it was a very conscious tradeoff on the part of writers Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon. Better to spend most of our time with the characters, right? You can be the judge on whether or not it worked, but ultimately, I think it was a tradeoff that worked in their favor.

This next criticism will likely make me a bit of a minority. This simple plot made the film lack a real heft to it, and it made me miss the ambition that Snyder had in his previous two DCEU films. Sure, the actual execution of those films is debatable, but to me, I really enjoyed seeing Snyder stretch his narrative muscles here, and as a filmgoer, I had a good time really engaging with the story. That’s largely been given up in favor of a more palatable story and rewarding character dynamic. This is very much a film that you can watch in passing, moreso than Snyder’s last films.

My final big criticism falls on some of the dialogue. There were about a handful of typical Hollywood cheesy lines that were very hard not to cringe at. With some lines, I got the sense that lines were workshopped by a bunch of high level execs who read a pamphlet on what one-liners need to be made in a popcorn action flick, and many fell flat for me. That being said, it by no means broke the film for me.

Justice League is an interesting beast. In addition to being poked and prodded by Warner Bros., this film was also subject to a change in director when Zack Snyder’s daughter tragically committed suicide. In his place came Joss Whedon, and many feared there would be a huge conflict in tone.

While I’ve heard many people say it’s easy to tell who shot what, I’d argue that the end product is more seamless than we give it credit for. Snyder set out to make a more lighthearted film, and that really permeates throughout. The only big red flag here are some odd shots of Henry Cavill’s Superman, where his upper lip is very clearly CG’d in order to remove the mustache he had to wear for another role he was playing before and after reshoots.

And speaking of Superman, yeah, Superman’s in the movie. As someone who actually liked Cavill’s more torn take on the Man of Steel, I actually enjoyed his transition into the hero readers know and love. He doesn’t go full Boy Scout just yet, but like with many of the characters, it’s a smooth start of a transition, and it really has me pumped to see what the eventual Man of Steel 2 will bring to the table.

All in all, I’d say Justice League will likely be seen as a big improvement to the previous Zack Snyder entries. It really allows you to sink your teeth into the characters more than ever before, and makes you want to see what the future holds for them. Though this did come at a cost.

At the end of the day, it does ultimately make for a more disposable film. I had a great time, don’t get me wrong, but even as I write this, I’m finding my memory of the film slowly fading away. Perhaps for better or worse, I don’t think conversations surrounding this movie will continue on for years as they have with previous entries. But perhaps this is the turn we all needed in order to get the more meaningful films down the road.

Grade: B

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.