Potential spoilers ahead
Justice League was released the weekend of November 17th and was met with mixed reviews at best from other critics.
I, for one, found a ton of enjoyment from this movie and it became my favorite movie of the year. There was a lot of depth in the themes of the film and the characterization and the soundtrack were spectacular!
I’ll provide a review and analysis of various points of the movie I consider important and also address the major concerns that other critics had with the film.
Major changes happened with the soundtrack for both Batman and Superman, rehashing elements of their classic themes. These heroes have a long history of films and these themes have become so ingrained in what these characters are. I do hope though that these aren’t permanent changes for future solo films based on the principle of sticking to your guns, but this wasn’t bad, and the new themes are a great callback and still exemplify the characters associated just as they always have.
Generally, the characters were all given the attention and care they needed to feel like they were an important part of the film. They each showed the general themes of Overcoming and hope the movie not just in the major worldwide events but also in the specific character arcs they each went through. The interaction between characters also showed not just how the players viewed themselves but also how they viewed each other, presenting who their best friends were, who they liked best, who they were having a hard time getting along with, etc.
The characterization in this film was the strongest point to the movie. I’ll look at the main characters specifically. Each member of the league had their own demons that they were working to overcome while some characters were built as a symbol as well as a character.
Batman/ Bruce Wayne
Batman is in a similar position to where we last saw him in Batman V Superman. He’s a brooding loner who just learned how to play well with others. Odd enough, he is the least changed of the cast, but that’s because Batman learned who he is in the past movie. Batman acts, rather than a dynamic character, as a type of standard to bring the team together and show them where their faults are as well as where their strength lies, encouraging Wonder Woman to step into the public scene, Aquaman to become a part of something, and Flash to become a functioning and committed person.
Wonder Woman/ Diana Prince
The hit film Wonder Woman had a big impact on the character. Batman points out to her how she is a light hero, much like Superman, but seems to operate in the dark. She abandoned humanity in a sense after the guilt of losing Steve Trevor in WWI, becoming a myth rather than a beacon or a leader. Through the course of the movie, Wonder Woman learns to overcome this fear of losing people and becomes a strong leader and even a sort of mother figure to the other teammates.
Flash/ Barry Allen
The Flash was appropriately described and fitted to his own powers. Swerving to and from, never staying in one place. When Barry Allen speaks to his dad near the beginning of the film, his father tells him to stop and be in one place. It’s clear also when he talks to Batman for the first time that Barry doesn’t have the confidence in himself to really do anything of worth with his life. This leads to him having 3-4 odd jobs at any time and becoming a squatter in whatever place he can find.
Through the events he participates in, The Flash learns how powerful he really is. He becomes confident enough to save people’s lives during the first encounter with Steppenwolf, he becomes friends with Cyborg while retrieving Superman’s body, and gets a sense of belonging when Superman joins in the final battle and treat’s Barry’s task of saving civilians as one of the most important jobs he could have.
Cyborg/ Victor Stone
Victor Stone is deceased. That’s how he was first described by Bruce Wayne and it’s a very accurate description. Victor Stone was in the accident that turned him into Cyborg and was about as good as dead. He did nothing with himself. He didn’t eat. Didn’t sleep. Didn’t talk more than was needed. Victor Stone was dead. That’s where his character makes the change.
Wonder Woman encourages him to use his newfound power to do something. And this is the first step that Cyborg takes to living once again. He starts using his powers in various ways to calculate numbers, interact with Kryptonian technology, speak to the mother boxes, bonds with flash over their similar origins. When he and Superman are working to pull apart the motherboxes at the end, Superman casually mentions that he likes being alive. This is the moment that Cyborg too recognizes his change. He has become alive, and quite enjoys it.
Aquaman/ Arthur Curry
Aquaman’s story is presented differently. We first see him on land in a small village. Soon after we see him in the ocean. He, much like flash, doesn’t stay in one place but his reasoning is different. We learn his mother abandoned him on land while his father told him of life in the sea and stories of his mother, the queen of Atlantis. We see him as a conflicting “who is this guy” character who one moment acts as a surfer dude, the next as a lone wolf, the next as a noble hero. In Act 2, Aquaman expresses his conflict. He states that he never was able to acclimate to life on the land or the sea and this reflects on his character.
Superman/ Clark Kent
Superman not only was a character in the movie but a representation of its main theme of hope. The movie begins with Superman addressing what hope is, stating that hope is like a set of car keys. When lost, everything seems ruined and harder, but if you search long enough they will eventually turn up. The choice to resurrect Superman was the league’s first attempt at restoring hope in the world and for them. They realized that they had no chance at beating Steppenwolf without him, as they saw in their first encounter. At the beginning of the last fight, Superman returns to the group, symbolizing the world events of hope returning and fear leaving the world.
Outside of being a symbolic figure, Clark added a special human element to this group of demigods. His main personal role was recuperating on the Kent farm with Lois where he continued his arc from Batman V Superman, finding the light in the world with his family. Odd enough, the only alien in the group was also the most human. A beautiful and spot-on representation of the character.
And of course, this is a DC film so Rotten Tomatoes is going to step all over it. The problems many people had with this film were explained away within the film itself, so I’ve compiled some of the more prevalent problems critics had with the film and I’ll address them.
A “Sloppy Remake of the Avengers”
I saw this trend in a lot of reviews where they just HAD to compare this movie to the Avengers.
This was a different movie and it wasn’t trying to be The Avengers. The Avengers was a team building movie about taking people who really didn’t get along and trying to get them to work together for a common cause. Justice League, however, had a different theme of unlocking potential and gaining hope and confidence in the future by being a part of the team. A different message and feel was targeted than The Avengers. Comparisons between these movies is a mistake that is easy to fall into because they are both comic book films, but on merits of being its own movie, Justice League stands tall.
Another common complaint, made by Bob Mondello of NPR along with others, was with the films “villain” Steppenwolf. I put “villain” in quotation marks because Steppenwolf wasn’t the villain of the movie.
Bob Mondello noted that Steppenwolf felt like the most generic of villains, especially when Ares in Wonder Woman was portrayed so well. Here’s the difference though, the theme of Wonder Woman was the balance of good and evil and where evil in the world comes from. Ares was an embodiment of that and was often cited as the representation of evil in men. The fight with him turned the theme into a person v person conflict.
The conflict with Justice League wasn’t the villain Steppenwolf but was the loss of hope and the takeover of fear in the world. you’ll notice at the beginning after Superman’s podcast interview that we get an introduction showing off all of the lost faith in Metropolis especially but also Gotham. This loss of hope from humanity is what the Justice League was really fighting while Steppenwolf was a side-effect. He even mentions that he was called because of the great fear humanity showed after the death of Superman and was eventually defeated when faith was restored through the symbolic return of The Man of Steel. Justice League was Person v Ideal while Wonder Woman and similar movies were Person v Person.
Basic level creative writing stuff really, but this is admirable since so many superhero films seem to forget that there is something to fight other than another character or your own self-doubt.
“Haphazard and Thoughtless” Directing Styles
The Washington Post had a review by Alyssa Rosenberg who’s main complaint was the “haphazard and thoughtless” plot and the conflicting directing styles.
I’ve already proven sufficiently that there was a lot of thought pressed into the film through its Person v Ideal plot and themes of hope (something not expressed in movies enough these days), so I’ll leave that point. Let’s talk about the directors.
Partway through production, Zach Snyder (who directed Batman V Superman and Man of Steel) left directing duties due to a family crisis. Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon, the brains behind Firefly and The Avengers, to come in and finish the film. while there are some places in the film that you can tell were done by each director, I feel like the balance was there. Snyder is a brilliant visual director that gave real life to the action and establishing scenes while Joss Whedon gave light to the personal scenes. At this point, the direction choices are probably up to personal opinion if you think the balance was right, but for me I say it was.
Justice League is a great film that is solidly built and strongly executed. There’s no doubt about that. The strength of the movie comes from its unique perspective on themes of hope and rejection of fear that are beautifully woven into the narrative of the main characters. The balance between the six main cast members is solid, allowing enough time to get to know each one personally. It’s not just a good superhero movie, it’s a good movie in general.
This film is recommended by Gamma Sector for viewing that is not only visually entertaining but intellectually and even morally stimulating. Remember that the best way to find out if you really like a movie isn’t just to leave it alone, but to experience it yourself. And as Lex Luthor said in the 1970s Superman film: some people can read War and Peace and think it’s an adventure story, others can read a bubble gum wrapper and unlock secrets to the universe. Watch well, watch intelligently, and always be your best self.