Along with the last son of Krypton, the meaning of that big red S on his chest died in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: hope. Humanity is shaken by the loss of its most powerful protector. The fear and chaos that follow have attracted something sinister. The invasion has begun, and Batman and Wonder Woman realise they cannot stop it by themselves.
The alien conqueror Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) has set his sights on Earth, more specifically on the mysterious Mother Boxes, three cubes which together form a weapon that can transform Earth into the image of Steppenwolf’s own apokoliptic home world. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) start the search for allies in their fight against Steppenwolf and his army of winged parademons.
Their search produces three individuals with special gifts who – some more reluctantly that others – join the team. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is an enthusiastic young man who can move at incredible speeds. Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) moves between the human world and his Atlantean home, where he is supernaturally strong and feels like a fish in the water in the oceans. Finally, Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), the son of scientist Silas Stone, has been rebuilt by his father as a cyborg using a Mother Box. Contrary to Batman and Wonder Woman, they are only at the beginning of their Hero’s Journey. Will these younglings be able to take up the mantle in the absence of Supeman?
Justice League has an interesting narrative evolution. It starts out as a detective story that also has some typical heist movie aspects, such as forming a team, but then evolves into a typical superhero movie with lots of spectacle and the necessary epic scenes, not to mention the billions in collateral damage. The plot has its faults: the reason why the earth suddenly looks like ripe pickings for alien conquerors after the death of Superman is a bit vague, and the location of the third Mother Box is not entirely clear as well.
Furthermore, Justice League is mainly a set-up movie. Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash are at the beginning of their superhero career and sometimes even don’t have their superhero names yet. In contrast to big competitor Marvel, the team-up/crossover has been placed near the start of the cinematic universe, and most solo films are released later. The door has been opened. It’s clear that the three new heroes are supposed to get their own solo movies. Sometimes this is done in a subtle manner, sometimes less so. The conversation between Aquaman and Mera (Amber Heard) about his origins and his mother, queen Atalanna, feels somewhat mistimed to say the least, right after an attack by parademons. Is that really the right time, Arthur? We have to ask ourselves if the solo movies won’t feel like a step backwards. The Justice League really works as a team. Do we really want to see a solo adventure with Flash or Cyborg?
The door has also been opened for the villains, both in the plot and on a meta-level. For better or worse, Earth has attracted the attention of alien forces. Those of you who know the DC comics a bit know what implications parademons and Steppenwolf bring with them. A dark power rules Steppenwolf’s home world, and its name does not go unmentioned in this movie. All very nice for the fans, who will swoon at the idea of seeing the ruler of Apokolips on the big screen, but less relevant to the casual moviegoer with a smaller amount of background knowledge. They have to settle for Steppenwolf, who is somewhat more interesting than the previous DC villains, but only just. Like Doomsday and Incubus, he is mainly a big monster who looks impressive and wreaks havoc, but lacks depth.
This doesn’t detract from the fact that Justice League clearly is a good movie and another step in the right direction after Wonder Woman, despite the DC Cinematic Universe’s rocky start. At the end of the movie we crave more. The atmosphere is a bit lighter than in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and we are even granted a couple of good jokes. Furthermore, the characters are exceptionally enjoyable and are developed nicely. We were already fans of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, but the real breakthrough performance belongs to Ezra Miller. His small bonding moment with Cyborg at Clark Kent’s grave stays with you. Cyborg wrestles with his new identity and Aquaman has to learn how to be a team player despite being a loner. And Bruce and Diana? Well…
In the audio and visual department, Justice League is also a success. The iconic musical themes of Batman and Superman receive homages and the recognisable theme of Wonder Woman, which has become universally loved at lightning speed, also returns. Concerning the special effects, the superpowers of the three newcomers are especially worth mentioning. Each of them gets their own memorable visual style, which will undoubtedly return in their solo movies. It looks good to see Barry tap into the Speed Force, just as when Cyborg’s body constantly changes. Finally, this movie makes us believe that the underwater scenes, which are crucial to an Aquaman movie, will look good.
Justice League isn’t perfect, and it will struggle to compete with that other superhero movie which is now in theaters. And yet, it is a step in the right direction, and we feel vindicated after the careful optimism we have been cherishing after Wonder Woman. The door has been opened for the future – stay until the second post-credits scene to see what we mean by that.
The Justice League debut is not without its faults. While the story sometimes stumbles, the characters and the tone are well done. Despite the rocky start of the DC Cinematic Universe, Justice League is another step in the right direction after Wonder Woman.