Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, this content will likely be unpopular.
From the very beginning, the films of the DCEU were leading toward one particular moment: Justice League. After the massive success of the MCU with The Avengers, it was unavoidable that the DCEU would attempt to emulate the same ideal with its own iconic heroes. With Henry Cavill’s Superman, Ben Affleck’s Batman, and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman all reuniting and Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, and Ezra Miller finally introduced as Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash respectively, Justice League was initially shaping up to be a massively important movie for the franchise.
Unfortunately, it was seen by many as a disappointment. Some saw Justice League as little more than a wasted opportunity: it had a number of key DC heroes all finally together in live-action, and it was neither as epic as The Avengers or as interesting as other DCEU films (such as Man of Steel, which was a distinct visual and thematic deviation from the expected Superman tropes). Though Zack Snyder’s Justice League restored the original director’s vision and supposedly saved the film, the theatrical version really isn’t as bad as many claim.
Justice League‘s pacing is pretty spot-on. It dives into action very quickly, making the final narrative maneuvers ahead of the DCEU’s big “assemble” moment. Though this is ultimately achieved with very little fanfare, Justice League introduces three major characters in a way that feels natural and genuinely interesting, teasing the promise of the franchise’s future expansion into other more varied solo stories. It also clears a few of the narrative hurdles – like bringing Superman back to life – and though this does feel a little contrived and is an obvious course correction, it’s entirely necessary for the film to set up its final act.
Justice League proves that the DCEU has cast its heroes perfectly. Miller’s frantic and neurotic energy works perfectly for the Flash, and Fisher’s tortured, brooding portrayal of Cyborg hints at greater depths to the character. Momoa is perhaps the stand-out, though, embodying a deeply interesting and thoroughly entertaining version of Aquaman that shows a massive amount of promise. In fact, the worst part of his portrayal is that there simply isn’t enough of him in the finished film (the theatrical cut, at least).
One of the biggest criticisms of Justice League is its CGI-heavy action scenes. From an objective standpoint, despite a few moments of clear weakness, these are no more or less ridiculous than anything the MCU has offered. Steppenwolf as a villain may not have been properly established, and the general narrative thrust of the film may have been rushed, but the actual action scenes, particularly the climactic battle, was generally well-realized, and only slightly disappointing from a story perspective.
It is clear from the finished product that the film was subject to studio interference. Though this undoubtedly hurt the film in some ways – certain aspects feel rushed and unearned – it helped it in others. For example, Justice League is well-paced, and clocks in with a relatively lean two hour runtime. This makes it feel a less serious affair than other comparable movies, and it’s far less of an undertaking to engage with it.
Though Justice League clearly has its issues, it does an awful lot right. It readjusts the DCEU’s narrative direction and tone considerably, and establishes an interesting dynamic between its many heroes. This is something that needed to be done, as though Zack Snyder’s vision was an interesting one, it was simply never feasible to hang the entire franchise on one man’s creative ideals.
The criticisms of Justice League seem to mostly stem from noble but misguided loyalty to Zack Snyder and his plans for the franchise’s future. Though the film is the clear product of two different creative visions being reconciled and this does confuse the tone a little, it’s still an enjoyable film that does exactly what it sets out to do. Though it may not be a masterpiece, it’s still a passable and entertaining piece of superhero cinema that simply doesn’t deserve the hate it gets.
Summary: Despite faltering occasionally, Justice League is one of the DCEU’s most entertaining films. Its story might be rushed and heavy on exposition, but its tone is an improvement on previous entries into the franchise, and it’s generally well-paced and enjoyable throughout.
Highlights: The dynamic between the Justice League’s heroes works well, as well as the slightly less serious side of Cavill’s Superman that’s glimpsed in the film’s final act.