The timeline of the DCEU (or DC Extended Universe, as Warner Bros. Pictures refers to its cinematic universe based on the works of DC Comics) has been a spotty one. First starting with Man of Steel back in 2013, this movie universe started with a film that was alright, if slightly misguided in applying a darker tone to Superman, a character more noted for his hope and optimism. Later, a major misstep arose in the form of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which misunderstood the core of its heroes alongside plenty of other errors and weird questions. Suicide Squad similarly had issues, such as a clean split in tone between an overstylized first 45 minutes that then deflates into generic action. It was not until this past summer that the DCEU had its first major success with Wonder Woman, capturing the core spirit of its legendary heroine in period piece action. Now, at last, one of the most iconic teams in comics has hit the big screen with Justice League. Is this another hit, or yet another stumbling block in the DCEU? It certainly is not as bad as some may say, but it sadly does fall shorter than one would like.
It has been six months since the death of Superman. With the loss of such a figure for good, crime and terror have been on the rise around the world. Among all of this, however, a stranger threat as begun to emerge. Parademons, bug-like alien soldiers that target those who feel fear, have been turning up around the planet. After Batman has a battle with one such Parademon on the rooftops of Gotham City, he realizes that it is time to prepare. Reaching out to Diana Prince, in truth the legendary warrior Wonder Woman, the two realize the source of these scouts. An alien warlord known as Steppenwolf is coming to Earth, in search of three devices known as Mother Boxes that could potentially destroy all life on the planet. To stop him, they seek out others who can aid them in their fight. These include Barry Allen, a quip-making young man capable of moving at super speed; Arthur Curry, a protector of the seas who possesses great strength, incredible swimming prowess, and the ability to communicate with sea life; and Victor Stone, a former high school football star who has become a cybernetic being ever since a tragic car accident. Can these disparate characters come together to save the world, or shall the Earth fall to the forces of Steppenwolf?
Now, there are some good points to this film. For instance, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot still show their prowess as Batman and Wonder Woman respectively. As for the newcomers, J. K. Simmons is a great match with an all-too-brief appearance as Commissioner Gordon while Ray Fisher works fine as Cyborg, even as he is chained down with a brooding attitude and poor special effects. However, the film has plenty of flaws that do burden it. For instance, the first half of this film is something of a pain through which to wade. The film is almost precisely two hours long, meaning that the movie with tasked with introducing its three new heroes and establishing its conflict while still delivering action within that run time. The result is that the movie, for a long time, rushes itself through blunt exposition and sudden bits of action at a breakneck speed with little time for real character development. Once the team comes together, it settles into a better pace that allows for room to offer character insights and show the team working together. Still, one must sit through agonized storytelling to get there. Along with that, it is surprising that such a big budget film would have middling-to-poor CG for its effects. It is particularly apparent with Cyborg, whose over-designed CG body sticks out when a practical body with CG enhancements could have looked better. Still, despite my complaints, Justice League is not the total wreck that some fear and it is an alright film. That is the problem, however, and why so many people are dismissive of it. A movie about the Justice League should not simply be okay.
Throughout the process of these films, Warner Bros. Pictures has been using a rather broad strokes approach to its management of the DCEU. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice had been given a “no jokes” guiding approach, specifically to be a contrast against Marvel’s lighter tone. When they found that audiences had responded well to Suicide Squad‘s more light-hearted trailer, the studio had the film go through reshoots to put in more humor and then recut it by the team that did the trailer. Even Justice League has had its share of brute management, such as first starting as two separate films and being condensed to one and then being given a mandate to be no longer than two hours. This sort of heavy-handed management has been plaguing the DCEU ever since the start. Now, I am not saying that Warner Bros. has to copy Marvel Studios’s exact methods. However, Marvel has put in careful planning and tailored each film to best fit their particular heroes. As a result, they took heroes that most of the general public were not familiar with and made them stars. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. has taken some of the most iconic superheroes in the history of comics and has gotten a response not much greater than “meh”. It is truly a shame that such great characters should be weighed down by such poor management. The Justice League deserve a movie that is better than “meh”, and Warner Bros. needs to open up to more careful management instead of continuing this reactionary broad strokes approach.
The DCEU has been a spotty affair, though there was a glimmer of hope with the success of Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, Justice League falls on the lesser end of the spectrum, not quite as bad as other DCEU misses though still disappointing in its mediocrity.