At long last, the crossover DC fans have awaited with baited breath is here, and it is glorious! Like no other superhero film this year, “Justice League” is guaranteed to bring out the little kid in you and audiences around the world and lays the groundwork for a sparkling DC Extended Universe!
Ben Affleck reprises his role as billionaire vigilante Bruce Wayne aka Batman, while Gal Gadot also dons her tiara once more as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman. For “Justice League”, they’re joined by a new cadre of superheroes, including Ezra Miller as geeky college boy Barry Allen aka The Flash, Jason Momoa as Atlantean prince Arthur Curry aka Aquaman, and Ray Fisher as the human-machine hybrid Victor Stone aka Cyborg.
Other alumni from past DC Films return, as well, including Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Connie Nielsen as Amazonian Queen Hippolyta, and Jeremy Irons as Bruce’s trusted butler Alfred Pennyworth, while J.K. Simmons steps into the role of Batman’s trusted ally, Gotham City Commissioner James Gordon. Amber Heard also appears in the role of Atlantean princess Mera while Joe Morton portrays Victor’s scientist father Silas Stone, and Ciaran Hinds dons a motion capture suit for the role of the villainous alien warrior Steppenwolf. And, last but most certainly not least, the film features a noteworthy appearance from a certain Kryptonian you may have heard of by the name of Kal-El with Henry Cavill reprising the role.
Following Superman’s death in battle against the rampaging monster Doomsday, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince are determined to build an alliance of “metahumans” to defend the world against future attacks. Their mission becomes far more urgent with the arrival on Earth of Steppenwolf, general of the army of the planet Apokolips and its evil overlord, Darkseid.
Steppenwolf had previously been defeated by Amazonian and Atlantean warriors 5,000 years earlier in his quest to retrieve three sources of infinite power known as “Mother Boxes” in order to conquer the Earth with an army of Apokoliptian warriors known as “Parademons”. With Steppenwolf having already stolen the first two Mother Boxes from Themyscira and Atlantis upon his return, Bruce and Diana recruit the metahumans Barry Allen, Arthur Curry, and Victor Stone to stop Steppenwolf from retrieving the third. However, the group soon realizes that they may need to recruit one more member from beyond the grave.
As is always the case with a Zack Snyder-directed comic book adventure, “Justice League” is a true visual feast that, like his prior superhero films, “Watchmen”, “Man of Steel”, and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice“, genuinely looks and feels like a comic book come to life. Nearly any still image from the film looks like it was ripped straight from the pages, or even the cover, of DC Comics and given bright, surreal, three-dimensional life (its telling about how visually stylized Snyder’s filmography is that his foray into zombie lore, 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead”, is the most “normal” looking movie he’s ever made by comparison).
The design of the Parademons, briefly glanced in the “Knightmare” sequence of “Batman v Superman”, is especially impressive – what better way for them to make their live action debut than by giving them literal hornet-like wings? The comic book-esque expressionism of the film’s visual style and cinematography also extends to its overall tone. A common trend seen in modern comic book films and one which DC Films continue to excel at, is giving the film a distinctive genre makeover to have it operate as something external of its genre origins.
“Man of Steel” served as an alien first-contact film, “Batman v Superman” functioned as a kind of superhero soap opera, “Suicide Squad” was very much a black comedy, and “Wonder Woman” was a war film. In the case of “Justice League”, it has a distinct feel of a big-budget, live-action version of the “Justice League” animated series, or even one of the DC Animated Films. Indeed, comic book fans will certainly note key similarities to 2014’s “Justice League: War” and 2008’s “Justice League: The New Frontier” (the latter’s Cold War-era setting notwithstanding). In a franchise that has thrived on probing into the political, philosophical and religious themes of superheroes, “Justice League” is a movie for the kid in all of us and for a lifelong DC fanboy who grew up thrilling to the adventures of Michael Keaton’s Dark Knight and Christopher Reeve’s Man of Steel, it awakens that same kind of giddy, hero-worshipping glee that lays in the hearts of all eager to dive head-long into a comic book adventure!
While the golden age of superhero cinema we live in has brought to life the abilities of our heroes of the inked panels more vividly than any of us could have hoped for twenty years ago, it’s time to plant a flag in the sand – no one, but no one, making superhero films today does better action sequences than Zack Snyder!
The League’s first skirmish with Steppenwolf and his legion of Parademons in an underground tunnel also highlights what “Wonder Woman” indicated earlier this summer – namely, that DC has fully embraced the “Blade II” approach to superhero action. Specifically, the actors portraying the spandex-clad heroes execute their fight sequences up to the point of what is humanly possible, with CGI and wire-fu coming in to handle what goes beyond that. Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are all he most adept combatants on the team, and it shows.
In the case of Aquaman (and after Jason Momoa’s uber-badass performance, I think we can officially call time of death on those asinine “Aquaman is lame” jokes right here, right now), an underwater duel between himself and Steppenwolf provides a solid illustration of how his fighting style is adapted to an underwater setting and will only leave audiences that much more pumped for next year’s “Aquaman” solo film. Wonder Woman’s sword and lasso mastery is just as incredible here as it was in her solo film, and viewers are treated to plenty of her clashing with Steppenwolf’s enormous battle-axe, who more than once finds himself being double-teamed by King Arthur and Princess Diana (see what I did there).
Batman doesn’t have anything quite on the level of the unforgettable warehouse brawl from “Batman v Superman”, but he still breaks out plenty of great martial arts techniques from his expansive arsenal, including in a one-on-one encounter with a Parademon early in the film.
The Flash and Cyborg are the most CGI-reliant of the group, but their action scenes are still handled in a way that feels naturalistic to the film’s style, to say nothing of the chemistry between Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher, who both turn in some of the best acting in the film. Of course, the elephant in the room is the big cheese himself, and I dare not spoil the details of Superman’s return other than to say it begins with something of a, shall we say, dispute, with the rest of the Justice League that offers up one of the most memorable action sequences this year. Ditto for the film’s sweeping final battle with Steppenwolf and his Parademon army in which each and every member of the league gets their own show-stopping money shot.
“Justice League” is the kind of film that comic book geeks live for. Each of our heroes, particularly Miller and Fisher, are splendid in their roles individually and have terrific chemistry as a group, the film’s visual style and action sequences are never anything less than magnificent, and Jason Momoa simply cannot receive enough praise for killing the myth of Aquaman’s lameness once and for all. The future for the DC Extended Universe looks brighter than ever by the time the end credits roll – especially following two VERY satisfying end credits scenes that will no doubt leave viewers obsessively fantasizing over what’s to come!
Final Battle (theme)
- The film’s November 17th release date is significant to DC Comics’ lore in two ways; in addition to the date of the publication of “The Death of Superman” in 1992, it was also the premiere date for the “Justice League” animated series in 2001.
- “The Death of Superman” story arc, depicted in both “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and this film, came about when the DC Comics creative team reached a gridlock on their planned story of Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s marriage. However, the production team for the television series “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” was planning to do the same on the show, and asked DC to hold off on depicting the story in the comics until after they had done so. This left DC Comics in the position of having to rewrite an entire year’s worth of stories, and lead to writer Jerry Ordway to facetiously remark “Let’s just kill him!” The frustrated DC creative team latched onto Ordway’s idea, thus giving way to the creation of the new Superman villain, Doomsday and “The Death of Superman” story arc.
- Zack Snyder hired Joss Whedon, writer and director of “The Avengers” films, to write additional scenes for the film that Snyder intended to direct in the production’s pre-scheduled reshoots. However, Snyder stepped down from the film in May 2017 following the death of his daughter, while Whedon oversaw the reshoots and post-production duties.
- Filmmaker George Miller, director of the “Mad Max” series, was set to direct the first live action Justice League film, titled “Justice League: Mortal”, for release in 2008. However, the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild of America strike and numerous other developmental hurdles ultimately led to the film’s cancellation. Rapper, Common, who was set to portray John Stewart aka Green Lantern in the film, would later appear in 2016’s “Suicide Squad”.
- Prior to her casting as Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot was originally offered the role of Faora in 2013’s “Man of Steel”, which she declined due to her pregnancy at the time. Gadot states that she was considering retiring from acting before landing the role and credits Zack Snyder with stopping her from doing so.
- Joe Manganiello makes a cameo appearance in the film as Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke. Manganiello previously appeared alongside J.K. Simmons in 2002’s “Spider-Man” in the role of Flash Thompson. An avid comic book fan, Manganiello was also a contender for the role of Superman prior to Henry Cavill’s casting.
- Joe Morton, who plays Cyborg’s father Silas Stone, also famously portrayed another cyber-scientist, Miles Dyson, the creator of Skynet in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”. Morton also portrayed Dr. Steve Hamilton on the long-running DC show “Smallville”.
Film Rating: 8.5/10
- “Dressed like a bat? I dig it!” – Aquaman (upon seeing Batman in costume)
- “One misses the days when one’s biggest concerns were exploding wind-up penguins.”
– Alfred Pennyworth
- “I hear you can talk to fish.” – Batman (in his first meeting with Aquaman)
- “What are your superpowers again?” – The Flash (to Batman)
- “I’m rich.” – Batman’s reply