Justice League is somewhere between average and above average, but there are so many moments and problems that are just stunningly bad or confusing
Let’s start at the beginning, not necessarily where the movie starts. Thousands of years in the past Steppenwolf, a servant of Darkseid, tried to subjugate the earth and terraform it using a power called the “Unity”. At the time, he was defeated by a united force of earthly and extraterrestrial forces. The Unity was separated back into three different “Mother Boxes” that were taken by three separate contingents. One was taken by the Amazons, another was taken by the Atlanteans, and the final one was taken by mankind and hidden so that no one could try to use the power of the mother boxes against the other races. Steppenwolf was banished from Earth and the mother boxes remained dormant.
After the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), the world has fallen into unrest. Crime is up, fear is up, and people are generally just acting a fool. Sensing this, the Mother boxes reactivate and summon Steppenwolf back to Earth. He is heralded by Parademon scouts that sense fear. The activity of the Parademons alerts Batman (Ben Affleck) to the fact that some conflict is coming. In order to help fight in this conflict, he has been monitoring enhanced people. This leads him to 4 potential candidates: Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Barry Allen aka The Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Bruce has already fought along side Wonder Woman before and she is also aware of the impending threat. Barry Allen has no idea what’s going on, but he’s all about getting some super powered friends. Aquaman wants nothing to do with this fight and prefers to remain a loner. Cyborg was created using the power of man’s motherbox, so he is entwined in this fight whether he likes it or not. Even so, he is still adjusting to his new Cyborg body and doesn’t really understand his own abilities yet.
It turns out that it’s coming faster than Bruce thinks. Steppenwolf appears on Themyscira and easily defeats the Amazons to take their motherbox. Later he appears in Atlantis to take their motherbox. That leaves the only remaining Motherbox as the one that STAR Labs, where Cyborg’s father is the head scientist. They have been using the motherbox as their “change engine”. It’s also the device that Cyborg’s father used to save his son, turning him into the Cyborg. All of these actions are enough to unite Bruce’s team to fight Steppenwolf. They all gather together on a rooftop after Jim Gordon summons Batman to ask him about all the Parademon kidnappings that have been going on recently. They head off after him in order to stop him and save the STAR employees. The makeshift team does manage to save most of the civilians, but Steppenwolf is able to resist them easily. He leaves, still not knowing the true location of the last motherbox.
The heroes stay together and start to inform each other about what they know about the motherbox. After hearing all the information, Bruce comes up with the idea to use the box they retrieved from STAR Labs to bring Superman back to life in order to help in the fight against Steppenwolf. Diana and Arthur are hesitant about the idea but Cyborg confirms that it’s likely that Bruce’s plan would work. They resurrect Superman, but he doesn’t recognize him. Cyborg’s body recognizes Superman as a threat and initiates a countermeasure, which starts an all out fight between the new team and Superman right in front of his crumbling shrine. The fight is stopped when Bruce has Alfred (Jeremy Irons) bring Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to the battle field. Clark does recognize her and flies off with her back to Kansas. Just as he does, Steppenwolf appears and takes the last box which was lost in the confusion of the fight.
Realizing that they can’t rely on Superman, the other heroes head off to fight Steppenwolf on their own. They trace him to some remote location reminiscent of Chernobyl, where Steppenwolf had created his apocalyptic Triforce. Their plan is to distract Steppenwolf long enough for Cyborg to create a split in the Unity, which should destroy it. That plan takes a little bit of a hit because Steppenwolf is physically overwhelming them. Their attention is also split between fighting Steppenwolf and saving the people in the surrounding area from the Unity’s output. In the middle of the fight, Superman shows up. He’s back to his old self after spending some time with Lois and his mom. Superman gives them the extra firepower they need to destroy the Unity and Steppenwolf’s primary weapon. Apparently, that causes Steppenwolf to feel fear, which causes the Parademons to turn on him.
The area, which had been ravaged by the energy of the Unity, settles down and starts to sprout alien foliage as all six members of the newly formed Justice League watch from atop the wreckage of Steppenwolf’s lair. Afterwards, the members of the team go their separate ways, but it’s clear that they plan to remain a team. Bruce and Diana scope out a location for a headquarters with room for them to expand in the future.
- The mid-credits scene, Superman and the Flash have a race to see who’s faster.
- The end credits scene sees Lex Luthor escaped from prison. He has a meeting with Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) to discuss creating a league of their own.
- The music for this movie uses cues from the classic Batman and Superman themes, including the modern Wonder Woman theme.
- A big part of the story of the production of the movie was the fact that Joss Whedon was brought in to handle reshoots on the movie. Interestingly he’s given a writing credit in the movie, which suggests that he actually added/changed a significant amount. It’s kind of easy to guess at which scenes were added or significantly influenced by Whedon but we likely won’t know for sure for some time. My guess is that most of the scenes that involve the team standing around talking to each other were added by Whedon, which would explain some of the continuity bumps.
What did I think?
What a hodgepodge of a movie. You could literally spend hours unpacking the good and bad that ultimately resulted in the under two hours of good, bad and confusing that was this movie. In the end, this was a movie that did just enough to make itself a passable bridge from one set of movies to another. To use a sports analogy, it seems like the studio bunted instead of swinging for the fences. They wanted to get just enough in to make a movie that couldn’t be panned for being terrible but was never destined to be great.
Let’s start with some of the things that I didn’t like or had problems with.
- Lois Lane is not great in this movie. She is necessary for one part of this movie, bringing Superman back to his senses and even that is tainted by her weirdly placed “You smell good” line which made me actually verbally say “what?!?” during the movie.
- I absolutely hated the way they made the Flash move in this movie. For some reason, they decided that he needed to run like a new born baby deer. Getting new powers shouldn’t mean that you just forget how to run. Also, how does he have no idea how to fight if he’s already been out fighting crime? He’s supposedly already fought and captured Captain Boomerang, among others, by the time this movie happens. I’m also not a fan of how they seem to be trying to paint him as autism-adjacent.
- Bringing Superman back using the motherbox seemed really contrived not to mention it completely ignores the idea of Superman already being alive or coming back to life on his own, which was set up at the end of BvS.
- Batman can’t seem to make up his mind about who should be leading the Justice League. At one point, he claims that they need Superman because he can be the beacon and Clark can lead the team. However, he also seems to want Wonder Woman to step up and become a beacon and a leader. You could excuse this by saying that they could both be beacons, but it’s more likely that this was just a lack in continuity resulting from the re-shoots.
- Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash have no grounding in this movie. They’re just people who kind of show up. That leads into the kind of silly idea that Cyborg can’t control his own powers which, somehow isn’t a huge issue to anyone on the team. There’s also almost no information given about Aquaman, his role in Atlantis, or where that trident comes from.
- The massive CGI scenes weren’t great.
- Some of the added humor really fell flat. I already noted the moments with Lois Lane. The awkward Batman/Superman jokes were also, well, awkward.
Now for the things that I did like about the movie.
- The scene where Superman fights the other members of the Justice League may be my favorite 10 minutes of Superman in any of the DCEU movies. In general, I’m a fan of angry/serious Superman or an unleashed Superman, and I thought they did that very well. I also liked the bit in there where the Flash notices that Superman can follow him. I also loved that head-butt sequence between Superman and Wonder Woman that looked like it ended with a move pulled out of the Injustice video games.
- I loved the movement of Wonder Woman in her opening scene. It seemed a little inconsistent with her known power set, but it looked cool.
- Steppenwolf looked better in this movie than he did in the post-credits scene where he was introduced.
- I liked that they chose to go with a version of Cyborg that’s a little closer to his more serious, New 52 version than the cartoon-y persona associated with him since the Teen Titans cartoons have become popular. They did give a nod to that by allowing him a “booyah” in the end.
- Even though all of the jokes didn’t work, I did appreciate that they were determined to make the Flash the comic relief in the movie.
- I liked that Superman finally smiled and acted like a Superhero. This movie also, in its own way, verified how overpowered Superman is. The rest of the Justice League is barely surviving against Steppenwolf and Superman is able to literally just beat him down without much effort. His only real challenge is trying to split his attention between Steppenwolf and people being in danger.
- The final fight with Steppenwolf (ignoring the Parademons) actually looked pretty good and had some well used camera work in it. It was a great example of trying to use every player in the scene without drawing too much focus off or on to any one person.
I suspect that most people will have a similar take away from this movie. Whether they ultimately enjoyed it or not, it’s hard to watch the movie without finding things to like and dislike about it. I’m still up in the air on whether or not to say that I “liked” this movie. I don’t have any real urge to ever watch the whole thing again, but there are definitely bits and pieces of it that I did like.
I think DC got exactly what they wanted out of this movie: a solid “C” movie that was good/entertaining enough to justify making more movies in the DCEU.
Justice League (2017)
- Offers some cool visual moments and fights
- Tries it's hardest to make a more light-hearted DC movie
- Superman vs the Justice League fight
- Continuity and story are pretty much a mess in this movie
- Some of the CGI doesn't look great
- Some of the comedy really feels awkward and out of place