‘Justice League’: A second opinion – Are the negative critics getting it all wrong?

 By Ryen Thomas

November 19, 2017

Justice League is here, and boy did it bring a lot of baggage with its arrival. It’s one of those films with the tremendous pressure to please so many critics and fans. It has to correct the supposed sins of Batman v Superman, while not neglecting those who love it. It has to be a strong followup to the culturally relevant hit, Wonder Woman and at the same time, set up the rest of the DC Extended Universe which is still in competition with other cinematic comic book universes. How can one film please so many different demands? The answer is that it can’t. To properly judge this film, it’s better to not focus on how it falls short of the conflicting expectations, but rather to highlight what works and make it stand on its own merits.

The most notable aspect of Justice League that works is the new tone. The critics of Batman v Superman lamented over how dark it was, and Warner Bros. Pictures addresses their issues by making Justice League brighter and more colorful. But a more fair examination of the “make it more fun and bright” criticism should highlight that it’s not really about how dark and light the film is. What fans really want is something Justice League is full of: heroism, tightly packaged in a nicely paced product that will have you feel like you’re turning pages of a living comic book.

We saw the first sparks of the new heroic tone in Wonder Woman, and we see the transitions into the lessons on unity and hope (and the long awaited love letter to Superman) in Justice League. This lesson also continues Wonder Woman’s journey towards being the proactive leader she’s destined to be. Batman changes for the better, going from being anger-driven to being one who realizes he can’t always work alone; he desires to bring heroes together for the greater good.

Justice League does a great job finding the balance between the visuals and action fans love from the Snyder films and the sprinkling of witty humor in co-writer (and uncredited co-director) Joss Whedon’s films. The humor avoids using snark to pit the heroes against each other but rather works to create connections, a welcome approach.

Critics have pointed out some of the flaws with the film, such as the rushed CGI and a weak villain, but in my mind it’s very easy to overlook the flaws because of what the film does best, which is develop the characterization of the team. Without a doubt these are our classic heroes brought into a modern age. We smile every time just one of them comes on screen, and seeing them come together is pure magic. The attention spent on building up their dynamics points to the fact that this film is actually not about some grand plot to take over the world but the beauty of unity. This is the formation of icons. Best of off all the filmmakers make us believe that these guys should be together. That they need each other and all play their part in saving the day.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Fans and critics have also found issue with the fact that DC didn’t give the characters solo films prior to this but come on….really think about. Superman and Wonder Woman did have their solo films and how many more do we need for Batman in order to know him? This brings us to the newcomers Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. While their cameos came off like afterthoughts in Batman v Superman, they’re given the right amount of screentime in Justice League. The film does find a way to sprinkle in their origin stories but in all honesty fans already know enough about who the new characters are. One character, Flash, even has a TV show on the air currently. (The cinematic Flash is more charismatic than the TV Flash. He’s a scene stealer.)But for me, Cyborg is the new heart of the movie, who’s almost literally glued to the central narrative and all the characters. Actor Ray Fisher finds the perfect balance between playing a tragic figure who’s trying to find out who he is and playing the hero with a glimmer of the leader he can become. One of my favorite Cyborg moments reveal his commonality with Flash who started out as a full on human and then gained powers. While all the characters are pretty much pros and gods, they conclude, “So we’re the accidents.”

Ray Fisher as Cyborg courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Still, it is true that the one big issue with the film is that it doesn’t have the scope a film about the end of the world should have. In BvS news footage and government officials help us believe that the stakes in that film are high. However the threat feels isolated and contained in Justice League. Only the team members and some civilians see the main bad guy, Steppenwolf, and while we don’t have to emotionally connect with his objective, it would have been beneficial to know more about his backstory and home-world because those details strengthen his motivations and raise the stakes.

While Justice League isn’t as philosophical as Batman v Superman or as sophisticated as Wonder Woman, fans of the characters should be pleased with the amount of care and honor at work here. As soon as the last credit rolled, I (and the audience with me; they clapped) had the strongest desire to see more from the characters and that’s because, despite all the now famous trials and tribulations of the production, the filmmakers behind Justice League did a great job.

Justice League was clearly intended as a soft reboot of the DCEU, and based purely on the “desire to see more” that the movie creates, the movie completely hits its goal.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5

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