WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Justice League.
Justice League is finally here and it’s been taking quite the beating. Our own Kim Taylor-Foster called it an embarrassment (read her review) and the Rotten Tomatoes percentage currently sits at 39% with an average score of 5.3 out of 10.
Let me say that I don’t think Justice League is some misunderstood masterpiece. It’s got serious issues worth debating, but there are a lot of elements to the film that deserve to be recognized. And frankly, I genuinely enjoyed the movie.
So, here are some aspects of Justice League I think deserve praise and some rebuttals to a lot of common criticisms.
Superman Finally Gets His Justice
One of the major complaints about the DC Extended Universe is how Superman has been portrayed. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice gave us a gloomy and unrelatable hero that never felt true to the core tenets of the character. Justice League recognizes this and even plays with that idea with some meta-commentary.
In the film, Superman is revived but with little to no memory. He rages against the heroes and is basically a temporary villain. This feels like the film acknowledging the previous movies and their mishandling of Superman. It’s only when Clark sees Lois and returns to his Smallville home that the movie starts to rebuild the character.
He becomes corny and kind of dumb. And that’s actually true to the naive idealism of Clark Kent. When he finally enters the fight with Steppenwolf, he drops a perfect groaner about believing in truth and justice. It’s so cheesy but that’s exactly what Superman should be. Superman is finally the light we’ve been told he is throughout the DC Extended Universe movies. That opening cellphone video with the kids nervously asking him questions? Spot on.
Not to mention that Justice League gives us the best display of Superman’s powers. The ease with which he defeats the League is exactly how his immense strength should be interpreted. He is casual with his godlike abilities. The moment when the Flash is running at superspeed and Superman’s eye turns to look at him is perfect.
Yes, the digital removal of Henry Cavill’s mustache looks bad. But, if we let small technical mishaps like that ruin our love of a movie, then we might as well stop digging RoboCop because of Ronny Cox’s bizarrely long arms during his death scene.
The Team Works
With the addition of Joss Whedon to the Justice League team, the film benefited from his experience working on The Avengers and its sequel. Exactly which of his contributions are in the final film is not yet clear, but we can say that Justice League doesn’t suffer from the sluggish pace and drawn out teaming up that those movies faced.
Justice League maintains a breezy pace that keeps its eye on the prize: get these characters together and bounce them off one another. That’s what audiences want to see from superhero movies these days and the film delivers on that promise. There are well-thought-out approaches as to how these characters would interact with each other.
A small but significant example is when Flash and Cyborg realize that they are “the accidents” since they obtained their powers due to some outside event in their life. It’s a great example of getting what makes these characters are who they are as well as how they would naturally come together as friends and colleagues.
Plus, this movie doesn’t waste time with a clunky “first time as a team” sequence. Once they are together, they start doing their part. Maybe that’s not enough conflict for some viewers, but I was glad to skip such a clichéd beat. Having these heroes do their best right out the gate meant we got to spend more time with them just being characters instead of action figures.
And there is real sympathy within that team. Wonder Woman‘s compassion towards Cyborg is especially touching and helps to reflect on her own character arc in a meaningful way. Speaking of Wonder Woman…
Queen of the DC Universe
Wonder Woman is still as awesome and inspiring as she was in her own feature film. Her introductory sequence in which she foils a terrorist plot is easily one of the best moments in the DC Extended Universe to date. That small section of her protecting the hostages by deflecting bullets with her bracelets had my audience cheering. THAT is superheroism.
And as I alluded to before, Wonder Woman is the beating heart of this team and this universe. Moreso than Batman, it really feels like she is the one who brings the League together. Batman might do the door-to-door sales pitch, but it’s Diana who exudes strength, love, and a desire to do right.
Plus, it was powerful to see her still dealing with the loss of Steve Trevor in this film. Their relationship was a sheer delight but a tragic one, and it was great to see the filmmakers acknowledge this pain and see how Diana learns to overcome it.
Let’s Talk About the Steppenwolf in the Room
Okay, this is the part a lot of you have been waiting for. I’m seeing Steppenwolf called the worst comic book villain ever in some hyperbolic articles and posts. And look, I’m not going to sit here and defend him on his own. He’s not awful but he is as boilerplate a baddie as you could cook up. I don’t disagree with that.
However, my defense comes in by bringing Marvel into the fray. Because Steppenwolf has a lot in common with some Marvel movie villains. Specifically, Ronan the Accuser and Malekith. All three of these antagonists are thinly written conquerer types with little to no attempt to make them multi-faceted characters. If DC is going to get ragged on for this, it’s only fair that the same level of criticism gets tossed Marvel’s way.
And as far as the “waves of grey foot soldiers” trope that Steppenwolf falls into alongside many Marvel baddies, he does win when it comes to design. The Parademons are just cool. They have the right balance of sci-fi and horror aesthetic. I’ll take them over a bunch of indistinguishable robots, nondescript aliens, or the Chitauri.
It’s Just Fun
At the end of the day, Justice League is a big ball of cotton candy. But so is nearly every blockbuster action film. Yes, even those Marvel movies that everyone loves a little too much. As substantive as we want to make these films because of the time and energy we put into them, they are still intended to be light distractions.
The previous DC Extended Universe movies thought they were far more important than just that. Justice League doesn’t. It’s just trying to have a good time. Does it try too hard at times? Yeah. The Flash could have fewer one-liners and Batman could be more of a straight man. But, when it’s revealed that Aquaman is being incredibly open and revealing with the group because he’s sitting on the Lasso of Hestia, my theater went into hysterics.
And so did I. Justice League isn’t a perfect movie or even a stupendous one, but it’s got a good heart and sets the DC Extended Universe on the right tonal path. Here’s hoping there aren’t any more mustaches to digitally remove.