by Tim Gordon
Five years after launching the DC Extended Universe, the iconic comic institution assembled their stable of superhero heavyweights in the flawed, yet promising adventure, The Justice League.
The remaining two members of “The Big Three,” Bruce Wayne / Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are both struggling with the loss of Superman as they go about their business of fighting crime and injustice. Superman’s loss has exposed the world to new threats, signaling an upcoming battle that will require some additional firepower if the world is going to survive, a fact that is not lost on both Prince and Wayne. Without the talents of the “Man of Steel,” Wayne and Prince hit the recruiting trail in search of new heroes.
While they are looking for some new blood, trouble is brewing miles away on Prince’s home island of Themyscira. The Amazonian warriors experience a mighty disturbance as one of three long-guarded keepsakes, the Mother Box has been unleashed by the supervillain, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). Captured in battle thousands of years earlier, they have been hidden and guarded by three distinct factions, to maintain harmony. If the three Mother Boxes can be united it could release hell on earth.
After tracking down both Barry Allen / The Flash and Arthur Curry / Aquaman, Wayne convinces both of the impending threat, sprinkled in with some welcome light moments humanizing the characters. While Wayne is building alliances, Prince’s attempt at outreach hit a superhero snag as negotiations with Victor Stone / Cyborg (Ray Fisher) get off to a bumpy start as he has yet to accept how his condition and doesn’t trust Prince’s intentions. Even as this team assembles to combat the threat, Wayne still harbors a tremendous amount of guilt for the death of Superman. Understanding his limitations, he also seeks to pass the mantle of leadership to Prince, who feels the large responsibility of loss as she continues to mourn Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).
After “doubling down on the dark” with the first three films in the DC Extended Universe, this summer Patti Jenkins introduced some much-needed light to the popular origin story, Wonder Woman. That trend continues with the Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon pairing with this film. The irony is that the man who was responsible for successfully assembling Marvel’s heroes in both The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, would be the man perform a similar feat for DC Comics. Despite acknowledging how difficult the experience of making both films for Marvel, Whedon’s contribution to The Justice League is radical and a breath of fresh air. Gone are the dark, brooding scenes of introspection and tone that marked the earlier efforts of this universe replaced by a better balance of humor, valor, and honor.
While fans were frustrated with the characterizations of “The Big Three” onscreen in earlier films, script doctor Whedon repurposes each and highlights their attributes almost making us really see them for the first time. As a team, we experience each’s physical strengths, leadership, heroism, and flaws. While we clearly understand where the story is headed, getting to the destination doesn’t particularly flow well. Another challenge in the DC Extended Universe is providing challenging villains who pose a credible threat for some of the world’s greatest heroes. While Steppenwolf is formidable and his motivation is clear, once the full team assembles we know that his days are numbered.
Whedon, who publicly shared the negative experience he had with Avengers: Age of Ultron, clearly understands how to work with large groups of actors while giving each the opportunity to shine. While both Christopher Nolan and Snyder’s DC films were anti-heroic, Whedon is the polar opposite, infusing the story with several memorable moments that drastically changes the complexion of these complex characters. In a way, it is a coup, bringing an successful writer/director from the Marvel universe to DC who has experience working in this genre and helping to shape the DC universe with its array of huge and iconic and well-established stars. His work here raises the ante for his upcoming Batgirl film.
The new additions, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg inject a welcome jolt of energy that simultaneously provides additional skills to the team while providing a palette that humanizes the remaining veteran heroes. The home of some of the most storied characters in popular culture, recently DC Comics has been eclipsed by a powerful rival, Marvel, who had a better grasp, cinematically, in building and growing their brand. As they have struggled to gain their footing, The Justice League is definitely a step in the right direction and for the first time, it appears that they have a plan if not draw even with their competitors, at least show their hungry fans that much like Kal-El, there is hope!