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If you’re a fan of DC comics, and have, like the rest of us, been disappointed by Zack Snyder’s direction of the cinematic universe, then feel free to let go of that breath you were holding: Justice League is no Batman v Superman.
It’s narratively coherent, only two-hours long, includes believable plot points and characters you root for. Simply put, the film is thoroughly entertaining.
In an attempt to catch up to Marvel’s dominance of superhero cinema, DC has finally placed its winning team up to bat.
For the first time in cinematic history, Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) have teamed up on the big screen — and it is nothing short of exhilarating.
Justice League opens a few months after Superman is killed in Batman v Superman, and, with the world falling swiftly into shambles, Bruce Wayne decides it’s time to band together the superhero misfits he’s been stalking.
And it’s exactly the refreshing shake-up the cinematic universe needed.
Gone are the tired origins and bland characterisations of Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman. Enter the fascinating psychological battle of Cyborg, the melancholy loyalty of The Flash, the stubborn loneliness of Aquaman.
Narratively, Cyborg is far and away the most exciting new character. Thought dead by the outside world, college student Victor Stone was instead merged with machine by his scientist father, fearing the loss of his son after his wife perished in an accident.
Throughout Justice League, and as a set-up to Cyborg’s first solo film slated for 2020, Stone battles for control of his mind as the artificial intelligence adapts and threatens to take over. His body is a prison — a consistent source of torment — and he fights with the League not only for the greater good, but also to better understand and control himself.
This slightly self-centred world-saving is a trait he shares with The Flash — another thrilling new addition sure to become an audience favourite. Like Cyborg, he doesn’t have the singular, Superman-like goal of saving the world because it’s right. He admits himself — he also just needs friends.
But while there is a lot more than meets the eye for this version of Barry Allen, he’s relegated mostly to the role of comic relief in Justice League, ostensibly saving the meaty stuff for his solo film. The intensely likeable Miller pulls his role off with ease, but it’s one that feels slightly unfair to both the character and the audience.
A beautiful moment for these characters — and one that shows immense promise for the future of the franchise — is a scene in which Stone and Allen, forced into the less-glamorous work of the mission, share a realisation of their roles in the League and as heroes in general. Their budding friendship is genuine in a way that’s been sorely lacking in previous DC Snyder films (and it wouldn’t be surprising to hear it was a Joss Whedon add-on when he took over for reshoots and post-production).
Disappointingly, Aquaman — whose solo film is up next for DC — is allowed little room to breathe. In battle, the character is pivotal for but one scene in the film. And in person, he’s only allowed only one moment of sincerity (albeit a very good one).
Momoa acts more as eye candy than a member of the team — and the same can unfortunately be said for Gal Gadot. In Justice League, Gadot loses the star power she proved in this year’s Wonder Woman. Her performance is unnatural and stale, and while she, unlike Momoa, is given substance to work with, she lets it slip unceremoniously through the cracks.
But what saves Justice League from these slip-ups is an unrestrained optimism that a good world, free from hatred and war, is possible. Hope drenches every crevice of this film, from the colourful cinematography and the soaring score to the characters who nervously embrace the possibility that they, too, can be more than they once thought.
Justice League‘s strongest asset is that it shakes off the grimdark aura that Snyder so adores and replaces it with a desperately-needed acceptance of goodness. It’s a film that will appeal to fans and casual film-goers alike. And with The Avengers series nearing its end, it doesn’t seem impossible for DC to fill the super team gap if it continues to improve so substantially.
Feature image: screenshot, “JUSTICE LEAGUE – Official Heroes Trailer” via Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube