It has been a long five years for Warner Brothers. Since the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012, the studio, which owns DC comics, has struggled to maintain the box office success and critical acclaim of the Nolan Trilogy. With flops such as “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” as well as the growing success of the Marvel Universe across the street at Disney, DC cannot afford any more mistakes.
This summer, things finally seemed to be picking up as “Wonder Woman” struck it rich. One of the first female leads in a superhero film since “Cat Woman” in 2004, Gal Gadot lifted Warner Brothers from the ashes, but its future is still looked rocky. Featuring long-discussed heroes such as the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Warner Brothers’ newest film “Justice League” is an attempt to launch the DC Universe into a head-to-head battle with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Justice League” is déjà vu. We’ve all watched this movie before. The film follows a wealthy philanthropist and an out-of-time superhuman who assemble and lead a team of heroes in saving the world. Comprising an uncontrollable scientific creation, a burly god of few words and a jumpy but endearing kid, the league is wrought with disagreement and conflict but eventually unites to defeat a cookie-cutter villain. It feels like “The Avengers,” because it is.
Joss Whedon, the director of Marvel’s “The Avengers,” was brought to finish the film in post-production after long-time DC director Zack Snyder took leave following his 20-year-old daughter’s tragic suicide. After making extensive cuts and reshoots, he was given co-writing credit. Whedon, who is speculated to have an increasingly large role in the creation of the DC cinematic universe, is a blessing and a curse for Warner Brothers — it has reached Marvel-level quality by becoming its rivals.
It’s a classic superhero flick, filled with heroic and personable, though undeveloped, leads and well-choreographed and digitally constructed fight scenes. There’s nothing that rivals the “Wonder Woman” fight on the beach, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. The new heroes we meet feel authentic, and grouping them together creates interesting dynamics, but, sadly, the loss of potential is palpable throughout the whole film. Amy Adams is completely wasted as Lois Lane, our favorite aquatic hero is inexplicably left out of the water, and Cyborg’s iconic “Boo Yah!” feels forced, lacking heart or any real justification.
The weakness stems mainly from the lack of internal motivation throughout the film. The main conflict functions as simply a device to unite the league, rather than a believable villain with an identifiable cause. Our antagonist, Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), is an ambiguous god once defeated by an alliance of Men, Atlanteans and Amazons. Having returned in light of the fall of man (i.e., the death of Superman), he now is trying to return Earth to a hell-like primordial state. Why the death of Superman means the end of the world, we may never know. Thus, the battle against evil feels forced, with the main driving force of the film painfully external — the establishment of an ever-developing universe.
By centering the main conflict (and thus resolution) on Superman’s death, Warner Brothers blatantly ties the film to its past, namely “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman,” both of which failed to establish their heroes as humans worth rooting for and empathizing with. “Justice League” requires that we care about Superman to push the plot along, yet DC’s past mistakes make this impossible.
Warner Bros Pictures/DC Comics/Courtesy
Gal Gadot steals the show with witty retorts and bad-assery of epic proportions. Sadly, Whedon prioritizes establishing new characters over retaining the veracity of returners. Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) becomes a shadow of her former self as Barry Allen’s (The Flash) teenage banter runs rampant. Watchers can’t see Wonder Woman’s muting without remembering Whedon as “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals,” and “Justice League” doesn’t provide any evidence to the contrary.
Sadly, the establishment of a DC universe may be for naught, as controversy rocked “Justice League” and continues to rock Warner Brothers. Ben Affleck has announced he is trying to “segue out” of the role completely, possibly making “Justice League” his last DC film. The other DC returning player, Gal Gadot, might also be finishing her run, if Warner Brothers does not remove Brett Ratner from the franchise after six women filed claims of sexual harassment and assault against him.
In the end, “Justice League” isn’t a terrible film — it fails to reach the emotional depth of Nolan or the thematic depth of Marvel — and still captivates the audience’s attention, even if superficially. Thought to determine the fate of Warner Brothers, “Justice League” leaves the door open for future success, but the path is not clear. It’s been a long five years for Warner Brothers to crawl back into the ring, and the climb doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.