There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned rivalry. As I write this review I’m trying to think of a fitting analogy to describe the comic rivalry that is Marvel vs. DC. The best recent comic book movies have been Marvel editions, from Captain America: Winter Soldier to Logan. However, The Dark Knight still reigns supreme, and Wonder Woman has rejuvenated DC. Regardless of how cool The Avengers are, when it comes to iconic superheroes, Batman and Superman are the standard bearers.
I’m still settling into the idea of Ben Affleck (Live By Night) as Batman/Bruce Wayne, but he at least looks the part, checking all the superficial boxes. I don’t get any real depth of character from him, but where Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises) brought an air of refinement to Bruce Wayne, Affleck is more of a rugged Everyman. In Justice League, he is the catalyst for their coalition. Still reeling from the loss of Superman, Bruce is rather downtrodden. Sensing trouble on the horizon, he feels compelled to gather a team who can be ready when impending doom finally darkens their doorstep.
Methodically and effectively, director Zac Snyder (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Man of Steel) introduces us to the Justice League. We’re familiar with Bruce and Diana (Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman), and now we meet Cyborg, Aquaman (Jason Momoa, Once Upon a Time in Venice) and The Flash (Ezra Miller, Suicide Squad). Bruce’s sense of foreboding is confirmed with the appearance of “Steppenwolf,” a sinister being also known as the End of Worlds. He seeks to unite three motherboards, which are gleaming mythical cubes of energy/life force found in separate, remote locations. Their unification can bring about the end of the world, and the Justice League must stop Steppenwolf from obtaining all three.
One motherboard is on Themyscira, under Amazon guard on Diana’s home planet. I read that Justice League was re-shot to include more scenes with Wonder Woman, after the success of the solo film earlier this year. That was a shrewd decision, and it was effective from a storytelling perspective. Bruce challenges Diana to embrace her iconic role and to be more proactive than reactive, leveling the same criticism at the character that some feminists aimed at the Wonder Woman film. I’m paraphrasing, but he essentially states that all it took to break down this warrior woman was a little heartbreak. I thought that bit of dialogue was a clever nod to the fan base and legitimate acknowledgment of a perceived flaw in our beloved heroine.
Bruce Wayne has never been so humble and self-deprecating. He comically acknowledges that being rich is his only super power, and the rest of the team often challenges his quiet air of authority. The Flash is funny, his youth refreshing compared to his more jaded, skeptical counterparts. Cyborg has not fully embraced his altered body, still gingerly navigating his newfound abilities. Aquaman is aloof, but devoted. While they don’t always share the same approach, when they are called to action they are in perfect unison, highlighting the shared chemistry attendant of ensemble films.
Justice League was nearly as good as The Avengers, and much better than last year’s Suicide Squad, which felt like a hodgepodge collection of misfits. I appreciate a plot that isn’t needlessly complex, and I wasn’t disappointed here – although the premise is a trite one. As long as it continues to bring out the best in each franchise, the Marvel-DC rivalry is great for moviegoers. Justice League was simple, yet funny and entertaining. I can’t say unequivocally that one character stole the show, which is a testament to the shared star power on screen. There were no weak links, and now I have to think twice about what super squad I’d want to save me.