Coming out of the shadow of the generally panned Batman v. Superman film, Justice League is able to deliver some of what the audience was looking for. DC comics fans wanted an awesome team-up and the return of Superman. Fans of the Wonder Woman film wanted more Diana Prince. Fans of Jason Momoa’s body wanted as many shots of his chest as possible. DC was able to deliver these moments. However, it helped to go into the film with low expectations because despite its delivery, some problems just couldn’t be ignored.
The Team’s Chemistry vs. Character Development
The trailer for the Justice League had teaser shots of the league all fighting the winged parademons together, and it gave the impression of unity in the team. In the comics, there’s a distinct “getting to know you” phase that the team goes through, and as you watch the film, you’ll notice that we are still in this phase at the end. The characters have agreed to work together, and when they fight together, they do it well. However, we the audience still don’t know that much about the characters, so the characters don’t know that much about one another.
To get the audience to care more, more time needs to spent developing these characters before any Justice League sequel. Thankfully, a Cyborg and Flashpoint film are being developed, and the Aquaman film is coming out next year. In Justice League, however, these characters’ backstories are rushed to make way for the action. Given their time constraints (Warner Bros. wanted the film to clock in at around the 2 hour mark), it makes sense that the focus was on the action, but because of this, the characters have little emotional impact on the audience.
The League Failed Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in anything is literally better than no Wonder Woman. We could watch her as Wonder Woman all day. However, the ball was dropped with how she was treated. Not by how Gal portrayed her, but by what was done to her by the writers and directors. There’s a scene where she is the object of an immature physical joke. While she laughs it off, many audience members will cringe that a character of such strength – during a time of major emotional distress in our culture following the #metoo movement – is subjected to this.
Additionally, Diana and the Amazons are shot in a way where it’s obvious that the male gaze is back. One of the things that women celebrated about Patty Jenkins’ take on Wonder Woman is that there were no lingering butt shots or up-the-skirt angles, and the Amazon armor was practical. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the Justice League. There is, of course, a distinct cultural difference in wardrobe: what Diana would wear in the WWI era is different than fashion now, but this doesn’t excuse some of the wardrobe choices. It’s the combination of wardrobe and shot angles that will make some Wonder Woman fans sigh in disappointment.
Martha Kent Is The Real MVP
Despite her strength, Diana’s recovery following Steve Trevor’s death doesn’t hit the same impact as it did in Wonder Woman, likely because it has been 100 years since the event. The real emotional weight of the film was actually carried by a minor character: Martha Kent. Diane Lane as Martha Kent delivered the most believable emotional performance out of all the characters in the film, male or female. She has two scenes where she’s either directly addressing Lois or Lois is in the shot. In both of these scenes, the audience is drawn much more to Martha than Superman’s love interest (which traditionally isn’t the case).
At this point in the DC cinematic universe, Lois Lane is completely empty as a character. There are scenes where you expect heavy emotional performances which aren’t there. We don’t know if this is because of writing, acting, or directing – but the problem has been there for a while. On the other hand, you have a minor character like Martha Kent being handled with such depth despite such limited screen time. Lois Lane is supposed to be “the key” to everything in this franchise so far, but the key to the emotional heart of this movie is Martha.
It is not a spoiler to say that Superman comes back because Warner Bros. did a spectacularly terrible job at keeping it under wraps. Also, we had to know Superman is coming back. There is no Justice League without Superman. Because of Superman’s resurrection, many fans may be uneasy about how this will affect Superman. Superman is a beloved hero, so fans are going into this film hoping the film does him justice.
The film puts Superman in the right direction. Maybe this has to do with Joss Whedon doing script rewriting and reshoots, but Superman, and the film overall, has a lighter tone to it than Batman v. Superman. There’s a moment where Superman smiles and laughs, and it’s that kind of Superman that we’ve been needing to see since the Man of Steel trainwreck. You may not notice this lightness, though, if you’re easily distracted by CGI. Because of Henry Cavill’s mustache and MI6 contract, some Superman scenes required heavy CGI on Cavill’s lower half of his face. It’s too bad that’s where we look when a character is talking.
Overall, Justice League would benefit from more screen time, more respect for Wonder Woman, more heart, and more editing (on Henry Cavill’s face). However, if you go with low expectations, you’ll have a fun time. The moments that work indicate a tonal shift to a lighter extended DC universe. We’ll have to wait see how this film, and its financial performance, will impact the future films in the DC cinematic universe.
Have you watched Justice League yet? Let us know what you thought in the comments!
Images via Warner Bros.