There's little irony in the often-used-in-gambling term "all in" being the slogan for Warner Bros. and DC Films' Justice League movie. The mega-budget super hero blockbuster film is, in some ways, a gamble. Should the movie fail, the studio's biggest franchise is left floundering. Should it succeed, a number of doors are opened to properties hardcore fans have been begging for while others are warmly introduced to them.
Plus, the movie is going against the mold; countering the now-expected style of introducing heroes in a shared universe before uniting them. Half of Justice League's main heroes have never really seen the big screen before. They arrive under influences of two very different directors and on the heels of films earning tepid receptions before Wonder Woman changed the conversation.
In Justice League, the "all in" gamble pays off.
Justice League should be landing in theaters as the exciting first ensemble of DC Comics heroes in live-action but, instead, arrives with an ensemble of question marks and conversations involving a fake mustache. Despite a director change, pile of re-shoots, and many odds appearing to be stacked against the movie, Justice League is the real deal. Building on a handful of entries to the DC Extended Universe which appear to have found their stride with Wonder Woman, Justice League uses necessary elements of its predecessors in the universe to tell its story but serves also a re-launch to the world with a brand new vibe everyone can enjoy.
The heroes we’ve been waiting for have arrived.
Burdened with introducing and establishing three characters who are brand new to the big screen with the exception of cameos in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League’s first act zips by as Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), and Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) are brought into the fold. The opening third is scattered across several locations and storylines, sometimes cutting a little too quickly for a moment’s gravity to be felt, but thoroughly establishing who the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are.
Miller will emerge as the film's highlight for many. The actor's portrayal of an amusing and unconventional young Barry sets him significantly apart from the others, often serving as heavy-handed comic relief as he discovers what it means to be a hero on a world-saving scale. Countering Miller's Flash are Aquaman and Cyborg. Momoa checking in as the aquatic hero leaves more than enough room for the character's development in 2018's standalone movie, introducing him as a grumpy but charming antihero. All the while, Fisher's Cyborg battles his own inner conflict and attempts to dish blame on others for how he became this powerful, scary machine. All three newcomers nail their roles in impressively contrasting style.
Along with the introductions, the first act has to balance updates on the already introduced Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) as well as the other heroes. In the absence of Superman (Henry Cavill), both Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) have had their hands full. The best elements of their characteristics are on display early. A gritty Batman fights crime in Gotham City while simultaneously luring out Parademons in an effort to discover Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Meanwhile, Wonder Woman miraculously saves hostages in a bank robbery for one of the film’s most beautiful and adrenaline-pumping sequences.
From the Flash to Superman and everyone in between, the heroes are not only working to save the world but also remembering to be heroes by saving those who can't save themselves.
With so many key characters stuffed into a 119-minute film, it is easy to allow any certain character to command the screen forcing others fade into obscurity. Justice League, however, steers clear of overlooking any member of its team, reaching as far as their individual worlds by teasing deeper stories. Faces such as Mera's (Amber Heard), Henry Allen's (Billy Crudup), and Silas Stone's (Joe Morton) sew the seeds for future endeavors, but also add necessary (if sometimes expositional) depth to the characters.
The heroes soar in Justice League, leaving their totally animated Steppenwolf antagonist in the dust. In a crowded landscape of comic book and superhero films, Darkseid’s uncle (as the story goes in comics) feels trivial with little explained motive of a desire to conquer the world. Luckily, the threat is menacing enough to force the Justice League team to come together, but the true sense of danger and stakes falls short.
Still, when the time comes to take on Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons, Justice League is the real deal. Each character gets a moment to shine both dramatically and in action sequences. None stand out more than the Flash. Earning the best portion of Danny Elfman’s score, the Flash and the visual effects accompanying his Speed Force moments are captivating. The hilarious Ezra Miller character learns about himself and his abilities in a trial by error format.
Elfman's score never reaches the intense heights of Hans Zimmer's or Junkie XL's from previous DC Films adventures, nor does Wonder Woman's buzzing guitar jam roar enough, but more subtle notes and the inclusion of classic iconic tunes are a cordial touch.
Having stepped out of Justice League's production late in the game, Zack Snyder's fingerprints remain all over the film. His action style is constantly on display, as evidenced in history-lesson type scenes mirroring his 300 work. Still, latecomer to the project Joss Whedon seems to have a heavy influence on the film, often in the form of relationship-building dialogue between characters and similar welcome one-liners he injected into the first Avengers film. Together, Snyder and Whedon's styles and visions create a non-stop, super-fun thrill ride which is a smoothly-blended adventure.
The narrative of Justice League may have suffered from the director swap, sometimes feeling no need to explain certain elements or wrap up others. None are significant enough, however, to damage the fun viewing experience which does exactly what Justice League always needed to: leave fans wanting more of the best DC heroes.
Justice League is an epic ensemble of heroes. It's the most fun you'll have with Batman and his super friends, until their next adventure together, and marks the beginning of a brand new era of superheroes on the DC side of the spectrum.
4 out of 5 stars.