America is depressed. Hatred reigns, as surly fascists attack foreign-owned stores. Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows spits out some timely lyrics: “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed, everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost.” In the real world this slump is caused by the election of Donald Trump, in the DC Universe it’s a symptom of the death of Superman. Like Bowie and Prince, he’s no longer around to make our lives better.
Batman (Ben Affleck) is trying to take up the Super-slack but even with his superpower (“I’m rich”), it’s not easy. With something bigger appearing on the horizon, he needs to reunite the ancient tribes – or their greatest warriors, at least – but it’s not going to plan. “Don’t count on the tribes of men. We tend to act like the doomsday clock has a snooze button,” he quips to Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Hoping to put together a team with powers, his early attempts are rebuffed.
For all its expectations of being an equal to Marvel’s first Avengers movie, which triumphantly tied multiple characters together and gave them all the opportunity to shine, Justice League is hampered from the start. Avengers Assemble had the advantage that all its major stars had already been introduced with either standalone films or major cameos, while Justice League has the unusual task of introducing new heroes even as Batman is essentially asking them to join the team.
The backstory for Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is therefore paper thin, although it’s an essay compared to the short shrift Aquaman (Jason Momoa) gets. The conversation he has in the kingdom of Atlantis will likely mean little to those who don’t know the character from the comics. Coupled with a need to kick out explanations to move the plot forward, as terrible CGI god Steppenwolf returns to destroy the Earth, it’s left to Cyborg to be Captain Exposition – he’s basically Kryten in Red Dwarf, saddled with technobabble to go with his (albeit impressive) technology.
And yet, it’s not all bad. Whedon’s fingerprints are all over the script (Jeremy Irons’ Alfred gets a lot of good lines, although Ezra Miller’s Flash nips in to steal plenty as well). Despite being underexplored, the newer characters are also some of the coolest. Barry Allen, AKA the Flash, is both the heart and humour of the film – sorry TV Barry, you’ve been left in the dust. Scenes on Wonder Woman’s home island are thrilling, even if the CGI elsewhere falls well short at times.
Cyborg, who movie-going DC fans are meeting properly for the first time, also proves to be a fascinating character, as his ever-evolving powers lend proceedings a much-needed unknown quality. Aquaman is also gloriously hedonistic towards battle, as Momoa plays him like a surfer dude with weapon skills. It’s Henry Cavill’s Superman who gains the most, though. Dour and uncharismatic in previous films, the reborn Kryptonian finally gets that twinkle in his eye you’ve been waiting for. He’s the Hulk in this team, although Batman’s Hulkbusting technique is a lot more subtle than Tony Stark suiting up in Veronica for a scrap.
While Ciarán Hinds’ badly animated baddie might be a disappointment, at least Steppenwolf is around for the duration to battle our team, rather than popping up at the end in boss mode. Some tighter script editing (why do we keep cutting back to the Russian family living near a nuclear reactor?) and a genuine standout action sequence would have sealed the deal, but this first big screen superteam-up shows a lot more promise than we expected.
Release: 17 November 2017
From: Warner Bros.
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: 12A