DC Comic’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers is proof that studios need to get smarter about superhero movies.
How many trailers does one movie need? A lot apparently - or at least it would seem so from the rollout of Justice League. After seeing what feels like about one a month for the past 200 years, it’s hard to believe there’s anything left in the film we haven’t already seen. What’s more, each of them seemed to advertise a completely different movie - a serious one; a funny one; an action one; a Gal Gadot’s thighs one ...
What this slew of completely different trailers suggested was something that we kind of already knew: that after a series of disasters (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad) and one lone shining star of competence (Wonder Woman) the DC comics studio wanted to make it extremely clear that in Justice League there would be something for everyone.
This, of course, seemed unlikely. The question leading up to the release of Justice League was which of these movies are we actually going to get?
The answer, it turns out, is all them.
With the kind of troubled production story that is becoming increasingly common for superhero franchises (though in this case it came as the result of the deeply tragic death of director Zack Snyder’s daughter rather than a mysterious studio spat), Justice League has long looked set to be another disaster for DC. Picked up after Snyder’s departure by Joss Whedon (a little bit strange given he is the director of League’s main competitor, Marvel’s The Avengers), reshoots took place, extra scenes were added, and a concerted effort was apparently made to take things in a more family-friendly direction that DC’s previous output.
What’s left is a film that bears the hallmarks and sensibilities of two very different directors, the stench of desperation of a studio that needs it to succeed, and the heart-wrenchingly discernable effort of a group of talented actors doing their very best to make it work.
Given all this, it’s remarkable it’s not a total mess. And I mean it is a little bit of mess - something that becomes especially clear as soon you start to try and describe the plot.
Justice League picks up more or less where Batman v Superman left off, with Clark Kent definitely dead and the world basically falling apart because no-one seems to have much faith in Ben Affleck (very wise) to get the keep-everyone-safe job done. Unfortunately, this lack of faith extends beyond the perimeters of Earth, and attracts the nefarious immortal CGI supervillain “Steppenwolf” (this is where it gets a bit hazy).
Steppenwolf, along with an army of dead people he has turned into flying steampunk bug men, is looking for three magic boxes hidden on earth that will give him ... some kind of power … to do ... something? Which he can then ... destroy the world with?
It’s not super clear and thankfully, in Justice League, it's not super important. What is important is the solution - a league of people who want justice!
Assembled by a flailing Batman, this ragtag crew are gradually - and times a little tediously - brought together to form a crew comprised of a very fast boy called The Flash, a broody robot boy called Cyborg, Atlantis native Aquaman and, of course, cool Amazon lady Wonder Woman.
Can they prevent the apocalypse without Superman? You’ll have to wait and see!
It’s as dumb as it sounds, but in a way that’s definitely not unenjoyable and, if you’re in a good mood, there is plenty to like in Justice League.
For one thing, everyone in it is great: Ezra Miller as a wisecracking Flash, is charming rather than trite; Jason Momoa as Aquaman is great even though most of his lines are “my man!” or “alriiight!”; Ray Fisher as Cyborg is nice and broody and troubled; and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is warm and lovely once again, even when the camera keeps wandering up her skirt.
Even Ben Affleck and his dead, dead eyes, becomes a nice backdrop for all these far more interesting people to flourish before.
The plot makes no sense but that has never been a prerequisite for Hollywood blockbusters, and in practice I actually liked how little it was really necessary to think about the specifics of the impending apocalypse. The best scenes are the ones where the whole cast are together and once that happens it’s actually pretty easy to just relax and not worry about whatever everyone is actually trying to do with these stupid boxes.
It’s a paint by numbers superhero film, and given their track record it’s not hard to see why DC would want to play it safe - and in a way it’s a testament to those involved that, despite production issues, the end result is not only coherent but broadly enjoyable.
However, by trying to be all things to all people at once, Justice League crystallises where we’re at with the superhero franchise industry - and in doing so, again sheds light on why a film like Taika Waititi’s incredible Thor: Ragnarok would be so well received.
Justice League strives for consensus - for everyone going in to find something they want and enjoy enough to justify making more of these movies (next up is Jason Momoa’s Aquaman movie that will hopefully explain why the sea-dwelling citizens of Atlantis need to create pockets of air underwater if they want to speak to each other).
The paradox, they might be finding, is that giving everyone what they want is not actually what everyone wants - that style, specificity, and a single vision are in fact valuable in a way that cannot be quantified nor anticipated.
Justice League is big and dumb and fun and definitely much more enjoyable than a lot of the incoming reviews would have you think - but what people want right now is something more than that.