I find Superman quite dull. That bothers me, because there’s a fundamental element of his character that could be used to make him so much more interesting, but it rarely seems to come up in film versions of the character. He’s an outsider. He’s not even from this planet. Kal-el had to learn as a young boy to control his strength so that he doesn’t crush everything he touches between his fingers. He doesn’t belong here, and he doesn’t owe us anything. One of the few things I gave Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman credit for was addressing that issue, but the new Justice League makes an amazing set piece out of it. We see Superman at his most cruel, and most brutal, willing to use all of that strength. Then, in the next moment, Lois Lane is in his arms, and even his words are delicate, putting all of his strength into being as gentle as possible.
This scene comes right in the middle of Justice League, and while its extraordinary beauty astounded me, it didn’t shock me anymore as most of the film up until that point had been brilliant. Previous installments in DC’s cinematic universe have been… troubled. Man of Steel and Wonder Woman were great (if still pretty flawed), but Batman V Superman squandered its ambition by not knowing what to do with it, and Suicide Squad might be the most incompetently put together film of all time. Justice League is a massive course correction, and more than that, is a standout film in an era where every third film is a superhero film.
It’s very tempting, and very easy, to spend this entire review comparing the film to 2012’s The Avengers; the classic Marvel/DC rivalry (and the fact that the two films are structurally very similar) make for movie review fodder, but I don’t want to do that too much. I’ll keep that comparison short and sweet. I prefer Justice League to The Avengers. That’s largely down to the tone of the film, I think. The Avengers is perfectly fun, but it’s not really more than that, focusing too much on witty punchlines to really make you care about the characters. Also, on a weird note, I noticed during this film how rarely you actually see Marvel’s heroes saving people, as opposed to just fighting the bad guys. That is the first thing you see Wonder Woman do in this movie, it’s what The Flash is told to do when he freaks out about the mission at hand, and it’s what Superman puts almost all of his efforts into in the final act. This film has a great sense of what superheroes are meant to be, and it never loses sight of the people beneath the capes and costumes.
There are still three members of the Justice League that hadn’t been formally introduced at the start of this movie: Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg. Though the latter two get a fairly rushed introduction here, they all work brilliantly. Bruce Wayne’s search for the elusive King of Atlantis sets up his character, his powers, his relevance to the plot, and how astoundingly funny and beautiful actor Jason Momoa is. Considering, Barry Allen and Victor Stone get much shorter introductions, but they set up the same things just as well, and they keep up the film’s pace rather than feeling rushed. They feel just as fleshed out as the main contenders, and all six of the main heroes feel more developed than they ever have before. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was already superb, and continues to be here. Ben Affleck’s Batman really feels like Batman here. Henry Cavill’s previously dull-as-bricks Superman is one of the most engaging characters in the movie (I don’t think it’s a spoiler that he isn’t dead anymore, but how that gets fixed and what happens next is very interesting). Steppenwolf, the main adversary of the film, is wicked. He catches a missile out of thin air and throws it over his shoulder like it’s nothing. He relishes in the destruction he causes in his wake, and you feel the raw power of every punch he throws. He’s a really cool bad guy, and his army of Parademons (who feed on fear) are neat, even if they’re just blank slates for punching around.
I’m not going to pretend this film is perfect; it’s actually far from. A bunch of scenes look like they’re introducing important plot points, and then they vanish into thin air, never to be spoken of again. Joss Whedon’s reshoots are also painfully obvious at points, with a few scenes existing purely for his trademark witty banter. But ultimately, the little hiccups are inconsequential, and they’re barely even noticeable through all the fun you’re having. This is a great film, with an interesting story full of engaging characters, unique set pieces, a great visual style, and a whole lot of fun.