Spoilers for both films below:
After a rocky start and a saving grace, Warner Bros. has finally united the six to little fanfare. With a Rotten Tomatoes score hovering around 40% and a projected box office opening weekend of 110 million (a number lower than rival superhero film Thor: Ragnarock), the studio may already be considering Justice League a failure. Our reviewer James Gisante liked the film and scored it a 7.5/10, recognizing its problems but appreciating its fun, light-hearted tone. I agree with most of James’ points and would probably score the movie similar (thinking more like a 6.8/10) but admittedly, I miss a lot of the themes that were prominent in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
BvS is a polarizing film that completely alienated critics and disappointed most fans. I was not a fan of the movie overall but appreciated the comic book nature of the offering. Batman’s warehouse assault is still my favorite Batman action sequence ever shown on screen and the striking imagery of Superman surviving a nuclear bomb and subsequently being rejuvenated by the Sun’s energy expertly succeeded in transforming a comic book panel to the big screen. Unfortunately, these moments of brilliance were hampered by a gratuitous run-time, an overly complex but uninspiring plot, uneven pacing and inconsistent performances.
However, the characters’ interaction with heavy themes stimulated my curiosity. Planted throughout the film was the larger conception of what would happen to the world if it was confirmed that God existed. Here, God is Superman, an alien that can defy the very limits of physics and make people question the conception of humanity. Lex Luthor challenges Superman’s divinity, forcing him to fight in his “fight night” showdown against Batman. Luthor successfully pits these heroes against one another preying against Batman’s “9/11” type experience in the disaster created by Superman and Zod’s encounter in Man of Steel. While on paper, this seems like an interesting dynamic and each character’s dialogue presents sufficient motivation, the wooden and over-the-top performances significantly dilute the seriousness of the film. All this culminates in an inconsequential monster brawl and a meaningless death of one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world.
It was thoroughly clear that Batman v. Superman’s biggest flaw was its execution. The base ideas comprising the movie’s plot was serviceable yet the movie turned into a dull and boring film that misunderstands the source material comics. In contrast, Justice League better understands its characters and keeps the film moving at a frantic pace. However, overcompensating in box-office extravaganza leaves no room for nuance and depth.
For example, Steppenwolf may possibly be the worst comic book villain. His look is generic and reeks of awful CGI. In all honesty, I wasn’t even familiar with the origins of the character, and I am more connected to the comic book genre than most audiences. The first introduction to this destroyer of worlds isn’t that bad. It is clearly established that he is a menacing threat as he makes quick work of the Amazons, while providing some motivations for his destruction. Before taking the “mother box” from the Queen of the Amazons, Steppenwolf declares that she and the rest of the Amazons (and presumably everyone on the planet) will love him. There is a clear Loki-like complex of needed acceptance. This “need” probably even extends to his master Darkseid, who Steppenwolf references in the heat of battle. Unfortunately, this attribute is barely explored in the rest of the film. Steppenwolf ends up coming off as a mere crazy zealot, which is disappointing given his Lord of the Rings reminiscent flashback scene that clearly establishes him as a major threat. It’s almost laughable that he is taken down by “fear” although this betrayal does establish the brutal nature of the villain’s home world.
Another instance of missing depth is Batman’s struggle with returning from the brink of madness in the last film. Bruce definitely seems to feel he has lost his own humanity as seen when he claims that Superman is more human than himself due to the fact that Superman has lived in this world, while Bruce was sheltered his whole life. After a Dr. Frankenstein ritual revives the Kryptonian, Superman is disoriented and begins lashing out at the other members of the Justice League. Superman easily dispatches Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg in a great action scene, but viewers will likely be confused on why the fight is happening. It seems very weird that Superman remembers Batman but totally forgets about Wonder Woman.
Most of these interactions can be explained by the fact that Superman was dead a few minutes prior to this encounter. However, as Superman picks up the feeble Batman and mockingly asks the mortal “Do you bleed?” fans receive the proper payoff from Batman’s undeserving win in the heroes’ previous fight. Unfortunately, this great scene is downplayed by a corny joke that receives its intended response followed by a puzzling expression by audiences conflicted on how to feel. The film’s clear failure at melding these opposing tones harkens back to Phantom Menace’s horrendous juxtaposition of the death of Qui Gon Jinn with the bumbling surrender of Jar Jar Binks.
Overall, Justice League is a better movie than Batman v Superman, I just wonder if DC and Warner Brothers can one day take the elements that work in both films and create a deep and thoughtful comic book movie that still has fun characters and action sequences. From the looks of the post-credit scene, the studio is well aware of this fact and is building a fun premise for the heroes to play in.