The Justice League fears Batman

Criticism from the FILMSTARTS editorial team
By Björn Becher
When Zack Snyder released “Man Of Steel”, he didn't think about laying the foundation for a new cinema universe. It was only when he was developing a sequel that he was asked to set up a common cinematic narrative world for the various DC superheroes. Instead of “Man Of Steel 2” there was therefore “Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice”, which is so misguided that you could actually bury the entire universe again - and allegedly those responsible are by no means all sure whether one is involved in this one so-called DCEU should hold onto. Especially since “Wonder Woman” has just impressively proven that an overly tight, overarching interlocking is not necessary for success. On the contrary: Even the very poor bracket that connects Patty Jenkins ‘solo film with the big DC whole seems like an unconvincing alibi appendix. But now the long-term development of an expanded narrative cosmos is also bearing its first fruits at DC, because "Justice League“- again staged by Zack Snyder - works primarily as part of this universe. The line that leads from “Man Of Steel” via “Batman V Superman” to “Justice League” is now very clear and the gradual change in the narrative tone finds a coherent continuation. The actual story of the superhero adventure is poor and not very exciting, but thanks to the first-class actors and the great chemistry between them, the summit meeting of the cult characters turns into an entertaining cinema experience.

Poverty, hatred of foreigners and desolation. After the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), mankind is worse off than ever before. But one man has gained hope: Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) believes in good again and has returned to his life as a crime fighter Batman. On his nightly forays, however, he meets more and more strange flying creatures, which leads him to suspect that a dangerous enemy is approaching. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) knows more: World conqueror Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), who was repulsed thousands of years ago by an alliance of, among others, humans, gods and Amazons, has already attacked her home. He's after the three mother boxes, mysterious artifacts that would give unlimited power to whoever owns them all in common. To prevent Steppenwolf from reaching his goal and transforming the world into his flaming realm, Batman forms a new alliance with Wonder Woman and recruits three so-called metahumans to defend the earth: outsider Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is super-fast; Loner Aquaman (Jason Momoa) rules the sea; Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is more of a machine than a human. But the newly formed quintet is facing an acid test when it turns out that Batman has his own plan for using the mother boxes ...

After the more than mixed reactions to "Batman V Superman" it was said that "Justice League" should be clearly different in tone from its dark predecessor, although those involved were not entirely in agreement as to whether it was "planned this way from the start" was or whether it was rather a subsequent "course correction". The doom callers got new material when “Avengers” director Joss Whedon stepped in for the re-shoots for Zack Snyder, who was no longer available after a family tragedy. As so often, all the excitement in view of the finished film turns out to be largely unnecessary, because the superhero blockbuster turns out to be a logical continuation of a journey that began in “Man Of Steel” and continued in “Batman V Superman”. The actually now lighter tone and various loosening jokes never seem to be forced, while Zack Snyder's typical pathetic-bombastic style with its celebrated slow-motion and iconically exaggerated shots is still unmistakable. It is therefore seldom that one asks oneself whether an individual scene is perhaps from Joss Whedon after all - nevertheless this catches the eye at one point or another.

The very first scene in the film is such a Whedon moment. It's a flashback with Superman, which obviously comes from the "Buffy" inventor, because the consequences of "Mustachegate" are unmistakable: Actor Henry Cavill wore a mustache during Whedon's re-shoots due to his role in "Mission: Impossible 6", which he was not allowed to shave, unfortunately the subsequent removal of the facial hair by computer was unsuccessful - a disturbing detail in an otherwise very strong scene, which aptly puts you in the right mood for the very optimistic tone of the plot. In general, it is surprising that the CGI effects leave a lot to be desired - the villain Steppenwolf, created entirely on the computer, remains soulless, among other things, because his facial expressions lack expressiveness. It's also not good for the character that, despite a passage full of surprises and Easter eggs about Steppenwolf's first attack on Earth thousands of years ago, there is no room to dig deeper into his motivation. Because the narrative focus is solely on the hero.

Their introduction may seem a bit bumpy at first glance - with the rapid change from figure to figure - but the individual scenes are for the most part very strong. Especially Ezra Miller (“Maybe better tomorrow”) as Barry Allen - also known as The Flash from the comics - can set early highlights here. Two or three small, precisely written scenes and excellently executed by Miller are enough to understand the character and its motivations. Jason Momoa ("Conan") as Aquaman is also first class. There was no doubt that he can embody the gruff side of the superhero, here he also captivates in very natural and casually interspersed funny moments. She has already shown that Gal Gadot is an almost perfect Wonder Woman in her solo film already mentioned, as the comic purists are sure to forgive the fact that she uses Flash-typical powers in her action-packed introduction to “Justice League”. While Gadot shines one more time, Ben Affleck is now finally appropriating the Batman role and is gaining new sides from the doubting and overwhelmed, but hopeful figure that has not yet been shown in the cinema. His Dark Knight brings back memories of the comics by Geoff Johns, who in 2012 ushered in a new “Justice League” era with “Origins”: His running gag about the fact that Batman - known to be a person without any supernatural talent - actually has no right to Belonging to a group of superheroes is inherited in the film - and it works great on the big screen too.

The chemistry in the group of heroes is right, the well-selected actors harmonize wonderfully, so that the teasing between the individual heroes not only appears believable and real, but also turns into real highlights. The only small weak point in the group is cyborg. In addition to his four established co-stars, the newcomer Ray Fisher, who is coming from the theater, also has strong moments in the role, but suffers from the fact that in the superhero film crammed with plot and characters there is hardly any space for the great tragedy of his Victor Stone. Unlike his colleagues, his powers are a curse for him. He was dying when his father (Joe Morton) transformed him into the machine-being cyborg with the power of a mother box. Victor is afraid of losing the human in himself and that his monstrous side will get out of hand. The other heroes are also not sure whether they can trust him. This fascinating conflict is addressed directly here, but only outlined and hardly explored. So the figure can be understood in terms of content, but it is difficult to fully empathize with her.

There are also great feelings in “Justice League”. While in the much colder "Batman V Superman" even a moment intended as an emotional climax could slide into the ridiculous, the sequel has a wonderful, deeply felt goosebump climax that works best when you discover it yourself (keyword: cornfield) . At the right moment, Zack Snyder not only takes the pace out completely and there are some strong character moments between all kinds of spectacles and in the middle of a basically rather insignificant story. The very clear message about the importance of hope and cohesion and the associated prospect of a better and literally prosperous world has been convincingly integrated into the narrative, even if it is emphasized perhaps one or two times too often.

Of course, in a comic blockbuster, the focus is primarily on the action and nowhere is the contrast of light and shadow more evident in “Justice League”. On the plus side, there are two absolutely outstanding action sequences: When Barry Allen fights with one of his hero colleagues, his powers are excellently illustrated by cleverly used slow motion and camera movements, and an ingenious twist illustrates the great power of his adversary, who is deliberately not named here. Another highlight is Steppenwolf's attack on the Amazon island of Themyscira, which doesn't start out particularly spectacularly, but develops into a breathtaking hunt full of ingenuity, in which Zack Snyder's preference for slow motion is best savored. It is a real festival when Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her warriors try to remove the mother box they protect on horseback, on foot and in all sorts of other ways from the access of Steppenwolf. Rarely has a MacGuffin been so explicitly and effectively used as this purely functional artifact to literally move the plot forward.

In addition to such action highlights, there is also the escalating final fight known from all DC blockbusters, which only seems really bombastic in "Man Of Steel" and is the weakest passage of the film even in "Wonder Woman". In “Justice League”, too, the CGI battle drags on for too long and is more of a tiring than an inspiring effect. Due to the different heroes and their different skills as well as a few small side activities, this fight is at least loosened up much better than in "Batman V Superman", but the impression is solidified that after the failed criticism of the sacrificial but consistent finale of " Man Of Steel “there is a kind of trauma in DC, so that the big orgies of destruction are only carried out in almost deserted places.

Conclusion: "Justice League" is the solid conclusion to a trilogy - the film has significantly more weaknesses than the strong opening "Man Of Steel" and significantly more strengths than the weak middle section "Batman V Superman".
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