It’s official. It took the third movie for me to finally admit it, but Wonder Woman is single-handedly saving the DCU from its moody, emo self.
She’d already made the last third of BvS watchable, even if the rest of the movie was complete shit, similar Martha’s and all. The standalone Wonder Woman movie shone, if only because next to all those duds it was nice to see a DCU movie done right for once… done right, except for the fight scenes, which I wasn’t quite satisfied by, but it’s a minor complaint in a movie that was okay.
Full disclosure: I was fully prepared to dislike Justice League. I had seen Suicide Squad, and that ensemble movie was a complete dumpster fire. The aesthetic of the DCU has never charmed me, and I don’t think it’s meant to be charming at all. Not that every superhero world has to be charming, but if you’ve sat through Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, you’re going to come out of the theatre wondering if they hate their viewers. The world is too grim, its colour palette too dark, its heroes too tortured and there seems to be absolutely no hope of redemption from the cartoon characters who play their villains.
It doesn’t help that DC’s villains have been played in various reiterations by actors capable of truly mining the depths of their character – Heath Ledger’s Joker and Kevin Spacey’s Luthor come to mind. (I realize this is a bad time to celebrate Kevin Spacey, but the man can act. Let’s give him that.) After bravura performances like that, what are their successors supposed to do to avoid being carbon copies? We get Jared Leto as the Joker by way of Hot Topic. We get a motor-mouthed Jesse Eisenberg as a wholly irritating Lex Luthor. They even gave up on having an actual actor and handed us Steppenwolf (still can’t get over that name, my mind goes to Scandinavian metal bands whenever it’s mentioned.) Steppenwolf, for all the vocal stylings of Ciaran Hinds, is the crappiest CGI rendered character sinceThe Rock’s turn as the Scorpion King in the second Mummy movie.
Also, I hate Batfleck. He is the worst. There’s just no indication he’s fully tuned into the role, and every indication that he hates himself for saying yes to the Batsuit. Like it’s somehow sucking out his soul. And here I thought I’d never hate a Batman the way I hated George Clooney’s Batman. Pfft. Christian Bale forever.
It sometimes feels like the DCU is still still trying to live up to the Dark Knight series that Christopher Nolan gave to the world, and I think it’s a losing game. That trilogy struck the right amount of darkness, pathos and hope and it did it by playing to its strengths – the writing and the actors themselves, and not the CGI’d bleakness of the current DC Extended Universe iterations. I think what Marvel’s done right is that they’ve decided not to even try and compete with Christopher Nolan. They’ve gone and embraced their own crazy, bright aesthetic where the colours are richer, the heroes are at least a little happier and don’t take themselves so seriously.
But I didn’t dislike Justice League. It was a good one. I didn’t come out of the theatre feeling robbed, and it was actually good going. Still a bit clunky in parts, CGI still crappy, palette still a smidge too dark, and story-wise completely out there, but it’s a comic book movie. With the trifecta of Zach Snyder directing, pinch-hit by Joss Whedon who also did the writing and Christopher Nolan as producer, it had to be better than Suicide Squad. It wasn’t as bright, or as funny as it tried to be (Zach Snyder and Joss Whedon are complete opposites style-wise and the clash is sometimes apparent), but it’s an ensemble movie that’s truly an ensemble, where we get to root for the team as a whole.
It’s helped by the fact that the standalone movies for Superman and Batman were so awful, the only favourite we really have is Wonder Woman, and she’s a clutch player in this outing. Gal Gadot can seemingly do no wrong. She plays Wonder Woman with such self belief, she makes Batfleck look even worse by comparison. She also gets some stand out fight scenes, which are choreographed better than in her own standalone movie, and her Wonder Woman is so badass, she makes it easy to overlook the lameness of her weaponry (a lasso of truth, a sword and shield), which she wields with enough conviction to truly sell us on. Colour me convinced.
(Brief aside: If there’s anything positive to be gained by this DCverse, it’s the females. So far we’ve gotten two shining standouts – Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and Margot Robbie as the wonderfully unhinged Harley Quinn.)
Superman as a character has always been sort of boring (the guy can’t die, he can do everything) but Henry Cavill still turns in a sincere performance, helped with a lot of beefcake shots. They keep going on about the male gaze in superhero movies, but the female gaze is ably supported here too. Speaking of the female gaze, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman successfully dispels with the notion of Aquaman being the butt of all the JL jokes, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does with the character in his own standalone movie.
Surprisingly, it’s The Flash and Cyborg who are the interesting dark horses in this particular ensemble. They aren’t weighed down by two previously crappy movies, so it’s a treat to meet both characters for the first time. They’re less tortured, young enough to still be able not to take things so seriously, and they form a nice little buddy twosome. A scene with shovels is a particular standout.
As an answer to Marvel’s Avengers, it’s not a bad riposte. Marvel may still be ahead of the game, but DC shows every sign of learning from their mistakes, and that is always a good thing.