Make: Warner Bros. & DC Entertainment
Model: Comic Book Superhero
Last year’s critical punching bag was the much maligned Justice League, the anticipated launch of the DCEU. But while Man of Steel impressed critically and at the box office, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice brought a lot of frustration to audiences by failing to deliver on the promise of the greatest superhero showdown ever. And Suicide Squad was just wrong. So, when Justice League finally hit screens there were a lot of questions. Can DC make a good movie? Can audiences relate with god-like characters?
I believe it’s possible, and I’ve already talked about it a little in a previous post, but now with Aquaman around the corner, it’s time to pop the hood on Justice League and get it banging on all cylinders.
What works: Casting. I don’t want to see any other Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, or Superman. Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, and Henry Cavill each embody their respective roles. The only exception is possibly Ben Affleck, but even he gets more hate than he deserves. The fact is these guys are heroic. At this point, recasting is going to be a setback.
What doesn’t work: The Villain. Steppenwolf is a one-note goober of a villain. He wants the Mother Box to form the Unity so he can destroy and reform the earth. He conquers because he wants to. He appears out of nowhere and disappears back to nowhere just as quickly. He has no ideology, no apparent or understandable motivation. The result is the flattest possible villain ever.
The Tone. The movie is largely shot in front of a green screen, which at times leads to a campy feeling. They don’t have any surf battles, so camp is not the aim. Justice League also cannot decide if it wants to tell jokes or be serious, so it does both with a half effort.
The Mouth. Every time I watch Justice League, the damn CGI upper lip on Superman’s face always draws me out of the movie. It looks so weird, like Annoying Orange weird. I get that he couldn’t shave his mustache, but Henry Cavill should have done something else.
Justice League has to be a retelling of Jesus and his apostles. Superman is Jesus. Bruce Wayne is Paul. Wonder Woman is Peter. Aquaman is James. Flash is John. Cyborg is Judas (kind of). In BvS, Superman dies. In JL, he resurrects, and establishes his church.
A church is based on an idea. That’s why it is critical that the villain be the antithesis of that idea. Steppenwolf does not meet that criteria. He’s not even a cool villain. DC has so many iconic villains they could have used. Lex Luthor (Roman emperor type), Joker (chaotic Caligula type), Darkseid (the devil himself), or even another Metahuman (Judas). So, back to the idea. The First Church of Superman is founded upon Truth, Justice, and the American Way. The opposite is lies, inequity and cowardice. The opposite is Judas. Metahuman it is. Cyborg is the most obvious choice. He is mostly composed of alien software/hardware, and so could be easily corrupted. But there has to be a larger villain pulling the strings.
So, here goes:
Our story picks up where BvS left off. Bruce and Diana walking away from Clark’s graveside. The dirt on Clark’s casket starts to levitate. The screen goes dark as the grave is filled in. “Now what?” Bruce asks. “I don’t know yet,” Diana answers. She walks away. Bruce thrusts his hands into his pockets in frustration. He remembers the vision of the coming apocalypse. Time is running out.
Bruce goes north to find Aquaman. Aquaman doesn’t join up. Says Bruce is too corporate. Bruce then finds Flash. Flash joins eagerly. He’s tired of waiting around for something to happen. Bruce goes to Cyborg. At first, Cyborg refuses, but his eyes change color and he changes his mind.
Bats, Flash, and Cyborg spend some time getting to know each other at the Batcave. They get called out by the Bat Signal and fight some nobodies. It feels good, but pointless. The big thing is still coming. Cyborg still has a criminal and starts carving a symbol into the criminal’s forehead, 3 circles in a V formation. Bruce stops him. “This is my town,” he says. Alfred suddenly calls Batman with an emergency. There’s an attack on the Kryptonian crash site.
Batman, Flash and Cyborg show up there and break in. Whoever was there is gone now. Cyborg tries to access the security cams, they show no one. Bruce is confused. As they leave the site, the same 3 circles in a V formation appear in the control panel display, and then fade into the background.
Wonder Woman and Aquaman are each in their own respective environs when they are attacked by faceless androids. Wonder Woman makes short work of them, but Aquaman is taken down trying to save bystanders from becoming collateral damage. Wonder Woman realizes only Bruce knew where she was. She calls Bruce to see what’s happening.
Bruce takes the call, but it’s clear the Batcave has been compromised. Someone hacked into his system and stole the Metahumans’ information and whereabouts. Bruce realizes that in order to hack the system, someone would have to be physically present at the computer. He turns and sees Flash is there, but Cyborg is gone. The computer screen goes dark and 3 circles in a V formation appear on screen. “We’ve been compromised,” Bruce admits.
The androids that took Aquaman have him in a warehouse in Metropolis. They start to merge together. When the face forms, it has 3 circles in a V formation on the forehead. What are you, asks Aquaman. The android doesn’t answer. He just smiles. What do you want? “What I want”, Brainiac answers, “is the Kryptonian’s ship and this world.” Brainiac explains that he was created to search out and acquire all Kryptonian technology on behalf of Darkseid. This is the only place left.
Cyborg appears. “So you’re the Aquaman,” he says. “I hear you can talk to fish.” “I can do a lot more than that,” Aquaman replies. He breaks the chair he is tied to, and breaks free. He grabs his trident and stabs Cyborg. Cyborg’s belly just molds around the trident. Aquaman dives through the window and into the harbor to swim away. Cyborg pursues, but Aquaman takes him apart in the water.
Aquaman swims to Gotham and finds Bruce, Flash and Diana. They realize they have been betrayed. Bruce has Alfred wipe the Batcave computer and reboot. “What are we up against?” Diana asks. “Something called Brainiac,” Bruce replies.
All night, Brainiac’s androids raid high tech labs across the country, acquiring sophisticated technology and weaponry. At Star Labs, Cyborg is stunned by his own father. The attack knocks Cyborg into his right mind momentarily, and he explains to his dad that his cybernetics have been infected by Brainiac, and he no longer has control of his body. He gets to be killed. His dad refuses. Brainiac shows up, repossesses Cyborg, who then kills his own father. A single tear rolls down his otherwise emotionless face.
The next day brings the Batcave back online with a realization that Brainiac and Cyborg have brought on a slaughter. The team moves on Star Labs and face Brainiac and Cyborg, but are thoroughly beaten. The only thing they manage to do is take off Cyborg’s head with the Lasso of Truth. Disembodied, he regains his mind and tells the team they will need more help. Brainiac is powerful.
Bruce convinces the team to find Clark. Diana, Bruce and the rest arrive at the Kent farm to find it in foreclosure. Martha Kent isn’t there. They head to the cemetery plot, and it has been recently dug up. Did someone exhume Superman? Lois Lane appears. “You won’t find him here,” she says. He’s gone. They head back to Gotham to come up with a new plan. Alfred tells Bruce he has a visitor, says he’s Clark Kent. “Bullshit,” says Bruce.
The team rushes upstairs where a cloaked man is eating some food given him by Alfred. Bruce grabs the man by the shoulder and turns him around. It’s Clark, with a mustache and beard, but it’s Clark. “How?” Bruce asks. Superman lifts up his shirt, showing a small scar from where he was punctured by Doomsday. They are all astonished. They hug him. He’s glad to be alive, too. He agrees to help them, but he’ll need some rest, air and sunshine before he will be ready to go. The rest of the team head off to Star Labs to do battle. Clark finishes eating, then walks outside. He closes his eyes as the afternoon sun shines on his face. As the camera pans out, we realize he’s flying above the clouds. He zooms in his eyes on the battle, then flies off to get his supersuit.
Meanwhile Bruce & Co. have their hands full with Braindroids. They’re almost overwhelmed and then Superman appears. He blasts through some Braindroids, freezes others. Then another wave of them appear and appear to overwhelm Superman. That’s when the team jumps in to help. Using teamwork, they destroy all the horde, forcing Brainiac to appear. Brainwave focuses on Superman, fighting him fist to fist. Eventually, Brainiac realizes he has no hope of victory and shoots 3 spheres from the symbol on his head. The spheres fly up into space as the metal body falls dead.
At the end, Bruce gets Cyborg a new corrupted body designed by Cyborg’s late father. The rest of the team heads back to their hometowns. Superman tells Lois that he’s fixing up a ship and heading to space. He wants her to come. She accepts. Bruce finds out Supes is leaving, tries to convince him to stay, but Supes leaves Bruce in charge, saying, with the Justice League here, the earth is in good hands. “I’ll be back as soon as I can be, but I need to find my father.” The movie ends with the Justice League watching him fly into space.
Post credits scene. Brainiac’s spheres arrive on the fiery plains of Apokalips and plop into a console in front of a massive guy, Darkseid. “Earth,” he says feeling the word for the first time.
Man of Steel set up a biblical analog for Superman. Justice League only loosely kept with the formula. In our rebuild, we commit to the Bible narrative, get a better villain, and give Clark a reason for the mustache. While there may have been other complaints about the movie, these were the biggest. After this movie, I’d be excited for another one.