The hour is nearly upon us – DC Comics and Warner Bros. response to the comic book boom. Marvel and its owners Disney have long been the undefeated champion in the field, raking in billions from cinema and DVD releases, digital downloads and merchandising, all the while seeing off the challenge of Sony, Fox, and Warner Bros. themselves.
But Warner. Bros is pinning its hopes on Justice League redressing the balance – and it needs to. The opening punches in the fight with Marvel haven’t hit their mark entirely. Man of Steel was met with a lukewarm reception, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice should have been the kickstarter, but again drew criticism and wasn’t the financial hit it deserved to be on paper. Suicide Squad continued the trend, which was only halted by the critically acclaimed and financially successful Wonder Woman.
So Justice League has a lot riding on it. It’ll give Warner Bros. a clear indication as to whether it can compete with its closest rival on the level it wants to aspire to. Put simply, it has to break a billion dollar profit for it to muscle into Marvel territory, otherwise, it’ll be a disappointment to those involved.
With that in mind, if you’re thinking about putting your hand in your pocket to pay out and see it – and help it become a serious contender to Marvel – here’s what you need to know.
What’s it about?
Unlike Marvel’s slow build over several movies, prior to The Avengers in 2012, DC has taken the relatively brief approach before creating its equivalent team-up movie. There isn’t much backstory for you to get to grips with here, other than having a grasp of which character is which. DC are also taking the approach of tying together their “event” movies, as opposed to making all of them interconnect. Therefore, you won’t need to have seen Wonder Woman (even though you really should – it’s great) to get this. Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman are all you really need to sit through to grasp the continuity here.
If you’ve not seen either, there’s spoilers ahead.
At the end of Batman v Superman, Kal-El lies dead, slain by Lex Luthor’s bastardised Kryptonian monster Doomsday. The world is without a Superman, and Bruce Wayne feels compelled to become a protector of mankind to honour the Man of Steel’s memory, having been deceived into thinking he was a threat by Luthor. Wonder Woman has emerged from years of exile to take up her role as a champion of justice, saving the human race from itself.
It’s a good job they do, because Luthor, imprisoned at the end of the movie, alludes to a greater threat on the way, which he glimpsed from his connection to Kryptonian technology. Batman and Wonder Woman then decide to put together a team of meta-humans that Luthor was keeping files about, in order to counter the oncoming threat.
With that background out of the way, Justice League itself will focus on the arrival of that threat, namely the alien warlord Steppenwolf (more on him below). He’s coming to Earth to claim three pieces of alien technology called Mother Boxes, which originate from his homeworld Apokalips. Possessing them will grant his master unparalleled power – the only issue being the ancient Gods have hidden them on Earth centuries ago. Steppenwolf knows that the planet’s best hope of defeating him – Superman – is dead, so invades with an army of super-strong monsters called Parademons. Standing in his way are the Justice League – Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman – but even their combined power might not be enough to halt his conquest.
Who are the key players?
We’ll start with the bad guy:
He may look ridiculous, but this guy is actually one of the most vicious and brutal characters in DC Comics. In one continuity, he murdered Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman with little effort. He’s the right hand man of Darkseid – the DC universe’s ultimate villain – and enforces his rule on his homeworld of Apokalips and beyond. He’s the general in charge of Darkseid’s Parademon army – a legion of zombified members of other races across the galaxy that Darkseid has conquered. Steppenwolf can be seen in a deleted scene of Batman v Superman talking with Luthor and telling him about the power of the Mother Boxes on Earth – hence why the mad industrialist knows he’s on his way. Why Steppenwolf and not his boss? Well, Warner Bros. doesn’t want to have their Championship fight between Superman and Darkseid in their first team-up film, so it’s best to keep him off the table now and give the Justice League a credible threat that can still be escalated upon.
Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight gets a lot of criticism for his violent, murderous approach in Batman v Superman, but DC Extended Universe head honcho Geoff Johns, and director Zack Snyder have made it clear a past, unseen tragedy (perhaps his Robin being murdered by The Joker?) had driven him to almost psychotic levels of brutality. Here, Batman is going through a redemption arc, trying to atone for that by embodying Superman’s example and working for the greater good. In recognising he can’t work alone, he is motivated to find other like Superman to help him, which leads to him assembling the Justice League itself.
The co-creator of this incarnation of the League, Diana Prince deserves more screen time based on her exploits in her solo movie. In that feature, she was a relatively inexperienced fighter, acting and reacting on instinct and half truths. Here, she’s much more savvy, having been around since the early 20th Century, watching mankind blow itself to bits. Now, with an unprecedented threat on the horizon, and seeing Superman’s sacrifice, she chooses to enter the fight once again, and works with Batman to track down the other meta-humans and train them for the fight ahead. In the trailers, she is often seeing leading them into battle, suggesting she’ll be the team leader on the ground when it comes to the big action scenes.
Barry Allen is a crime scene investigator who was caught in a lightning storm at exactly the same time some pretty dangerous chemicals overturned in his lab. Instead of this resulting in his demise, it granted him the power of the Speed Force. Barry is now able to move thousands of times faster than the speed of light – hence his nickname “The Fastest Man Alive”. Here, Barry, played by Ezra Miller, is somewhat of a geek and provides the comic relief, openly admitting he’s fought crime by running up to people, pushing them over and running away. Nevertheless, he provides the heart of the team, and is a way for the audience to relate to some of the over-the-top sequences in the film, as it’s clear he’s thrilled just to be there.
For so long the butt of many a joke in the comic book fraternity, Arthur Curry has had somewhat of a revamp in the last few years. The King of the undersea world of Atlantis, Aquaman is half-human, half Atlantean, and is a tortured soul in trying to find his place in both worlds: Humans find him strange for his ability to exist underwater. The xenophobic Atlanteans largely resent his surface heritage. The reason he can be a parody of the genre is that for years, his most well known superpower was the ability to command sea life. In short – he can talk to fish. In reality, Aquaman is incredibly strong, rivalling even Superman’s muscle, and wields the Trident of Neptune, which is basically grants it’s user magical power, as well as control of marine life. The hulking Jason Momoa takes on the role, worryingly adopting several “surfer dude” type phrases in the movies trailers.
Victor Stone has a pretty tragic backstory, but the flipside of that is his pretty impressive collection of powers that come with his role as the Justice League’s tech specialist. Victor was a college football star before a serious accident left both his career and his life in the balance. His father, scientist Silas Stone, fused his son’s body with alien technology to ensure he lived. The trade-off being that Victor’s body is now 90% state-of-the-art hardware. He’s more machine than man – including being bonded to one of the Mother Boxes that Steppenwolf seeks. Cyborg’s role in the team has been disputed amongst long time Justice League fans, who wanted a Green Lantern or Martian Manhunter to round out the ensemble (Cyborg was only added to the main roster as a result of a DC Comics reboot in 2011). As such, actor Ray Fisher will have to ensure his portrayal exceeds expectations for him to be accepted by die-hard DC Comics aficionados.
Even though he’s conspicuously absent from most of the film’s marketing, including the trailers, the Big Boy Scout’s return in Justice League is one of the worst kept secrets of 2017. His death in Batman v Superman was academic for anyone who’s read the Death of Superman comic story. His role as the symbol of hope is appropriate with his colleagues, and Earth, facing insurmountable odds, and he’ll no doubt once again have Christ-like analogies levelled at him. Superman is the most powerful member of the League, and keeping him on the sidelines will likely be the order of the day early on, before he manages to come back to life (yes, he can do that), and lead the charge against Steppenwolf, before his inevitable showdown with Darkseid in the Justice League sequel.
What does it mean for the DC Extended Universe?
Steppenwolf’s invasion will be a watershed in the universe that Warner Bros. is crafting. Critics say that creating such a huge moment relatively early on in the continuity backs them into a corner pretty quickly. There’s a feeling that DC are trying to run before they can walk, presenting their own “Avengers Style” movie, after just four preceding outings. Yet Marvel released just five in the same time frame (four years), before they teamed up all their A-listers. DC’s advantage is that they are still starting out, and characters like Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg can be fleshed out in increasingly diverse ways as a result of the fallout of Justice League. They also have a huge library of iconic stories they can choose to visit in the future, and a much richer and well known cast of characters than Marvel can lay claim to. There’s a chance that a multitude of additional stories can emerge from this movie, and that’s not even considering A-listers like the Green Lantern Corps, Shazam and Martian Manhunter who are yet to make an appearance. The fact that Superman is being resurrected, and that Darkseid is waiting in the wings to sweep up after Steppenwolf’s inevitable failure, means a cliffhanger ending is likely too.
Should you see it?
If you like a good old-fashioned, balls-to-the-wall action movie, then it’s probably going to be right up your street. The huge wad of cash Warner Bros. is throwing at this means epic action scenes, impressive CGI and awe-inspiring set pieces. Sadly, the studio’s record of accurately adapting the nuances that make DC’s characters so interesting on the printed page isn’t great. Batman’s role as the World’s Greatest Detective and brains of the League is likely to be sidelined at the expense of him kicking Parademons through walls. The concern over Aquaman is detailed above, while you would hope Wonder Woman retains the mystique and heart that made her solo outing a success. If you’re hoping for something along the lines of The Dark Knight, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, think again. The question is, will that be enough to satisfy the fans, and make enough money for Warner Bros. to continue to back the endeavour?