Let the comparing begin! When Marvel released The Avengers in May 2012, they ushered in the age of the cinematic universe. Now, five years later, film-goers finally get to see the results of this new age with the release of DC’s Justice League. Does it stack up to Marvel’s first team-up installment? It’s DC, what do you expect?
Before the opening credits even roll, Justice League is at a disadvantage because of the timing of its release. One of the reasons Avengers worked so well is because the majority of the characters have been in solo movies. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk and Mark Ruffalo in Avengers), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans), all had at least one solo movie, these allowed the audience to build a connection. Even Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) gained followings after their significant roles in Iron Man 2 and Thor respectively.
In contrast, Justice League only had two heroes out of six that had true solo movies, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Superman (Henry Cavill). Batman (Ben Affleck) was part of a team-up movie, while Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) only had brief cameos in the same film. This lack of familiarity proved detrimental, as their characters felt underdeveloped, especially Aquaman, who has had a serious overhaul from his comic counterpart.
However, Justice League makes up for it by introducing, or reintroducing, viewers to a variety of locations or events in this relatively new DC universe. Themyscira is shown once again in Steppenwolf’s (Ciarán Hinds) introduction scene, there’s a brief moment in Atlantis that gives me hope for Aquaman’s solo movie, coming next December, and there’s a teaser for Green Lantern Corps, arriving in theaters in 2020, when they appear in a flashback.
Speaking of Steppenwolf, I’ve said before that Loki, especially in Avengers, is the best villain between both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DCEU. So, does Steppenwolf deliver a similar level of quality? Not even close. It’s like if Malekieth from Thor: The Dark World and Ronan The Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy had a baby, a villain that has little screen time, delivers a drab performance, and little motivation other than “I’m a minion of a much greater threat.” And yes, Loki was under the Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) thumb during Avengers, but viewers already know from Thor that he is a formidable foe on his own, so imagine what he could do with an alien army. Plus, Hiddleston’s performance is a joy to watch again and again, so that makes up for it.
But the biggest problem with Justice League is how incomplete it feels. From writing changes that occurred after the success of Wonder Woman to reshoots that were directed by Joss Whedon, who also directed Avengers, Justice League is just one big mess. It was almost as if the studio hated Zack Snyder’s cut of the film so much that they tasked Whedon with “saving” it. The movie is very tonally unbalanced, with Batman brooding one moment and then quipping the next. It’s not that the quips were bad, it just felt weird due to the situation that led to it.
Avengers on the other hand, already knew exactly what it needed to be, and that can mostly be attributed to the leadership of producer Kevin Feige. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, the whole idea of it, was born from Feige’s influence. DC needed their own Kevin Feige, an individual that could take the reins of their cinematic universe and guide it in the direction needed to keep it consistent, diverse and on course. That way, when team-up movies occurred, they would be able to combine the characters and stories of the individual heroes into one coherent film. Originally, that role belonged to Zack Snyder, but last May, a month after filming began on Justice League, it was announced that writer Geoff Johns and producer Jon Berg would take over. This movie is essentially the reflection of DC’s transitional period. While the film was atrociously put together, it provides some hope that DC is trying to make a change that will better their future movies.
So, Avengers is unequivocally the better film of the two. Its story is more coherent, its character interactions are compelling and amusing and its action scenes are impressive, but this was when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was hitting its stride; they already had a confident loyal fanbase. Justice League didn’t have such a luxury. It lacked proper buildup, resulting in underdeveloped characters, its story was a mess and, at times, downright boring, its writing was so unbalanced that audiences could swear they were watching two separate movies and fans were going into this film praying that it would not be horrible.
But, while the movie itself was not the best, there were some optimistic moments, from most of the jokes to Ezra Miller and Gal Gadot’s performances. Justice League marks the beginning of something for the DCEU, the beginning of a new era where it takes its time with its films, treats its characters with respect and tries to reach out to its audience more, thus building its universe into something that can truly compete with the likes of Marvel and Avengers.