Back Issues [JLA Day]: The Brave and the Bold #28


To celebrate the release of Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017), DC Comics named November 18 “Justice League Day”. Sadly, this clashes with another pop culture holiday but, setting aside all the drama surrounding that movie, this still provides a perfect excuse to dedication some time to talking about DC’s premier superhero team, which set the standard for super teams in comics by bringing together DC’s most powerful heroes.


Story Title: Starro the Conqueror!
Published: 29 December 1959 (cover-dated March 1960)
Writer: Gardner Fox
Artist: Mike Sekowsky

The Background:
In All Star Comics (1940/1941), brought together eight superheroes from a number of different publishers for the first time as the Justice Society of America (JSA). This not only heralded the birth of the first ever superhero team in comics but also allowed readers to see their favourite characters interacting all for the same price as reading any one comic. The JSA’s roster expanded and changed over the years but the team underwent their most significant change when, in the late 1950s, then-editor Julius Schwartz asked writer Gardner Fox to reintroduce and rebrand the team as the Justice League of America (JLA) to capitalise on the popularity of the American Football League and Major League Baseball’s National League.

Taking over from the JSA, the JLA became one of the most versatile and powerful super teams.

Though the team debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28, a title famous for featuring team-ups between various fictional and superheroic characters, the team’s actual origin wasn’t revealed until the ninth issue of their self-titled series, which became one of DC Comic’s best-selling titles. As with the JSA and other super teams, the JLA’s roster has changed over the years and many splinter groups and spin-offs have been introduced but perhaps there is no more iconic line-up than the JLA’s original roster that was comprised of DC’s heavy-hitters: Clark Kent/Superman, Bruce Wayne/Batman, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Arthur Curry/Aquaman, Barry Allan/The Flash, and J’onn J’onzz (referred to here as “John Jones”)/Martian Manhunter.

The Review:
“Starro the Conqueror!” begins with the odd choice to not detail the first time these superheroes joined forces and, instead, starts off with the seven heroes already having agreed to come together in times of crisis (they each have a signalling device to summon the others). I kind of like this on the one hand as it suggests that DC’s top superheroes already set aside their differences for the greater good without any real fuss and it helps speed things up but, on the other hand, it feels a bit out of place to not detail the first meeting of these heroes. Anyway, the first member of the team to become aware of an impending threat is Aquaman who, thanks to information provided to him by a puffer fish, is learns of the arrival of the gigantic extraterrestrial starfish known as Starro.

Aquaman’s summons is answered by some of DC’s greatest superheroes.

This monstrous being has travelled across the depths of space to Earth with one goal in mind: conquest. To that end, Starro…somehow…transforms three of Earth’s starfish into replicas of itself and spreads them across the world to begin its mad scheme. Aquaman’s summons are immediately picked up and answered by Wonder Woman (who is in the middle of an awkward conversation with her beau, Steve Trevor, regarding marriage), Green Lantern (who, as Hal Jordan, was in the middle of a test flight), the Flash (who quickly disperses of a potentially life-threatening tornado), and the Martian Manhunter (who was simply about to start his vacation…). Each of these introductory panels immediately gives the reader and idea of what each character is capable of: Aquaman can breath underwater and talk to fish, Wonder Woman has an invisible jet, Green Lantern’s ring allows him to perform virtually any task, the Flash is super fast, and the Martian Manhunter can shape-shift. Aquaman’s signal also reaches Superman and Batman but the two are unable to respond right away since Superman is busy taking care of a potentially dangerous meteor shower and Batman is in the middle of stopping a crime spree. You might think that Superman would have spotted Starro’s arrival from space but he was dealing with a great deal of meteors (it’s also entirely possible that Starro caused the meteor shower specifically to distract Superman) and I guess it’s in character for Batman to prioritise Gotham City’s safety over a JLA summons (though a JLA-level peril is surely more threatening for Gotham than a crime spree…)

Green Lantern is able to defeat the Starro duplicate with relative ease.

Regardless, the five heroes meet at the “modernistically outfitted cavern” that serves as the JLA’s headquarters. Having been informed of Starro’s threat and where it intends to strike, the Flash, as the JLA’s chairman, orders the team to split up and it is at this point that the story diverges from the team-based format and instead switches to cover each individual mission. The first sees Green Lantern battling one of Starro’s deputies in the skies above Rocky Mountain National Park; Hal arrives in time to see the gigantic creature but is too late to stop it from attacking a passing air force jet-bomber and relieving it of its payload: nothing less than an atom bomb! Green Lantern is able to save the aircraft when it goes into a deadly freefall but is unable to keep the Starro duplicate from detonating the atom bomb! Thankfully, Hal’s energy shield protects him from the blast and he watches in horror as the creature absorbs the energy released from the bomb. Hal pursues and is nearly blasted from the sky by a scorching beam fired from the creature’s tentacle. However, Green Lantern is easily able to avoid the creature’s thrashing limbs and attacks and reduce it down to a regular starfish by scoring a direct hit on its massive eye.

Starro’s duplicate falls before the might of Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter.

Next, the story switches to “Science City” where Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter (why Diana has to team up with another hero is beyond me…) find another of Starro’s deputies abducting the “Hall of Science”, where the greatest scientific minds of the United States are gathered. The creature intends to bring the scientists into the upper atmosphere so it can absorb their brainpower and knowledge; Wonder Woman attempts to use her magical lasso to prise the creature’s tentacles from the building but ends up being yanked off of her invisible jet and onto the Hall of Science thanks to the giant starfish’s incredible strength. Meanwhile, J’onn uses his super-breath to bombard the creature with fragments of the meteors Superman is destroying and uses the same technique to cause a torrential rainfall when flames from the building threaten his life. Starro’s deputy then attempts to destroy them both by firing bolts of nuclear energy their way but Wonder Woman is, of course, able to deflect them with her magical bracelets and J’onn shields himself using the building’s conveniently lead-lined roof. Diana then whips her lasso around her jet and uses the momentum to forcibly drag the building out of the sky. The effort of battling both heroes at once soon takes its toll on the creature, which plummets from the sky and begins to revert back into a regular starfish.

The Flash makes short work of the final Starro duplicate.

When then join the Flash as he confronts another of Starro’s deputies at Happy Harbour; this part of the story is easily the worst simply because it introduces one of the most annoying and aggravating characters ever conceived: the JLA’s “mascot”, Snapper Carr. Snapper is a hip, super cool teenager with the annoying habit of constantly snapping his fingers all the God-damn time who is shocking to find his family, and the entire town, enthralled by Starro’s trance. For whatever reason (possibly due to being high, judging by the way he speaks!), Snapper is immune to Starro’s influence so he needs to be saved from certain death by the Flash. Despite Starro’s best efforts to vaporise the Scarlet Speedster, the Flash (literally) runs rings around the creature and ultimately defeats it when it tries to hide in the sea. In the process, the townsfolk are freed from their trance and Snapper’s family are able to tell Flash where they were ordered by the creature to head to: Turkey Hollow.

The JLA defeat Starro with ridiculous ease and make Snapper an honorary member!

The final part of the story sees the team reunite to take on the real Starro at Turkey Hollow; despite the defeat of its deputies, Starro remains confident since it was still able to absorb the power of that atomic bomb, the knowledge of Earth’s scientists, and…whatever it is the townsfolk of Happy Harbour contributed to its mind (local Earth knowledge, I guess?) Starro plans to use all that it has learned to force humanity into destroying the world with nuclear weapons and then use the influx of nuclear energy would then allow it to conquer other worlds across the universe. When the JLA arrive, Starro immediately puts its abilities to good use by reading Hal’s mind and turning itself yellow to render itself immune to his power ring but the Flash notices that Starro’s awesome energy ray has absolutely no effect on Snapper (who he, of course, brought along for the ride!) Flash orders Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter to distract Starro while Hal uses his power ring as a spectroscope to discover that Snapper is covered in lime from when he was mowing the lawn earlier. Apparently, lime is deadly to starfish so Hal dumps a whole bunch of it onto Starro to weaken it. Martian Manhunter then uses his super-breath to blow a load of calcium oxide (which is, apparently, also lime) onto the creature and thus imprison it within an unbreakable shell of lime. With Starro’s threat ended, Superman and Batman return just in time to see the Flash making Snapper an honorary member of the JLA and…boy, do they look thrilled to be there!

The Summary:
I don’t mind telling you that I am a bit disappointed by “Starro the Conqueror!”; the story started pretty strong but fell off a cliff pretty quickly at the end, becoming little more than a science class rather than a big old fight between Earth’s greatest heroes and an alien menace. I suppose it speaks to the intelligence of the JLA (specifically Barry) to come up with a way to outwit, rather than outfight, the creature and the sudden introduction of lime as the might Starro’s one weakness is arguably no less lame than fire being J’onn’s weakness and yellow being Hal’s and there is a lot of action prior to the finale but still…the entire point of the comic is to see these heroes joining forces and we don’t really get that.

Aquaman is unfairly side-lined and does nothing except alert the JLA to Starro’s presence.

You might be wondering where the hell Aquaman was during this story; despite appearing to be a pivotal member of the team in the early panels, Arthur is little more than an early warning system to alert the team to Starro’s threat. Hell, when Barry is divvying out the JLA’s individual missions, Aquaman doesn’t even get to fight one of the creatures as he’s sent back to the ocean to watch out for any more of the duplicates and, when he does return to the story for the finale, he does absolutely nothing. It’s pretty sad considering the JLA were light on power with Superman out of the equation and when you consider that Arthur might have actually been really useful at Happy Harbour so could have easily teamed up with the Flash for that mission…but then we might never have gotten Snapper-fuckin’-Carr now, would we!?

Hal and J’onn are severely underutilised, with their powers reduced to the bare minimum.

Honestly, Snapper could have been dropped entirely from the story; he’s only there so the teenager readers can act like they’re fighting alongside their favourite heroes, after all, and it’s legitimately sad that he’s more important to the story than Aquaman! Seriously, drop Snapper, have Aquaman and the Flash go to Happy Harbour, and have Arthur get covered in lime while battling the creature in the water and reveal the key to Starro’s defeat. Seems like a pretty simple solution to me. Similarly, it’s pretty disappointing that Superman and Batman don’t play any part in the story at all. I can understand why as Superman’s power alone would probably be able to end Starro’s threat but it’s a bit of a let down that they don’t even join the team for the big climactic battle. Instead, we’re left with the likes of the Martian Manhunter, who is probably just as powerful as Superman if not more so and yet is reduced to simply puffing away with his super-breath. Similarly, Hal’s potential and power is also significantly reduced; his ring allows him to do virtually anything but, in the end, all he really uses it for is to fly about, rescue a falling plane, and zap at Starro with energy blasts.

Starro seems like a threatening villain but end sup being a massive disappointment.

Still, at least Wonder Woman gets a lot to do; she basically does all the work in her team-up with J’onn which, again, makes me question why she has to have a partner and no one else does. The implication may be that it’s because she’s a woman but she’s easily the most dependable and capable superheroine I’ve seen all year; she doesn’t even get bound or anything, which is refreshing. The Flash also gets far more chances to show off his abilities and competence; beyond his super speed allowing him to easily best one of Starro’s duplicates, Barry is portrayed as a decisive team leader and his intelligence is what ultimately wins the day over brute strength. Overall, Starro is just another in a long line of potentially dangerous foes that really don’t amount to a whole hell of a lot. It openly admits that its plot to conquer Earth is the first time it’s ever tried anything like that, exposing its naivety and inexperience in world conquest and battle. Its scheme seems pretty good to start with as it creates duplicates of itself and absorbs power and knowledge but it fails to really do anything with this beyond making itself yellow; it could have spewed flames at J’onn, bound Wonder Woman’s wrists, subjected Aquaman to intense heat, or slowed the Flash down with quicksand but it never does any of that. For all the power and knowledge it has, Starro ends up just being a giant alien punching bag that, arguably, the Flash alone could have defeated and, because of that, it’s simply a piss-poor excuse to see all these heroes band together and even then they spend the majority of the story working separately!

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the JLA’s debut appearance? Were you happy to see five out of the seven joining forces for the first time or would you have liked to see all seven of them getting in on the action? What did you think of Starro as the principal villain and the introduction of Snapper Carr? Which era or incarnation of the JLA is your favourite and what are some of your favourite JLA stories? Who would you like to see in the JLA some day? How are you celebrating Justice League Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on the JLA, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [Multiverse Madness]: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths


In September 1961, DC Comics published a little story called “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that featured in The Flash #123 and brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen. In the process, DC Comics created the concept of the multiverse, the idea that DC Comics continuity was comprised of an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to exist and, more importantly, interact and I’ve been celebrating this ground-breaking concept every Sunday of this month!


Talking Movies

Released: 23 February 2010
Director: Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Budget: Unknown
Stars: William Baldwin, Mark Harmon, Gina Torres, James Woods, Brian Bloom, and Chris Noth

The Plot:
In an alternate version of Earth, the Crime Syndicate (evil doppelgängers to the Justice League) rule with an iron fist. When the Lex Luthor (Noth) of this parallel world travels across the dimensions, the Justice League find themselves battling against their dark mirrors to decide the fate of all worlds.

The Background:
Following the much-lauded Batman: The Animated Series (1992 to 1999) and the conclusion of Batman Beyond (1999 to 2001), co-creator Bruce Timm spearheaded easily the biggest and most ambitious DC animated show of that era, Justice League (2001 to 2004), and then out did himself with the exhaustive roster of Justice League Unlimited (2004 to 2006). Both cartoons were incredibly well-received and helped contribute to the continued success and popularity of the DC Animated Universe.

Timm looked to “Crisis on Earth-Three!” to bridge the gap between his Justice League cartoons.

Originally, Timm intended to produce an animated feature named Justice League: Worlds Collide to bridge the gap between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited that would draw inspiration from the seminal story “Crisis on Earth-Three!” (Fox, et al, 1964). However, these plans were scrapped by Warner Brothers, who were in the middle of producing a series of direct-to-video animated films with no ties to any existing continuity, and the script was consequently rewritten to avoid directly referencing either show. Despite this, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths shared a very similar style to Timm’s earlier works and, considering the first issue of the ground-breaking Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was first publish in this month back in 1986 I figured this would be as good a time as any to look back at this often overlooked animated feature.

The Review:
The multiverse is quite a daunting and confusing concept, to be honest; even I, a self-confessed comic book enthusiast, struggle with the notion at times and I feel it only really works in comics, where readers are used to the idea after a few decades of dimensional-hopping antics, and television (especially cartoons), since long-running series’ just have more time to introduce and explore the concept. In that regard, Crisis of Two Earths eases viewers into the idea of parallel worlds by primarily focusing on the idea of two alternative worlds and also its opening sequence, in which we see our beloved heroes radically changed, monstrous even, and killing a heroic version of the Joker, the Jester (James Patrick Stuart), and being opposed by a far more virtuous incarnation of Lex Luthor.

Batman and the Flash get a decent amount of the film’s disparate focus.

We then switch over to our Earth, where a more recognisable version of the Justice League are finishing up the construction of their Watchtower space station and their teleportation device; right away, we’re introduced to two concepts that form the basis of the film: the Flash (Josh Keaton) is the comic relief and Batman (Baldwin) is a bit of a grouch. Flash is full of the quips and amusing pop culture references but Batman is a stubborn pragmatist; even when clearly outmatched by Superwoman’s (Torres) power, he preserves through a broken rib and is able to subdue her with anaesthetic gas, proving his capability despite his lack of super powers.

An alternative Lex Luthor recruits the Justice League to help liberate his world.

When the alternative Luthor arrives, he is immediately apprehended and brought to the attention of the League; Superman (Harmon) confirms that the duplicate isn’t their Lex and the Luthor brings the League up to speed with the issue of the Crime Syndicate of his Earth. On this alternate world, Luthor was the leader of the Justice League but the Syndicate has rendered their world a virtual dictatorship thanks to their power and maliciousness, held in check only by the threat of a nuclear retaliation. Superman, naturally, doesn’t trust Luthor but J’onn (Jonathan Adams) confirms that the alternative refuge is telling the truth. The League debate the merits, logistics, and morals of assisting Luthor’s world and, though Green Lantern (Nolan North) is opposed to it, it is Batman who is most against the mission since they struggle to maintain order on their world. Regardless, the majority agree to assist.

Owlman and Superwoman exercise the Syndicate’s diabolical will with relish.

The Crime Syndicate, specifically Owlman (Woods), are interrupted in their search for the “Quantum Trigger” by the arrival of the Justice League and a fight breaks out. This gives the film a chance to showcase a variety of evil versions of classic heroes, “Made Men”, such as Black Lightning, Vixen, and Elongated Man. Though the League are able to get the upper hand, Luthor forces them to retreat to avoid facing even more of the Syndicate’s Made Men and, in the process, they end up in a battle with the Captain Super family (evil versions of the Shazam/Captain Marvel family). This takes the battle from inside to the cloudy skies of this parallel world as Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) is able to commandeer Owlman’s ship and use its cloaking device to escape the fray.

The Crime Syndicate functions very much like a mob family.

The Crime Syndicate are revealed to run their organisation like a super-powered crime family, with Ultraman (Bloom, using a bit of a stereotypical Italian mobster accent) acting as the head of the “family”, who have thousands of lieutenants working beneath them (the aforementioned Made Men) and dividing their territories between them. Thanks to their power, they are able to bribe and forcible coerce the world’s government and other officials into bowing to their every whim but Owlman takes this to the next level by constructing the Quantum Eigenstate Device (Q.E.D.), a bomb that will give them the ability to hold the entire world hostage. While the public largely wishes to simply acquiesce to the Syndicate’s demands to maintain some kind of peace, their dictatorship is openly challenged by Rose Wilson (Freddi Rogers), daughter of Slade Wilson (Brice Davison), who is the President of the United States in this world.

Owlman has plans of his own to destroy all life on every Earth.

Unlike the League, which is a largely unified team ruled by democracy, the Syndicate is a fragile alliance of egos and greed; Ultraman rules through sheer power and intimidation but Owlman and Superwoman conspire behind his back. Owlman plans to use the Q.E.D. to destroy all life without mercy or conscious since the discovery of an infinite number of parallel worlds has shattered his grasp on reality. Believing that no decision he, or anyone, makes has any meaning since whatever they accomplish means nothing elsewhere in the multiverse, he plans to find “Earth-Prime” in order to use the Q.E.D. to annihilate all life everywhere, which Superman, a self-confessed murdering psychopath, finds to be one hell of a turn on.

Luthor insists on defeating Ultraman himself in order to humble the super-powered dictator.

Although Luthor recruits the League to help, he insists on taking on and defeating Ultraman himself since “if it’s going to mean anything after [the League] is gone, it has to be [Luthor]”. Luthor is able to match blows with Ultraman thanks to his armoured suit and having acquired a piece of Blue Kryptonite, the only substance that can hurt and weaken Ultraman. Because of this, Luthor is able to defeat and humiliate Ultraman in public and have him arrested for his crimes; however, as gallant as his actions are, he is chewed out by the President for risking further retaliations from the remaining members of the Syndicate and Ultraman is allowed to go free in a desperate attempt to keep a shaky truce with the Syndicate.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Many of the film’s action sequences, though exciting, are, understandably, all too lacking in context; thanks to the wildly different designs of the parallel worlds Made Men, it’s not always easy to tell who is cameoing when and most of them don’t have any speaking lines, making them little more than disposable grunts who exist simply to showcase the stranglehold the Syndicate have on their world and give the League someone to beat up without fighting the same handful of Syndicate members all the time. Because of the large roster and many different characters running around the film, there’s obviously not enough time for everyone to really get much to do; Green Lantern, for example, is a bit of a non-factor and, while J’onn does get an interesting side plot revolving a romantic attraction to Rose, the majority of the League exist simply to battle with the evil doppelgängers. This is exacerbated when Batman calls in heroes from his world to help fend off Superwoman and the Super family, resulting in yet more cameos and characters taking up the film’s run time; don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see so many heroes onscreen at once and all these villainous versions of normally heroic characters but I also feel like the focus should have been more on the League/Syndicate members since those are the only fights that really mean anything.

As you might expect, the film (eventually) degenerates into an all-out brawl.

Thankfully, the film does eventually focus up once Rose provides the League with the location of the Syndicate’s headquarters (spoilers: it’s on the Moon) and the two teams engage in an all-out brawl with their doppelgängers. Green Lantern’s evil counterpart, Power Ring (North), is about as useless as heroic double; Superman, for all her strength and aggression, lacks the finesse and combat acumen of Wonder Woman; and Ultraman’s sadistic focus on destruction means he not only destroys much of the environment but is easily outwitted by Superman. Of course, the battle between the Flash and Johnny Quick (Stuart) comes down to a test of their super speed but, amidst all the mindless brawling, Owlman is able to escape with the Q.E.D. to enact his insane plan to destroy all realities. Faced with the threat of mutually assured destruction, the League and the Syndicate form a shaky truce simply to save their own hides.

Batman ultimately sacrifices Johnny Quick and kills his counterpart to save the multiverse.

A side plot throughout the film is that the Flash believes Batman doesn’t like or respect him and the idea that Batman is this irritable, obstinate loner. However, when they need someone to power the Quantum Trigger, Batman has Johnny Quick take the Flash’s place as the conduit to spare his teammate’s life since he knows that the effort will kill the speedster. While this is a great way to show that Batman does truly care for the Flash and his teammates, it’s a little out of character since he knew that the effort would kill Johnny so he willingly sacrificed a life to confront Owlman and then, rather hypocritically, lectured his counterpart about his willingness to kill untold numbers of people with the Q.E.D. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given that Batman is generally the focus of all of DC’s animated endeavours, the film culminates in a battle of ideologies and skill between him and Owlman, with the depths of his doppelgänger’s psychosis revealed so completely that Batman has no choice but to doom Owlman to destruction on a desolate, barren alternate world, saving the multiverse in the process but at the cost of Johnny’s life.

The Summery:
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a pretty decent little animated film; it’s full of action and lots of big, explosive, and visually interesting fights but the main draw of the film, for me, is the philosophical and ideological differences between the Justice League and the Crime Syndicate, specifically between Batman and Owlman, this dichotomy is given the most focus throughout the film, which is probably the right choice but it does mean that we don’t really get to see just how different the Syndicate are to their heroic counterparts beyond them being super-powered mobsters and psychopaths. If you watched any of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited episodes based around the Justice Lords, it’s arguable that you could say the film’s concept is somewhat redundant and has already been explored but I think there’s enough here to separate the film from those episodes, mostly thanks to the abundance of cameos and the iconography of the Crime Syndicate. While the film doesn’t complete align with those cartoons, I think you can easily suspend disbelief to see it as a bridge between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited since it ends with the League preparing for a massive recruitment drive but it also works pretty well as a standalone animated feature…as long as you’re already somewhat familiar with DC’s characters and some of their more complex concepts.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever seen Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths; if so, what did you think to it and where would you rank it against the other DC animated movies? Which character was your favourite and what did you think to the film’s voice cast? Which evil doppelgänger would have liked to see more of and what do you think about the concept of the Crime Syndicate and the DC multiverse? Did you ever watch the Justice League cartoons and, if so, what were some of your favourite characters and moments? How are you celebrating the publication of Crisis on Infinite Earths this month? Whatever your thoughts on DC’s animated ventures, the multiverse, and the Justice League, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Talking Movies

Released: 18 March 2021
Director: Zack Snyder
Distributor: HBO Max/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Budget: $70 million (on top of the original $300 million production costs)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ciarán Hinds, Amy Adams, and Henry Cavill

The Plot:
Following the death of Clark Kent/Superman (Cavill), Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck) scrambles to bring together a team of super-powered heroes when the disgraced New God Steppenwolf (Hinds) arrives on Earth and begins violently searching for the mysterious “Mother Boxes”.

The Background:
Oh God, where to start with this? Okay, so, after the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) became this super successful juggernaut, Warner Bros. scrambled to try and catch up and craft their own cinematic universe. The first step was Man of Steel (ibid, 2013); Zack Snyder was picked to helm the project and steer the direction of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and, initially, the results were promising. Despite some mixed reviews, Man of Steel was a financial success but the cracks in Snyder’s vision started to form with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (ibid, 2016). Despite the presence of acclaimed superstar Ben Affleck and reaping a hefty box office, the film divided many due to its pace and bleak tone and Warner Bros. started to get cold feet regarding Snyder’s vision for the DCEU. As a result, they brought in Joss Whedon to lighten the follow-up’s tone and ultimately replace Snyder after the tragic death of his daughter. Despite a similar box office gross to its predecessors, Justice League (Whedon/Snyder, 2017) released to scathing criticism and the film was disowned by even DCEU collaborators.

After years of speculation, Snyder returned to complete and enhance his original cut.

The DCEU chugged along regardless but, very quickly, reports of Whedon’s reprehensible behaviour surfaced alongside rumours that a “Snyder Cut” was all but completed in Warner’s vaults and fans all over the world began campaigning hard for the release Snyder’s original version. While this did lead to a toxic community that I cannot condone, the movement gained serious traction when members of the cast voiced their support and Snyder finally returned to complete the film and was even afforded additional money and resources to film new scenes for his four-hour epic for the HBO Max streaming service. To the delight of Snyder’s fans, Zack Snyder’s Justice League finally released and drew a lot of attention to HBO Max. The general critical consensus, however, was mixed; though reviews praised the film as a coherent story and the culmination of Snyder’s vision, its length and excess were criticised. After the film’s release, Warner Bros. made the decision not to capitalise on its success and fans immediately campaigned to complete Snyder’s vision for the DCEU, despite his lack of interest in returning to the property, proving that some fans are just never satisfied.

The Review:
When I reviewed the original, theatrical cut of Justice League (no, I will not call it “Josstice League”), I gave it a ten out of ten. This was primarily because I am a massive DC Comics fan and, after years (literally decades) of DC’s live-action characters always existing in their own self-contained bubbles, I was just happy to see them all onscreen together and co-existing and felt that this was the most positive thing to take away from Snyder’s rushed attempt to build DC’s cinematic universe. Time, however, has changed this perspective; Justice League is by no means perfect but it was honestly never going to be. Warner Bros. scrambled about trying to play catch up to the MCU and, in focusing on cramming everyone together as quickly as possible and sucking the fun out of many of their most popular characters, they lost me a little along the way.

Snyder jumped into Multiversal shenanigans way too fast and put everything into his cut of Justice League.

So to say I was excited for the Snyder Cut is to lie, honestly. As much as I enjoyed Man of Steel, Snyder really dropped the ball with Batman v Superman, which was more a collection of ideas and themes than a coherent movie, and I took massive issue with his grandiose vision of the DCEU which jumped from Superman’s origin all the way to Multiversal shenanigans in, like, two films. Still, as a rule, I generally do enjoy a longer director’s cut as you get more bang for your buck and, in that regard, Snyder certainly goes above and beyond to present the closest version of his vision for Justice League as possible, even going so far as to present the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Superman’s death cry activates the Mother Boxes and calls Steppenwolf to Earth.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League begins with an egregiously slow-motion recap of Superman’s dramatic (and, in my view, unnecessary) death in battle against Doomsday. His death rattle (which seriously goes on for about six minutes), echoes all around the world, activating the Mother Boxes stored in Atlantis and Themyscira and sending a beacon out into the void of space with a simple message: Earth is vulnerable. Steppenwolf (now dramatically redesigned into a hulking creature wearing razor-sharp armour that honestly looks just as ugly as his original design but for different reasons) once again arrives to reclaim the Boxes; this time, however, his slaughter of the Amazons is much more brutal, featuring far more Parademons and presenting Steppenwolf as a formidable and imposing force.

Steppenwolf not only looks more fearsome but is a far more interesting character now.

Indeed, compared to his theatrical counterpart, Steppenwolf is a much more well-rounded and interesting character; in the original cut, he was little more than a means to an end, an obscure and generic bad guy for the titular heroes to unite against in order to save the world but, here, he’s a driven, focused, and aggressive foe who is motivated not just by loyalty to his master and devotion to bringing about “the great darkness” but also desperate to regain his place among the New Gods after losing favour centuries before. Owing Darkseid (Ray Porter) a debt of fifty thousand worlds for his failures, Steppenwolf has been ostracised and forced to toil in endless conquest to regain his place at his master’s side; this desperation and motivation transforms Steppenwolf from a mere disposable hulk and into a surprisingly complex villain who seeks redemption and validation in the eyes of his master and will do anything to appease the will of Darkseid.

Superman’s loss affects each of the characters in different ways.

While the Man of Steel’s loss was felt in the theatrical cut, Superman’s death is a much bigger aspect of the Snyder Cut; carrying the guilt of Superman’s death on his shoulders, Bruce Wayne sets out to build an alliance of metahumans to combat this threat. While Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot) is reluctantly onboard with the plan and Barry Allen/The Flash (Miller) signs up immediately and enthusiastically, Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Momoa) basically laughs in his face and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Fisher) is busy struggling to reconcile his humanity after a horrific accident leaves him part machine. Furthermore, Superman’s loss is embodied here not just in Bruce’s guilt and desire to honour Superman’s legacy with a team of superheroes but in both Lois Lane (Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), both of whom struggle to adjust to life without Clark. Since Bruce has already been told that “Lois [is] the key” to reaching Superman, it makes sense to give Lois and Martha a little more prominence in the film, especially as her death is what causes Superman’s corruption in the dark future that looms over Snyder’s films.

Batman is now absolutely focused on bringing together a team to honour Superman’s memory.

Bruce Wayne is, of course, extremely different compared to his characterisation in Batman v Superman. Now driven by an obsessive desire to make good on his promise to unite Earth’s heroes in Superman’s name, he works himself tirelessly to track down the metahumans from Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) file, much to the continued chagrin of his faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons). Since he works closely with Diana to find and appeal to these metahumans, there’s even a little (microscopic, even) bit of romantic chemistry between the two and there’s now a nice little scene of Alfred making tea with Diana and showing her Batman’s new Parademon-absorbent gauntlet (which replaces the original cut’s side plot regarding Batman luring the Parademons out with “fear”). Mostly, though, Bruce remains the same character as in the theatrical cut; he’s still blinkered in his focus on bringing the team together, resurrecting Superman, and preparing the world to face escalating threats but all of his weird little attempts at humour are thankfully gone (sadly, that God-awful “I’m rich” line remains but, thankfully, we get the return of his “I’m real when it’s useful” line).

Wonder Woman now warns the team of Darkseid’s intentions for Earth.

Wonder Woman, however, is noticeably different this time around; more time is spent showing her as a willing ally of Bruce’s and she is also part of a pivotal extended scene that explores Steppenwolf’s previous campaign against the Earth. This sequence, which expands upon the prologue seen in the theatrical cut, shows the forces of man, Gods, Atlantis, Themyscira, and beyond uniting not just against Steppenwolf and his Parademons but also their exalted and imposing leader, Darkseid. Darkseid received only a passing mention in the original cut but, here, Diana’s obvious fear of the New God helps to establish early on that an even greater threat looms behind Steppenwolf’s actions. Furthermore, when out in the field with the team, Wonder Woman directs the fledging Justice League in the best way to attack Steppenwolf and his Parademons, which places greater emphasis on her capabilities as a warrior and leader.

The Snyder Cut retains Aquaman’s characterisation but explores a little more of his world.

Aquaman is largely the same as in the theatrical cut except, unsurprisingly, more haggard and bleak rather than being an obnoxious jock. Though he claims to have no interest in Bruce’s crusade or working with others and has turned his back on Atlantis, he continues to do good and help those in need in his own way to get his hands on more whiskey. Bruce’s warning, though, compels him to return to the ocean and converse with Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe), his former mentor, and ultimately to arrive all too late to help Mera (Amber Heard) defend the Mother Box from Steppenwolf. A couple of odd continuity issues are raised with all this, however, that fly in the face of DC’s directors wanting to align their movies with the Snyder Cut; first there’s Mera’s accent, which jumps from British to American to whatever the hell she likes, and second is the Atlantean’s ability to communicate using dolphin squeaks rather than just talking underwater as they do in Aquaman (Wan, 2018). Regardless, this version of Justice League does a far better job of setting up Aquaman’s solo film by showing more hints towards his world and Aquaman remains the film’s breakout character for me for me thanks to Momoa’s charismatic portrayal of the character.

Though still very neurotic, Barry plays a pivotal role in the film’s events and finale.

Barry Allen also gets a bit more time to shine this time around; this includes the restoration of his encounter with Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) and just more time to explore his awkward, energetic, and socially inept character traits. Barry was very much the comic relief of the theatrical cut and those who disliked many of his annoying character traits will be disappointed to find most of them intact and given more prominence in his increased screen time but I can’t fault Snyder’s attention to detail in showcasing Barry’s superspeed: his shoes and clothes disintegrate, the street is wrecked by his footfalls, and he experiences time in extreme slow motion when utilising the Speed Force. While the Flash loses one of my favourite scenes from the original cut (the “Just save one” moment), he plays a far greater role in not just the rescue of scientists from Steppenwolf’s clutches but also the film’s finale where, faced with defeat at the hands of Steppenwolf’s forces, he summons all of his super speed to travel back in time using the Speed Force and ensure that the invasion is halted.

Cyborg’s role is greatly expanded, making him the heart of the film and fleshing out his character.

Of course, the character who benefits the most from the Snyder Cut is Cyborg; in the theatrical cut, Cyborg is a stoic, confused young man who resents his father, Doctor Silas Stone (Joe Morton), for transforming him into a machine-monster in order to save his life. While this remains at the start of Cyborg’s character arc in the Snyder Cut, Snyder restores not just Cyborg’s importance to the film as the “heart” of the Justice League but also his eventual reconciliation with his father and showcases excised scenes of his promising career as a college football player, his natural aptitude for hacking (which he used to help those in need), and the horrific accident which left him near death. While I’m personally not a fan of Cyborg being on the Justice League, it was clear that there was originally more to his inclusion and importance to the film’s plot; since he’s literally comprised on a Mother Box and Apokoliptian technology, he is afforded numerous abilities and insights into the invading New Box forces and, here, Silas actually guides and mentors him in exploring these abilities (which includes his ability to access every technological device and network and essentially makes him the most powerful man on Earth).

Superman returns, now in a black suit, and galvanises the team.

Finally, there’s Superman; as you might expect, Superman is absent for a massive amount of the film on a small account of being dead. Like Darkseid, Superman looms over the film but as a hero lost and much needed as a symbol for the world’s heroes to properly rally behind. Bruce’s plan to resurrect Superman with the Mother Box is discussed (and edited) far more competently this time around; although there’s doubt about the moral and ethical implications of the plan (mainly from Alfred this time around), Bruce and Diana don’t come to blows like in the original film but the outcome remains the same. Like before, Superman is disorientated upon returning to life and attacks the fledgling Justice League in his confusion; his confrontation with Batman is a little different (and not as good as in the original cut, in my opinion) and there’s more to his return to the Kent farm but, upon regaining his senses, he returns to action as the team’s ace in the hole for the finale. Cavill is an absolutely fantastic Superman and Justice League finally got the character to a place where he is the charming symbol of hope and strength that the world needs and, despite his new black suit, Zack Snyder’s Justice League only expands upon that (of course, Cavill’s natural charisma and the absence of a horrible CGI face play a huge part in that).

The Nitty-Gritty:
One word to describe Zack Snyder’s Justice League (apart from “long”) would certainly be “epic”; Snyder pads the film’s runtime out with not only an abundance of never-before-seen footage, alternate takes, and new content but also an overuse of slow-motion and long establishing shots. To help make the film more accessible to viewers, the film is also split into six chapters, which was probably a great way to view it on HBO Max, and the DVD version of the film is split across two discs but, either way you slice it, this is a slog to get through and I have to believe that Snyder simply milked the extra time and money he was afforded just to capitalise on all the hype surrounding his version of the film. The closest comparison I can make is with his director’s cut of Watchmen (Snyder, 2009), which was similarly epic and ambitious in its scope, presentation, use of music, and its presentation of its costumed adventurers.

Some shots effects, and inconsistencies negatively affect the Snyder Cut.

It has to be said, though, that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has quite a few faults; some of the new special effects shots understandably look worse than others (and Cyborg still looks like dog shit), it’s pretty crazy that Darkseid and his forces just forgot where Earth was for hundreds of years (especially considering how badly he wants the secret of the Anti-Life Equation), the score has been completely reworked to remove Danny Elfman’s contributions (though, thankfully, Wonder Woman’s kick-ass musical theme remains), and many of the new scenes shot exclusively for the film suffer from poor lighting, inconsistent editing, and stand out like a sore thumb to the point where I’d much rather Snyder hadn’t bothered including the likes of the Joker (Jared Leto) when it makes little sense narratively (you’re telling me that in a grim, apocalyptic future where Superman has gone bad the Joker is alive but Aquaman isn’t?) Personally, I have never been a fan of Snyder’s “Knightmare” timeline; it made no sense in Batman v Superman and, thanks to Warner Bros. having no interest in allowing Snyder to fully explore this alternate timeline in Justice League sequels, it makes even less sense to me that he chose to continue pushing this dark vision of a future ruled by Darkseid and a corrupted version of Superman in the Snyder Cut (but, at least, it’s mainly confined to the film’s final moments rather than being awkwardly wedged in the middle of the film like in Batman v Superman).

Snyder’s cut expands and recontextualises many of the film’s existing scenes and characters.

Although many scenes and sequences may be familiar to anyone who has seen the theatrical cut of the film, the Snyder Cut expands upon every single one of these and, in many cases, recontextualises them into this larger narrative. This includes a longer scene of Bruce Wayne meeting and attempting to recruit Aquaman (accompanied by a lengthy song of reverence for the Atlantean), an expanded version of Wonder Woman’s introduction (including the first of a handful of pointless f-bombs), a longer version of Steppenwolf’s attack on Themyscira and the recap of Darkseid’s defeat centuries ago, more scenes of Steppenwolf and his Parademons’ search for the Mother Boxes (including torturing Atlanteans for information and a far better sequence where he acquires the final Box), and even recontextualising the interactions between Lois and Martha with the reveal that General Calvin Swanwick (Harry Lennix) has been J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter all along.

The Snyder Cut restores and dramatically changes excised characters.

One of the main selling points of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, however, is the restoration of scenes and plot threads excised from the theatrical version. This includes characters removed from the original film, like Doctor Ryan Choi (Ryan Zheng), Vulko, Iris, DeSaad (Peter Guinness), Cybrog’s mother, Elinor Stone (Karen Bryson), and more time devoted to side characters like Silas (who now gives his life to mark the final Mother Box) and the origins of the Mother Boxes. One of the benefits of this is that we actually get to see an in-depth look into Cyborg’s expansive abilities (which includes a deep dive into the way he now perceives reality). Much of the Snyder Cut’s hype was also built around the inclusion of Darkseid but, in truth, the character is little more than a cameo; he simply takes Steppenwolf’s place in the flashback of the war between the allied forces of Earth and Apokolips and looms over the film like an ominous shadow as the ultimate threat for the united Justice League. Sadly, despite Snyder choosing to push his Knightmare future throughout the film and concluding it with a tease of Darkseid’s impending retaliation against the Justice League, it seems like we won’t be seeing Darkseid (or any of the New Gods for that matter) in the DCEU again any time soon.

Snyder’s muted colour palette and bleak presentation makes an epic return.

Snyder’s vision of the DCEU remains extremely bleak in its presentation; for all the characters’ talk of “hope” and the better nature of men, Snyder continues to suck all the life and colour out of these vivid characters. One thing I liked about Justice League was that it did a fantastic job of bringing some life and colour to this world, allowing the costumes to pop out on screen but, here, everything retains the same muted look and sombre tones of Batman v Superman. This is best exampled in Snyder’s instance on garbing the resurrected Superman in his black suit; Superman wore this in the comics after returning to life for about three issues and it was later stated to have helped aid his recovery but, here, no real reason is given for his choice of attire and it honestly would have made more sense for the evil Knightmare Superman to have worn the suit instead. Additionally, Snyder removes the red tint and tumultuous skies from the finale of the film, which admittedly does make the climatic battle against Steppenwolf’s forces easier to see but I feel the original colouring worked a lot better as a reference to the red skies that were are of DC’s various Crises.

Thanks to the team, and time travel shenanigans, Darkseid is left humiliated.

Speaking of the finale, Zack Snyder’s Justice League slightly recontextualises the ending. Although there’s still an implication that Batman is heading into battle with the intention of dying, it’s not as explicit as in the theatrical cut; what is much more explicit, though, is the feeling of team work between the Justice League as they each play their part in breeching Steppenwolf’s defences (Flash, again, gets way more to do in using his Speed Force charge to help Cyborg interact with the Mother Boxes) before Superman dramatically shows up to again completely lay waste to Steppenwolf. I’m glad that this beatdown is maintained as it was always a glorious showcase of Superman’s return and of the team coming together against a common enemy but, here, things go slightly differently as the heroes fail to stop the unity between the Mother Boxes and prevent Darkseid’s arrival. With no other choice, the Flash enters the Speed Force and reverses time in a beautifully surreal sequence, allowing Cyborg to reject the Apokolips’ influence and Wonder Woman to decapitate Steppenwolf right before Darkseid’s eyes.

The Summary:
I went into Zack Snyder’s Justice League with low expectations. Toxic fans and a rabid, almost cult-like online community had beaten any sort of excitement and wonder out of me. I quite enjoyed the theatrical cut; it wasn’t perfect but, news flash: none of the DCEU has been perfect and few films really are. Knowing that Snyder got so screwed over by Warner Bros. stung and it definitely frustrated me that we didn’t get a concise and more accurate version of Justice League years ago so that maybe the DCEU would be in a slightly better place but it was hard for me to feel invested in the film when it was so self-indulgent and so clouded by negativity and entitlement.

Bigger and more epic, Snyder’s cut is the definitive version of Justice League.

In this case, though, I am glad to be wrong; there are many benefits to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. For one thing, it actually feels like a coherent story (even more so than Batman v Superman) and each member of the team is given so much more time to shine and showcase their powers and personality. Thus, when the Justice League unite for the finale, it means that much more as we actually get to know them all a little better and see them grow as a team through their interactions; it’s still a rush job as so much had to be crammed into so few films but, as a big fan I am of DC Comics and these characters, it remains a real thrill to actually get to see Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg all in a big budget, live-action film rather than constantly existing in self-contained bubbles (which seems where the DCEU will be heading again going forward). I’m not a massive fan of Snyder’s vision for the DCEU or many of the decisions he made but it’s better than nothing and not seeing an interconnected series of DC films so, while I was initially hesitant to enjoy Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised in the end. Had Warner Bros. not interfered and screwed things up, we probably would’ve gotten a two-and-a-half-hour long film that would have satisfied everyone enough to justify at least one more team effort but it is what it as and at least we got to see the closest approximation of Zack Snyder’s true vision of the film in the end and that’s something to be celebrated rather than simply, selfishly, demanding more.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think to Zack Snyder’s Justice League? Do you think it lived up to all the hype or was it all style and no substance? What did you think to the additional, extended and recontextualised scenes from Justice League and how do you feel the Snyder Cut compares to the theatrical version? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to their extended screen time? How did you watch the film; in sections or as one long movie? Would you like to see more from Snyder’s DCEU or are you happy with the direction Warner Bros. is taking? What did you think to the whole Knightmare timeline Snyder tried to push and were you a fan of Superman donning the black suit? Whatever you thought about Zack Snyder’s Justice League, good or bad feel free to leave a comment below (even if it is super toxic).

Talking Movies: Justice League

Talking Movies
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It’s no secret that DC Comics and Warner Bros. are a bit late to the superhero renaissance we are still experiencing thanks to the runaway success of the films put out each year by Marvel Studios. They lost a lot of ground with films like the dull Superman Returns (Singer, 2006) and Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011) – even though I personally actually enjoyed Green Lantern and thought the movie was worth salvaging in further DCEU films – and often focus too much of their attention on Batman at the expense of their massive cast of superheroes. However, amidst the many and ongoing critical debates surrounding Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (ibid, 2016) and the disappointment of Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016), they apparently scored a far more meaningful success with Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017) and their films have been profitable enough to keep the idea of a cinematic universe alive, even if rumours abound every day that it is on life support. Now, I never saw Wonder Woman, for reasons of my own, and I actually really enjoyed not just Man of Steel but also Batman v Superman so, for me, anticipation was high for Snyder’s third cinematic effort, Justice League. While a personal tragedy saw him leave the production process and be replaced by formal Marvel guru Joss Whedon, the film is still credited to Snyder and carries many of his themes and ideas over but does it deliver?

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An invasion from Apokolips is all-but inevitble!

Justice League begins in a world still mourning the loss of Superman (Henry Cavill), which hasn’t resulted in world-wide chaos but has resulted in appearances of insect-like Parademons across the globe. Having witnessed a glimpse into a nightmare dystopian future where these creatures have overrun humanity, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) has been investigating the creatures and their weaknesses amidst attempting to recruit a superpowered team alongside Diane Prince (Gal Gadot) to fight what he believes to be an inevitable invasion. On Themyscira, Diana’s home island of Amazons, the ancient Mother Box suddenly awakens and opens a Boom Tube, through which appears Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and an army of Parademons. Slaughtering the Amazonians, he claims their Mother Box and promptly disappears, forcing Bruce and Diana to step up their timetable. Bruce is initially unable to convince Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) to join their cause due to his desire to be left alone but has far more luck in recruiting Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) who, disillusioned by the wrongful incarceration of his father (Billy Crudup) and struggling to live in a world that now seems painfully slow in comparison to his superspeed, joins up as the Flash without a second’s hesitation. Meanwhile, Diana is able to channel her own experiences with isolation and loss to convince Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) to put his recently-acquired and still developing cybernetic powers to good use in the fight against Steppenwolf.

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It’s going to take everyone to fight off Steppenwolf.

Aquaman is finally convinced to join the team when he is forced to return to Atlantis to defend the second Mother Box from Steppenwolf, only to be suitably humbled. With two of the boxes in the hands of the enemy and the countdown to the destruction of the planet imminent, Batman struggles to galvanise the team in using the final Mother Box to resurrect Superman to lead the final battle for the fate of humanity. I’m going to say something now that may cause a stir; I’m a fan of both DC Comics and Marvel. Yes, it is possible; for me, just seeing comic book superheroes on screen and coming together is a thrill in and of itself. I don’t get weighed down with debates between which company is better or criticise DC for failing to follow Marvel’s gameplan; however, I do admit that they are very clearly playing catch-up. This was massively evident in Batman v Superman, where Wonder Woman was introduced with a lot of intrigue and mystery surrounding her but which also wedged in cameos from the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. It felt like the movie was trying to do to much but, at the same time, those small glimpses served the purpose of a larger narrative and didn’t distract from the film at all; instead, they were weaved into Batman’s character arc of moving past his misguided vendetta against Superman and towards rejoining the world and uniting a team.

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Ezra Miller brings some welcome levity to the DCEU.

While Justice League does suffer form some pacing issues in the first act, each member of the team gets an ample amount of screen time to shine and show some layers. Although I could’ve done without it as we have seen the tale of Barry’s father played out in the first season of The Flash, it nevertheless helped to establish that Barry is currently in a very lonely and confused place in his life and that his powers only make things more difficult for him. Barry primarily serves as the comic relief, once again being infused with more of the characteristics commonly associated with the Wally West version of the character, but shows significant growth when he admits to Batman that he’s never actually been in a real fight before and, upon Batman’s prompting, learns how to be a superhero by simply saving one life.

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Probably the greatest interpretation of Aquaman we’ll ever see!

Before the movie came out, I hedged my bets on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman being a kick-ass, breakout character; for years, people have ridiculed Aquaman because “all he does is talk to fish” when that’s simply not the case. Now, I’m not the biggest Aquaman fan because, honestly, he can still be pretty lame for other more pressing reasons, but I am a fan of the Peter David version of the character, which had long hair, a beard, a more armoured outfit, and was a no-nonsense, stern ass-kicker. Momoa’s Aquaman may not have a harpoon for a hand but, man, is he bad-ass! He’s more like a rock star than a clean-cut prince, revelling in the heat of battle, carrying himself with a sense of narcissism, and generally approaching every situation with a nonchalant attitude. He looks fantastic and really brings the muscle to the team in Superman’s absence, but there’s also a sense of a much larger world and backstory behind him through his return to Atlantis and interactions with Mera (Amber Heard).

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Obviously a character mostly created in CGI is going to be CGI!

Probably the character with the most controversy surrounding him is Cyborg; personally, I’ve never liked the idea of Cyborg being on the Justice League, primarily because he’s so closely associated with the Teen Titans and I feel it’s a just a reason to have racial diversity on the team. However, for the purposes of this film, he serves a key purpose; having been created through the machinations of a Mother Box, Victor’s cybernetic parts are constantly evolving and hold the key to interacting with and stopping the Mother Boxes from uniting and destroying the world. Everywhere I look people are bad-mouthing the CGI on Cyborg and, honestly, I don’t see why; Justice League is filled to the brim with top-notch special effects, to the point where even a $300 million budget can be stretched pretty thin. Cyborg is a 90%, at least, CGI character so, obviously, he’s going to have a lot of CGI used on him. Would it have been better if they’d tried more of a Robocop (Verhoeven, 1987) route? Probably, yes. Did I think the sleeker, Teen Titans-inspired look he adopted at the end of the film would’ve looked better than the Transformers (Bay, 2007 to 2017) look? Definitely, but I never let the fact that he was largely comprised of CGI parts distract me from the film and, honestly, if you do then you’re clearly not that interested in the film to begin with.

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Gal Gadot continues to impress/surprise.

Gal Gadot continues to impress as Wonder Woman; despite my reservations about her, she is an extremely attractive young lady and her accent actually becomes less distracting the more you hear it. Diana’s arc here is directly tied in to the events of Wonder Woman as she is still apprehensive about rejoining society in the spotlight. Bruce even calls her out on it and accuses her of not being able to move past the death of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), which only galvanises Wonder Woman’s resolve. Henry Cavill also returns after the team successful manage to resurrect Superman using the same Kryptonian birthing chamber that spawned Doomsday. Unlike the comics, he does not sport a mullet or a black costume, but his memories are briefly fragmented, leading to an awesome fight between Superman and the rest of the team. Superman is actually amazing in this film; he’s clearly overjoyed to be alive again, smiling and cracking jokes, and finally shines as an optimistic symbol of hope to rally behind. His initial period of disorientation also showcases his intense rage as he spits Batman’s “do you bleed” line back into Batman’s face as he is poised to crush Batman’s head. The only things I slightly disliked about Superman were that they didn’t make any effort to address how they explained Clark Kent’s sudden return to life and his resurrection felt like it came too soon; I expected him to return right at the very end, but it comes just before the third act, so it does raise the question of why kill him off in the first place (though I’m glad they did because at least it meant they got that aspect of Doomsday right).

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Seriously, how can you not love shots like this!?

Ben Affleck returns as Batman, despite a new rumour springing up online almost every day saying that he wants out of the franchise. When he was first cast, I had my doubts that he would stick around for sequels and, honestly, the more I hear about him wanting to leave the more annoyed I am that he was ever cast in the first place. The fact that he is a fantastic Batman makes it all the more annoying; Warner Bros. seem to want to evoke Marvel Studios’ attitude towards Robert Downey Junior and build their DCEU around Affleck so I really hope that they do everything they can to convince him to see it through because he put in another brilliant performance here. Now focused on facing Steppenwolf’s impending threat, Batman has turned his mission from vengeance and death towards forming a team, saving the world, and atoning for the decisions he made that led to the death of Superman. The guilt he feels is evident and he even descends into some trademark Bat-dickery by manipulating Diana into following Superman’s example and being an inspiration for others. Additionally, the idea that he is so worn down and beaten up from twenty years of being Batman and that he now craves an honourable death continues in Justice League as, even with the team assembled, many of his plans revolve around him making a suicide run; during Superman’s resurrection, Batman even faces him head on with the intention of dying so that Superman can take his place as the more suitable leader of the team, and his joy at seeing Superman returned to life is clear on his face even if he quickly adopts a more stoic façade to save face.

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The traditional bland villain does equal fleshed out heroes…

The action in Justice League is very big and very loud; explosions happen all over the place, water crashes everywhere, buildings topple, and hits land with a satisfying impact. Amidst what could be described as chaos, but actually is a far more cohesive end-of-the-world scenario than the one seen in Suicide Squad, is a fabulous score by Danny Elfman. Elfman even weaves not only his classic Batman (Burton, 1989) theme into the score but also John William’s classic Superman (Donner, 1978) theme; as much as I enjoyed the score from Snyder’s previous films, hearing the return of those classic, iconic, and irreplaceable themes brought a warm feeling of joy and nostalgia to my heart. Probably the biggest issues with the film are easily the most predictable; pacing and the villain. With the film being mandated to be two hours long, there’s a real sense that a lot of content was trimmed back and I look forward to seeing it inserted back in for an extended cut. While I did not experience any jarring leaps in continuity or pacing, it is unavoidable that a large chunk of the film’s early runtime is devoted to introducing and fleshing out not just the new characters but also existing ones; the plus side of this though is the clear influence of Joss Whedon, who not only infused a bright, vibrant colour palette but clearly worked on the film’s dialogue, resulting in a truly enjoyable rapport between the protagonists. As for Steppenwolf, he’s there for the team to unite against and defeat and his motivations are as one-note as possible; he wants to destroy the world, no more and no less. Diana relates his backstory through a pretty impressive flashback that shows that Amazons, Atlanteans, tribes of men, Old Gods, and even a Green Lantern fighting against Steppenwolf and his Parademons, which helps give a sense of the scale of his threat. His name-drop of Darkseid hints that a greater threat could be looming on the horizon but it cannot be avoided that he largely disappears for a big portion of the film. Again, though, this results in better characterisations of the protagonists and, unlike some Marvel villains, Steppenwolf actually makes up for it in the third act by not being a complete push-over and taking on the entire League all at once.

Given the after credits scene, in which freshly-escaped Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) recruits Slade Wilson/Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) for a League of their own, I really hope that Justice League does well enough to continue the DCEU and help flesh the protagonists out even more in future films and therefore allow for better characterisations of the villains when they appear. While I may have criticised Eisenberg’s Luthor, I am still glad that he returned as it means there is a chance for the character to grow and evolve beyond Eisenberg’s madcap portrayal; if they had simply recast or abandoned the character, that hope would have been completely dashed and we would be forever deprived of the possibility of a good interpretation of Superman’s greatest nemesis. Honestly, the fact that I’ve heard so much negative criticism about this film really bugs me. Similar to Batman v Superman, I just don’t get it; sure, it isn’t perfect and it has flaws, but it’s actually a really good action romp, with some witty dialogue and some fantastic cinematography. Also, unlike the films of Marvel Studios, the thrill of seeing DC superheroes onscreen individually and as a group has not worn thin yet; it’s pretty amazing to finally see Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, and (I guess) Cyborg all together onscreen at last. I really hope Affleck sticks around and that Justice League does well enough to continue to DCEU as this felt like a massive step in the right direction towards forging the distinct big screen superhero universe that they have wanted for so long now.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff


Recommended: For comic book fans and DC fans, definitely, for the thrill of finally seeing the Justice League on screen, and also for fans of action movies. For those expecting something other than a fun action romp? Maybe stay away and keep your mouths shut.
Best moment: Any time the entire League is onscreen together is always great, especially in the finale, but also the scenes involving Batman and Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons).
Worst moment: Three things were annoying: Steppenwolf, as you’d expect, though again I’d rather have more screen time for the protagonists in a team-up movie; Cyborg, just because I prefer him on the Teen Titans, and all the Amazonians except for Diana were pretty disappointing actresses.

Talking Movies: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Talking Movies
BatmanVSuperman.png

In 2013, director Zack Snyder released his gritty, modern interpretation of Clark Kent/Superman after a long hiatus and after Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006) almost killed the franchise with ridiculous plotlines and nonsensical decisions. Man of Steel caused quite a deal of controversy for its darker, more grounded approach and the massive amounts of destruction caused by the battles between Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon). Personally, I enjoyed the movie for making Superman awesome again and showcasing the impact of super-powered beings doing battle in highly-populated areas. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice follows-up on Man of Steel’s themes and narrative by introducing the first-ever live-action meeting between the two iconic superheroes. It should be noted that this post is going to be full of spoilers and talk about the film’s narrative, so if you haven’t seen the film then it’s probably best not to read on further. With the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (2004 to 2012), the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman was taken up by Ben Affleck in a casting decision that also caused a stir of controversy, mainly due to Affleck’s previous work on Daredevil (Johnson, 2003). Personally, this decision riled me the wrong way. While I actually enjoyed Daredevil (especially The Director’s Cut), I cannot say that I am much of a Ben Affleck fan; also, I felt that his casting took the role away from other actors who could have shined in that sort of role. Basically, this casting felt like the producers were trying to leech of Affleck’s star power.

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The loss of Robin has affected Bruce’s attitude, just as it did in the comics.

However, Affleck’s portrayal of Wayne/Batman is a true gem of a surprise; Affleck plays an older, grizzled, veteran Batman who is constantly haunted by nightmares, fatigue, and inner turmoil. In the film, Wayne has been Batman for about twenty years; Gotham has gone to hell despite his presence (Wayne Manor is dilapidated, for reasons unknown, and the Gotham Police Department is similarly run-down and seemingly abandoned) and his approach towards his vigilantism has become cruel and violent. This is not just due to his age but also to the dramatic shift in Wayne’s entire persona and attitude after the loss of his partner, Robin, at some point in the past. As a result, Batman (refreshingly commonly referred to as “The Bat” on numerous occasions) tortures and brands criminals in his night-by-night activities and, at a number of points in the film, brandishes firearms and racks up quite the body count. If people were pissed that Michael Keaton’s Batman killed people back in the day, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see Affleck’s Batman attract some debate given that he clearly guns down, blows up, and drives through quite a few goons. Personally, again, I have no problem with that because of the movie’s context. Batman is older, admittedly slower; he’s worn down by age, weariness, and his new mission in life: mainly, the destruction of Superman. It transpires that Wayne was present during the events of Man of Steel and witnessed Superman and Zod’s fight devastating Metropolis, causing the deaths of numerous Wayne employees.

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Affected by the events of Man of Steel, Batman makes it his mission to end Superman.

As a result, despite the protestations of his ever-loyal butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Batman has decided to view Superman as a potential threat that doesn’t need stopping…he needs killing. It doesn’t help Wayne’s mindset that he is constantly haunted by nightmares of not only the deaths of his parents (as standard) but also visions of a dystopian future where Superman rules as a tyrant. These visions are given further credence not only by a surprise visit by Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) in a scene straight out of Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) where he warns Wayne of this apocalyptic future and urges him to “find us”, but also through the machinations of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).

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During the Crisis, the Flash appeared to Batman and warned of the coming events.

Given the controversy caused by Man of Steel, the world is suitably divided by Superman’s presence. A big side plot in the film is the world’s views on Superman; while many view him as a hero, saviour, and messianic figure, others are also fearful of his presence and uncomfortable with his status as an all-powerful alien who answers to no one. While Batman comes to represent the extremes of the latter, Superman’s extended family – the ever-pretty Amy Adams and Lois Lane and his mother, Martha (Diane Lane) – represent the former, urging Clark to be a symbol of hope and/or remove himself from the equation entirely and leave the world to its own issues. Luthor capitalises on the divide that Superman causes and works it to his advantages; through his devious machinations, Luthor gains access to the remains of Zod’s Kryptonian ship, the body of Zod himself, and frames Superman as a destructive force through a series of terrorist actions. This is aided by the general consensus that, because Superman acts as an independent force, his actions have consequences for the rest of the world that led to a number of deaths, a fact that weighs heavily on Superman’s conscience and his belief in himself and what he’s doing.

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Separated at birth?

For me, the casting of Eisenberg is the exact opposite of Affleck’s: while I generally believed that he could bring something unusual to the role, he is less of a gem and more of a scenery-chewing, ham-fisted version of the character. In his defence, I was glad to see that he wasn’t the corporate, suit-wearing version; Eisenberg brings a manic, hyperactive energy to the role that masks his true, devious intentions; however, while it kind of portrays the character as a quirky, eccentric tycoon, it lends itself more to Jim Carrey’s over-the-top acting from Batman Forever (Schumacher, 1995) people continue to lament to this day. Luthor, implied to be from observing how often Superman saves Lois Lane from danger, pieces together Superman’s secret identity and kidnaps his mother and places Lois in peril in order to bend Superman to his will. He has also been fuelling Wayne’s thirst for blood by manipulating him over time, effectively setting the two against each other in order to publically discredit and shame Superman. However, Luthor’s ultimate plot involves not only the discovery of Kryptonite (which Wayne manages to intercept and use to his own advantage) but also the genetic tampering of Zod’s remains. Accessing forbidden Kryptonian technology, Luthor creates a hulking genetic monstrosity whose sole purpose is to kill Superman: he creates Doomsday.

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Doomsday serves as the penultimate threat of the film.

Doomsday, whom many online have criticised as being shoe-horned in to unite the central characters, also surprised me. When I first saw the footage of Doomsday from an earlier trailer, I lamenting his presence as it causes so many issues. People have been asking me over the last few years how Batman and Superman can fight and I have explained, over and over, that the two have not only fought numerous times in the comics but also that Batman has often come out on top more than once. Superman, for all his powers, is fallible and has numerous weaknesses; Doomsday, however, traditionally has no such weaknesses and, in a fight against him, the most useless ally you would want would be Batman. However, the film’s version of Doomsday is markedly different; it’s somewhat weaker, physically, and vulnerable to Kryptonite but remains as immensely powerful as ever, if not more so. Doomsday emits concussive blasts of heat energy, seems to float or straight-up fly a few times, and expels shockwaves of energy every time it evolves to repair from damage and attacks. In Superman’s favour, he learns from Man of Steel and attempts to take Doomsday into space and away from the planet; however, this plan is foiled by the governmental decision to nuke them once their out in orbit, which brings Doomsday back more powerful than ever. Joining Superman and Batman to oppose Doomsday is Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who appears at numerous points in a sub-plot concerning her attempts to retrieve vital data of metahumans from Luthor.

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Miller’s influence on Snyder is painfully obvious.

It turns out that Luthor has kept tabs on Barry Allen/the Flash, sightings of Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and the augmentation of Victor Stone into Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and is eager to keep Luthor from eliminating these metahumans. In service of this, she runs into Wayne at numerous points, who discovers that Diana has been around for about a hundred years and is more than she seems. Diana opts to interject herself into the conclusion and assist Batman and Superman, relishing the battle against Doomsday. For the first-ever live-action portrayal of Wonder Woman, Gadot bring both beauty and strength; while her casting also attracted controversy, she was actually portrayed very well and as integral to not only this film but also the formation of the upcoming Justice League. However, the primary title of this movie involves the fight between Batman and Superman. These two clash immediately due to their ideals and approaches and because of Wayne’s vendetta against Superman, but don’t actually come to blows until the third act. For this battle, Snyder draws implicitly from The Dark Knight Returns (Miller, 1986); Batman dons a cybernetic suit exactly as in the comic, blasts Superman with Kryptonite gas as in the comic, and beats him into submission just like in the comic. I guess, in execution, the fight between the two comes across as very similar to the showdown in Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003) in that the entirely film builds the tension towards the confrontation, and builds it some more, and, when the tension finally snaps, it is a very satisfying event.

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Superman famously died in battle against Doomsday in 1992.

Batman, as mentioned before, is violent and aggressive in his fighting style; his combat prowess is ripped straight from the Arkham series of videogames (Rocksteady Studios/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 2009 to 2015) and there is no question that, once Superman is suitably weakened, Batman is the superior fighter. Superman, in a change of pace, shakes off the effects of Kryptonite over time and it merely weakens him, rather than kills him. However, that’s alright because Batman is more than willing to stab a Kryptonite spear through Superman’s head! Batman bests Superman, beating him into submission, and is poised for the kill before Superman begs him to save his mother after the fact and Lois rushes in to help clear the air. It is at this moment that Batman comes to his senses and realises that Superman is a selfless man trying to do good; however, this revelation comes off quite rushed. Indeed, once the revelation that Wayne and Clark’s mothers share the same first name (a point I had never actually considered or thought of before) is brought up, Wayne does a complete turn around. Not only is he now willing to assist Superman’s causes, he also pledges to unite the other metahumans in honour of Superman’s penultimate sacrifice.

Oh, didn’t I mention that Superman dies?

Well, honestly, I was pleasantly surprised that Snyder saw this through as totally as he did. As I said on numerous occasions before the movie came out, you cannot involve Doomsday and not do The Death of Superman (Jurgens, et al, 1992) from the comics. Doomsday’s entire purpose is to kill Superman; leaving that out would be like using bane and not having him break Batman’s back. In fact, one of the major issues I had with Smallville (2001 to 2011) using a version of Doomsday was that it obviously wouldn’t be killing Clark (Tom Welling) and would be portrayed as another “villain-of-the-season”. Here, Doomsday and Superman kill each other through mutual impalement; this heroic act brings Batman entirely over to Superman’s cause. It also (through the effective use of a military/state funeral, the more emotional funeral in Smallville, and the montage of reaction shots to the news of Superman’s death) turns Superman into a matriarchal symbol of hope and heroism, effectively ending the divisive conflict he caused in life.

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Smallville‘s Doomsday was an abomination.

Of course, a two-part Justice League movie is scheduled to begin filming soon and Superman is already confirmed as being part of the line-up. As a result, the film’s final shot is of Superman’s grave trembling slightly, signalling his inevitable return (and without the four bogus clones as in the original story, one would assume). However, the fact that Snyder actually had the balls to do The Death of Superman, in my mind, completely justifies and exonerates the inclusion of Doomsday. It wasn’t just some half-assed inclusion there to be brought down by the trinity of superheroes; it was there to unite them, the Justice League, and the world by killing Superman, so kudos for that. Visually, the film is actually quite magnificent; say what you will about Snyder as a storyteller, the man knows how to be cinematic. Batman shines the most throughout because of this, being shot in pitch black and having his action scenes be energetic and clear to see. Snyder’s visual symbolism extends to Superman as well; while the God and Christ metaphors have been done to death with Superman, here they actually have relevance in the plot so they don’t come off as cheap or superficial. The visual dichotomy of the film is wonderfully done; the contrast between Metropolis and Gotham City is apparent, the costumes all pop out and appear functional, and Batman’s weapons and gadgets are showcased to the fullest.

It really feels as though the film-makers held nothing back (except for the half-hour of cut footage rumoured to be on the home release) and that has, in the eyes of many, caused more controversy. I have heard of critics attacking the film for being “choppy” at the start, shoe-horning in the Justice League elements and Doomsday, and having nonsensical decisions woven into the dialogue, script, and plot. To them, I say, these are valid points in some cases. However, I never experienced any issues with the pacing or the editing; sure, it’s a long film, but films are these days and, when you’re enjoying a movie, that’s not a bad film. I found myself engaged with the plot; I wanted to know more about Wayne Manor, Gotham, and Batman (which is a perfect way to re-introduce this version of the character and will be expanded upon in future DC films), I followed along easily enough with Luthor’s plot and the side-plots involving the Justice League, and never felt that anything else done an injustice or there for the sake of it. The fact is that DC and Warner Bros. are very late to the shared universe party; Marvel Studios have gained the upper hand after building their individual heroes separately and now having them cross over regularly. While DC’s television efforts are popular and are beginning to cross over, their television shows will not be a part of this forthcoming DC film universe and the studio, which has largely been happy to produce mainly Batman and Superman movies after the lacklustre reception of Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011), doesn’t have the time or the release schedule to introduce the Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg or the other Justice Leaguers. Instead, what will set DC movies apart from Marvel’s from now on is their cross-connectivity and their immediate focus of having their films and character converge right off the bat, which could make for some exciting future releases.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Overall, yes, this film has some flaws but nowhere near as many as I was expecting and it certainly doesn’t deserve the critical backlash it is currently facing. It re-introduces Batman, presenting a grizzled, more violent version of the character who seems just as mental as the villains he faces, and brings more humanity and empathy to Superman. The visual presentation is top-notch, more than making up for any narrative deficiencies, and the thematic portrayal of both characters is largely in keeping with their portrayals in several prominent comic books, even the vaunted Dark Knight Returns. Snyder had the balls to do new thins with this movie: he incorporates Robin (no one knows which one but, most likely it was Jason Todd, meaning Nightwing could be active in this universe), a character no one has used in film for nearly ten years (and that’s just criminal); he utilised Doomsday to its fullest extent; he addressed and upped the scale of destruction from Man of Steel; and the apocalyptic future witnessed by Wayne, which is implied to be the result of Superman’s actions (somehow), and Luthor’s manic rant at the end (I half-expected him to announce that “a Crisis is coming”) lend credence to the rumours that the Justice League will come together to battle Darkseid. Make no mistake, the DC movies are a violent one where actions have consequences and the heroes amongst us may cause more trouble than the villains but it is one soon to be united by heroes and villains alike and, for the first true attempt and making headway towards a Justice League movie, I would say that Snyder has delivered on all fronts.

Recommended: Sure, why not? The film is beautifully shot, exciting, and engaging. It’s maybe not the best-paced film and has it’s issues, but it’s Batman…versus Superman!
Best moment: Easily the entire final act of the film from the titular clash between the two heroes, into Batman’s vicious rescue mission, through to the Trinity joining forces against Doomsday.
Worst moment: Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor totally ruins what should have been a far more cerebral, menacing characterisation.