Here's hoping it's the one that lifts ALL the boats.
You ever do that thing where you're walking along in a public place and you realize you're going the wrong way? But instead of just doubling back, you take out your phone and look at it as though you've just gotten some sort of message indicating you need to be going the other way, in a desperate hope that nobody around you notices that you've just changed course super abruptly?
Yeah, Warner Bros. is basically doing that move right about now. The weird thing is that it seems to be working.
There's really no two ways around the fact that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were overfull sacks of red hot garbage. Suicide Squad is a movie that I very frequently forget exists, leaving Wonder Woman to stand as the sole bastion of quality and actual emotional storytelling in the entire DC Extended Universe. Aside from that last entry, the DC cinematic affair has been a dark, wet mess of tonal over-saturation and vastly misunderstood characters. To its credit, though, Warner Bros. seems to have figured out that some course-correction was in the cards, and Justice League basically represents a much of a best-case-scenario handbrake turn as we could have possibly hoped for.
One of the more talked-about parts of Justice League's troubled production history was its studio-mandated trimming down to an even 120 minutes, but this turns out to have served the movie pretty well. Unlike the frustratingly overcomplicated Batman v. Superman, the plot to Justice League smartly stays too simple to be offensive. There's a real powerful bad guy coming down from space, and if he gets his hands on three boxes, it'll be real bad for everyone. Since Superman isn't around to protect everyone, Batman has to round up as many superpowerd folks as he possibly can so they can collectively keep the gad guy from getting his hands on those boxes. And that's about it. Standard wrinkles like a couple of characters being reluctant to join the party obviously keep things from being too easy and pointless, but for the most part Justice League seems more concerned with having a good time than it does with being SIGNIFICANT AND IMPORTANT.
Again, the film is served well by not really trying to be about much of anything. Sure, there's some limp fainting at thematic cohesion here and there, but this is mostly relegated to the back burner. Instead, Justice League spends more time inviting everyone to use their powers in action — and often in some pretty exciting, creative ways — than it does forcing significance into what is, thankfully, a fairly standard superhero team-up romp.
Not every character benefits from having been fleshed out in previous movies, and this includes two of the characters that we actually already have gotten to know. Batman is more or less the same as he was in his last outing, though his brutality seems to have been toned down quite a bit, and we never see him pick up a gun and shoot someone in the head. Superman, though, gets talked about by characters who clearly didn't see the same two movies the audience did, so a little suspension of disbelief goes a long way when it comes to accepting how this version of the world has reacted to the death of its greatest hero.
When the Boy in Blue does show up, though, it's a hell of a lot of fun. We all know he's coming, but some of the details surrounding his eventual return are satisfyingly engaging to watch — even if he weirdly undercuts his return by all but exiting the movie just after it happens, only to return later pretty much exactly when you're expecting him to.
Wonder Woman is the obvious beating heart of the movie, even if her presentation is irritatingly sophomoric in comparison to Patty Jenkins' more respectful treatment of the character. Ray Fisher's Cyborg gets to use a cool, halted speech pattern while doing a ton of really fun robot stuff, and Ezra Miller's Flash is an obnoxious Millennial riff who is smartly utilized most in an aid/rescue capacity when the team gets down to it. Aquaman similarly has little to him, but that doesn't stop Jason Momoa from having a great time on screen.
It's more or less impossible to tell if Ciarán Hinds did any kind of motion capture, or if her performance as Steppenwolf was relegated to vocal work, and it really doesn't matter. He's a giant, computer-generated monster who mostly just mutters important-sounding alien nonsense for the die-hard fans as he goes around doing what needs to be done to keep the plot moving. As a screen presence, Steppenwolf mostly lacks any real weight, even if it is pretty satisfying to see him leap around with that giant axe when he gets around to doing so.
While the Justice League members we haven't already met are treated pretty perfunctorily, everybody still gets at least some kind of arc, and it's just enough to make the whole thing more fun than it is annoying. At the very least, audiences should feel primed to be ready to spend more time with the newcomers when their respective solo adventures roll around. (Here's hoping Barry Allen's characterization gets a little bit of a tweak, though.) The end result is a team-up adventure that's way more fun than it should've been, given the state of the franchise that has preceded it so far.
It's almost impossible to talk about the movie without mentioning the different tonal sensibilities of the two creators who brought it to life, but the end result is a lot more satisfying and engaging than the film's production history might have suggested. Justice League follows Wonder Woman's lead and overall takes steps towards making the DC cinematic universe a more colorful, exciting place to be...while still remaining distinct in tone and style from its Disney-owned counterparts. The fate of the extended DC cinematic universe is a bit uncertain at this point, but it's clear at this point that Wonder Woman became the rising tide that would raise all boats. Fortunately, Justice League was one of them.