As their armoured alter egos Batman and Wonder Woman, Bruce and Diana recruit a team of metahumans from across the world to stand with them, birthing a new age of heroes as they band together with costumed caperlords Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash in the freshly-minted Justice League.
The new age of heroes - or, at least, the Modern Golden Age - truly began back in 2008 with two strikingly different spins on comic book source material; Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. One a philosophically daring and psychologically murky take on the Bat Man, and the other a breezy, four-colour pop-romp starring charisma-engine Robert Downey Jr, audiences lapped them up, begging for more as the films flapped and thrusted to over 1.5 billion box office dollars between them.
While both films were successful gambles, Warner Brothers had allowed the crafting a genre-transcending film, an auteur-led, critically and popularly acclaimed modern masterpiece that raised the bar for intelligent blockbuster filmmaking of the kind that could stimulate thought as well as adrenal glands.
With Nolan approaching the studio during the making of trilogy-capper The Dark Knight Rises with an idea to dust off intellectual property wet dream Superman, the decision was made to deploy the same what-if-this-really-happened approach that worked with Batman to form the cornerstone of a potential new cinematic DC universe, one with the granddaddy of superheroes at its heart.
Zack Snyder - director of 2009’s extraordinary and increasingly-revered Watchmen - was brought in to helm the film, porting over his deconstructionist sensibilities to Superman and the muscular, painterly Man of Steel in 2013. Despite being a bracing and provocative spin on the material (as well as the highest-grossing solo Superman film ever) a lacklustre critical response and failure to achieve those heady Batman-like numbers saw the studio bringing in, well, Batman, for the sequel.
Revealed in the director’s cut as a Watchmen-infused probing of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, studio Interference with Zack Snyder’s final edit of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice kicked off a relentless series of bad decisions and wrongheadedness as Warner Brothers scrambled to regain the ground claimed by Marvel Studios and their much-loved post-Iron Man output.
While notably lighter in tone than both Batman v Superman and goth-lite curb-stomper Suicide Squad, Patty Jenkins’ take on DC’s Wonder Woman eschewed the episodic TV stylings of Marvel for a soaringly cinematic and self-contained tale rich with heart and heroism, boasting a role-of-a-lifetime performance from a luminous, inspirational Gal Gadot.
While Snyder had consistently noted that the tone of the DC Universe was always intended to swerve lighter as hope was restored following the devastating events of the previous films, the studio took the critical and commercial accomplishment of the film as a cue to push things even lighter, drafting in Marvel alumni Joss Whedon to complete Justice League after Snyder bowed out due to an unspeakable personal tragedy.
The result is shocking; a borderline incoherent arse of a picture, lurching haphazardly from one scene to the next, a lumpen, part-digested Happy Meal spewed onto our collective doorsteps, clearly butchered in the edit and frittering away any goodwill generated through Wonder Woman.
Ultimately, we’ve been delivered something far worse than a bad film; an uninteresting one.
Gone is the Dark Knight Returns-inspired deconstructionist take on the godlike heroes of the DC pantheon, the philosophical tussle between deontological ethics and consequentialism, the society fractured by fear and awe, the global political impact of the titans in the sky, and the search for the answer to the infinitely-regressing question, who watches the watchmen?
Happily, holding the whole thing up like an embarrassed Atlas are the heroes themselves. Ben Affleck’s snappier Batman (unlike Christian Bale, we tellingly never talk about his take on Bruce Wayne) and Gal Gadot’s assured Wonder Woman anchor the film, joined by a relentlessly-likable Ezra Miller as the Flash, Jason Momoa’s joyous surfer-bro Aquaman and Ray Fisher showing promise as the poignant Cyborg.
Startlingly, after the ordeal is over a joyous mid-credits scene caps the film; freeze-framing on an image of such giddiness, warmth and enthusiasm, you can’t help but feel that – perversely - hope might indeed been restored at the last minute to the franchise. They might just yet pull this off in the long run.
If so, then Justice League is at best a necessary evil. Should the DC universe be made great again and a new age of heroes begins, it will be at the expense of a criminally wasted opportunity, a road not taken; an injustice.
Justice League is currently showing and you can book 2D tickets here.