A satisfying, fun, and nerdy delight, ’Justice League’ may just be the best DC movie yet
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Courtesy of Warner Brothers

PLUS: 6 Jewish facts about the Justice League you probably didn’t know!

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT "JUSTICE LEAGUE"


 

It’s a sad, yet foregone eventuality that every DC movie would be compared to those of Marvel Studios. After all, anything DC can do, Marvel can do better, or rather that’s been the reigning ideology in today’s pop culture landscape of the last ten years when it comes to the cinematic universes of both comic book companies. Disney seems to hit super powered gold every time it takes a movie to market whereas as Warner Brothers seems to take two steps forward and one step back with its similarly-veined projects. Not altogether surprising, given how much “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and (I shudder to even speak its name) “Suicide Squad” were almost universally reviled when they hit theaters. Man of Steel was pretty ok and “Wonder Woman” was, for many people, mana from heaven, just what DC needed. Still, a single hit does not a franchise make and one cinematic universe was still the clear winner…until “Justice League”, that is. 




Courtesy of Warner Brothers

“Justice League,” at least to me, is the first DC movie that could go into the ring with Marvel Studios at its best and actually deliver a KO punch. In other words, Warner Brothers has tapped into that aforementioned gold mine. With “Thor: Ragnarok” so fresh in my mind from two weeks ago, I did find myself comparing the two movies, but only in the absolute enjoyment and sheer fun I had while watching both of them. To be completely fair, a lot of the credit probably goes to Joss Whedon, who took over the movie’s extensive reshoots after director Zack Snyder left to spend more time with his family to grieve the terribly tragic suicide of his daughter last year.

 

Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen,” “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman”) gets a lot of flack for his stylized, CGI-heavy approach filmmaking, which many say is pretty to look at, but emotionally lacking once you dig under the surface. Even if you have a membership to that party, and it’s totally cool if you do, no one should ever celebrate the fact that he was forced to leave the production for such a horrible reason. You can hate his directorial style until the cows come home, but you must also empathize with a parent who should never have to deal with the death of a child. 

 

With that disclaimer on record, Whedon definitely brought his own light-hearted and geeky touch to the project, which ends up meshing perfectly well with Snyder’s original vision. The presence of the director of the first two Avengers movies is also another unfortunate reminder of the MCU that will draw inevitable comparisons to a franchise attempting to distinguish itself as something different, despite the fact that the Justice League of America was first on the comic book scene, three years prior to Marvel’s team. Nevertheless, Joss is here to stay and his time spent on those Marvel films is on display for all to see here, from the comedy, to the team camaraderie, to the ultimate humanity of these characters. 

 

“Justice League” opens on some amateur cell phone footage of some excited kids admiring Superman (Henry Cavill), asking him about what the ’S’ stands for on his suit and what he loves most about earth. The scene, ending with Superman looking wistfully off into the distance, is a poignant beginning to a world in which his death (seen in “BvS”) has left the world without a moral compass. Also, I’m like 95% sure that this was the scene in which they digitally hid Cavill’s mustache that he was rocking for the sixth “Mission: Impossible.” Anyway, earth is still lamenting the loss of the last son of Krypton with black flags bearing his trademark ’S’ draped across buildings and bridges across every country. 

 

There’s also an overt political message during the opening montage, during which an obvious skinhead is causing a destructive raucous outside a Muslim-owned market. While very timely and certainly moving, it feels a tad out of place in a super hero flick. That being said, I appreciated that the filmmakers decided to include opening credits, which many blockbusters forego these days. 

 

Perhaps the person taking the loss of Superman the hardest is Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), feeling it was his fault that Clark died. Kind of a stretch since it was Lex Luthor who created Doomsday, but maybe if Batman had just allied himself with Supes earlier, they could have stopped Luthor from gaining momentum. After the opening montage, we cut to a fog-filled Gotham City where Batman stops a cat burglar played by “Mindhunter”’s Holt McCallany. The scene feels like it was ripped straight out of the old school Bob Kane-Bill Finger comics and the inclusion of Danny Elfman’s classic theme from Tim Burton’s “Batman” (Elfman scored this entire movie too) is sheer fan boy perfection. Say what you will about DC’s movie, but their scores are infinitely more memorable than Marvel’s. 

 

What Batsy’s really interested in are these insectoid scouts called ‘Parademons’ that are attracted to fear. Feeling the worst is coming, he sets out to recruit what will eventually become the Justice League with the help of Alfred (Jeremy Irons). Affleck’s grizzled, getting-on-in-years version of Wayne is a welcome take on the character and would be great for a feature-length “Batman Beyond” movie if he’s looking for a way out of the role, but I digress. Irons is also great as the Caped Crusader’s faithful (sometimes smart-mouthed) butler, although I was disappointed that he—as well as Amy Adams’s Lois Lane and J.K. Simmons’s Commissioner Gordon—didn’t have many scenes to chew on.




Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Bruce works to recruit guys like Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Mamoma) and Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and, for a time, we get some nice character-centric moments that build out this universe’s mythos a little bit. It also doesn’t hurt that these scenes help set the stage for later spin-offs. 

 

Curry isn’t initially interested in Wayne’s offer of an alliance; he’s an Atlantean playboy who likes to drink and occasionally save sailors from drowning or bring villagers fish. Mamoa’s buff, tattooed, and long-haired take on Aquaman helps turn the blonde-haired, boyish, and, often, the “lamest” member of the League into a verified badass. Moreover, I was very pleased with how they handled his ability to speak with other Atlanteans underwater, something I was afraid of for his standalone movie. All in all, this depiction of Curry really subverts the original depiction of the character in a very cool way. 

 

Allen slows down from his usually fast-paced lifestyle to visit his father (Billy Crudup) in jail. I hope Crudup (who was phenomenal as Dr. Manhattan in Snyder’s “Watchmen”) gets more development in later, but while watching I didn’t complain because Miller totally steals the show with his comedic relief and young charm. 

 

Then there’s Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg, making his debut in this movie along with Aquaman. Almost perishing in an accident, his father, Silas (“Scandal”’s Joe Morton) rebuilds him, using cybernetic enhancements and the help of the otherworldly “Change Engine,” a box-shaped MacGuffin. By the way, “Justice League”’s central plot revolves around three boxes of unfathomable power, bringing to mind the Tesseract of the first “Avengers.” Even so, the casting of Morton must be a nod to his role as Miles Dyson in the “Terminator” franchise, right? And while Aquaman acts like an immature layabout, Cyborg is definitely the child of the team, still coming to grips with essentially being a Frankenstein’s monster, part human, part machine and not being able to yet find a balance between the two.  

 

And, of course, we have Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) with some of the most incredible action sequences from the Israeli model-turned-actress who stole our hearts. The dead drive these heroes as Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is brought up several times to impart lessons about bravery or moments of nostalgic melancholy. 

 

As for the villain, we’ve got Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a horn-helmeted, axe-wielding alien/bringer of some sort of Apocalypse. That’s about all you really need to know about him because he’s a bit lackluster. For all intents and purposes, he’s basically Loki. He wants the ‘MacGuffin Boxes’ to bring about a highly-CGI’ed end of the world, but he’s still got a few nifty fight scenes, especially when he shows up on Wonder Woman’s homeland of Themyscira. In addition, his expositional backstory has some really great Easter Egg appearances from certain jewelry-wearing beings. Regardless of Steppenwolf being a tad on the “meh” side, he makes mention of a very important villain yet to show up in this universe and his final scene reminded me a lot of (and I hope I’m not being to obscure here) as the farewell to Professor Screweyes in “We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story.” 

 

When the team is finally assembled and you-know-who comes back to life (handled exceptionally well, FYI), Whedon really shows his knack for knowing when it’s ok to meld lightheartedness with high stakes and action, playing the characters off each other like human sounding boards. I’m just assuming he was in charge of a bunch of the fun, simply judging from his previous work. I may have burst out laughing during this movie just as much as I did during  “Ragnrok” or either “Guardians” film. A very good sign for Whedon’s upcoming take on “Batgirl.” 

 

Overall, “Justice League” is not only the best DC movie yet, but the rare DC movie that make you care about this world and the people who occupy it, a jolly good ride from beginning to end while also forging a clear path on where we’re headed from here. You won’t mind that Warner Brothers hasn’t spent the last decade steadily building a cinematic universe with 17 films. This movie, and particularly its second end credits sequence, set the stage for a lot of good stuff to come and many directions the franchise can take. Honestly, I haven’t heard so many nerdy gasps from an audience during a post-credits sequence since Thanos smirked at the end of the first “Avengers” and I even grasped my buddy’s arm in excitement. It’s that good. 

 

Justice for all indeed. 




Courtesy of Warner Brothers


6 Jewish Facts About Justice League you may not have known:

 

1) Four of the six members of the Justice League were originally created by Jews and while Wonder Woman is currently played by a Jewish woman from Israel, the character does not have Hebraic origins:

 

-Superman was born of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish kids from Ohio and crash landed on earth in “Action Comics #1” (1938). His name, Kal-El, mirrors the Hebrew phrase for the “Voice of God,” קל-אל while the suffix, El, is Hebrew for “Of God.” It is also the prefix for the commonly-used Hebrew name for Hashem, “Elohim.” 

 

 

-Batman came from Bob Kane and Bill Finger, emerging from the shadows for the first time in “Detective Comics #27” (1939). Kane was born Robert Kahn in New York and was a high school friend of another famous Jewish comic book writer/artist, Will Eisner, creator of “The Spirit.” Finger originated as Milton Finger, born into a Jewish family living in Boulder Colorado.

 

 

-Aquaman’s co-creator was Mort Weisinger, a native of Manhattan’s Washington Heights, which is well-known for its highly-concentrated Jewish community. Born to Austrian-Jewish immigrants, Weisinger also created characters like Green Arrow and Johnny Quick for DC. Aquaman first surfaced from beneath the waves in “More Fun Comics” #73 (1941). 

 

 

-Cyborg came online in 1980, part of “DC Comics Presents #26.” His co-creator, Marv Wolfman, was born in Brooklyn and won the Jewish Book Award for "Children's and Young Adult Literature” in 2008 for an illustrated history of Israel. 

 

 

-BONUS: The Justice League as a team was co-created by a Jew as well. To find out who it was, skip to Fun Fact #5. 

 

2) The Justice League once had an enemy believed to be a “fallen Jewish angel”:

 

The Anointed One was, an alien that fell to earth, was raised by a Jewish cabal who wrongly believed them to be an angel. While that wasn’t the case, The Anointed One is as strong as Superman and was recruited to a ‘League of Agents’ by a rogue Atlantean known as Gamemnae. 

 

 

3) A Justice League member in the comics is Jewish:

 

Dr. Ray Palmer aka The Atom is of Jewish parentage on his mother’s side and it’s not hard to see why. Out of the character’s three co-creators, two were Jewish! Julius Schwartz was born to Romanian-Jewish immigrants in the Bronx and edited Superman and Batman comics for DC, being inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame a year later. Gil Kane started as Eli Katz in Latvia before his family moved to Brooklyn in 1929. In addition to co-creating Atom, he was also responsible for the modern day Green Lantern and Iron Fist with Roy Thomas at Marvel. 

 

In “Justice League of America #188” (1981), Palmer celebrates Hannukah with friends and even experiences an “energy-related miracle on the JLA satellite,” causing  him to draw a parallel to the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days. Similar to Ant-Man, The Atom can shrink down to an incredibly tiny size (hence his hero name) while retaining his mass, making him a tiny Member of the Tribe that packs a big punch. 

 

 

4) A Jewish Justice League exists…within the world of “The Hebrew Hammer”:

 

In Jonathan Kesselman’s 2003 movie, Peter Coyote plays the eye-patched head (ala Moshe Dayan) of the fictional Jewish Justice League, Chief Bloomenbergensteinenthal. The character is usually seen eating a stereotypical Jewish food like bagels and lox. The JJL’s headquarters is a parody of the Pentagon and shaped like a Star of David. Chair members include reps from the The Anti-Defamation League, the Worldwide Jewish Media Conspiracy, and the Coalition of Jewish Athletes, whose chair is humorously vacant. In fact, the ADL actually took legal action against the movie, afraid it would give Jews a bad name, but lost in New York court. 

5) Some of the greatest Justice League story arcs and issues were written or drawn by Jews:

 

-“Crisis on Infinite Earths” (1985-1986). Written by Marv Wolfman, this 12-issue limited series was a watershed moment for DC Comics as it attempted to create a more simplified version of the company’s 50-year continuity. With the death of major characters who’d been around for decades and the implementation of the pre-Crisis and post-Crisis divisions, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is one of the most important events to ever occur in the world of comic books. 

 

 

-“Identity Crisis” (2004). This very influential storyline from writer and Brooklyn native Brad Meltzer is more or less a murder mystery. When the Elongated Man’s wife is killed, the Justice League heroes set out to find her killer. A particularly dark plot, “Identity Crisis” has been cited as having the capacity to inspire new storylines within the DC universe for years to come. 

 

 

-“The Brave and the Bold #28” (1960). The Justice League first appeared in this book written by Gardner Fox and drawn by the Jewish artist of Lansford, Pennsylvania Michael Sekowsky. So yes, The Justice League was actually co-created a by a Jew. The original lineup consisted of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter 

 

 

-"The Unknown Soldier of Victory” (1972). This story arc was by writer Len Wein and artist Dick Dillin. Wein was raised in New York Jewish household and helped create now-iconic characters like Swamp-Thing, Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. In "The Unknown Soldier of Victory”, the Justice League allies itself with the Justice Society of America, the team that was a sort of proto version of the Justice League at DC in the 1940s. 

 

 

-“The Tornado's Path” (2008). Another Meltzer arc taking place after the events of “Infinite Crisis,” which was follow-up to Wolfman’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in an effort to fix the still-confusing continuity. “The Tornado's Path” revolves around the reformation of the Justice League by Batman and Wonder Woman. 

 

 

6) The live-action Flash actor for the movies, Ezra Miller, is Jewish on his father’s side and considers himself Jewish:

 

At one point during “Justice League,” Miller’s Barry Allen is presented with security footage stills of himself in a convenience store by a Bruce Wayne looking to recruit him. Allen’s response is that the guy in those stills isn’t him and that Bruce must be confusing him with some Jewish kid.

 




Courtesy of Warner Brothers

 

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