Directed By: Zack Snyder
Release Date: November 17, 2017
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller
If there's one point I want to emphasize about Justice League right off the bat, it's that it's a film that falls victim to squandered potential, not just its own but everything that has come before it. This is now the fifth entry in the DC Extended Universe - Warner Bros. and DC's own cinematic universe akin to what Disney and Marvel Studios' have been cultivating since 2008 - and yet it feels like it's constantly wrestling with the legacy of its predecessors and what it wants to be on its own merits, all to its own detriment. Like The Avengers back in 2012, Justice League is meant to serve as a milestone event, one that brings characters and plot threads together for the first time in order to kick the door open to a bigger, brighter future, but unlike The Avengers, which had the benefit of a solid foundation with films like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, Justice League has been built on a rocky one.
To be honest, I enjoyed 2013's Man of Steel, our introduction to Henry Cavill as our modern Superman, and even though it had its faults, there was nothing that couldn't be corrected going forward. Instead, what followed was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016, a film whose few high points (Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck as Batman, for example) couldn't overcome the fact that, to me, the film was an interminable slog, a film that failed to truly live up to or even want to celebrate the fact that it was the first time in cinema history we had DC's Holy Trinity on the big screen. It was, quite simply, a misfire, and coupled with Suicide Squad later in the year, this budding universe stumbled right out of the gate. Fortunately, Wonder Woman proved there was hope earlier this year, which made me think that maybe, just maybe, Justice League stood a chance at learning from how and why that film clicked with people the world over and Batman v Superman didn't.
Unavoidably, Justice League has to pick up where Batman v Superman left off, with Superman dead and Batman and Wonder Woman ready to honor his memory by keeping up the good fight. Nowadays, Batman is investigating the emergence of alien scouts known as Parademons, who have come to earth looking for Mother Boxes, three objects that, when put together, wield boundless power that can destroy worlds. The Parademons are searching for them on behalf of Steppenwolf, an alien being who once controlled the Mother Boxes but lost them thousands of years earlier in a conflict with the people of Earth and is now ready to recollect them and try decimating the planet again following the death of Earth's Kryptonian protector. As Steppenwolf begins to achieve his goal of collecting the objects, Batman and Wonder Woman reunite to put together a team in order to stop him, bringing together The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) in the hopes that they alone can stand between Steppenwolf and victory in a world without Superman.
Considering its status as a big team-up event that fans have been waiting decades to see happen, it's hard not to draw immediate comparisons to The Avengers for the sake of highlighting why Justice League both works and doesn't work. On a narrative level, on a character level, and even on a thematic level, The Avengers earned its team-up. By 2012, we'd spent time with Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk and Thor and Captain America individually; we knew their quirks, their personalities, and their backstories to the point that The Avengers could start rolling straight out of the gate. We'd seen what the Tesseract - the "weapon" of the film - was capable of in The First Avenger that when it showed up in The Avengers, there was a quantifiable danger surrounding it. And, of course, we'd spent time with the film's villain, Loki, in Thor, whose return in The Avengers carried with it real weight for both what we knew he was capable of and for the personal connection he had to the team via his brother. To put it simply, all of this added up gave The Avengers real stakes; these were characters we'd come to know and love coming together to face a threat we could invest in to protect a world that had sucked us in over the course of several movies.
Directed By: Taika Waititi
Release Date: November 3, 2017
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo
It's been two years since we last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and a lot has happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe he's a part of while he's been away. His friends clashed with one another in last year's Captain America: Civil War, the Guardians of the Galaxy had another adventure, and franchise newcomers got their own solo films in the form of Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. The world of the MCU continues to get bigger and bigger, but outside of his relatively small role in Age of Ultron, the franchise's God of Thunder hasn't really been a focal point since 2013's Thor: The Dark World.
Now, I have to admit something off the bat. I'm a huge nut for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Including Thor: Ragnarok, I've seen all seventeen films, all five One-Shot short films, and every single episode of every television series to date, from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter to the various Netflix entries to Inhumans. To put it mildly, I love the MCU, what it has already accomplished, what it's doing, and where it's going, though not blindly, as I can acknowledge when it stumbles, as seen with the currently-airing first (and likely last) season of the critically-derided Inhumans.
Back in 2011, long before the MCU would become what it is today, the original Thor had the unenviable task of following up Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2 and introducing audiences to the idea of literal gods and the cosmic weirdness of Thor's world without alienating viewers, all while setting up The Avengers. Had Thor failed to click with critics and audiences alike, the MCU most likely wouldn't have gone on to become exactly what it is today, and I think it's easy to take for granted just how much was riding on its success (and, for that matter, its direct follow-up Captain America: The First Avenger, a pulpy period piece that had a similar job of making its star-spangled WWII hero palatable for modern audiences soon after). Fortunately, Thor worked, its fish-out-of-water elements of its titular hero having his first experiences on Earth blending well with the Shakespearean vibe of Asgard, and deserves a lot more credit than most people seem to give it.
After The Avengers blew open the doors for the MCU to keep going bigger and expand its scope, Thor got his inevitable sequel in 2013, Thor: The Dark World, which proved to be entertaining but underwhelming. Taken on its own, it's an enjoyable adventure, but one that's nearly crushed by a lack of identity and an unwillingness to really dig deep in the potential inherent in its characters and ability to explore the universe beyond Earth, and it was quickly overshadowed the following year by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America's first sequel that proved to be everything The Dark World wasn't in terms of mixing things up for its own hero and taking risks, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that audiences and critics loved that actually developed and explored the universe in a way The Dark World had every opportunity to do first yet squandered.
All this is to say that, in comparison to the solo series of his fellow Avengers, like Iron Man and Captain America, Thor's hasn't lived up to its inherent potential yet, the character in dire need of his own The Winter Soldier to bring his slice of the MCU to the next level. Thankfully, under the guidance of director Taika Waititi – who has earned my eternal admiration for his work with films like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Thor has finally gotten the movie he deserves in Thor: Ragnarok, a sequel that essentially pushes the reset button to give the character and his corner of the world a new start, one filled with an abundance of heart, humor, adventure, and charm that - should Thor survive the events of the next two Avengers movies - hopefully won't mark the end of his solo series.
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