'Justice League' Is Not Quite 'Wonder Woman 1.5'

Justice League Still 8 -Gal Gadot  - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.,
Gal Gadot's superhero emerges as the prime candidate to lead her teammates — and for good reason.

After the wildly popular trilogy of Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan ended in 2012, it took DC and Warner Bros. a few more years than expected to find its next big hit with both audiences and critics. Finally, this year they got it with Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman. That summer blockbuster managed to balance the darker tendencies of the DC Extended Universe with a hopeful tone evinced by its sincere lead character (Gal Gadot), who was able to draw out the heroics in the men around her fighting in the very grim World War I. So it's not surprising that the ads for Justice League seemed to shift away from focusing on its eponymous team, instead emphasizing how important Diana Prince would be to the first big DC meet-up.

The final product doesn't quite turn into Wonder Woman 1.5: Also Featuring The Justice League, even if some people might wish that to be true. Interestingly, Justice League leans further into a lighter tone than even Wonder Woman did, perhaps in part because the world-endangering threat of the new film's villain, Steppenwolf, can't quite compare to the very real specter of World War I. The portrayal of the Amazonian hero does feel mostly in line with Jenkins' film (though some critics have already noted online that the Amazons’ costumes in Justice League are a fair deal more revealing than those in Wonder Woman). But there's an unavoidable sense now that she's a bit saddled with her other heroes, as opposed to being able to handle the threat solo.

"Children. I work with children," she says half-sarcastically at one point, referring to her male counterparts in the Justice League, from Ben Affleck's Batman to — spoiler alert for a character whose presence has been advertised in interviews — Henry Cavill's Superman. At certain points, Diana feels like something of a den mother to the other heroes, trying to force them to work together even as they rebel against each other. There are a handful of references to the events of Wonder Woman, and specifically Diana's relationship with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), but the lesson Diana is meant to learn within Justice League is to move on from the century-old romance of that earlier film. And so she does, with the end of the movie suggesting that she might become the de facto leader of the sextet.

All the better, because whatever moments of high emotion occur in Justice League are courtesy of Gadot's performance. Our introduction to Wonder Woman in the new film is the most straightforward and recognizable re-entry into a superhero story, wherein we get to watch the good guy take out a series of bad guys in a lower-stakes scenario than the conflict that will take up the majority of the film. Here, Wonder Woman staves off an attack in London from a group of anarchic terrorists attempting to blow up a museum and its innocent patrons. While Batman gets a similar introduction — attempting to take out a common thief before facing off against one of Steppenwolf's minions — Wonder Woman's spotlight feels fuller and more fitting for a character who audiences have instantly begun to idolize.

With Superman out of commission for a large chunk of Justice League, Gadot and Affleck step up as the leads, with the latter's overly gruff attitude being so annoying that even their fellow heroes comment on it. (At one point, Barry Allen, aka the Flash, says to Batman, "You know, if [Wonder Woman] tried to kill you, we'd all cover for her.") The conflict speaks just as much to how this version of Batman feels even less likable than the version created by Nolan and Christian Bale, as it does to Gadot's inherent charisma as both the human and heroic versions of her character. As much as the world mourns Superman's death when Justice League begins, Wonder Woman is presented as much of a beacon of hope as the Man of Steel ever was.

Justice League, in part because of its notably rocky post-production process (replete with extensive reshoots), can't claim to be nearly as good as Wonder Woman was this summer. It does make marked improvements on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, especially in how it employs Diana Prince in the middle of a battle larger than her own backstory. By the end of Justice League, it feels as if Diana is becoming just as comfortable as Superman himself is with being a symbol of innate goodness, a true role model for people around the world. Even though Justice League would have benefited from featuring her even more, its use of Wonder Woman does suggest that someone at DC Films has realized exactly who its biggest star is moving forward.