A Ranking Of ‘Justice League’ Heroes, Based On How Much You’ll Actually Care About Them
Yes, of course Ben Affleck's Batman is last.
Mild spoilers for Justice League ahead.
DC’s Avengers hopeful, Justice League, opened in cinemas this week to an odd, imperious silence. As Rotten Tomatoes chose to withhold their score for the film until the film’s release — an unprecedented move — many were wondering how bad can this film be?
The answer is: it’s fine. It’s just fine. It’s not wholly bad. it’s not wholly good. It just… happens to you.
Justice League is just some messy, messy bullshit. If you were hoping the film would follow more in the lithe footsteps of this year’s mammoth DC success Wonder Woman than in the wonky stumble of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, well, it does. Kind of. The whole thing is a big old melange of bits and bobs that were reportedly shot before and after Wonder Woman’s release and subsequent box office glory.
The most interesting thing about Justice League is that it’s a coming together of fan favourite DC superheroes (and Cyborg, for some reason). So, what you really want to know is: who is the best Justice League team member, and is Ben Affleck’s Batman the worst? (Spoiler: yes.)
1. The Flash/Barry Allen
Congratulations Ezra Miller, you almost singlehandedly saved the Justice League movie!
Miller always felt like a bit of an odd choice to join the DCU team as retro super speedster Barry Allen/The Flash. For starters, DC already has a Flash currently in rotation on screen: Grant Gustin’s winning, delicately rendered goofball in CW’s The Flash TV show. Then there’s Miller himself, an odd-ish, undervalued actor who is perhaps most famous for his absorbing portrayal of a sociopathic teenager in We Need To Talk About Kevin.
The Miller I think of, when I think of him, is him stealing the show in the charming (if slightly self-serious) teen drama The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. And it’s this buoyant sensibility Miller brings to his Barry Allen in Justice League — as well as his ethereal matinee-idol good looks. (The man has A Jawline, people).
The role is not written all that well, just like most of the muddled Justice League. Whoever crafted this Barry Allen has evidently decided that ‘idiosyncratic science nerd’ means ‘suggesting someone is on the spectrum in a pretty offensive manner’, and the stuttering, mile-a-minute dialogue could fall flat if not for Miller’s wonderful delivery. He’s a breath of lightning-gust air in comparison to the stale machinations of overpaid, over-puffed actors grumbling forced banter half-heartedly through “Think Of The Pay Cheque, Ben” grimaces.
And though it’s clumsily squished into the main event, Justice League does the necessary work of giving Miller’s Barry a proper backstory, as well as real and understandable motivations and fears. He’s just a kid! He hates bugs! Batman is his idol! Brunch is confusing!
But what works best about Miller is how he improves the rest of the League by showing them to us through his eyes. In his eyes, Batman is a cool, rich vigilante — not tired Ben Affleck in a misbegotten muscle suit. In his eyes, Aquaman is a badass rule-breaker, not a ridiculous pantomime Tough Guy who smashes Jack Daniels’ bottles into the sea. (Rude, your friends live there.)
In almost every conceivable way, Miller makes Justice League better. And he almost makes me want to see his standalone The Flash film next year. Almost.
2 .Wonder Woman/Diana Prince
I’m sure many people are lining up this weekend to see Gal Gadot return as Wonder Woman (from her first solo outing earlier this year), and it’s a shame that her fierce, funny Diana Prince is simply watered-down brilliance in Justice League.
Don’t get me wrong, Wonder Woman still kicks serious ass. Her fight scenes are always the best and most energetic, and she’s clearly the most useful superhero in battle besides the omnipotent Superman. But she’s not the plucky, ingenious Wonder Woman of Patty Jenkins’ film. She’s missing a bit of that sardonic spark that comes from expert female direction; surrounded by a pack of whinging, insolent men she is forced to adopt the nagging mother role.
The role Jenkins so skilfully avoided saddling Gadot with in Wonder Woman (the Wendy Darling, mother to Peter Pan and the Lost Boys) is waiting for her here in Justice League. And so is a heck of a lot of leering.
DC, man, read the room! We don’t want to see casual butt-cheek shots as Wonder Woman jumps out of Batman’s troop carrier. We don’t want to see The Flash plonked on top of Wonder Woman in a zany slapstick hijinks moment. And no one, and I mean no one, wants to see Wonder Woman flirt with Ben Affleck’s cirrhosis-riddled Batman.
3. Superman/Clark Kent
Yeah, look, it is super weird that Superman is this high in the rankings. I make no secret of the fact that Superman is my least favourite comic-book hero of all time (and most people’s tbh. He’s boring!). But possibly evil, self-parody Superman? I can do that. Shirtless Henry Cavill, with his divine chest tendrils? I can definitely, always do that.
Justice League begins in a rather confusing manner for those who didn’t bother to watch Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice (fair enough): Superman is dead, and the world is mourning him. Hell, there’s a big black banner hanging down from the Tower Bridge! Like Superman is a member of the Royal Family!
The Sad Montage is kind of delightful in a tacky way but, let’s not mince words here: Henry Cavill is second billed in this movie! He is definitely coming back in one form or another. And when he does return, it’s pretty funny!
Though Superman doesn’t fit in so well with the rest of the wisecracking band of misfits DC has assembled, Cavill gives is a good college try, and Superman becomes a kind of winning self-parody. He arrives on the scene with lines like, “I believe in truth; but I’m a big fan of Justice also”.
Flashes of this jovial, knowing Superman hint at the Justice League that could be — dopey, old-fashioned and delightfully camp. Plus, Cavill has the advantage of playing opposite Amy Adams’ Lois Lane — a terrible waste of Amy Adams, but damn, she’s good in anything! Plus, there are two (2!) sexual innuendo jokes made about or by Superman, which is both weird and hilarious!
This movie, you guys. What a mess!
4. Aquaman/Arthur Curry
Oh man, what to say about Aquaman, portrayed by Game Of Thrones’ Jason Momoa and an impressive head of hair. Aquaman is so weird! He is definitely the weirdest member of the Justice League. Like, what is he? A fish-man? A man with fish powers? A man who is connected to fish? A fish who happens to look like a man?
Justice League flat-out refuses to give you answers. You’ll have to wait for the standalone Aquaman for that!
Aquaman is so weird and camp and confusing that the DCU, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to make him Edgy Aquaman. He drinks a lot of whisky and smashes bottles and is gruff and sexist toward Wonder Woman. It’s all a little gross and played out, but lucky for Justice League, they have Momoa.
I am not immediately a fan of Momoa, just because Kahl Drogo is such a revolting and faux-redeemed character on Game Of Thrones (he rapes his wife!). But I have to say, the guy just has a raw magnetism that draws you to him when he’s on the screen. He just about carries off the Edgy Aquaman look — that is, until he dives into the ocean and you remember, “Nah, this is just some silly, silly nonsense”.
But, if you want 50 versions of the same joke about Arthur Curry talking to fish, Justice League has you covered. Enjoy!
5. Cyborg/Victor Stone
I can’t talk to you about Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. He is very boring, and very obviously just there to serve the plot. Oh, you need to defeat some kind of techno-power bullshit, Justice League? Lucky one of you is a technopath made from this techno-power bullshit you need to defeat! Sigh. (And look, I know he is an original member of the New Justice League, okay? Don’t @ me.)
Cyborg is a half-human, half-fancy-robot with a whole lotta daddy issues. This means he’s sighing and grumbling and brooding all over the Justice League screen, and no one’s told him that: Hey! Childish brooding is Batman’s gig!
Fisher is enigmatic and sharp enough to slot into a few of the more charming scenes with the more invested Justice League players. There is a wonderful little moment between him and Miller’s Barry Allen in a graveyard, and he seems to have an immediate affinity with Wonder Woman (I’m not sure if this is intended or simply enhanced by the chemistry Fisher and Gadot evidently have). But there’s just no getting past the fact that the character is generic.
Look, Cyborg is fine. He a hearty stew of good and boring superhero characteristics, which makes him pretty much emblematic of everything that’s wrong with Justice League. I’m done talking about him.
6. Batman/Bruce Wayne
Oh my god, you guys, Batfleck is bad. He is really, really bad. I thought y’all were joking about how bad Batfleck is. But he is so bad! Like, if Justice League is the cheap soap opera of superhero films (and it is), then Ben Affleck’s Batman is the messy queen at the centre of the drama, trying to stir all kinds of shit.
Firstly, and sincerely, is Ben Affleck ok? Because in this movie he… does not look ok. I have never seen someone phoning it in so hard. He is chubby, jowly middle-aged drunkard Batman, and it’s not cute.
And look, I’ll be honest with you: I do not like Ben Affleck. But, seriously, the guy can act. So, what’s he doing here? Half his lines (as Bruce Wayne!) are incomprehensible, and the rest are delivered with such an embarrassing lack of heft, his entire brain must have been replaced with a constantly ringing cash register.
And it sucks because, actually, everyone else is trying pretty hard here. Batfleck feels worse in scenes with Momoa, Miller and Gadot because the three of them are really busting it to make this whole mess work. And, at least for Gadot and Miller, there is so much sincerity in their performances. Then there’s Batfleck, trundling behind them, scotch glass in-hand.
I almost feel sorry for Batfleck, but then I remember he is disgusting. So I don’t. But I do feel sorry for the poor mess the DCU got themselves in hiring Affleck after the incomparable Christian Bale’s dark, decent Batman was done. Quick, switch him for someone young and fun. None of us will notice!
Justice League is in cinemas now.
Matilda Dixon-Smith is a freelance writer, editor and theatre-maker, and a card-carrying feminist. She tweets from @mdixonsmith.