“Coming Together,” as hammered home by a cover of the Beatles classic accompanying the new trailer, is the theme of Justice League. Director Zack Snyder’s follow up to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is the biggest swing yet in Warner Bros.’ efforts to get the DC Expanded Universe firmly on track. For the first time, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) will unite with The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) to battle the invading forces of the planet Apokalips, led by Steppenwolf.
While Justice League marks the ninth cinematic appearance of Batman and will also be the third time Wonder Woman will have been in a movie (her solo feature directed by Patty Jenkins arrives on June 2nd), Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman are all relative newcomers to feature film. Each hero had a cameo in Batman V Superman (and Flash made a quick appearance in Suicide Squad), but these were minor introductions to the superheroes who comprise half of the Justice League’s roster. The three newcomers Batman scours the world recruiting aren’t going to be bit players in the upcoming war against Apokalips.
Now that the trailer has revealed the Justice League’s real adventure, it’s gratifying to see that Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg are being given equal stature with Batman and Wonder Woman. What’s more, Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash may well prove to be the key to Justice League’s success.
A complaint often lobbied against the X-Men films is that despite the franchise being ostensibly about an expansive team of mutants who matriculate at a school, most of the movies boil down to being about three characters: Professor X, Magneto and Wolverine. Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, and the other X-Men usually wind up being supporting characters to the decades-old drama between best frenemies Xavier and Magneto, while Wolverine assumes the position of being the main character everything pivots around. The Avengers films overall successfully manage the difficult balancing act of distributing relatively equal time to each hero. From what we can tell from the trailer so far, this looks to be the case with Justice League as well.
In terms of Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash’s prominence in Justice League, it helps that Superman is dead. The Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) perished saving Metropolis from Doomsday at the conclusion of Batman V Superman, and his example is what inspired Batman to build a Justice League to honor him and fight the war to come. Without Superman (though we fully expect Superman to return to life at some point in the movie), there’s no traditional Trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to hang Justice League on. This is great news for Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash, who need as much screen time as possible and must make the most of every moment they’re on screen. As major players and equals to Batman and Wonder Woman (and Superman when he returns), Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg bring unique and important elements to the Justice League.
Aquaman probably is the most impressive new presence so far. Frequently derided as “the guy who talks to fish” since entering the mainstream as part of the Superfriends cartoons in the 1970s, respectability has been a difficult swim upstream for the King of the Seven Seas. A masterstroke is casting Jason Momoa (most memorably Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones) as Aquaman. Physically imposing – and a far cry from the clean cut blond wearing an orange shirt most think of – Momoa’s sea king draws from the grim, long-haired and bearded warrior version of Aquaman the Justice League comics and cartoon featured in the 1990s and 2000’s.
Momoa’s Aquaman being of Pacific Islander-descent brings a global-minded diversity to the character, and his ties to Atlantis spotlights a new and different mythology as epic as Wonder Woman’s Greek Amazonian origins. With Aquaman, the Justice League gains an even more mythic stature, and his powers bring the force of the oceans – literally the power of 2/3rds of the planet – to bear on the League’s side. Momoa’s Aquaman also seems to be someone even Batman can’t intimidate – the quick rooftop scene in the trailer with Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons) already mines this interplay for some welcome laughs.
Cyborg seems to be a pivotal character in Justice League, and his origin is directly tied to the Mother Boxes, the three sentient super computers hidden on Earth that Steppenwolf has come to collect. A snippet of how Cyborg is built was seen in Batman V Superman. His origin from that brief clip seems to hew closely to the comic books: Victor Stone was a star athlete who was mortally wounded and lost most of his body parts. His father Silas Stone, a brilliant scientist, is shocked when the Mother Box transforms and grafts itself to his son, bonding its “organic and bio-mechatronic body parts” to Vic and turning him into a literal Cyborg. There has been nothing quite like Cyborg in a superhero movie so far, and he seems to be even more varied in his capabilities than Robocop or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s traditional Terminator.
Aside from wisecracks, what Barry Allen can bring to Justice League is perspective. He can be the audience’s surrogate – the wide eyes with which we’re going to see this new world of gods, myths, aliens, and monsters through. Flash also seems to serve as a bit of a sidekick to Ben Affleck’s Batman, which has a great deal of dramatic potential since we know that Bruce has already lost at least one sidekick, Robin. The Flash continues to impress in its third season on The CW, but the Barry Allen played by Grant Gustin surrenders most of the comic relief to his supporting cast like Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdez) and H.R. Wells (Tom Cavanaugh). Miller’s Fastest Man Alive also looks like he gets to be the funniest man in Justice League.
It’s vital that each new member of the Justice League be granted the spotlight to become fan favorites, considering that two of their planned solo movies are currently floundering in development hell. Marvel Studios gambled successfully in their Phase 1 build to the Avengers movie that audiences would invest in solo films of Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, and Captain America before flocking to see them assemble in one giant super team up. DC Films took Marvel’s plan and turned it on its ear, turning the Man of Steel sequel into Batman V Superman, which also introduced Wonder Woman. That film then became a direct lead-in to Justice League. Batman V Superman alienated critics and a great many moviegoers, which mires Justice League in a battle to reverse public perception and win over skeptical audiences – a task that may be even more daunting than fighting Parademons on screen.
If Justice League fails, it also jeopardizes the chances of the Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash solo films. Directed by James Wan (Furious 7), Aquaman is currently in production and on target for for a December 2018 release. However, The Flash solo film is indefinitely delayed, having lost two directors and sent back for a page one rewrite. Cyborg, meanwhile, has a 2020 release date planned but no director or screenplay or further casting announcements. The good news is that if Justice League is well received, the demand will be there from audiences to see more of The Flash and Cyborg, which ought to jumpstart both projects out of development hell. Justice League winning over audiences to Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg is paramount so that moviegoers will want to see their solo films.
As the primary architect of the DC Extended Universe so far, the success of the Justice League falls on Zack Snyder’s embattled shoulders. The director has his share of detractors, but fans hopeful that Justice League can hit that sweet spot of entertaining superhero action while juggling a large cast of superheroes might be buoyed by looking at his previous ensemble, Watchmen. Though itself a controversial superhero adaptation garnering a mix of fans and haters, something Snyder was able to deftly accomplish in Watchmen was balancing the stories of that large cast of characters. He shifted the focus away from Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) as the villain, but Night-Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), Rorschach (Jackie Earle-Haley), and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) each commanded their equal share of the film, while still providing ample focus for ancillary characters like Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino) and The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
We all know and love what Batman brings to the table. By November, Wonder Woman’s story will have been told and she’ll have taken her place as the first female comic book superhero to headline her own ongoing franchise. Of course, Superman will be reborn and will continue his adventures in Man of Steel 2. They might be the three biggest guns of the DC Universe, but the success of Justice League will best be measured by how audiences embrace Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg. Rather than being lost in the shuffle, the sea king, the Scarlet Speedster, and the cybernetic hero should more than hold their own on the big screen and provide new and spectacular elements to the Justice League. They have the coolest new abilities, they are diverse and fascinating superheroes with their own worlds to soon explore, and if Justice League is the blockbuster success it’s meant to be, it’ll be because Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg came together and made it all work.