Marvel and DC have been comic competitors since the 1930s and have never stopped exchanging blows – whether that be in comics, TV shows or on the silver screen. People have compared their internal on-screen squabbles, in both Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it wasn’t until the recent release of the DCEU’s (DC’s Extended Universe) Justice League that we could compare the two world-saving wonder teams from each universe. So, which is better, DC’s Justice League or Marvel’s Avengers Assemble? There’s only one way to find out…
Pre-warning, this article does contain spoilers.
Narratives and Baddies
In both films, each group’s world is threatened and they have to call up their super-pals to come and set back the doomsday clock. So, with both the groups having to save the world in a rather generic and almost identical, superhero fashion, it’s fitting to introduce the cause of these potential disasters: the bad guys.
Justice League’s main antagonist is Ciarán Hinds’ Steppenwolf – a hellish god who embarks on a destructive quest to collect and combine the three Mother Boxes and hold dominion over Earth. This villain seems insanely overpowered. Whenever our heroes try to protect the boxes, he simply knocks them out of the way without a second thought. It’s only after Superman returns, that Steppenwolf himself is thrown around like a dog toy. The fact that Superman seems to be the only useful character on the team in terms of brawls, makes Aquaman, Batman and Wonder Woman feel obsolete in this film. To top this off, on-screen Steppenwolf is a textbook example of how to not use CGI; he looks as if he’s a villain in a cheap PS2 game. It is also hinted at during the film that Steppenwolf is in fact just a goon of a larger antagonist, in the form of Darkseid. As a whole, Steppenwolf feels overpowered throughout the entire film but then suddenly just isn’t. It’s inconsistent and also ruins the cohesive aspect of the actual team.
Similarly in Avengers Assemble, we are given a henchman as our primary villain, in the form of Thor’s adopted brother Loki (Hiddleston). The idea of him being a pawn to a larger threat, who in the MCU is Thanos (Brolin), is rather monotonous. But, the film manages to move past this through Tom Hiddleston’s cruelly charismatic performance as the god of mischief. Although both films are very similar in their antagonist hierarchy, it’s Hiddleston’s excellent performance that gives him the edge over the CGI action figure that is Steppenwolf.
(Winner: Avengers Assemble)
As of writing this, there are seventeen films in the MCU (Marvel’s Cinematic Universe), with at least eight more in production. Until recent films like Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, this franchise was definitely not one which liked to diverge from its cookie cutter formula. Unfortunately, Avengers Assemble was released during the peak of this formulaic film making, and as a result, has partially generic tone which removes some of the threat that is felt from the film’s felons. On the other hand, this lighter tone works perfectly throughout the majority of the film and helps to establish the Avengers as a team with a truly believable on-screen chemistry.
The DCEU is dark. Really dark. In fact, this gritty nature seems to run through all their films with exception of the shining beacon that is Wonder Woman. Often this can be overdone, *cough* Suicide Squad *cough*, and to be honest Justice League manages to only slightly improve this with a bashful blend of misplaced humour and that predictable gritty tone. This is most likely due to the film’s dual directors, leaving the movie with Zack Snyder’s infamous dark realisations, alongside Joss Whedon’s quips. Maybe they thought that adding in one-liners would give the film a lighter tone, but Justice League’s comedy is about as funny as staring at a brick wall for two hours. This division of directors also leads to several other tonal problems. For example, Superman threatens the lives of the entire squad in one scene, and in the next is making silly puns. This film really should have chosen whether it wanted to be shot through Snyder’s dark lens, or with Whedon’s happy-go-lucky sensibility. This awkward mashup leads to an incoherent film, which lacks vision just as much as it lacks reality.
(Winner: Avengers Assemble)
Marvel movies often have amazing soundtracks, featuring even more amazing bands. Whether it be Black Sabbath in Iron Man, Led Zeppelin in Thor: Ragnarok, or Pink Floyd in Doctor Strange. Ironically, as all of our favourite heroes meet for the first time, so do all of these fine music choices, making one eclectic soundtrack to rival those of every other super-flick to date. AC/DC, Soundgarden, Scott Weiland, and Five Finger Death Punch are just a few of the names which grace this surreal soundtrack. This is by far my favourite soundtrack attached to a superhero movie and features a band line up that would sell out a festival instantly.
The soundtrack to Justice League is reflective of its attitude. It’s filled with tunes from The White Stripes, Simon and Garfunkel and Mark Knopfler. The movie’s almost hipster tendencies in terms of soundtrack illustrate how the film likes to view itself as ‘unknown’ and as almost an ‘acquired taste’. These musical themes don’t synergise with the actual movie, which features well-known characters and a generic world-ending narrative, which are commonplace in films of this genre. This film does regain some respect through the use of a cover of The Beatles’ classic Come Together. But, this still isn’t enough to topple Marvel’s terrific track list of largely appropriate super-songs.
(Winner: Avengers Assemble)
Easily the stand out performance in this otherwise clearly bored cast is Gal Gadot’s stunning return as Wonder Woman. She really is the glue of the team, just as she is for the entire franchise, so it’s not a surprise she sticks out in the film. Wooden, emotionless and ironically robotic performances are given by the rest of the cast. Ezra Miller’s The Flash did have potential, but an oversaturation of unrelenting, poorly written jokes drowned his bland portrayal of the scarlet speedster.
Despite this, Justice League’s very worst performance comes from Amber Heard as Mera. She is possibly on the screen for the shortest amount of time, yet wastes every second of it. She and Aquaman (Momoa) have a brief dialogue after Steppenwolf takes their Mother Box, and during this, she looks bored and seems as if she is simply reading from the script and doing nothing more. We can only hope this evolves into something more for the Aquaman movie, as at the moment the CGI fish she controls are more engaging as characters. A dishonourable mention goes to Henry Cavil’s Superman, whose awful American impression is by all accounts still awful, and for the purposes of this film should probably be renamed Superbland.
Possibly the most iconic performance in Avengers Assemble is Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a.k.a Iron Man. Since his introduction in 2008, Downey Jr. has dominated the franchise and essentially become its face. This is also due to him giving a performance so charismatic and cool on the surface, yet exploring the depths of the character through the darker moments in his life. This performance is much more special, and in short is much more enjoyable to watch. In his third MCU movie, he gives the audience a look into the darker realities of his job as the Avenger’s spiritual leader, alongside Captain America (Evans) who represents the lighter side of leadership.
On the other hand, the film’s worst performance sadly comes from Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. Often referenced as the dullest character in the whole franchise, Renner gives a truly lifeless performance. We are introduced to him perched in the corner of a large warehouse, and to be honest he should have stayed there for the whole film. Possibly the biggest blow comes from Renner’s range in other films, like 2008’s The Hurt Locker, in comparison to this restricted Robin Hood character, which fails to stand up against the film’s strong leading cast. Despite Hawkeye’s lack of character and minimalistic performance, he is nowhere near as unwatchable as Amber Heard, and frankly, the rest of the Justice League cast, giving another win to the Avengers.
(Winner: Avengers Assemble)
An action sequence that really stands out within Avengers Assemble is the micro civil war between Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. This is most likely due to the actors not being drowned out by a plague of CGI, as is the case for many of the other action scenes. This brawl starts with an exchange of quips, before Thor and Iron Man start throwing punches, or rather throwing hammers. Something about the isolation of the scene, with it being set in a forest, along with the uncommon idea of the inner turmoil within the Avengers, helps to make this scene more pertinent. Unfortunately, a lot of weight is lifted from the sequence due to all involved parties wearing plot armour so thick that you know they’ll be completely fine in the next scene, even after being blasted over and over; not too dissimilar to a Tom and Jerry skit.
In the Justice League camp, by far the best action sequence is that which opens the film. Batman is pursuing a crook on a Gotham rooftop in the dead of night. With quick combat, no pulled punches, and Batman’s unrelenting nature it felt like it was cut directly from one of the Arkham games which have been praised for their combat style. A similar scene occurs in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and stands out just as it did in Justice League. The revealed killer nature of Batman in this franchise feels fresh after Nolan’s moral take on the character and leads to the most intricate and brutal sequence throughout the whole DCEU.
(Winner: Justice League)
Without spoiling too much, at the end of Justice League everything seems to return to normal. We’re given no evidence of the wider effect of Steppenwolf’s invasion, and it seems as if the whole events of the film never occurred. This left the film feeling almost incomplete as if someone just pressed the reset button in a video game. In addition, Superman goes back to being Clark Kent near the end, which couldn’t make less sense if they tried. How will he go back naturally to his job, after returning exactly when Superman was resurrected? Yeah, I don’t think those magic, identity-hiding glasses can make miracles of that size happen.
You could honestly probably guess how Avengers Assemble ended, due to the current super-flick climate. The compulsory superhero sky-beam in the middle of the city was destroyed, and everything returned to normal. Although this may seem similar to Justice League in disregarding the effects of the film’s events, this movie at least builds into the larger plot without relying on it through a final scene with the MCU’s overarching villain, Thanos. This helps make the film seem cohesive, and establish a new state of peace whilst foreshadowing the next storm. As a whole Avengers Assemble feels like a more complete film, and the main reason for this is its concise conclusion with a sprinkle of humour which is so common within this cinematic universe.
(Winner: Avengers Assemble)
Overall Winner: Avengers Assemble
Avengers Assemble is clearly the best film out of these two team-ups, but in Justice League’s defence; it wasn’t as awful as usual. It wasn’t as bad as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and was nowhere near the cinematic poison that is Suicide Squad. On the other hand, the film isn’t even close to the distinct cinematic quality of Wonder Woman. So, maybe this is a wakeup call to the DCEU – if you have one excellently portrayed character, maybe you should follow the same divergent creative tendencies of Wonder Woman. Then maybe DC can get in the ring and throw a few punches before Marvel knocks them out for good.