The world continues to mourn the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) along with those that knew and loved him: His mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane) has lost the family farm and has moved to an apartment in Metropolis. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is only working on puff pieces for the Daily Planet newspaper. Batman (Ben Affleck) is troubled by his role in Superman’s death. He is also troubled by the appearance of winged creatures showing up in Gotham City. When he traps one against a wall it explodes leaving behind a pattern of three box shapes burned into the wall. Similar images show up in drawings made by convicted criminal and billionaire businessman Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) seized from him in prison. On Themyscira, the island home of the Amazons, a box that’s been dormant for thousands of years begins humming and shaking. A tube of energy appears above it and through that tube comes Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), an alien destroyer of worlds. After a brief battle led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Steppenwolf seizes the box and along with his army of flying parademons leaves by another tube of energy. When Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), learns of the attack she seeks out Batman to tell him the history of Steppenwolf and how he tried to take over the Earth before but was beaten back by the Amazons, a sea-dwelling civilization called the Atlanteans, humans and the gods themselves. Diana and Bruce decide to look for other people with special abilities and form a team to defeat Steppenwolf and his parademons. They know of Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) who is endowed with incredible speed that has earned him the nickname The Flash. There’s the water-dweller that aides a coastal village with food when their harbor is iced closed named Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) also called Aquaman. Finally, there’s the son of the head scientist at Star Labs that was thought to have been killed in an accident but has been merged with technology giving him the ability to hack into any computer system and more. He’s Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) but some call him Cyborg. Together this league of justice must overcome their differences and fears to work as a team to defeat Steppenwolf; but it may not be enough so a risky plan is put into place to add one final member.
If you haven’t heard about “Justice League” it must be because you’ve made an active effort to not hear any of the news this film generated. It wasn’t always good news: Director Zack Snyder left the film during post-production after the death of his daughter and Joss Whedon came in to do some sizable reshoots and the editing. While industry experts suggest Whedon’s reshoots account for about 20 percent of the film, the difference in style and tone make for a film that is inconsistent and could have used a bit more time spent with the newer characters to give them a better fleshed out reason to exist.
It’s ironic that “Justice League” could have been longer since one of the biggest criticisms of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” was that it was far too long. This time I think Snyder and Whedon could have improved the film by showing us more about Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. While we get small nuggets about each it all feels like we are being pushed through an open house by a realtor that has somewhere else to be. We see bits and pieces but the rest goes by in a blur.
There are clear efforts to lighten the tone of “Justice League” over its DC predecessors. There are jokes approximately every three and a half minutes. While I don’t know that to be absolutely true, I get the feeling there were a great deal of focus groups and test audiences in the production of this film that guided the effort to put more laughs in the script. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen is the source of a number of these laughs but even the usually dour Batman provides a bit of levity from time to time. The Caped Crusader even delivers one of the film’s biggest laughs while connecting a scene from “BvS” to “Justice League.” You can see there was an effort but I appreciated it.
With a cast this large and a story that moves almost as fast as the Flash, there isn’t much of an opportunity for any actor to really stick out and despite some brief moments, no one does in “Justice League.” Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa shine brightest in their fleeting time. Momoa has a very entertaining scene where he gives his true feelings about what they are facing when it is shown why he’s being so honest. Miller is quirky as the Flash. Barry Allen is insecure about his place on the team and in the world, unsure of what he adds. Batman gives him so good advice that guides him in the right direction but that uneasiness with being a hero persists. While Miller and Momoa don’t have a great deal of screen time they do the best with what they are given. Ray Fisher is given very little to do other than look sullen. His character is not dealing well with becoming part man and part machine and only begins to grow into something interesting once he takes on the mantle of hero. Fisher’s Cyborg is underutilized and is difficult to fit into these other superheroes since his is the least known of the group. Perhaps there’s a better storyline in the future for Cyborg but his appearance in “Justice League” is poorly thought out.
The leaders of the group are clearly Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. The pair takes turns being the grownup of the league. The fight against their foe together, bicker, nearly come to blows then realize they can never beat Steppenwolf if they don’t work together. There are no real surprises as it concerns the way the story flows or how Affleck’s and Gadot’s characters rise to the challenge of leading a team of strangers into a life and death battle. What is a surprise is how bored Affleck looks. Rumors have swirled for months that he wants out of playing Batman despite his protestations to the contrary. That talk has flared again just at the movie was released with Jake Gyllenhaal being the most mentioned name to replace Affleck. If Affleck’s performance in “Justice League” is any indication of his enthusiasm for the role then Gyllenhaal should show up for a bat suit fitting ASAP.
The story races through the fairly standard arc of the good guys being unable to defeat the bad guy on a couple of occasions, nearly coming apart due to some internal struggle then rallying to face the bad guy one more time. It is about as predictable as the return of Superman although how he’s brought back from the dead left me scratching my head. While I won’t give away any of the details, the scene at the end of “BvS” where the dirt on his casket is floating can be ignored. It’s like screenwriter Chris Terrio read the comic books where Superman returned after being killed by Doomsday and said, “You think that’s silly? Hold my beer.” The numerous moving parts of Superman’s revival are so Rube Goldberg-like in their complexity (not to mention dealing with alien technology and the physiology of an alien that’s been dead for quite some time) that even in the anything-goes world of super heroes it stretches credibility.
The weakest aspect of “Justice League” has to be the villain Steppenwolf. The issue isn’t just because he’s a CG character but that he isn’t terribly interesting. His mission is to destroy the world and we’ve seen that a million times and in better movies (*cough – The Avengers – cough*). Steppenwolf is nothing much more than a bully…granted he’s about nine feet tall, carries a glowing axe and commands an army of flying soldiers but still, he’s kind of dull as big bads go. Considering all the villains in the DC library of bad guys Steppenwolf is a dud.
“Justice League” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action. There are numerous battles with beings both human and non-human. There is no blood except for some green parademon blood. There is scattered mild foul language.
I really wanted to love “Justice League” as I was a DC Comics reader and subscriber in my youth. I was seriously invested in the lives of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and whoever else made up the rest of the league in the 1970’s. It was an escape from my humdrum life as a kid in school that desperately wanted to be a super powered hero. There’s still a little of that desire running through me despite my grown up knowledge that I’m not from Krypton, I’m not a billionaire, that getting struck by lightning won’t give me super speed, that I’m not the son of the Atlantean king, that cybernetic parts won’t let me hack into any computer system and that I’m not an Amazon princess (that last one really stings). Since I can’t be a superhero I want to be able to enjoy movies about them. “Justice League” isn’t awful but it isn’t the rapturous experience I wanted and that hurts me a little bit.
“Justice League” gets three stars out of five.
This holiday week sees two new movies arriving at theatres. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Roman J. Israel, Esq.—
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