With the success of Marvel’s The Avengers movies, it was inevitable that Warner Bros’ DC brand of comic book superheroes would go tit for tat and find a way to save the universe together.
Justice League calls to duty Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and Superman to battle Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a new evil villain — not the rock band — in a DC all-star package. But despite the talents of screenwriters Chris Terrio (Oscar winner for Argo) and Joss Whedon, it plays like a by-the-numbers attempt to cash in on this stable of branded superheroes and not a fully formed screen adventure. Sometimes more is just less when you add it all up. Chemistry is everything, and this crew looks like they were the product of some sort of corporate shotgun wedding and not a cohesive fighting team like the Avengers.
Directed with the usual dark and bleak look of Zack Snyder films like last year’s fan disappointment Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the new movie fails to find the fun in all of this and ranks as a setback for the genre after three previous winners this year: Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming and the current Thor: Ragnarok. It has been a banner year for smart and fun comic book movie adaptations, and the reason those three films worked as well as they did is they had a sly sense of humor and didn’t take themselves so deadly seriously as Justice League does. Other than the Flash (and thank god for his presence), there is precious little to laugh at in this thing, which at least had the presence to come in at two hours and lose some of the bloat.
In many ways Justice League is like one of those old Whitman Samplers candy boxes, where you get a little taste of a lot of different candies but not enough of any particular one to satisfy your cravings. The plot is a sort of been there/done that creation that follows a distinct formula. There’s a threat to the world by an evil and very ugly villain who is after three boxes that hold the key to fate of the world but must be stopped by the planet’s most reliable protectors. One by one they are recruited in Magnificent Seven style before merging their distinct superpowers to engage in numerous, and numbing, CGI battles that go on forever but lack real punch.
Justice League also serves as a tryout for upcoming stand-alone movies such as the eagerly anticipated Aquaman, in the same way Batman v Superman offered us a preview of Wonder Woman. She’s back with this gang in a take-charge role played nicely by Gal Gadot, but a mere shell of the energy in her own summer smash. Ben Affleck continues to walk through the Batman/Bruce Wayne gig, and Jeremy Irons again is along for the ride as Alfred. Ray Fisher does what he can with the largely uninteresting Cyborg, and Ezra Miller comically shines as the Flash. Jason Momoa previews his Aquaman, but whether he can carry a summer blockbuster in this guise is not answered with this appearance, the toughest blend of all for the Justice League. Superman (Henry Cavill), presumed dead after his last outing, apparently was only kidding. After a brief video at the beginning, he is out of the picture until his miraculous return, where he is dazed and confused until fully coming back to life. This allows the filmmakers the opportunity to lovingly photograph a shirtless Cavill for much of his screen time until the Man of Steel starts to find himself and purpose in life once more. Amy Adams is back as Lois Lane, trying to rekindle the spark, as is Diane Lane as his mother.
The production values are adequate for this kind of would-be blockbuster, and though I wasn’t completely disengaged, I kind of forgot the whole experience by the time my car was out of the parking garage. For those with a tendency to leave once the credits begin, beware: There are two generous scenes before the lights go up, and one of them — bringing back a familiar evil face — portends what happens in the inevitable next chapter of Justice League.
Producers are Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder and Jon Berg. Warner Bros unleashes it everywhere Friday.
Do you plan to see Justice League? Let us know what you think.