‘Justice League’ is a Semi-Heroic Effort

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

After more than a decade of anticipation, it was time. Proudly sporting my Flash t-shirt, I entered the theater to see DC Comics’ latest film. Admittedly, I was skeptical. After all, I had slogged through 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and was disappointed by the mess that was “Suicide Squad.” While not flawless, director Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” surpasses those films. It is a clunky but enjoyable flick, featuring some great character moments and promising better things to come in the DC Universe.

“Justice League” comes on the heels of Superman’s (Henry Cavill) tragic death in the hands of villain Doomsday at the end of “Dawn of Justice.” With that beacon of hope gone, the world is in despair. Not only is crime on the rise, but a new threat also emerges in Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a god intent on world domination who lands on Earth. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) must assemble a team of superheroes to fight Steppenwolf and his army of locust-like parademons. The pair recruits Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), to help stop Steppenwolf and save the world.

The film clocks in at a relatively brief two hours, ensuring that it doesn’t drag on like the three hour “Dawn of Justice.” The first act of “Justice League” flies, with Snyder traveling to several areas to check in on our heroes and their loved ones. In Metropolis, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) grieve over their lost hero, Superman. On the island of Themyscira, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and the Amazons must deal with an attack from Steppenwolf. In Central City, Barry pays a visit to his imprisoned father Henry (Billy Crudup). In the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, Arthur has an argument with Queen Mera (Amber Heard). In Gotham, Victor is furious at his father Silas (Joe Morton) for giving him his new robotic abilities.

These scenes seem abrupt, especially since they each last only a couple minutes. No clear tone is established, and it seems more like the viewer is watching clips from five different films rather than one. Nonetheless, the new worlds and characters prove intriguing enough to excite audience members for these characters’ future movies.

“Justice League” is also much lighter than “Dawn of Justice.” It has a brighter color scheme and more humor. Unfortunately, trailers revealed many of the film’s best jokes (an ongoing issue with recent superhero films), but more importantly, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has enough humor to avoid solemnity, but it doesn’t get to the point of parodying itself (like “Thor: Ragnarok” did a couple weeks ago). A scene involving Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth is hilarious. Whether this humor is due to “The Avengers” director Joss Whedon’s involvement is unknown, but it’s an improvement on its overly serious predecessors.

As Aquaman, Momoa is a screen-stealing delight. He’s a loose cannon who enjoys bashing bad guys, and watching him do so with his trident is a treat. Momoa’s reckless, casual persona makes him more compelling and different from the grim, no-nonsense DC superheroes we’ve seen before. After all, audience members can relate to his carefree attitude and slang. His interactions with the rest of the League are often hilarious.

As The Flash, Miller brings a distinctive take on the character, separating him from Grant Gustin’s version on The CW television series. Miller’s Flash is young, inexperienced and wisecracking, which is refreshing in a film filled with older, world-weary heroes and gods. Unfortunately, some of his action sequences are a little too similar to those of Evan Peters’ Quicksilver in the X-Men franchise. (Both involve the characters comedically pushing things out of the way at superspeed.) But Miller’s witty performance left me wanting more.

In contrast, Fisher doesn’t leave a lasting impression as Cyborg. The idea that Victor detests his father for giving him his powers is novel and interesting, but viewers aren’t given enough about his background to become invested in him. He looks neat and is fun to watch in battle, but that’s about it. We don’t know if he has other friends or experiences that have shaped him.

That one dimensionality is actually present in all of the Justice League members. It’s hard to give due diligence to every member of a large cast and even harder when the audience hasn’t been introduced to many of the characters before. We don’t know about the characters’ backgrounds or relationships, and it’s difficult to invest in each one when we only know their superpowers and personality.

Meanwhile, Steppenwolf is easily the worst character in the film, epitomizing the worst qualities of every superhero villain. He has a generic plot to destroy the universe with his CGI minions, he is barely given any background story and he is superbly boring. The talented Hinds is given nothing to work with, and his face is indistinguishable under the mediocre CGI anyway. At the end of the day, Steppenwolf’s fights with the Justice League are only exciting because of the heroes.

“Justice League” certainly has thrilling moments — moments which brought me back to my excited younger self. A couple of these feature the return of Superman, but saying more would veer into spoiler territory. The film includes brilliant fan service and nods to the future, which will thrill and excite fans. While the film is messy, it is ridiculously entertaining. In the words of Cyborg, “Ride ain’t over yet!”

Indeed, for these characters, the ride has just begun.

 

Grade: B

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