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But more on that later…
If one were to peruse my prior reviews of DC movies, one would find that I have been far more generous in my appraisal of their quality than widespread opinion has been. I have also enjoyed them more, it seems, than much of the movie-going public (though, for the negative reputations these movies have, someone is seeing them – they make a lot of dough!). It should come as no surprise, then, that I very much enjoyed Justice League. There is a Seven Samurai, bring the heroes together quality to the film that is intentional and that works very, very well. Each of the five (six?) heroes of the Justice League are spotlighted quite nicely as they determine whether or not to band together against, you know, ultimate evil.
Let us begin with that self-same ultimate evil. The glaring disappointment in the movie is Steppenwolf, the antagonist whose actions bring together the League. Like many (most?) superhero movies, Justice League has a difficult time establishing Steppenwolf as more than a powerful force bent on destroying the world. He is powerful. He might destroy the world. His motivation beyond that is murky as is the CGI that realizes him on screen. There are some breathtaking CGI scenes in Justice League – very cool, very fun visualizations. Steppenwolf, unfortunately, is not one of them. He is just another generic, superhero movie villain with very little, visually or otherwise, to distinguish him.
The members of the League itself, however? Not generic. At all.
Justice League has a tonally different feel from the prior movies of the DC universe. Where those movies, in my opinion, delved surprisingly deeply into the implications of heroes living in the “real world” and the ramifications of their presence, Justice League end-runs any significant thematic rumblings in favor of save-the-world dynamics. And the dynamics are engaging, exciting and fun.
Batman (Ben Affleck having much fun in the cowl) knows something is coming for the Earth. He learned this at the end of Batman v Superman and he is aware that his actions have left the earth vulnerable, aware that Superman’s death is, at least partially, his responsibility. He and Wonder Woman (the again terrific Gal Gadot) embark on a quest to bring together other meta-humans to face the coming crisis. These are the meta-humans Batman and Wonder Woman learned of from Lex Luthor’s jump drive in Batman v Superman and the fun kicks into high gear when the team starts to come together.
Say what you wish about Zack Snyder as a director. I believe it is difficult to fault his casting choices. Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Ezra Miller (the Flash) and Ray Fisher (Cyborg) are all terrific and bring much to the party. Miller’s Barry Allen is a particular delight and he had a challenging task to differentiate himself from Grant Gustin’s popular turn as the Flash on television. His performance more than does that. He is hilarious and endearing. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is the surprising heart of the movie and the depths that could be mined with the character point to great potential. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman has a bit more going on than the tough-guy images shared in the previews might suggest. Individually they are good.
Together, they are great.
The fun of Justice League is found in the well drawn interplay among the leaguers. Director Zack Snyder, writer Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, who came into the movie very late in the process (and it is very difficult to tell where Whedon picked up from where Snyder left off) know that their stars will carry the day, so much so that the plot of the movie, which is more than serviceable, is less important than the players. It is difficult to single out any combination of the Leaguers as the best combination and that is a credit to cast and director.
If the DC movies (save the almost universally well received Wonder Woman) have been bleak, humorless, gray and meandering, Justice League set out to and succeeded in rising above those critiques. The movie begins briskly and does not take its foot off the gas until the final stinger scene (at the far end of the credits… stick around, people). It is rumored that Warner Bros. mandated a running time of no more than two hours. While I would have loved to have seen a bit more (and a long run time may have addressed some of the Steppenwolf issues), I understand the choice. And it works.
Justice League is a big, fun, superhero team origin story. It is a story of redemption for Batman who lightens up in this one, who cracks jokes and smiles and, through whom, perhaps the upcoming DC movie slate is changed. Future DC movies are well positioned following Justice League.
And, hey, let’s get Justice League II on the schedule.
Now, that the team is in place, I want to see what happens next.
JUSTICE LEAGUE receives FOUR AND A HALF BAT SMILES out of a possible FIVE.