Why ‘Justice League’ nearly gets it right but still has DC movie problems

Published November 15 2017
Updated November 17 2017

How many superheroes does it take to salvage a comic book universe?

Six. Five doing the heavy lifting and the Flash, whoís the lowercase joker DCís too-serious superhero franchise needs.

Justice League assembles two overdone caped/cowled icons, a freshly minted feminist role model, Thorís water aerobics partner and two superheroes unlikely to carry their own movies. Safety in more numbers after just Batman v. Superman (upstaged by Wonder Woman) didnít turn out Marvelous.

This time, universe keeper Zack Snyder nearly gets it right. Justice League is yet another DC movie without a wowza villain, weighed down by origins stories and redundant CGI effects. Yet itís slightly lighter on its feet, funnier not in a Ragnarok way but able to crack a smile now and then.

There are still somber issues to face. The end of BvS left Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) dead, buried but stirring. Cue the melancholy Leonard Cohen cover. The world grieves and falls into disarray. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) regrets their beef, displaying symptoms of a major man crush.

A routine crook nabbing is interrupted by a vicious dragonfly, one of many Parademons sent by the alien warlord Steppenwolf (voice of Ciaran Hinds) to locate three Mother Boxes that, when unified, will destroy Earth. Sort of a triple Tesseract thing. Steppenwolf bellows a lot and swings a fiery axe but heís a less than super villain.

The boxes are separately stashed at Wonder Womanís home island Themyscira, the underwater kingdom Atlantis and somewhere mortal-ordinary between Metropolis and Gotham City. Batman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) need other superheroes to find them and stop Steppenwolf.

Atlantis is the reason for introducing Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), whose whiskey-chugging swagger inspires humor while his tattooed torso elicits gasps. These heroes arenít Superfriends yet, so Aquamanís alpha bravado lends some Hemsworthian comedic tension. Weíll get Aquamanís origins story next year, but Momoa is an action movie star starting now.

Ezra Millerís hyper-fast Flash is another sort of amusing, his fanboy spirit speaking for the audience while the CGI lightning trailing him is one of the movieís defining effects. The Flashís expression upon realizing he isnít the fastest person in the world is priceless, setting up the first of two end credits sequences.

Less impressive is newcomer Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), whose origins take up the bulk of Justice Leagueís misused time. Cyborg seems destined to become the negligible Hawkeye of this superhero crew.

The returning champions are still refining their roles after DCís shaky start. Affleck wisely takes a layer of sullenness off his Batman/Bruce portrayal. Less screen time is actually more in the case of Cavill, who dodges the Clark Kent routine entirely and gets a temporary reprieve from Supermanís goodness.

Gadot again cuts a striking warrior figure with fiercely furrowed eyebrows. Still, her role is a bit fuzzy this time, likely due to unplanned footage filmed after Wonder Woman became a surprise hit.

There isnít much spotlight left for the supporting cast. Itís swell seeing Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen in Amazon battle mode again, even briefly. That happens to a lot of big-name stars (Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Diane Lane) from previous DC flicks. Poor Kevin Costner only gets photo-checked.

Justice League does remain fun as it unravels, an upgrade from every other DC flick. Yet a movie intended as the culmination of DC lore instead feels like just another sequel set-up. Youíll need to wait through seven minutes of end credits to get the villains this movie deserved.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.


Justice League

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Billy Crudup, J.K. Simmons, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, voice of Ciaran Hinds

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, based on DC Comics characters

Rating: PG-13; sci-fi violence and action

Running time: 121 min.

Grade: B-