Spandex Superfriends

Better luck next time, Batman

Marquee_LeagueUp_72

Justice League
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill & Ray Fisher
Directed by Zack Snyder
PG-13

Picking up where Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice ended in 2016, Justice League begins on a somber note.

Superman is buried and in the ground, killed in a colossal battle at the end of the previous movie, and the world mourns its loss. A large “S” banner hangs in memorial from a bridge in Gotham City. Crusading reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) has lost her spunk for journalism. Clark Kent’s widowed mother (Diane Lane) has lost the family farm to the bank.

Evil has seeped into the Man of Steel’s absence. Terrorists try to blow up London. A street hoodlum kicks over a vendor’s cart of oranges! And a cosmic mega-threat has come to Earth—an ancient god called Steppenwolf with a major grudge against the planet.

What are the world’s good guys to do?

HARWOOD

Gal Gadot is Diana Prince/Wonder Woman

As DC Comics fans know, the Justice League is the union of spandex superfriends formed by some of the top stars of the franchise, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Aquaman. The League made its first appearance in the comics in 1960 and has been popping up in pulp, on television and in videogames ever since. But this marks its official, big-screen debut.

As with everything in today’s interlinked comic-book franchise flicks, the seeds for Justice League were planted along the way. Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) all appeared previously in in Batman v Superman, and Gadot starred in her own smash spinoff earlier this year. She’s clearly the franchise’s new superstar.

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Jason Momoa is Aquaman

Justice League is a creative hybrid. Director Zack Snyder, who also steered Cavill’s first Superman movie, Man of Steel, as well as Batman v Superman, had to exit the film (due to the suicide of his daughter) before it was completed. He handed over the reins to screenwriter Joss Whedon to finish. (Whedon is the director of The Avengers, the superhero-team franchise from Marvel Comics, DC’s competitor, featuring Thor, the Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man.) Snyder likes theatrical, lumbering, grandiose pomp, wham and wallop; Whedon prefers his booms seasoned with lighter, brighter shades of snarky, sharp-witted banter and color.

The mixture of darkness and light gives Justice League a certain sputter-y fizz that never quite builds into a full steam. Despite a script full of quips and Whedon’s extra juicing of wit, the movie remains a crowded bombast of effects that overwhelm and swamp the actors, especially in action scenes like the do-or-die horseback romp on Wonder Woman’s home island, a battle royale in a tunnel underneath the Hudson River, and segments when the air is filled with swarms of hissing, fanged, locust-like Parademons—imagine the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz with major weaponry upgrades.

We learn very little about the characters who make up the League other than what we might have known before. Aquaman is a burly, heavy-drinking, ocean-dwelling loner from the ancient kingdom of Atlantis who can do serious damage with his trident. (“You really talk to fishes?” Batman asks him.) Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is a former high school football star QB turned into a weaponized cybernetic mutant after an experiment went awry.

HAR_DM_FIRST LOOK RND F04And the Flash steals the show—runs away with it, you might say. He’s zippy and geeky and can’t believe he’s getting to hang with in the Bat Cave with Batman and Wonder Woman, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his own flick. (2020, in fact.) Aquaman is getting his own movie, too, in 2018.

When a comic book hits the screen, there’s almost always another movie.

We get far too little of J.K. Simmons, stepping into the part of Gotham’s new Commissioner Gordon. He gets to fire up the Bat Signal, but that’s about it. Jeremy Irons returns for more wry commentary as butler Alfred. And while D.C. is handing out movies, why not just go ahead and give one to Wonder Woman’s kick-ass warrior-goddess mom, Amazonian Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen)?

As a villain, Steppenwolf (voiced by the Irish actor Ciaràn Hinds) provides ho-hum, run-of-the-mill CGI menace. With a horned helmet, booming voice and glowing red axe, he looks like something that stepped off a 1980s Molly Hatchet album cover. He wants to collect the three ancient “Mother Boxes” that will let him destroy the world, then rebuild it. Oh, really? Again? Armageddon is getting so yesterday.

If only the Man of Steel were around to help sweep up this mess. Anyone who saw Superman v Batman will recall how that movie ended, with Clark Kent’s coffin moving ever so slightly after all the mourners left the cemetery. Hmmm…

Justice League opens with a cell-phone video of Superman, taken by a couple of kids, in which he explains to them the logo on his chest. It’s not really an “S,” he says, but the symbol back on Krypton, his home planet, for hope. He says that hope is like a lost set of car keys; if you keep looking, you’ll find it.

DC geeks may feel like they’ll find in Justice League what they lost—what faded away in the dark, dismal and roundly drubbed Batman v Superman. But I’m going to keep looking, and keep hoping. Maybe another movie, maybe next time. Because there will be another movie, and there will be a next time.

In theaters Nov. 17, 2017

 

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