Justice League

When Batman’s ally in fighting crime Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons) expresses surprise that the Caped Crusader is “playing well with others,” he’s indicating why movies featuring superheroes from the DC universe haven’t been as those featuring characters from Marvel. The folks at Warner Bros. seem to mix and match their meta-humans arbitrarily, as if they’ve forgotten what made their characters interesting in the first place.

When The Dark Knight (Ben Affleck) and The Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) went after each other the way they’d normally take on The Joker or Lex Luthor in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the conflict seemed pointless because both combatants came off like self-absorbed bores.

Batman’s brooding is understandable. If your parents got killed at the start of nearly every movie, you’d be sullen, too. But Supes’ charm comes from the fact that he really believes in truth, justice and the American way. Making both the same gives neither a chance to shine.

Warner Bros. and DC often seem to be following Marvel’s lead with disappointing results. Suicide Squad tries for the irreverent humor of Deadpool and fails miserably. But Patty Jenkins’ sincere and entertaining adaptation of Wonder Woman finally hinted that DC can conquer cinematic boredom.

“When Affleck’s Batman swings into action, for once viewers won’t be waiting for Wonder Woman to do something cooler…”

The new teaming for Justice League at least allows director Zack Snyder, who has supervised some of the last few DC outings, to jettison his annoyingly somber mood. Snyder had to step down in post-production after the tragic suicide of his daughter. Joss Whedon, who helmed Marvel’s The Avengers, took over and has a screenwriting credit.

The battles are still gargantuan as they were in Snyder’s Man of Steel, but the dialogue has Whedon’s droll approach. It’s also refreshing to see a DC movie where sunlight shines on a regular basis. In Snyder’s previous movie, night time showers occurred in just about every frame.

This time around Bruce Wayne/Batman notices that creatures with human bodies and wings like wasps are getting in the way of his ability to beat up bad guys. He correctly senses that something apocalyptic is afoot, and that the high tech toys he and his butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) have been using might not be sufficient.

It turns out the bugs serve an ancient being known as Steppenwolf (voiced by Irish actor Ciarán Hinds), who is trying to collect three cubes that will enable him to turn the earth in the scorched hellscape he wants it to be.

“Neither Snyder nor Whedon appear to have given much thought to why Steppenwolf wants to turn the earth into kindling.”

Neither Snyder nor Whedon appear to have given much thought to why Steppenwolf wants to turn the earth into kindling, and because he’s a CGI creation, it’s hard to much dread because he never seems real. Steppenwolf never takes off his armor, so Hinds could have played the role far better than any set of pixels could. Superman is dead, so he’s not available. Batman knows he’ll need Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) help. She and the other Amazons have taken on Steppenwolf before.

Wayne also tries to convince a surly fellow named Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) to join the fight because he can manipulate water and the creatures in it. Curry says no. Young Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) is part machine and feels too shy to face humans, an accident has enabled him to take over other machines and make them do things that would have been previously impossible.

He’s leery as well, but Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is eager even though he no idea how to fight. If you could outrun just about any conceivable danger, you’d be useful as well.

Miller’s awkward, motor mouthed take on Barry Allen/The Flash helps keep Justice League from becoming needlessly morose. Momoa’s crassness is also oddly appealing. Gadot stole Batman v. Superman from the actors playing the title characters and became a bona fide star with Wonder Woman. She was born to play the role and comes off far wiser than her male costars.

The battle scenes are still cluttered, but Snyder seems to have a better sense of how to show up his characters’ powers this time. When Affleck’s Batman swings into action, for once viewers won’t be waiting for Wonder Woman to do something cooler.

As a boy growing up in Kansas, Superman, who hails from the fictional Smallville, was fun to look up to because he offered a welcome break from Dorothy and Toto jokes. In its final form, the new DC adventure reflects its challenging production, but it does come closer than some of predecessors to giving its iconic stable of characters justice.

Justice League (2017) Directed by Zack Snyder. Written by Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder. Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Joe Morton, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds.

6 out of 10

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