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Review: “Justice League”

Jason Momoa, Gal Gadot, and Ray Fisher in "Justice League."

“Justice League” is a milestone in American cinema: the flop with a $94 million opening weekend. That’s a lot of money for a flop to earn over a few days, but “Justice League” came with a high price tag ($300 million and change) and even higher expectations. It’s the DC Cinematic Universe’s answer to Disney’s Marvel films, and even though this one even shares a writer/director with “The Avengers,” it’s a half-as-fun movie that made less than half the opening weekend money.

Set shortly after 2016’s “Batman v Superman,” the latest entry sees Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) assembling a superhero squad to fight an invasion by a gigantic alien digital effect. Meanwhile, they yearn for Superman (Henry Cavill), who was killed in the last film but is assured a resurrection here because superhero deaths are about as permanent as a sunset.

A superhero crossover film is only as good as its heroes. As Batman, Affleck looks like he feels out of place. He fared much better in “Batman v Superman,” where his Caped Crusader vibrated with rage, malice, and paranoia. But as the wisecracking leader of a group of godlike heroes, he’s profoundly awkward, not just in the story, but to the viewer. The film makes the best character in comics a chore to watch, which is unforgivable. It’s not hard to see why Affleck is reportedly ready to bail from one of cinema’s most coveted roles.

The film properly introduces the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), three D-list comic characters with zero interesting traits between them. It’s not the actors’ fault; the script just gives them nothing to do, and even their super-powered hi-jinks are mostly the work of stuntmen and graphic designers. Filming has already been completed on an Aquaman-centric movie that’s primed to be another enormous corporate tax write-off.

Snyder, who launched the current DC movie world with “Man of Steel,” was allegedly told to tone down the gloom and doom. The result is something that lacks the grandeur and edge of his earlier films but never captures the easygoing camaraderie that so endeared the world to the Marvel movies. A family tragedy caused Snyder to step aside and hand the reigns to “The Avengers” director Joss Whedon, ensuring that what before was at least something different has now become a pale, limp imitation, a copy of a copy.

The villain—a demonic monster who wants to destroy earth, well, ‘cuz—is a forgettable CGI creation without a discernible personality. He is accompanied by an army of flying bugmen who do little other than buzz around and wait for whichever hero is onscreen to swat them. The plot involves three magic boxes that can destroy mankind, not to be confused with the five magic stones that can destroy mankind in the Marvel movies.

The sole bright spot here is Gadot, whose “Wonder Woman” was a smash with critics and audiences. Her allure as the heroine is tremendous, beauty and brawn wrapped up in one luminous package. Gadot gives us reason to yearn for a “Wonder Woman.” But for Affleck and the rest, maybe it’s time for this franchise to hang up the cape and call it a Knight.

D+

About James Frazier

James Frazier is a freelance journalist and film critic. He has written for various newspapers and websites, including the Washington Times. James resides in the Midwest and can be reached at james@criticspeak.com.
  • tedburke

    Actually, one of the reasons I like Zack Snyder movies, especially his comic book adaptations, is that they play on the screen fairly closely to the experience of actually reading comic books. Flashy cuts, extended action sequences that are supposed to be at high velocity but which are slowed down effectively to create tension, stunning , effects laden vistas that provide the grand off-planet elaborations of a Jack Kirby–Snyder pretty much does all this and does in a dark/grim tone that has been the DC Comics world view for decades. Plot holes, lack of Strindbergian depth in characters, murky plot lines, unclear villain motivation? The lauded comic books from which Synder draws his ideas are guilty of all this, famous for it actually. What he does with Justice League, even in its compromised and truncated state, is wonderful entertainment, a fast headlong dive into action, banter, visual splendor, with out a wasted moment. There are faults to find, sure thing, you betcha , you bet, but an application of an over prescribed skill, the willing suspension suspension of disbelief, helps the more finicky among us to enjoy the film while it’s playing. I recieved my money’s worth.Ironically, it’s been a common complaint with Synder’s super hero films, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman especially, is that they are too long and leaden in pace, and yet the relatively two hour running time of Justice League has drawn the reverse complaint, too short and too rushed, just as fervently. Obviously the nearly three hour lengths of the first two films bothered me not at all since I’m inclined to appreciate Snyder’s dually Wagnerian, eye popping aesthetic, but I do think that the shorter two hours for Justice League works much to its advantage. That is to say,this film had a briskness that prevented it, for me anyway, from seeming weighed down at all. Plot inconsistencies , not enough background on the new characters, an underexplained method toward Superman’s revivification –all common complaints of the new picture and, perhaps, they have merit worthy of longer discussion. But since this is a comic book movie geared, I’m sure, to emulate the tone and themetic depth of the DC print versions of these characters–Snyder and company are adapting a Superman and Batman et al, not Tolstoy , not Faulkner–I picked up on the dynamics of the action, which are, of course, very comic booky and an element that made this a pleasureable experience. And since this an origin story involving the creation of a long standing fictional institution and the introduction of three additional heros DC and WB want to make into stand alone franchises, we have to consider exactly how much time to dedicate to the narrative side streets and background information for the birth of the JL and who and what the new characters are about. My guess is that had what hard core fans of the individual characters considered to be a deservingly full introduction been included, the movies run time likely would have pushed past three hours. The movie would have been a slog and weighty , too much so even for my Snyder-tolerant mind set. Movies, especially super hero movies, should move, if nothing else.