How many superheroes does it take to salvage a comic book universe?
Six. Five doing the heavy lifting and the Flash, who’s the lowercase joker DC’s too-serious superhero franchise needs.
Justice League assembles two overdone caped/cowled icons, a freshly minted feminist role model, Thor’s 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) didn’t 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 it’s 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 he’s a less than super villain.
The boxes are separately stashed at Wonder Woman’s 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 aren’t Superfriends yet, so Aquaman’s alpha bravado lends some Hemsworthian comedic tension. We’ll get Aquaman’s origins story next year, but Momoa is an action movie star starting now.
Ezra Miller’s 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 movie’s defining effects. The Flash’s expression upon realizing he isn’t 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 League’s misused time. Cyborg seems destined to become the negligible Hawkeye of this superhero crew.
The returning champions are still refining their roles after DC’s 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 Superman’s 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 isn’t much spotlight left for the supporting cast. It’s 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. You’ll need to wait through seven minutes of end credits to get the villains this movie deserved.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.
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.