The silver lining of all the recent monumental failures adapting characters from the DC Comics universe into feature films has finally become clear with “Justice League.” After slogging through the massive miscues of “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” any comic book movie that is in focus would look better by comparisons.
That’s not to say “Justice League” comes close to the beautifully crafted “Wonder Woman.” But it does have enough entertaining moments to balance how the film still suffers from a disjointed plot, an opening that plays like an endless loop of prologues and some painfully bad casting. At least there is hope as long as Gal Gadot never tires of playing Wonder Woman and Ray Fisher keeps taking on the role of Cyborg.
“Justice League” opens in a world that has given into the darkness of evil after the death (?) of Superman. Things are so bad, an intergalactic world crusher known as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) gets his motor running and launches an invasion of Earth. All he needs are three glowing cubes — Mother Boxes — that once unified will wipe out the planet.
Steppenwolf has no problem grabbing the Mother Boxes being guarded by the Amazons and Atlanteans. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) recognizes the problem and decides he needs a team to stop the invasion before the last cube is collected.
This is where the plot gaffes start. The last time Steppenwolf tried to conquer Earth it took an army of Amazons, Atlanteans and humans plus some help from a few gods to stop him. This time it is five heroes — one who has no super powers, another whose skills are best underwater and a third who comes across more like a very bad stand-up comic than the fastest man on Earth.
If only Superman could be brought back to life to save the day. If only.
Each character — including a reintroduction of Wonder Woman — gets their moments. There’s also time spent by Lois Lane — again played with the emotional range of a salamander by the usually excellent Amy Adams — and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) lamenting about their loss. The efforts to create emotional moments in “Justice League” are as thin as Lex Luthor’s hairline.
Adams is not the only baggage held over from past failings. Affleck has again confused being a worn-out warrior with being apathetic. At least when he seems to be showing a lack of interest in the world around him it’s clear he’s not fallen asleep out of boredom.
Affleck’s casting and performance aren’t the worst. The endless one-liners and wisecracks by the Flash (Ezra Miller) — that smack of being the influence of Joss Whedon, who worked with Chris Terrio on the screenplay — gets annoying quicker than a flash. His performance would be bad enough with his goofy approach to fighting and silly looks, but it’s impossible not to compare his work to Grant Gustin, who plays the Flash in the CW Network TV series with heart, courage, compassion and brains.
Then there’s Aquaman (Jason Momoa), one of the B-list (or is it sea-list?) heroes in the DC Universe. His being part of the team would have made far more sense if the big final battle had been close to at least a drinking fountain.
The only person who truly understands the right way to play a comic book hero is Gadot. Whether she’s Wonder Woman or Diana Prince, Gadot’s performance always comes with great heart and courage. She plays the character with such pride that her work is the only part of the movie that feels honest.
As for other big plot misfires, the biggest comes in the third act. The team is not having much success, and it takes a predictable super plot twist to save the day. Having the fate of Superman so obviously looming throughout the film serves only as a cheat to get to a proper conclusion.
Director Zack Snyder has not put together a complete action film since “Watchmen.” In that film, Snyder showed a great skill at blending very personal moments with plenty of fist-throwing action. Since then, his action scenes are more chaotic than cleverly controlled, and he puts together scenes where events unfold before there’s any explanation of what is happening. When he finally gets to the explanatory moments, they tend to slow the tempo of the movie.
The two best things going for “Justice League” is a running time of 119 minutes (including secret scenes) and that it came out in the wake of so many recent stumbles with DC Comics movies. Buried under a stack of problems is a core of a good idea that could be used should the franchise continue. That core comes from a few of the members of the hero team, not from the tease after the closing credits that if used has the potential to make a “Justice League” sequel the next flop.
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Ezra Miller, Ciarán Hinds, Ray Miller.
Running time: 119 minutes