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 Does an Injustice to Fans 

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck
Warner Brothers
 120 Minutes
Directed byZack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot 
Justice League

Sometimes, there’s no justice in the comic book movie world. Even though DC Comics has the two longest lived and most recognizable superheroes, Superman and Batman, on its roster, their films, especially those released this century, have been unable to resonate with the moviegoing audience the way that those of rival Marvel Comics have. The most successful Marvel releases by far have been its superhero team-ups, especially the Avengers series. After Warner Brothers (which produces the DC films) struck gold this summer with yet another classic figure, Wonder Woman, the studio tried its own teaming of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and a few others, as they band together in Justice League. But although Justice League can match Avengers in terms of sheer number of heroes, it’s still very much of a minor league effort.


Warner actually laid the groundwork for Justice League last year in the poorly received Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which the titular heroes, aided by Wonder Woman, eventually teamed up to take on a powerful creature that wanted to destroy the world. This time around, the menace is another superpowered creature called Steppenwolf (the film misses a huge opportunity by not including “Magic Carpet Ride” in the soundtrack). Steppenwolf (the villainous creature, not the band) had tried to conquer the Earth thousands of years ago but was banished after his failure. Now, he’s returned, and, if he can get possession of three McGuffins called the Mother Boxes, his powers will increase even further, making him supposedly unbeatable.


To stop Steppenwolf, Batman (Ben Affleck) assembles what becomes the Justice League, starting with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). In addition, the League contains the Flash (Ezra Miller), a college-age slacker who is in awe of his own super speed, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who rules the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), whose father (Joe Morton) rebuilt him with extremely powerful robotic parts after his near death in an accident. Since Batman remains skeptical of the group’s chances against Steppenwolf, especially after the creature gets control of all three Mother Boxes, the Caped Crusader hatches a plot to bring Superman back from the dead and have him join the League.


Thematically, there’s not that much difference between Justice League and Marvel’s last similar effort, Avengers: Age of Ultron or even its predecessor, The Avengers. Each film pits a group of superheroes against some being intent on ruling and/or destroying the Earth, and each involves some backstory mumbo jumbo to explain how it’s going to happen. And, quite frankly, each movie eventually gets caught up in superheroic overkill with far too many heroes engaging in CGI heroics to dispatch far too many unmemorable, disposable villainous minions. Yet, the Avengers films have several things going for them that Justice League simply doesn’t, like well-established characters, memorable main villains, and a sense of humor.


The lack of properly developed heroes is a big problem in Justice League. While Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are quite familiar to film and comic audiences, the other half of the Justice League is not. The Marvel films gave all their characters a proper introduction before the Avengers films, either in their own movies or in lengthy appearances in other franchises. By contrast, most non-comic buffs have never even heard of Aquaman or Cyborg. Director Zack Snyder doesn’t really get much help from the screenplay here: this is one movie that needed to be longer to make its cast more relatable, yet Warner Brothers insisted on a two-hour running time.


Despite the two-hour running time, the audience gets way, way too much information about the Mother Boxes, thanks to an extended sequence involving Wonder Woman’s fellow Amazons (somewhat welcome) and a nearly as extended one about Aquaman’s family in Atlantis (too murky and confusing). And, finally, the Mother Boxes figure in the exceedingly hokey manner in which Superman is revived, yet another case of way, way too much information. As a result of all that, about all we learn about the other heroes is that Aquaman likes to hang out in waterfront dives and that Cyborg still has some father issues.


If the lesser-known superheroes struggle to become two-dimensional, the villains never even reach one. Steppenwolf looks like Ben Grimm’s Marvel hero, the Thing after a lengthy diet followed by accepting a gig as one of the extras on Thor: Ragnarok. The character is voiced by Ciaran Hinds, a talented actor, but not a naturally charismatic one along the lines of James Spader and Tom Hiddleston, who fulfilled that function in the Avengers movies. Hinds (who served as a motion capture model for Steppenwolf) gets to preen around like a pro wrestler heel and utter such memorable witticisms as “This world will fall like all the others.” But Steppenwolf is actually more interesting than his minions, a bunch of winged flying robots (see clip below) who resemble a mechanical cross between flying monkeys and John Belushi in his bumblebee outfit on Saturday Night Live.


Supposedly, director Snyder had to leave the Justice League project during shooting due to a family emergency, and Joss Whedon was brought in to punch up the screenplay. Whedon does manage to inject some badly needed humor, especially in the characters of the Flash and Aquaman. And someone clearly recognized the ace in the hole for Justice League: Wonder Woman. Her exchanges with Ben Affleck’s Batman provide some of the only real drama in the movie. Other than that, the only dramatic sequences that resonate are the reunion ones featuring Henry Cavill’s Superman and longtime love Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Those scenes work, but they have the nagging feel of being inserted in the movie simply to give Adams something to do.


A strong finale might have rescued Justice League, but the grand showdown between Steppenwolf and the heroes proves somewhat of a letdown. Like much else in the movie, the finale feels condensed for time, and, in addition, Snyder recycles the hoary gimmick last seen in Geostorm of focusing on a handful of civilians, in this case a Russian family living near the villains’ lair, who get caught in the crossfire. At least, some of the earlier action scenes, such as the one shown in the clip, work better.


Justice League is a bit of an improvement on Batman v Superman, but it still suffers from many of the same weaknesses as the earlier DC epic. And, considering the large number of sequels and spinoffs Warner has lined up, they need to do something to right their ship soon, or they face the possibility of major theatrical bombs, as opposed to mere disappointments. But for now, that seems a daunting task, as, yet again, Justice League is one more example of DC getting bested by Marvel. Justice simply does not prevail.


In this scene, the Justice League members take on Steppenwolf and his flying robot minions.

Read other reviews of Justice League: 

Justice League (2017) on IMDb