Justice League, which marks the much-awaited team-up of ultimate DC superheroes Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg, is both more coherent and a good deal more fun than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But ‘fun’ isn’t a word anyone would use to describe that film, whose grim, dark, humourless tone made it a slog to get through – a superhero slog, if you like.
The new film feels like a course correction in many ways. It’s decidedly lighter, both in tone and flab. And the emphasis is clearly on establishing a clutch of fan-favourite characters from the comics and watching them work together as a unit. To that end, director Zack Snyder (with help from Joss Whedon, who finished the film after Snyder stepped back due to a family tragedy) has delivered a reasonably enjoyable romp, but one that isn’t without its problems.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Ciaran Hinds, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons
Chief among those problems is an underwhelming villain. In the comics, Steppenwolf is the epitome of evil from Apokolips; a feared figure, eight-feet tall. In the film, however, he’s reduced to something that looks like a cross between a warrior and a horned goat, an entirely CGI creation that evokes none of the intended dread. He’s the latest in DC’s lineup of disappointing bad guys after Doomsday in Batman v Superman, Enchantress in Suicide Squad, and Ares in Wonder Woman.
The film’s plot is set into motion when Steppenwolf and his army of wasp-like alien creatures show up in search of three mysterious Mother Boxes. “The boxes don’t contain power,” someone helpfully points out, “they are power”. Suffice to say Steppenwolf is seeking the boxes to wipe out the planet.
Meanwhile, with Superman dead and the Earth vulnerable to all manner of attacks, Batman reaches out to Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman and the pair set out to recruit a trio of new teammates to join their planet-protecting mission. That’s where Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg come in.
Not surprisingly, Justice League is most enjoyable when it’s focused on the group as they bicker and bond and ditch their personal baggage to ultimately work together. It’s these scenes that infuse the film with humour, and in some cases emotional depth. It’s what keeps you invested in these characters.
And boy, what a bunch of characters they are! Ezra Miller practically steals the film as lightning fast nerdy teenager Barry Allen aka The Flash, who’s just thrilled to be invited to the big boys’ table. Jason Momoa owns the part of Arthur Curry, the hunky, amphibious hero with an attitude aka Aquaman, who, in one of the film’s cheekiest scenes, reveals more than he intended to in a rare moment of candidness. And then there’s Victor Stone aka Cyborg, played with genuine feeling by Ray Fisher as a deeply conflicted young fella that a freak accident has turned into a half man-half machine.
It’s a good thing the characters work because the plot is wafer thin and relies too heavily on rusty tropes. There are some good standout moments, but the action, on the whole, isn’t particularly memorable, and the climax is the same old mess of mind-scrambling CGI nonsense. Too often the film feels patchy and disjointed, and at the cost of repeating myself, I’ll say the villain is just a crushing disappointment and never feels like a credible threat.
Yet it’s the uncharacteristically light tone, the steady stream of one-liners, a crisp running time just shy of two hours, and dependable turns by Gal Gadot, still terrific as Wonder Woman, and a more relaxed Ben Affleck as Batman, that save the film from sinking under its own weight. There’s also a big reveal that you’ll probably see coming from a mile away, that just brought a big smile to my face.