Movie Review: Justice League

DC stumbles badly after the success of Wonder Woman

Justice League (Liga spravedlnosti)
Directed by Zack Snyder
With Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller. Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds

The DC universe of comic book heroes takes a big step backward with Justice League, an attempt to match the success of rival comic franchise Marvel's Avengers and X-Men series.

DC's Wonder Woman was a surprise hit, with a clever script and strong characters, especially Gal Gadot in the title role. It grew hopes that finally, the franchise was living up to its potential.

But Justice League is a noisy and confused mess with quickly erupting action scenes and not enough character development.

The Justice League starts a few months after the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, made by the same director, Zack Snyder. Batman v Superman was savaged by critics (though a commercial success). Joss Whedon shot some additional scenes after the initial filming and finished the production.

Batman (played by Ben Affleck) is the main focus of Justice League, as Superman (Henry Cavill) died in the previous film. A video flashback at the start of Justice League reminds people of those events.

Comic book films are as good as their villains, and this one is sort of iffy. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds via motion capture) is some sort of alien, leading an army of giant flying monsters called Parademons. He is looking for some ancient boxes that have some sort of power and can cause untold damage together. 

Steppenwild, unfortunately, looks a lot like Surtur, the demon in the Marvel series' recent film Thor: Ragnarok, down to the same horned helmet. The overall plot is very similar as well, and it serves as a constant reminder that Thor: Ragnarok was far superior in every aspect.

Steppenwolf isn't developed very well as a villain. He just sort of shows up and has an evil plan that dates back thousands of years to when the boxes were left on Earth. The whole plot about the three mysterious boxes isn't very engaging, and that is a major blow to the credibility of the film.

Batman is barely a step ahead of Steppenwolf, and without Superman around he needs to find some new help. Wonder Woman is back, and a highlight of the film, but she does not have a strong script to support her this time. The pro-feminist messages of her solo film are absent, and the camera takes a more leering attitude toward her figure in the skimpy costume.

Finding the other new heroes takes quite a long time, but it is not well-spent. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is perhaps the most promising of the new finds. He is played as a hard-drinking fisherman from the frozen north, hiding out in a small coastal village until Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne comes looking for him. He has primal roughness and is one of those tough on the surface characters with a good heart when it is needed.

Flash (Ezra Miller) is a bit one-note. He tells Batman of his social awkwardness and his desire to join a team, any team. This is the extent of his character.

Ezra Miller played Kevin in the 2011 film We Need to Talk About Kevin, and gave a complex performance, so he is capable of much better. Miller made cameo appearances as the Flash in Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman.

The character of Flash has the potential for solo films, and it is shame he was developed so poorly. There is a good bit about this relationship with his father, played by Billy Crudup, and that could make for a more character-driven solo film.

Also joining the Justice League is Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who also had a brief appearance in Batman v Superman. As the name indicates, he is half man and half robot, and a reluctant superhero. The performance is good, but the character's powers are ill-defined and keep changing.

Sadly wasted is Jeremy Irons as Alfred, the butler of Bruce Wayne. He is perhaps the best actor in the film but only has a few very brief scenes.

The superheroes start out not liking one another very much. Unlike in the Marvel films, the jabs and wisecracks simply fall flat, though. Even when the team starts to work together, the humor lacks the good will needed to put it over. They seem to be the sort of team that is punching the time clock, and not willing to stick around after work to have a beer together.

The new fans of DC from Wonder Woman may come out to see Gal Gadot again, but they are likely to be disappointed at the lack of depth to the script.

The people behind the DC universe needed to come up with more human touches to create a team of saviors that people would want to be part of. Instead, the filmmakers fell into the trap of too much reliance on CGI effects, pretty costumes and extravagant sets. But no real drama beyond some generic plot about some magic boxes.

The superheroes set out to save humanity, but that very humanity is what is completely lacking from the film.

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