Justice League

justice-league-rev Justice League  (2017)    Warner Bros./Action-Adventure-Fantasy    RT: 120 minutes    Rated PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi violence and action)    Director: Zack Snyder    Screenplay: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon    Music: Danny Elfman    Cinematography: Fabian Wagner    Release date: November 17, 2017 (US)    Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciaran Hinds, Joe Morton, Amber Heard, Billy Crudup.

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 Sometimes being cautiously optimistic about a movie pays off. It’s how I felt about Justice League over the past few months. Let’s face it, the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) doesn’t have the best track record with spotty efforts like Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. That all changed this past summer with Wonder Woman which not only won over audiences to the tune of over $800 million worldwide, it also won over critics. Looks like it took a woman to set the DCEU on the right track. They continue on this path with Justice League, an entertaining action-adventure that unites all the big names in the DC Universe against a common foe. Yes, it’s the DC version of The Avengers.

 justice-leagueThe big question on everybody’s mind is this: Does Superman return? It leaves me to ponder this: Should I tell you? After a brief period of consideration, I’ve determined that it’s NOT a plot spoiler to reveal that.... yes, the Man of Steel comes back! Why am I okay with telling you this? Henry’s Cavill’s name is on the poster and in the opening credits. He’s listed second, right after Ben Affleck, returning as Batman/Bruce Wayne. How he comes back is something you’ll have to see for yourself.

 The plot of Justice League is pure silliness but at least it has a sense of humor unlike previous DC films. It could have something (or a lot) to do with director Zack Snyder stepping down (in wake of his daughter’s death this past March) and Joss Whedon assuming post-production duties. He infuses it with the same humor and good-natured camaraderie as his Avengers movies. It’s less gloomy and less self-important than previous DC entries. It’s also more coherent. Quite a feat when you consider that the makers have to introduce three new major characters (Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg), further develop known characters (Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman) and show how they came to form the JL in the space of two hours. Oh yeah, they also have to fit a supervillain into it. Snyder/Whedon manages this tricky balancing act with minimal difficulty.

 The villain in Justice League is an alien named Steppenwolf (Hinds, The Woman in Black) who’s after three Mother Boxes hidden in different places on Earth. They have the power to destroy worlds when combined. What better time to attack the planet than when the world is in chaos following the death of Superman which caused the box hidden on Wonder Woman’s island to activate and summon forth Steppenwolf who proceeds to wreak havoc as he searches for the other boxes. Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot) and Bruce Wayne/Batman decide that now is the time to form a team comprised of themselves and other metahumans- Barry Allen/The Flash (Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Momoa, Game of Thrones) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Fisher). Upon realizing how powerful their foe is, Wayne decides to resurrect Superman which he hopes will also restore hope in humanity.

 We’re given brief back stories on the three new heroes. Allen’s father (Crudup, Almost Famous) is in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. His son is determined to prove his innocence. Aquaman protects the citizens of a small fishing village. He’s also heir to the throne of Atlantis. Stone, after nearly dying in a car accident, was rebuilt by his father using cybernetic parts. Allen is the only one excited about being part of JL. The others take some persuading. In the end, they all stand together against Steppenwolf. For the purposes of Justice League, brief synopses will do. Each character will be getting his own stand-alone feature at some point in the near future (Aquaman is due in December 2018) so no need to elaborate of them at this time. Where this movie does fall short is with Lois Lane (Adams, Arrival) and Martha Kent (Lane, Unfaithful). I think more time could have been afforded to their characters and how the death of their boyfriend and son respectively affected them.

 Now for some brief comments on the acting. I’m getting used to Batfleck. I’m still not entirely convinced he’s the right actor for the role, he’s getting better. He’s lightened up a bit since we last saw him in Batman v Superman. He’s more self-effacing. He still broods but not quite as much. I’m also gaining more confidence in Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent. Death appears to have had a positive effect on him as he too has lightened up. Gadot nails it a second time as Wonder Woman who’s having her own internal struggles about going public as a protector of humankind. Miller makes a pretty good Barry Allen/Flash. He’s a dorky teen like Tom Hollander’s Spider-Man; he gets off some of the funnier lines. Momoa is quite good as Aquaman although he looks nothing like the Aquaman I grew up with. Still, he’s probably the most interesting of the new recruits. Fisher is also good as Cyborg. He’s not thrilled about being a machine but he comes to accept his new identity. Hinds is okay as Steppenwolf. He hams it up under a lot of makeup. As a villain, Steppenwolf isn’t anything new. We’ve seen his sort before and better.

 Like other DC movies, Justice League tends to overdo it with the CGI and slo-mo fight scenes, definitely more so than the Marvel movies. I am happy that they go for a lighter color palette this time. It’s not as dark as its predecessors. I love the scenes in Atlantis. Underwater scenes don’t always work in movies but here they’ve created a world that you can almost believe exists. It’s the best use of underwater locations since 1989’s The Abyss. I suppose the best thing about Justice League is that it’s fun and funny. The story is straight out of a comic book (no duh!) and the characters have nice chemistry. It’s not quite up to the level of a Marvel flick but it’s a darn sight better than the DC movies that preceded it. If they keep improving at their current rate, the second JL movie should be epic.

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