‘Justice League’ is a mixed bag of superhero fun

Charles Liu

After spending years in development hell and encountering numerous production setbacks, DC’s “Justice League” finally makes its long-awaited splash on the silver screen. Like Zack Snyder’s previous effort, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” this is big budget moviemaking at some of its most epic and visceral. But while that excessively grim stinker failed to be smart and mature, “Justice League,” with the help of co-writer and Marvel alumnus Joss Whedon, course-corrects with a crowd-pleasing but sloppy adventure for its iconic superheroes.

At the forefront are Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), on a mission to unite powerful beings and defend a world mourning the deceased Superman (Henry Cavill). There’s the speedy Flash (Ezra Miller), who quips as fast as he runs, and the grungy, dude-bro Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who quickly dispels the popular notion that he can’t be cool. Last but not least is Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a former college football star who is haunted by his existence as part man, part robot.

The charming ensemble plays wonderfully together, with Miller being the definite standout, whether he’s ranting about the foreign concept of brunch or bonding with Cyborg over a risky “Pet Sematary” plan. Affleck’s Batman feels at home among gods despite his lack of powers, which is no small feat, while Gal Gadot is to Wonder Woman as Christopher Reeve was to Superman. 

Speaking of Superman — it’s no secret he’s returning, and when he does, Cavill finally gets to be a symbol of optimism and oozes boy scout goodness. Just try not to be distracted by the terrible CGI removal of Cavill’s mustache.

The threat our heroes face is Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), an alien baddie intent on reclaiming ancient artifacts called Mother Boxes and devastating our world. However, the first act ineptly establishes this conflict, suddenly shoving in new developments and inelegantly dumping copious amounts of backstory for its heroes and villains without pausing to reflect. Despite all the exposition, some motivations remain murky, and Steppenwolf is nothing more than an excuse for the plot to happen. Comic fans will get with the program quickly, but others will likely have too many questions to glean the same enjoyment, and the narrative’s rapid pace won’t do them any favors. 

The messiness thankfully ends when the heroes unite and take the fight to Steppenwolf. The action is well-staged and choreographed, the visual spectacle is top-notch, and the Justice League consistently exchanges great one-liners and works together in delightful ways. Each character gets a memorable moment and undergoes a meaningful arc. These heroes come together from places of pain and loneliness, and they ultimately find hope and strength through unity and compassion. 

Strangely, while these heroes learn to open up to others, their adventures still feel disconnected from the world they are trying to save. Apart from an impoverished Russian town and a group of scientists, most of public doesn’t encounter the alien invaders and likely won’t even know that the Justice League has stopped them until after the fact. It’s a glaring narrative oversight that reduces the stakes and payoff of the League’s efforts, and it makes the entire adventure seem rather insulated. 

Nonetheless, when the Batmobile races down a street with Parademons in pursuit, Wonder Woman takes on Steppenwolf in single combat or the Flash saves a family from harm, “Justice League” proves too fun to pass up. It’s a sincere, giddy celebration of DC’s flagship characters, and its enjoyable moments are miles ahead of its rough patches, helping the picture overcome Snyder’s failings as a storyteller. Given time, the seeds that “Justice League” plants may blossom into something truly super.

Justice League

  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 120 minutes
  • Score: 3/5