“JUSTICE LEAGUE” — 3 stars — Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller; PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi violence and action); in general release
Zack Snyder has finally put the whole DC band together for “Justice League,” a film that may not be everything fans want, but is certainly what the DC brand needs.
“Justice League” picks up in the aftermath of 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which brought Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) together to fight an up-and-coming Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). That particular alliance was short-lived, thanks to a creature named Doomsday that put Superman six feet underground by the closing credits.
In the time since Superman’s death, crime has been on the rise, and an early rooftop skirmish with a flying alien bug creature leads Batman to suspect bigger troubles may be on the way. So he sets out to reconnect with Wonder Woman, hoping the two of them can recruit a more expansive team.
The expanded Justice League includes The Flash (Ezra Miller), a young kid with superhuman speed and some family issues, and Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a brawny super-powered and super-tattooed Arctic hero who hails from the mythical underwater land of Atlantis. After a little hesitation, a cyborg named, well, Cyborg (Ray Fisher), rounds out the team.
While Batman and Wonder Woman are putting the band together, we get a better idea of who is on the way to put the Justice League to their first test. The leader of the flying bug men is named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), an oversized, ill-tempered alien warrior determined to bring the earth to its knees, provided he can unite three mythical cubes called Mother Boxes and create something called The Unity. Batman and company quickly realize that on their own, they won’t be able to get rid of Steppenwolf, and even together, they will need some extra help.
It isn’t hard to see where the plot is going from there, and honestly, Steppenwolf and his crew of flying minions feel a little obligatory (also, in a film packed with great visuals, Steppenwolf’s CGI feels pretty weak). A superhero movie rarely elevates beyond the level of its heavy, and Steppenwolf feels like more of a placeholder than a genuine threat.
But in spite of a milquetoast villain and a little predictability, “Justice League” feels like a positive step forward for the DC Universe, simply because it feels like everyone involved is finally having fun. Batman is still dark and stoic, but Wonder Woman — still the best thing about “Dawn of Justice” — gets a lot more screen time, and Flash and Aquaman bring two distinct but fun personalities to the Justice League table. It isn’t a perfect fit, but the character chemistry goes a very long way.
Understand, Snyder hasn’t turned his franchise into a lighthearted laughfest, but he has elevated his tone from the brooding grumpiness of the previous films. For that alone, “Justice League” feels like a win, and even if some of its bits and pieces feel routine or unoriginal, it should leave audiences excited for what is to come. (Speaking of which, fans should stick around for a pair of post-credits scenes.)
The cast list also expands beyond the principal heroes to feature cameos from previous films like Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and Alfred (Jeremy Irons) and hints at future spinoff films while introducing Aquaman’s associate Mera (Amber Heard) and J.K. Simmons in the traditional Commissioner Gordon role. But Snyder never lets the screen get too crowded at one time, and “Justice League” manages a nice balance of character and action that should make fans happy.
“Justice League” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action; running time: 120 minutes.