Mark Reviews Movies

Justice League


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Connie Nielsen, Billy Crudup, Amber Heard, Jesse Eisenberg

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action)

Running Time: 2:01

Release Date: 11/17/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 16, 2017

One thing that the DC superhero movies have on their competition has been their ability to give us a musical theme with which to associate a given hero. If Justice League proves anything, it's that we can add Wonder Woman's theme to that list of notable and memorable music cues. We know we can expect something truly heroic and fun when we hear that driving, electric-string riff accompanied by that pounding, war-march percussion. We basically have been trained in that regard since the hero's first appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, when Gal Gadot's version of the character met the dour, apocalyptic nihilism of that movie with a smile.

The music again accompanies Wonder Woman's first appearance in Justice League, and the reaction is the same. This time, the Amazon warrior must fend off a group of reactionary terrorists who have taken hostages and plan to detonate a bomb. Wonder Woman fights her way to the bomb, tosses it in the air, and proceeds to protect all of the hostages by deflecting a hail of bullets from an automatic rifle. At this point, there's no denying that Wonder Woman is the star of this new franchise of movies.

It's obvious that director Zack Snyder wants to bring back the old feelings that used to come with the appearance of the other established heroes in this movie, and he and composer Danny Elfman attempt that by bringing back some established music themes. There's undoubtedly a sense of nostalgia hearing sections of Elfman's own Batman theme within the score that accompanies this iteration Batman, and Superman's return here is graced by John Williams' iconic cue.

These might seem like small details, but they point to Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon's attempt to do a major course correction in the direction these movies have taken. Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne/Batman is still grumpy and world-weary, but he has a bit of a sense of humor about it now. Henry Cavill's Superman undergoes something akin to an exorcism of his dark side after his resurrection (Lest anyone complain about spoilers, did you really think they'd kill off Superman for good?). After that, all that's left in him is the desire to fight for truth and justice. If you can believe it, for the first time in what seems like ages, this Superman actually smiles again.

There are new heroes, of course, because this movie is all about putting together a team of super-powered characters to fight a villain bent on the destruction of the world. One is Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), better known as Aquaman, who lives in Atlantis but helps sailors in peril at sea. Another is Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), also known as Cyborg, a promising genius and student athlete who was transformed into a mostly cybernetic creation after a deadly explosion. He doesn't know the extent of his powers, because his programming keeps updating.

The standout is Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), who saves people in Central City as the Flash. He tells Bruce that he never has done battle before. He just kind of pushes people when he's moving really, really fast. If Wonder Woman has become the idealistic heart of this franchise, the Flash arrives as a knowing, winking shot in the arm to its self-seriousness.

It needed that jolt, and there are times that this installment is genuinely fun. That's mostly when Wonder Woman, the Flash, and, to a lesser extent, Batman are doing their own thing or working together as a team. Terrio and Whedon don't seem to know what to do with Cyborg and Aquaman, which is unfortunate. As much as the mostly-computer-generated Cyborg exists in the Uncanny Valley (about half of Fisher's face appears, sometimes real but mostly as a digital creation), the notion of a superhero learning and being surprised by what he can do is clever. Momoa gives Aquaman a devil-may-care attitude, but like Cyborg, the character seems like a requirement for the story of a team, not character unto himself.

We need these characters to work on their own and as a team, because, otherwise, we're just watching yet another, familiar plot about saving the world unfold—just with a few more faces. In this regard, the movie is a complete bust. The Big Bad is Steppenwolf, a woefully unconvincing digital creation voiced by Ciarán Hinds. He wants to collect three boxes from around the globe, connect them, and turn Earth into a "hellscape"—the movie's word. That the villain has no personality is a given. That he disappears for long stretches means that he rarely feels like much of a threat. That henchmen look like humanoid insects is strange, and that he's just here for a couple of big, showy fights in run-down, ugly locations is just the sad, unimaginative norm for these types of movies.

The changes from the established tone of this series are welcome. We still really like Wonder Woman, appreciate the Flash, and have some of the old admiration for Superman return. Justice League is fixing a lot. The fixes, though, don't make for a story that stands on its own merits.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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