Film Review: Justice League

Ezra Miller as the Flash and Jason Momoa as Aquaman give virtually the only human dimension to a superhero-team movie that's filled with dark spectacle but falls short on emotional depth.
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It's a visual spectacle—you've got to give it that. And the movie's enlivened in a very human way every time Ezra Miller as super-speedster The Flash opens his mouth. Yet except for isolated moments of wit and grace, the DC Comics superhero-ensemble actioner Justice League is as grey and grim as its critically maligned predecessor Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)—except when it's burnt umber in a radioactive Russian hellscape no more real-looking than that of a videogame.

Picking up from that previous movie and this year's Wonder Woman, the film finds Bruce Wayne/Batman (a committed Ben Affleck, perfectly submerged in the role) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), now an art restorer in London, attempting to assemble a team of metahumans to fight some coming alien menace. Wayne tracks Arthur Curry/Aquaman (the terrifically insouciant Jason Momoa) to a North Atlantic fishing community that the undersea royal seems to have adopted, but the amphibious Arthur isn't interested. He has better luck with a friend-starved Barry Allen/The Flash, who's been working three jobs to try to raise money to appeal his imprisoned dad's (Billy Crudup) conviction—yet has a state-of-the-art lab and a one-of-a-kind costume with heat-resistance tech like on the Space Shuttle, so…wha??

The last piece is Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a presumed-dead college athlete whose scientist father (Joe Morton) has refitted him with hybrid human/alien technology to create a sort of super RoboCop—if RoboCop had a surly, ungrateful attitude, one that might have made more sense if the result had been convincingly presented as some Frankensteinesque emotional horror and not the neatest toy in the world. All you can think is "What is this guy's problem? He was dead, and now's he's like a living Iron Man with the power to do anything a plot requires."

That's needed, since so much of the plot hinges on inventing some way to bring Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill), ostensibly killed in B v S, back to life. No, that's not a spoiler—how would be a spoiler, but anyone who thinks Warner Communications would permanently kill a multibillion-dollar character and one of the most globally known intellectual properties is more brain-dead than Victor Stone was thought to be.

Once gathered, the heroes go up against alien warlord Steppenwolf (a motion-capture Ciarán Hinds), who's after a trio of powerful artifacts called Mother Boxes, which together will allow him and his off-screen liege Darkseid the means to conquer our planet—what fans will recognize as drawn from the late comics legend Jack Kirby's Fourth World umbrella of four 1970s series recounting war and intrigue between the worlds of Apokolips and New Genesis, with Earth caught in the middle. Aiding Steppenwolf in this regard, and providing visually stunning cannon fodder, are his dragonfly-like, humanoid parademons.

All of this would matter more if the film had any genuine human feeling or depth beyond nervous-everyman Flash and macho-fronting Aquaman—and Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Clark's mother, and virtually the only non-super character here who comes across as a three-dimensional person. It also would have helped if the plot had been less inexplicably careless. Near the beginning, Batman appears to forget about a burglar, letting him go scot free, after defeating a parademon. Near the end, an interdimensional tunnel appears in direct contradiction of the rules of how they appear. Most inexplicably, in a reality in which aliens are real and known and the world has witnessed the super-destructive Battle of Metropolis in Man of Steel (2013), TV news treats alien sightings as fun, wacky light news. There are more such instances, so again I say: Wha??

And yes, except for the Flash and Aquaman, it's dark and dour. Superman at one point has another hero by the throat and snarls, "Do you bleed?" Wonder Woman smacks the non-superpowered Batman across a room. In the first few minutes, white British terrorists kill multiple innocent civilians, and attempt to machine-gun even more. And we understand Superman as a Christ allegory, as the films at least present him, but the idea that the world falls into a funk of despair and hopelessness without him suggests very little faith in the resilience of humanity. A superhero movie needn't be two hours of fun, fun, fun, but it also needn't be two hours of fire and brimstone.

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