JUSTICE LEAGUE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ciaran Hinds, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J K Simmons, Joe Morton, Connie Nielsen, Amber Heard, Billy Crudup, David Thewlis.

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While Marvel tends to dominate the cinematic superhero and comic book market at the moment, DC comics are attempting to make inroads with their take on setting up their own DC Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, their first film, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, was a rather grim and dour affair that was too dark and gloomy for many fans. It lacked the colour, energy and humour that has shaped most of the films in the Marvel cinematic universe. The subsequent Wonder Woman was a vast improvement, an entertaining action drama that gave us the backstory of the character of Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, whom we first met as a supporting character in Batman V Superman.

Written by Chris Terrio (Argo, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, etc), Justice League takes up the story shortly after the events of that film as the world deals with the loss of Superman. Batman’s faith in humanity has been restored after witnessing Superman’s selfless act in that film. But he has also noticed that there seems to be an increased threat from alien life forms after the demise of Superman. Batman (Ben Affleck, reprising his role as the caped crusader) feels that he needs to put together a team of superheroes to deal with these threats. He enlists the help of Wonder Woman to track down some of these “meta-humans” to form a league of superheroes. Among those he assembles are Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, (played by Jason Momoa, from the 2011 remake of Conan The Barbarian, etc); the youthful and enthusiastic Flash (Ezra Miller, from The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, etc); and Victor (Ray Fisher), a half human/half cyborg character known as Cyborg. While the Flash is keen to join the team the other two take more convincing. We get brief backstories of these characters too.

The villain here is an eight-foot malevolent ancient power-hungry demon and destroyer of worlds, known as Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds, whose performance is captured via motion capture technology). He is seeking to find three mysterious boxes, known as Mother Boxes, which when joined together will unleash the power to destroy a planet. The boxes are kept in separate locations – one is buried in an undisclosed location, one is kept on the island of Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s home; and the other is kept in the undersea city of Atlantis, home to Aquaman.

Batman realises that the team needs extra help to defeat Steppenwolf, and they manage to resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill) in time for him to join the final battle with Steppenwolf and his CGI rendered army of terrifying flying insect-like creatures known as Parademoms. This climactic battle though is quite chaotic, noisy and confusing, and visually ugly. The overdose of CGI effects gives it a video game aesthetic with some dodgy looking effects. This seems to be typical of the films from director Zack Snyder, whose films include 300, Sucker Punch, etc, which all have a surreal and artificial visual quality. Snyder directs the material with his usual lack of subtlety, and the loud destructive smackdown seems derivative, formulaic, and, eventually, overlong and dull.

Justice League is tonally uneven, too. Snyder had to leave the film though following a family tragedy and Joss Whedon, who has worked on the Marvel Cinematic Universe with The Avengers in 2012, and he is probably responsible for the lighter tone and the strong streak of self-referential humour that runs through the film. Snyder’s early take was a bit too grim and dark and downbeat. Snyder’s original cut ran for a massive 170 minutes, but his vision has been ruthlessly cut back to the 121 minutes we see here. This is the shortest film in DC’s cinematic universe, which probably accounts for the sense that some character detail has been excised and some subplots truncated.

Seemingly stung by the criticism delivered at his rather dour take on Batman in the previous film, Affleck seems to have lightened up a bit here and he gives his character a lighter touch with flashes of dry humour. Gadot dominates as Wonder Woman, and is the best thing here. Producers have sexed up her uniform though. Miller brings an endearing quality to his role as the Flash, but he often comes across like a silly, naive schoolboy with his enthusiasm and awkwardness. I much prefer Grant Gustin’s take on the character in the FOX tv series The Flash. And as for Aquaman, well, here he seems a bit like a fish out of water as he spends most of his time on land, and I am not exactly clear on what superpowers he brings to the table.

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Cavill briefly returns as Superman. I found myself distracted by watching his upper lip all the way through -apparently, he was filming the latest Mission Impossible instalment when he was recalled for some reshoots on this film. He sported a moustache in MI, but the studio refused to let him shave it off for the reshoots here, and so consequently it was removed digitally in post-production. Diane Lane and Amy Adams also return briefly as Martha Kent and Lois Lane, but they are given little to do. J K Simmons, an excellent character actor, is likewise given little to do as Commissioner Gordon. Jeremy Irons brings flashes of humour to his role as Alfred. But Steppenwolf is one of the more forgettable supervillains to grace the screen in a long time, and the CGI visuals that bring him to life are cartoonish in quality.

DC is racing to catch up to Marvel Studios and beat them at their own game by expanding their cinematic universe, but if Justice League is anything to judge by, they still have a long way to go. The way in which they waste their two biggest properties in Superman and Batman here is also unforgiveable. And, as with most films in the Marvel canon, there is a post credits teaser for the next instalment of the Justice League franchise.
★★☆

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