FILM REVIEW – JUSTICE LEAGUE. With Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher.Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action. 121 minutes.
As someone who grew up reading DC comics, including what was then called the “Justice League of America,” it saddens this reviewer that the best one can say about the long-anticipated movie JUSTICE LEAGUE is that it’s just-okay. It has its moments, but it comes across as an “Avengers” wannabe with second-rank superheroes. It doesn’t help that the greatest hero of the DC universe – Superman (Henry Cavill) – was killed off in the earlier “Batman v. Superman.”
The villain is some character named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who arrives to unite three mysterious boxes that will allow him to destroy the Earth. Batman (Ben Affleck) knows he can’t do it alone so with the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), they enlist the help of their reluctant partners: Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Alas, the novelty of characters from different comic books working together in the same story has long since worn off.
The influence of the “Avengers” and related films is hard to miss, from the mythological villain and the arch dialogue (“Avengers” helmer Joss Whedon shares credit for the script) to the transformation of classic DC characters into watered-down Marvel ones. Neither the Flash nor Aquaman are true to their comic book roots, with Flash going from adult to teenage boy, perhaps so he can attract some of Spiderman’s fans. Aquaman has gone from sleek and blond to dark and huge, becoming this film’s underwater version of the Hulk.
There are even two “easter eggs” in the closing credits, the one playing off of a long-running debate among DC fans and the other ploddingly setting us up for a sequel, complete with characters who have not appeared elsewhere in the movie. Meanwhile, Affleck continues to find his way as Batman, with his choices sometimes scoring (as with his “explanation” of his superpower) to the mistaken idea that we should see his unshaven stubble beneath his mask.
The one who comes across best is Gal Gadot proving that her turn in “Wonder Woman” earlier this year was no fluke. In a film that’s striving to avoid the darkness of so many of the DC entries to the point where it’s lost its effectiveness, Gadot’s sunniness points the way for not only her career but where the series might go as well. Of course, if they really wanted to throw caution to the wind they’d do a Justice League/Avengers crossover. What would Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark have to say to each other? Would Flash and Spiderman become friends or would they each decide the other is a loser?
“Justice League” reminds us that warmed-up leftovers can be thoroughly satisfying if that’s what the choice is, but no one will ever confuse it with an original thoughtfully-prepared meal.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.