Kernel Rating (out of 5): (3 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. Much of the same as most comic book movies: lots of action sequences against an alien villain with seemingly unstoppable strength and violence; a demonic army of minions that, with their pointy teeth and glowing eyes, may scare younger viewers; lots of hand-to-hand combat and characters shown being killed during those battles; some cursing; some sexist behavior by the de facto male leader of the team to the female leader; some drinking; and some male shirtlessness.
‘Justice League’ thankfully leaves the punishing, exhausting darkness of ‘Batman v Superman’ behind and goes for a looser, more humorous vibe. With that tonal change and a charismatic cast, the movie goes down easier, even if it suffers from an overly complicated narrative.
By Roxana Hadadi
Aside from this year’s phenomenal “Wonder Woman,” the DC Comics films haven’t gotten the formula quite right. “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” were both self-serious and almost exhaustingly dark, both visually and tonally. “Suicide Squad” was a barely coherent series of character introductions, not a cohesive film. And who knows what else is planned for the universe, whether the Green Lantern character is getting rebooted or the Joker and Harley Quinn are getting their own spinoff movie or if the much-hyped Ben Affleck is even going to stick around as Batman. It’s a film franchise that seems constantly in flux.
But by picking and choosing what worked from those three films and returning to the steadying presence of the Wonder Woman character, “Justice League” is the most enjoyable DC Comics film yet. That doesn’t really mean it is a success, but that it’s a little boring instead of consistently mind-numbing and frequently funny instead of painfully dull. A lot of this is clearly because of director Joss Whedon, he of Marvel’s “The Avengers” films, who stepped in to take over “Justice League” after a family tragedy caused original director Zack Snyder stepped down.
Whedon’s specific sort of humor, with its snarky, self-aware, self-deprecating vibe, is sprinkled throughout “Justice League,” and it helps crystallize the appeal of Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/the Flash and Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman in particular. Miller is absolutely the standout here, making Barry Allen a little manic, a little twitchy, and wholly wonderful, from his confused rants about brunch to his excitement over the bat symbol appearing in the sky. He is the jolt of energy and excitement “Justice League” desperately needs. Gal Gadot is once again a supremely confident, calming presence as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, even though she disappointingly has to play second fiddle to Batman. And although Ray Fisher is a bit underserved as Victor Stone/Cyborg, his stoicism is certainly more believable than Affleck’s, whose Batman is once again the most tiring element of these films.
The team is brought together by Batman after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) in “Dawn of Justice,” an act for which Bruce Wayne feels personal responsibility. The world is in chaos without Superman, and Batman realizes that it was Superman’s goodness—not his own darkness—that was a beacon to people. So he consults Diana for guidance and then approaches Barry, Arthur, and Victor, hoping to unite them against Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), an alien invader who senses Earth’s weakness and hopelessness after Superman’s death and arrives to destroy it and recreate it as a mimicry of his own planet.
“Justice League” then tackles the typical growing pains of any group forced to work together, which in this film, is a double-edged thing. These characters have already been introduced in other films, but they get sketched in tidily here for the context of this mission; we don’t see much of Aquaman interacting with the people he protects in a desolate fishing village, but we understand the relationship between them in just one scene. The same goes for Cyborg, who isn’t just good at technology—he basically is technology, and a few scenes of him dryly explaining his new powers to his father effectively demonstrates his unease with being brought back to life in a body he doesn’t recognize with abilities he doesn’t understand.
But at the same time, that briskness of “Justice League” makes certain elements feel anticlimactic, too, like a certain major plot development we can all see coming a mile away and that doesn’t need to be discussed. And as a villain, Steppenwolf somewhat follows up on the mind-infection world-domination thing Lex Luthor was blathering on about in “Dawn of Justice,” but how readily he’s defeated raises more questions about the franchise’s long-term intentions and where these characters go from here.
There are stretches where not much happens; the narrative is still overly complicated and some of the villain’s special effects look just as hokey as they did in “Suicide Squad”; these films still haven’t developed a believable sense of place for Gotham City, Central City, or any of their other locations; there’s an ugly vibe between Batman and Wonder Woman in which he belittles her about her grief over the personal losses she sustained in World War I, suggesting that she was selfish in ways he hasn’t been; and the movie relies a bit too much on “Look at Bruce Wayne, isn’t he just crazy rich?” as character development. But it’s undeniable that “Justice League” is a step away from a certain DC Comics movie identity and toward something lighter and brighter, and compared with what they’ve done before, it’s undoubtedly forward progress—incremental, but still welcome.
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