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‘Justice League’ Is Just Meh

DC’s latest likely to please fanboys/girls but won’t win any new converts

Cinema Junkie Recommends Indies Over Superheroes

The latest DC film, “Justice League,” arrives in theaters this week, and the best I can say is that it’s easier to watch than “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

A look back on DC films

There’s no denying DC’s place in the comics world but when it comes to adapting their popular superhero characters to the screen they have made some bad choices in recent years. “Wonder Woman,” which opened during the summer, seems like the exception that proves the rule. But even though it scored big at the box office and with critics and fans, it still had a horrendous third act. You have to dig back to the 1960s for the “Batman” TV series or the '70s for Richard Donner’s “Superman” to find some universally loved DC adaptations.

The 1990s gave us some hope with Tim Burton’s pair of quirky “Batmans” that boasted inventive production design and the unexpected casting of Michael Keaton in the lead. But then we had to suffer through Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Arnold as Mr. Freeze, and nipples on the bat suit.

Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy peaked with “The Dark Knight” but less so because of Christian Bale’s superhero or Nolan’s filmmaking and more because of Heath Ledger’s riveting Joker.

DC has fared better with recent television projects especially with animated series like “Batman Beyond,” “Justice League/Justice League Unlimited,” and “Batman: The Animated Series.” Its recent live action TV shows such as “Arrow” and “The Flash” have also fared well.

Zack Snyder and DC

But that bring us to Zack Snyder. He entered the DC universe in 2013 and was put in place to oversee the franchise’s reboot of its key superheroes. He held a position similar to what Joss Whedon was doing over at Marvel with “The Avengers” franchise. But the two had vastly different approaches and outcomes with Marvel cleaning up at the box office. (Interesting note: Whedon recently switched teams, bailing on Marvel to head over to DC to helm a “Batgirl” film.)

Snyder delivered the leaden “Man of Steel” and the hot mess of “Dawn of Justice,” which was so bad that it became an internet meme. “Justice League” specifically follows in this Snyder lineage and the good news is that after “Dawn of Justice” no one really had high expectations for “Justice League.”

And that’s a good thing. Because even going in with low expectations, “Justice League” was still underwhelming. I went to the preview with a friend who is a devout fan of DC and who even enjoys Snyder’s “Sucker Punch.” Needless to say after the film was over we disagreed. He loved it and said, “At least it wasn’t as bad a slog as ‘Batman v Superman.’”

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Warner Brothers/DC

The makings of "Justice League," as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Batman (Ben Affleck) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) join forces.

‘Justice League’

To be fair, “Justice League” does make a conscientious effort to right some of the wrongs of Snyder’s previous two DC films. There are actual attempts at humor, the running time is under two hours (without the end credits, that is), there is notable effort to craft something known as a script, and they give more screen time to "Wonder Woman." What remains the same, however, is an over reliance on massive CGI and a lack of genuine fun and inventiveness.

The story picks up after “Dawn of Justice” with the world kind of gone to hell after Superman’s death. Adding to the chaos and growing sense of doom is the arrival of supervillain Steppenwolf (Ciarin Hinds). Batman decides it’s time to round up some folks with special powers to create a superhero version of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. He enlists Wonder Woman (Gal Godat returning to the role after her wildly successful solo film), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). (One casting note: It is weird having J.K. Simmons, who was the perfect J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” films now playing Commissioner Gordon.)

Synder had to pull out of the film in the final stages because of a family tragedy and Whedon stepped in to wrap the shooting and oversee post-production. Perhaps it is Whedon who helped lighten the tone of the film and pick up its pace. And the film does seem to be taking cues from Marvel with The Flash coming across as DC’s version of the wisecracking Spidey and Aquaman being its Thor. And ever since Marvel’s surprising box office success with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” both DC and even Marvel itself (with its latest “Thor” film) seem to be trying to duplicate that sense of ensemble play and camaraderie. But alas “Guardians of the Galaxy” has yet to be successfully imitated.

All this is to avoid talking about “Justice League” itself because the film is just meh. It’s not the bloated, pompous mess of “Man of Steel” or the somber drudgery of “Dawn of Justice.” It tries to make amends for those films and has occasional moments of humor. But there’s so much CGI that you start to feel like your watching a video game only you can’t control any of the action.

Ben Affleck is moderately less annoying as Batman this time around but the bat suit makes his face look pudgy; Henry Cavill looks fit in his scenes (this is not a spoiler, I’m not saying he comes back to life but you do the franchise math); Gal Gadot has Wonder Woman down pat; and Momoa, Miller, and Fisher are likable additions to the team. Although sometimes Miller and the script try a little too hard to inject humor.

“Justice League” (rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action) does little to engage or change the minds of those who are not fans of the Snyder/DC universe. For those who are, it is a decided improvement over the previous two outings. But that’s not saying much.

The latest DC film, “Justice League,” arrives in theaters this week, and the best I can say is that it’s easier to watch than “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

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