Writer: Joss Whedon, Chris Terrio (screenplay and story), Zack Snyder (story)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds, Joe Morton, Connie Nielsen
Running time: 121mins
What’s the story: With Superman dead, the world teeters on the brink of social collapse. Bruce Wayne (Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gadot), Batman and Wonder Woman, seek out superhuman recruits for a team of protectors when a cosmic threat looms in the form of Steppenwolf (Hinds).
What’s the verdict: A franchise with no future will always look to its past. Wonder Woman riffed on 1978 Superman’s fish out of water sweetness and noble derring-do. A perfect antidote to Suicide Squad’s cynicism and meanness.
Justice League, direct sequel to the disastrous Batman v Superman, gazes back to DC’s recent and distant past for a grab bag of proven formulae and fan nostalgia. The result is a swift, scrappy, surprisingly modest movie. It doesn’t rival DC’s best big screen outings, but after BvS we’ll take two quick hours of entertainment as some sort of victory.
How much of Justice League is Zack Snyder lightening the mood and how much is Joss Whedon’s input after Snyder left the project due to a family tragedy is unknown. Snyder is solely credited as director, while Whedon gets a co-screenwriter credit.
But, Whedon was the guy who proved The Avengers could work on the big screen and his handiwork can be seen here. The plot – evil alien seeks intergalactic trinkets to enslave/destroy the world – loudly echoes the original Avengers movie.
As does heroic bants amidst bombastic, blue-light action sequences. And there’s nary a ham-fisted 9/11 parallel in sight.
Affleck emerges as man of the match, balancing humour and pathos as Wayne wrestles with the guilt of Superman’s demise. The actor is an undervalued comedian and moments of suppressed exasperation at how tough it is for the mortal Wayne to keep up with these meta-humans is a nice way to soften the character.
Gadot’s Wonder Woman is impatiently pushed centre screen after her blockbuster summer outing. Luckily, the actress cannot help but impress, transforming functional dialogue into something more through sheer affinity with the role. An extended throwdown between Steppenwolf and Wonder Woman’s warrior sisters will please fans of Amazonian action. As will the return of Connie Nielsen’s Queen Hippolyta.
The relative newcomers are on hand for comic relief, again delivering no-fuss fun. Miller’s The Flash is a goofier version of X-Men’s Quiksilver and is permitted a couple of set-pieces indebted to recent X-outings.
There’s also stuff to Marvel at in Fisher’s Cyborg. A Frankenstein’s monster resurrected by a grief-stricken father (Morton), he begins the film an emo Ultron and ends it circling Tony Stark suave.
Even Momoa’s Aquaman has a touch of Thor’s comic pomposity.
Justice League also goes the Marvel route of having a rubbish villain. Is Steppenwolf not born to be wild? Why then is he just another giant cookie-cutter CGI blank, indistinguishable from Apocalypse, Enchantress, Malkeith, etc., etc., ad nauseum?
Still, with Marvel raking in the money, you can’t blame DC for aping their beats. Even down to two post credit scenes…
And, with DC itself currently more successful on the small screen, is it a surprise Justice League has the feel of a pilot episode? The FX are on par with DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash. There are at least three budget-saving plot recaps sit-downs…
Granted, none of this is groundbreaking, but the critical scorn is undeserved. We preferred Justice League to the soulless bubblegum pastels of Thor: Ragnorok, the latest example of Disney’s superhero arm surfing its slick formula to the bank. Here rough edges abound, but at least there is a spark of genuine life.
Justice League 2 (BvS 3?) will need to increase its ambition if this is all to last. And Lois Lane needs more to do if Amy Adams is expected to stick around.
But, for the moment, the franchise rescue mission is on track.