Updated: Feb 5, 2020
After Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman (two-time Oscar winner Ben Affleck) recruits Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, who has also been a featured player in the Fast and Furious series), Aquaman (Jason Momoa, Khal Drogo from season one of HBO’s Game of Thrones), Flash (Ezra Miller, Credence in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to fight off an alien menace threatening the Earth. But Justice League is not about its plot. It is about the novelty of seeing all of those heroes onscreen together for the first time. Accepted for exactly what it is, it is a decently fun time.
There are two major things that keep Justice League entertaining. One is its length. At 108 minutes (plus an extra scene at the start of the end credits and another immediately afterward) it never overstays its welcome. Normally, I complain when a film does not fully develop its plot or characters. In the case of this film, some of the characters were introduced in previous films and the others show up already partially developed. Of course, the film is kind of cheating by assuming that viewers already know who The Flash or Aquaman are the moment they step onscreen. But just because that approach is lazy does not also mean they are incorrect. Some more insight into all of the characters would have been greatly appreciated, but I am sure they will get around to character development at some point in the DC Film Universe.
As far as the plot goes, it is not very interesting. Something about boxes that will allow the evil warrior Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) and his army of flying goblin creatures to conquer the world. I am sure people far more versed in the comic books than I am could explain the story, but the film never even came close to making me care enough to understand it better. It never seemed like our heroes were in any danger at all, so the movie lacked suspense or drama. Thankfully it does not spend a ton of time on its weak story or villain. The strength of Justice League is the interplay of its heroes and it wisely sticks to that, for the most part.
Most of the entertainment value contained in this film comes from likable performances from Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller. The cast is huge (it also features Jeremy Irons (a Best Actor Oscar winner in 1991 for Reversal of Fortune) as Alfred, five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane (a Best Actress Oscar nominee in 2003 for Unfaithful) as Martha Kent and JK Simmons (a Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner in 2015 for Whiplash) as Commissioner Gordon), so no individual really gets showcased more than any of the others. However, whether it is through their own skills or the material they have been given, these three are consistently more enjoyable to watch than everyone else.
Gadot really established herself as Diana in this summer’s Wonder Woman. She brings the same strength, intelligence and charisma that she displayed in her solo film. She has an excellent presence about her and that means she never gets lost in the ensemble. Her Diana has so much poise and is so clever that it feels like she should really be the leader of this group instead of Batman. Affleck’s performance is actually one of the weaker aspects of Justice League. He plays the role as straight man to the crazier heroes and never captures Batman’s darkness or menace. I do not know how much of that his fault and how much is the fault of the screenplay (by Joss Whedon (writer/director of the first two Avengers films) and Chris Terrio (co-writer of Batman vs Superman)) but, either way, I did not enjoy it.
Momoa brings an amusing cockiness to the arrogant loner that is Aquaman. We learn very little about him during the film (presumably, that will come during next year’s solo Aquaman film), but the way he digs at his teammates is pretty amusing. It seems a bit like an attempt at replicating the chemistry between Marvel’s Avengers; however, that did not bother me too much. He is pretty fun here and I am interested in seeing him actually get to play the character for real in Aquaman.
Miller, as the speedy Flash, is almost exclusively the comic relief of the team. Sometimes it feels forced, but he delivers laughs for the most part. Miller has an amiable screen persona and it is put to good use here. I genuinely liked his Barry Allen (even though he was occasionally the butt of the joke). He is insecure, friendly and just excited to be a superhero. It is a funny performance even though, like pretty much everybody else, I wish he was more than just the sum of his quirks. Miller is a talented actor, so I have faith that he could do more with the character if he is given his own solo film at some point in the future.
Justice League is not the disaster its trailers seemed to portend. The film does feel like a rushed attempt to keep up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so the characters and stories are nowhere near as fleshed out as in the Avengers films. That being said, I laughed a few times, smiled a bunch more and generally had an okay time. DC’s films are just hanging on thanks to fortunate casting. But for now, that is barely enough.
3 out of 5
Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Gal Gadot as Diana
Ezra Miller as Flash/Barry Allen
Jason Momoa as Aquaman/Arthur Curry
Ray Fisher as Cyborg/Victor Stone
Ciarán Hinds as voice of Steppenwolf
Jeremy Irons as Alfred
Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent
Amy Adams as Lois Lane
Diane Lane as Martha Kent
Joe Morton as Silas Stone
Directed by Zack Snyder
Screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon