For those who loathe Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and they are legion, Justice League will be just the corrective followup they’re looking for. Granted, BvS got a bad rap for staying true to the dark instincts of the DC Comics universe from which it emerged. It’s just that director Snyder lacked the artistic cred that Christopher Nolan brought to his Dark Knight trilogy, to put it mildly. Instead of the Freudian gloom and doom of the Caped Crusader (Ben Affleck) and the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) hating on each other, this coming together of DC’s heavy hitters takes so many happy pills it almost overdoses on them. No one sings “the sun’ll come out tomorrow” in this movie. But the attitude is so bright and optimistic that you might mistake it for a fun ride on the Marvel express.
As most of you know, Snyder – understandably grieving over the suicide of his 20-year-old daughter – left most of the post-production and reshoots to Joss Whedon, the wizard behind The Avengers and its sequel. Snyder still gets solo director billing on Justice League, with the former Buffy creator sharing a screenplay credit with Chris Terrio, but the upbeat tone of the movie – snappy patter blending with action unburdened by subtext – is definitely Whedonesque.
True pain has been banished. Even the reported death of Superman last time out is handled in a way that won’t keep kids up nights. When it comes to comic-book movies, spoilers can get a critic killed. So we won’t state the obvious when it comes to questions about the Man of Steel’s fate. But we can tell you that Affleck loosens up good when he’s not carrying the psychological weight of the world on his padded shoulders. Why worry about his guilt over the son of Krypton when Steppenwolf – an eight-foot tall computer-generated villain who looks like the Terminator with bad teeth and is voiced by Ciaran Hinds – needs to be given a smackdown before he pulverizes the planet, something about knocking three energy boxes together. Whatever.
Before that, Batman/Bruce Wayne must put a team together to take on impossible odds. What to call themselves? The Avengers is taken and Thor recently nabbed “the Revengers.” So Batman creates the Justice League, a group of metahumans out to take on Steppenwolf and get even for what was done to the beloved “S” man. The world mourns Superman, but it’s Clark Kent who is missed by his human mom (Diane Lane) and his girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Luckily, the Caped Crusader gets out of his head and into assembling his own version of one-for-all . Way more fun, even if he doesn’t get support from Wonder Woman/Diana Prince – yes, Gal Gadot is back and, as ever, worth cheering. Initially, the Amazonian warrior doesn’t want in on this team business. But, come on, any gathering of super friends would be a dull place without her.
So a new force awakens. Ezra Miller is all nerdy teen fire as the Flash/Barry Allen, a kid capable of hyperspeed but unable to get justice for his imprisoned father (Billy Crudup). Ray Fisher finds the heart in a hunk of metal as Cyborg/Victor Stone, a former college quarterback that a freak accident has turned into a half-man/half machine able to plug into anything. Best of all is Jason Momoa as Aquaman/Arthur Curry, the half-human heir to the underwater throne of Atlantis who can part oceans and do magical things with his trident, which Batman snarkily refers to as a pitchfork. In one of the film’s most beguiling moments, Aquaman mistakenly sits on Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth and starts spouting about his feelings, telling WW she’s “gorgeous.”
The scenes of the League members together, bickering and bonding, spike the film with humor and genuine feeling, creating a rooting interest in the audience. Without it, the film would crumble. Let’s face it, Steppenwolf is a CGI yawn, the action sequences are often a digital blur, the soundtrack defaults to loud whenever inspiration wanes and keeping it light becomes the first step to staying superficial. Justice League is a decent crowdpleaser, preferable in every way to the candy-assed cynicism of Suicide Squad. But sometimes shadows need to fall to show us what to be scared of. In the end, this all-star team-up is too afraid of the dark to work its way into our dreams.