It’s a thrill to see pop icons unite, but all these heroes have so little to do. Humour packs a welcome punch.
Superman is dead. The world is in mourning and crime rates are soaring. You’d be forgiving for thinking Justice league, Zack Snyder’s follow up to his scrappy and much maligned (though nowhere near as bad as all that) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is another dose of grim-hearted seriousness.
Two superpowers mitigate that moroseness. First, due to a family tragedy, Snyder stood had to stand down in the midst of production, handing the reins to Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. Including considerable re-shoots, he brings with him his trademark (if a little template repetitive) light-hearted quipiness.
Secondly, Bruce Wayne/Batman – played by the increasingly mocked Ben Affleck, again a little unfair – has lightened up considerably, realising that if he stands any chance of protecting the earth in Clark Kent’s (Henry Cavill) absence, he needs to lean on teamwork.
That necessitates a deepening of the fledgling alliance he formed with Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. The Israeli actor brings with her the megawatt charisma that propelled her solo outing into the box office stratosphere earlier this year, a kinder yet no less awesome force for good in the world that paves the way for a brighter future in the DC Extended Universe.
But first the darkness. Batman is investigating the strange appearance of an otherworldly menace in the shape of the heavily CG, bug-like parademons briefly glimpsed in BvS, suspecting that an alien invasion is imminent. Handily, the Amazons (and their frenemies the Atlanteans) have dealt with this threat millennia before, as spearheaded by a horn-helmed villain of the intergalactic but rather generic kind in Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds, again heavy on the CG, light on interest).
Paving the way for planetary domination using teleporting boom tube technology and a trio of hidden mother boxes, basically cosmic McGuffins roughly equivalent to Marvel’s infinity gems, this all ends up in the exact same smash n grab finale we’ve seen time and again in the superhero genre.
Along the way, the team Diana and Bruce assemble bring a bit more sunshine to the standard pattern. Of the newbies, Ezra Miller’s autism spectrum Barry Allen – aka The Flash – is the most endearing.
A bullet time speedster who mostly uses his electrically charged powers to push good folks out of harm’s way, or harm’s way into a wall, he doesn’t get the rhythm of people or their perplexing need for leisurely brunch. Camping out in a squat until Bruce turns up on his recruitment drive, Barry also wrings sympathy from having a dad (Billy Crudup) erroneously imprisoned for allegedly murdering his mother, a beat sure to be teased out in his upcoming solo.
Also fun is Jason Momoa, the half-human, half-Atlantean, all rippling tattooed muscles Arthur Curry – Aquaman – an over-enthusiastic dudebro for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, given he’s apparently been hiding out in the oceans around a remote Scandi village for years.
At least his macho, drink-swigging posturing is played up for laughs on him, particularly when Wondy’s lasso sets his tongue a little too loose. Amber Heard’s Mera, his lover in the comics, barely features and their relationship status is unclear. Why she isn’t brought into the fold is also a bit head scratchy, given her similar power level and extra special water manipulation skills and the fact that the franchise, like its major competitor, needs to lift its gender parity game. Connie Nielsen’s Hippolyta also should have had a bigger role.
Less successful is Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone/Cyborg, essentially as grumpy as Batman last time round thanks to the accident that has left him half alien robot, half hoodie-wearing shoulder chip. He’s badly let down by a rather hokey character design that just doesn’t translate to the screen well.
Of the plethora of supporting characters that includes J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon and Jeremy Irons’ tech whizz Alfred, only Amy Adams stands out as the grieving Lois Lane, largely due to screentime, with Whedon and Chris Terrio’s screenplay giving the gun reporter nothing much of interest to do. This despite her status quo being considerably altered by the end of the movie, in a way that’s been heavily trailed but I won’t spoil here.
There’s certainly a thrill in seeing these pop cultural icons lined up and smacking down and the lighter humour is welcome. It all adds up to a reasonably entertaining diversion, handsomely shot though muddied by too much computer whizzery that whizzes way too fast, but there’s precious little heft and it’s easily forgotten.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords