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Review: Justice League

justiceleague-posterThere are five DC Extended Universe films now, and some of them are even good. Justice League, which is inarguably DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers, is the latest outing of Batman and Wonder Woman, and the introduction of some of their new friends. One could be forgiven for entering the cinema with trepidation, but there is something to recommend here. There’s much to be wary of, but one can rest assured that there’s nothing to actively hate in Justice League.

After the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the world has seen an influx of attacks from aliens. In order to defeat the evil Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds, Silence), Batman (Ben Affleck, Live By Night) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman) decide that they must form a team of heroes, super and otherwise: super-fast Barry “The Flash” Allen (Ezra Miller, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), heir to Atlantis Arthur “Aquaman” Curry (Jason Momoa, Once Upon a Time in Venice) and cyborg Victor “Cyborg” Stone (Ray Fisher, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).

The first thing that you’ll notice about Justice League is that it has a lot of scenes, and initially they don’t link up at all. We keep getting introduced to new characters in different countries — none of which are signposted on screen — with no connective tissue. Periodically you get Bruce or Diana, and Affleck actually does do a good job of holding it all together when given the chance, even if once more he indulges a paradoxical penchant for murderous firepower. Eventually the film calms down, and audiences are treated to some impressive set pieces, with action that is easily interpreted.

Justice League is possibly the last Zack Snyder (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)-driven DCEU film, under less than happy circumstances, and he’s done his best job to date here. The film is choppy, but there are scenes with substance mixed in amongst the weird, subtitled, human-interest segments set in the far flung reaches of Russia. With a script by Chris Terrio (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Joss Whedon (Avengers: Age of Ultron) from a story by Terrio and Snyder, there’s a sense that something is trying to be said, and there’s much less signal-to-noise than one might be used to from Snyder’s output. The score, by Danny Elfman (The Circle), even sounds like a score rather than an assault on the ears.

Relatively new for a Snyder-driven film is a sense of humour, some of which was blatantly imported through Whedon’s rewrites and the extra (uncredited) scenes directed by Whedon himself. Some of this is naturally integrated, some less so. Aquaman and The Flash serve little overall purpose to the piece — even though they have legitimate super powers — but every word from The Flash’s mouth has to have comedic value (to varying degrees of success), and Aquaman gets either machismo played for laughs or vocalisations along the lines of “my man!” and “all right!”. Normally in an ensemble you’d expect every character to pull some weight, but these ones are here to add colour — and of course set up their own individual franchise films. Good luck to DC to shape this incarnation of Aquaman into a character that can carry his own film.

More — or less — than this is Steppenwolf, easily the worst villain in any mainstream comic book film in either universe. There is literally no reason for this humanoid to be an entirely CG creation instead of an actor in a helmet with a beard made to look taller than he really is. The fact that his scheme is lifted from 2013’s Man of Steel and was initially thwarted (in flashback form) in a fashion incredibly reminiscent of Warner Bros’ own Lord of the Rings does not help in the slightest; more than that it all contributes to a sense of a climax that has almost no dramatic stakes despite the threat of the end of the world, and makes everything feel just that much more artificial.

Justice League is not the finest film in the DC Extended Universe — that honour is likely going to belong to Wonder Woman for a while yet — but it’s much more in line with an actual movie than the first three outings. And, it bears enough entertainment value to qualify as more than a mildly pleasing diversion while being slightly less than a wholly satisfying experience.

Justice League opened in Australian cinemas on November 16, 2017.

Directed by: Zack Snyder.

Starring: Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons and Ciarán Hinds.