Unable to craft an winning original tone over the course of four films, Zack Snyder and the team behind the recent batch of DC Comic extravaganzas crib from successful big-budget series in Justice League.
Buying into the notion that only Joss Whedon is capable of authoring a cinematic assembly of superheroes, Snyder recruits The Avengers’ mastermind as co-writer alongside Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (and, let’s give him some credit, Argo) scribe Chris Terrio.
Together, the pair craft a story that likewise centers on all-powerful boxes and imbue it with a welcome Guardians of the Galaxy-esque goofiness previously absent in the overly serious adventures of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) and associates.
Prompted by an encounter with a flying alien pest — it’s good to see the insects from John Carter getting work — Bruce and his faithful butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) work on getting a gang of talented individuals together with help from Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot).
Alerted to the return of world-destroyer Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds, sadly in a voice-only role) by her Amazonian sisters, Diana catches Bruce up to date on this baddie in a flashback so close to that of The Fellowship of the Ring’s introductory stretch that she’d be forgiven for accidentally calling their enemy Sauron.
The resulting hodgepodge of styles and inspirations, however, is almost disarmingly entertaining and moves surprisingly well, thanks in part to an immensely helpful run time of just under two hours.
A step above the conventional origin story of Wonder Woman, Justice League has the advantage of hopping between numerous characters, an approach that keeps the mood from coagulating into the sludge of past DC installments.
There’s also a huge improvement in the comedic timing department over its 2017 cousin. Credit in the cheerfulness department seemingly goes to Whedon, who also stepped in to finish the film and conduct reshoots after the tragic death of Snyder’s daughter, plus the scene-stealing turn by Ezra Miller as Barry Allen, a.k.a. The Flash.
While easily the best of the current era of DC movies, there are still a fair amount of stumbling points — qualities unfortunately expected from a Snyder film, especially one in which another director is reportedly responsible for 15-20 percent of the content.
Wonder Woman’s many shortcomings aside, the gratuitous booty shots of Gadot in Justice League suggest Synder paid little attention to the respectful, empowering way Patty Jenkins filmed her.
And strong as the writing generally is, minus standalone origin stories prior to teaming with their more famous allies, the character introductions of Barry, Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) awkwardly pack each person’s backstory and central conflict into a single conversation with a loved one.
Complicit in that wonkiness, Amber Heard and BIlly Crudup aren’t given much to do, but their screen time will almost surely expand in the forthcoming Aquaman and Flash movies, respectively.
Furthermore, long before Steppenwolf and his minions set up shop in a sleepy Eastern Block town — poor Sokovia, which had just started rebuilding after the whole Ultron debacle — there’s a sense of disappointment that the filmmakers cast someone with as compelling a face as Hinds, then went with a completely CG character.
Other unintentional questions concerning the villain’s powers, previous whereabouts and bizarre obsession with all things Thor — he rocks roughly the same horns as Cate Blanchett’s Hela and travels via a Bifrost knockoff — plus Affleck’s inability to consistently drop the Batman voice when out of costume momentarily derail the proceedings, though the refreshing light-heartedness even in the midst of a fairly standard climactic battle largely atone for these sins.
Where Snyder & Co. go from here and how the new additions fare in their own features remains to be seen, but should this one delightfully sloppy all-star game prove an anomaly, it was fun while it lasted.
Grade: B. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Warner Bros.)