If nothing else had happened at the movies this year, 2017 would still go down as that moment when Warner Brothers finally achieved parity — at least in tone and quality — with the Marvel men and women in tights.
“Justice League,” the DC Comics version of “The Avengers” (or “X-Men”), a superhero (and heroine) all-star team — finds laughs, fun action beats and fan-friendly winks and cameos in a picture that’s on a par with the year’s biggest blockbuster, “Wonder Woman.”
It doesn’t hurt that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) plays a pivotal role in this new aggregation of super-might, a team assembled to fight a planetary threat. More helpful still is the addition of charismatic new players Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller, as a badass, trash-talking Aquaman and a hyper-nebbish of a Flash.
“Buffy” vet Joss Whedon, who made “The Avengers” movies funny, co-wrote the script.
“Dressed like a bat,” the burly Atlantean with all the tattoos growls. “I DIG it!”
“I hear you can talk to fish,” a misinformed Batman (Ben Affleck) counters.
The fresh threat to Earth is cosmic silliness of the most generic variety. An alien named Steppenwolf (I kid you not), digitally inhuman, but with the voice of Ciaran Hinds, needs three boxes to seize control of the planet and avenge himself against the humans, Amazons and Atlanteans who thwarted him eons ago.
Yeah, “Lord of the Rings” stuff. Yawn.
“You will KNOW the righteousness of power!” he roars in warning. Sure.
The trouble is, Amazon warrior Diana Prince (Gadot) can’t stop this threat by herself. Nor can Bruce Wayne. And Bruce (Affleck) had a hand in killing off Superman (Henry Cavill) a while back, you may recall. Bad move on Bruce’s part.
So they need to round up superheroes based on rumors of who this fellow might really be, where that one actually lives. They need to convince the loner Arthur Curry/Aquaman to join up, win the trust of the computer-assisted Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and figure out how to “Pet Sematary” a certain Kryptonian.
The locations, ranging from Iceland to British Columbia and New Zealand, impress, although most outdoor shots are cast in that Zack Snyder blue-grey gloom. The fights are what we’ve come to expect in such pictures (Whedon took over directing duties on re-shoots).
There’s no getting around this contorted, stupid as all get-out story. But the right tone helps put it over. The “team” has its grumpy founder (Batman), its powerhouse smart alec (Aquaman), its “kid” (Flash) and the technically improved computer/war machine (Cyborg).
Wonder Woman is the adult in the room, the Captain America of this franchise.
It’s as if Warners has been making course and casting adjustments, fixing this “universe” on the fly. Middling Superman movie? Give the Man of Steel a smaller role and watch Cavill shine. Batman fighting Superman gets panned? Push the Bat into the background, too. Affleck’s no Christian Bale, but he’s got a lighter touch.
Make this series’ “Spider-Man,” the eager beaver kid (Flash) a bit leery of his first combat, a chatterbox who owns his junk-food mania (energy requirements) and Jewish go-for-the-gag humor.
Yes, Cyborg is a character as boring as his name. And there are several supporting players simply wasted in forgettable (and forgotten) roles. Joe Morton and Billy Crudup play fathers of two heroes, Amber Heard comes out of the water just long enough to insult her fellow Atlantean (meekly), Jeremy Irons is the first Alfred-the-Butler prone to profanity, and J.K. Simmons is just right, if ridiculously under-used as Police Commissioner Gordon.
But Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane, and Diane Lane comes back as Clark Kent’s mom, bringing heart to the picture. The brawls, as over-familiar in their Bruce-in-a-china shop mayhem, amuse. And you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to not be a little touched by the mythos of the finale.
“Justice League” doesn’t have anyone with the witty way with a line Robert Downey Jr. brings to Ironman, or the swagger of Chris Hemsworth (Thor) to carry it. But Momoa’s bemused physicality has its own cockiness, Miller’s wide-eyed Flash innocence and Gadot’s commitment to earnest, brave and spoiling for a fight Diana put “The Avengers” on notice.
There’s a new team in town, and they don’t need government funding and a dude in an eye-patch to get a dirty job done.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, the voice of Ciaran Hinds
Credits:Directed by) Zack Snyder (and Joss Whedon), script by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:01