What can I say about “Justice League” other than that the DC Universe is way too late to the party on this? The film is of course trying to capture the magic of “The Avengers,” the unprecedented superhero team-up movie from the Marvel Comics Universe in 2012. DC has wanted to hone in on the “expanded universe” market ever since. The DC people didn’t want to look like they were copying Marvel exactly, so they beat them to the punch on the “superheroes falling out” movie (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) and came out with an unanswered “supervillains teaming up” movie (“Suicide Squad”). But now it’s time to do the regular superhero team-up movie, and unfortunately “regular” is indeed the right word, because this movie does so little to deviate from what is now a standard formula.
The death of Superman in “Batman v Superman” brought about the return of an ancient villain named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). Steppenwolf almost destroyed Earth once before, it took six ancient tribes comprising almost all of humanity to exile him for millennia. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) knows about Steppenwolf because of lore she learned as a child, while Batman (Ben Affleck) knows about him because he’s spent the past few months fighting off his insectoid minions in the shadows of Gotham. Both agree that for Steppenwolf to be handled, a whole team of heroes will have to be formed. Or they could challenge him to a personality contest, which they’re sure to win because the guy is dull as a dishrag.
The forming of the Justice League brings us three new characters. The Flash (Ezra Miller) has powers that are a little more complicated than being fast. He’s socially awkward, probably from autism, and usually serves as comic relief. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) has powers that are a little more complicated than being a human/robot hybrid. He’s afraid to appear in public because he believes the world won’t accept him. I think he’d be welcomed with open arms as the coolest-looking guy ever, at least until people got tired of his moody personality. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) has powers that are a little more complicated than talking to fish. I say Momoa was a good choice to play Aquaman, as the character is often seen as silly, so casting an actor who looks like he could actually win in a fight balances things out. Even united, the five heroes don’t stand a chance against Steppenwolf. Should they consider an experimental procedure to try and resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill)? We all know they’re going to, but did the movie have to give it away by listing Cavill second in the opening credits?
I spent the film thinking about how badly it wanted to be “The Avengers.” I thought about parallels between the main characters. Batman is a billionaire with an arsenal of expensive gadgets, like Iron Man. Superman is an All-American goody-two-shoes, like Captain America. Cyborg’s powers are more of a curse than a blessing (at least according to him, again, I don’t really see a downside), like Hulk. Flash is basically an awkward teenager, like Spider-Man (bit of a cheat, I know). Aquaman is the subject of jokes about uselessness, like Hawkeye. And Wonder Woman has roots in mythology, like Thor. Yup, Thor. Okay, fine, and she’s the one female on the team like Black Widow.
“Justice League” had heavy creative input from Joss Whedon, best known for directing both “Avengers” movies, so of course there are going to be similarities. Even if you loathe director Zack Snyder (and I’m one of his biggest detractors), he wasn’t directly responsible for the apex of the competition. I actually didn’t have a lot of specific problems with this movie other than a lame villain and tedious suspense over whether certain members will join the team (come on guys, Earth getting destroyed means you too, so muck in), it’s just familiar and underwhelming overall.
“Justice League” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action. Its running time is 120 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.