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JUSTICE LEAGUE Is Inconsistent But Enjoyable (Review)

It’s a funny thing, that DC Extended Universe. Following the generally divisive Man of Steel, Warner Bros’ eyed the “Cinematic Universe” as a model for franchise movie making, something Marvel created and subsequently dominated. With the even more divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (a movie more unwieldy than its title) and Suicide Squad, the DCEU looked like the train wreck Marvel had avoided. But the acclaim of Wonder Woman changed all that, and for the franchise to succeed, Justice League would need to succeed in kind. At times, it does.

The movie’s history is linked directly to the fallout of BvS and Suicide Squad. It had extensive reshoots, then director Zack Snyder had to step down from the project following a family tragedy. Joss Whedon stepped in to helm the reshoots and redirect the tone of the franchise, with the final running time a full 50 minutes shorter than initially reported. As a result of all of this, Justice League feels a bit like a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie, but parts of the film remain enjoyable.

The story finds Batman (Ben Affleck) hard at work trying to assemble a group of heroes who can work together to fill the void left by the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) in the previous film. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) meanwhile is doing her best to save the world when and where she can without drawing too much attention to herself in the process. The problem comes when a New God called Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) returns to Earth after millennia to retrieve the three Mother Boxes he left on his previous visit. Should he reunite them, it could spell certain doom to the planet. Perfect time for a superhero team to show up, eh?

The three new recruits, hailing from different parts of the world, consist of Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), who purposely works dead-end jobs to be near his incarcerated father (Billy Crudup); Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), a former high school football star whose scientist father (Joe Morton) has rebuilt him following an accident using technology unlocked from one of the mother boxes; and Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), a reclusive hard-drinker who is the heir to the kingdom of Atlantis but hides from his destiny. Can these five people, with their powers, abilities, and gadgets, truly save the world?

Justice League is very uneven in a lot of places. The pacing feels incredibly rushed at the beginning and we don’t get a great sense of any of our new characters, and some fairly important supporting characters (Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon) feel like cameos. There’s also an emphasis on cheesier and hokier moments that, especially following BvS, don’t gel all that well. But, when you realize this movie is the franchise trying to embrace the hopeful side of these heroes, and do literal justice to all of these characters, it becomes more forgivable.

However, some of the movie actually works well. The action is phenomenal, and there are at least two if not three sequences that are as epic and exciting as anything we’ve seen in superhero cinema. Miller’s Flash is weird, quirky, and likable in all of his scenes; there are a couple of choice moments with Aquaman that had me rolling; and the scenes with the entire League together are always a joy. Gadot is without a doubt the standout of the movie. Following the success of Wonder Woman, the character rightfully becomes the center of the team. I wish we’d gotten more with Cyborg, because the few moments he gets are highlights.

Despite a couple of other quibbles (Batman’s a bit tonally inconsistent), most of what works in the movie feels linked to Whedon. It’s obvious which scenes, moments, and lines are his and they liven things up considerably. More than once, a joke or awkward moment lands much more than they have in any other DC film. What’s equally clear is that lot of care was taken in the reshooting to make everything make sense. Nothing is confusing or out of place plot-wise, a major downfall of BvS and Suicide Squad. Justice League is not as tonally consistent as BvS but it’s a lot more narratively sound. It’s not a Swiss watch, but it keeps time perfectly well and you get to where you’re going.

Justice League, despite sounding like a no-brainer, was actually a big risk for Warner Bros. They had to ensure it moved everything forward so we could get to solo Aquaman, Flash, and Batman projects–not to mention a Wonder Woman sequel–without rushing the characters. It’s great to see these five heroes take the screen to stop a big bad together, and it’s mostly cohesive, exciting, and fun in the process. After a decade of Marvel dunking on them, DC has given fans a brilliant Wonder Woman movie and a perfectly fine Justice League movie in one year, and that’s the first step to a braver and bolder cinematic future.

3 out of 5 cape-wearing burritos

Images: Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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