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Justice League Is More Age of Ultron Than Avengers, but It Knows That (Review)

By Luke Y. Thompson

Justice League Is More Age of Ultron Than Avengers, but It Knows That (Review)

In case you had any doubt, yes, Marvel's idea of doing solo movies before the team movie is indeed a better one than doing the ensemble first. When you watch Justice League, and in particular the scenes focused on Cyborg, Aquaman, and Flash, there's a better than average chance you'll think "Why couldn't we have had a whole movie about THAT first?"

Then again, Marvel never gave us Hawkeye or Black Widow movies, so they're not totally off the hook.

Justice League is fun, but in some ways a sadly missed opportunity. Zack Snyder as a director seems to work very much from the outside in, composing his visuals first and finding the theme in post-production and reshoots (and however bad you think he may be at showing it on occasion, he nearly always has a theme). When fate and terrible tragedy took him off the movie before it could be finished, Joss Whedon stepped in to add jokes, and perhaps that final voice-over by Amy Adams, which literally tells you what the underlying theme of the movie is supposed to be (dark times only last if we believe they will and don't fight them, a notion TV's Gotham executes better).

Minus a story that actually shows you that, however, Justice League is full of the kind of humorous character beats Whedon is known for, but never adds up to anything more. If you like these characters, you'll enjoy seeing them interact. If you wanted a story with a beginning, middle, and end, this is not that. It's the Hulk vs. Thor fight multiplied by...oh, let's say five. But for everyone who says DC movies should be more like their animated DTV offerings, it is a bit like them, with heroes teaming up to save the world by fighting villains in very isolated areas where there's maybe one token family of civilians to save. With all the money in the world to spend, the primary setpieces happen in underground tunnels and an abandoned industrial area, like any random episode of Doctor Who. Plus the addition of massive greenscreening that's mildly better than the rooftop scene in The Room, but not always by a lot.

What makes the movie enjoyable nonetheless is that everyone in it is likable. Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman, hung-over Ben Batffleck gets his ass kicked a few times and becomes nicer, Aqua-Momoa's an awesome give-no-shits whiskey-chugging loner, Movie Flash is really funny, and Cyborg is...what you'd expect from a classically trained stage actor named Ray Fisher approaching his first big movie role with the utmost seriousness (that's a compliment). Despite having died, Henry Cavill's Superman is also happier than usual, and up against them all is a giant gray space-viking Liam Neeson (actually Ciaran Hinds, but it's pretty clear who they really wanted) with the stupid-but-comics-accurate name of Steppenwolf. Fans of German literature know that's a reference to man's inner animal, but most viewers will just think of "Born to be Wild."

It's frustratingly clear there could have been more heft to this, with hints of Batman taking on the sacrificial Messiah mantle this time, space bullies that feed on fear but conceal it in themselves, and Flash and Cyborg bonding over both being "accidents." There's also a dynamic between Atlanteans and Amazons that remains mostly unexplored, beyond one funny bit involving Aquaman and a certain lasso. The large-scale action scenes are generally less coherent than 300, as if the order came down to Snyder to make it like his breakthrough film, just more visually confusing.

Most superhero movies these days feature THE key adventure in the lives of the heroes; this feels like a mission of the week, even with the burden of Superman being dead. It's closer to Ultron hurling a rock to Earth than Thanos declaring an Infinity War, with the implication that things could get bigger later.

But here's the thing: it's not trying to be anything more. This is a movie that knows it's a trifle, and leans into its own frivolousness. No excessive explaining of things like boom tubes or the planet Apokolips; it's all just thrown out there so the heroes we like can get smashy-smashy with flying bug-men. Nothing wrong with that: if you hate Snyder's previous attempts to get serious with super powers, this frivolity will feel welcome. If you found his take valid, bear in mind he did not to get to really finish it out this time around.

Aquaman, Cyborg, and Flashpoint should all be pretty cool, though.

images: Warner Bros.