The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"JUSTICE LEAGUE"

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Justice League features a cover version of Leonard Cohen's “Everybody Knows” over the opening credits. There could not be a more appropriate song. Everybody knows DC has struggled to achieve the same level of critical acclaim and fan enthusiasm with their movies that Marvel has enjoyed. Everybody knows Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a huge creative disappointment. (Hello, Sad Affleck!) Everybody knows there's pressure to prove they can create a cinematic universe that delivers something special.

The good news is that Justice League is a big step up from Batman v Superman. The bad news is that it's also a big step down from Wonder Woman.

The story concerns a demon creature named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) who is trying to collect three special boxes that, when combined, will give him the power to destroy worlds. Batman (Ben Affleck) assembles a team to stop him. He recruits Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). To really stop Steppenwolf, though, they're going to need the assistance of Superman (Henry Cavill). Unfortunately, he's dead.

What a curious film this is. For every element that works beautifully, there is another that utterly fails. Look no further than the plot for proof. On one hand, it's nice that there are some lighter moments included, as opposed to the pervasive, off-putting gloominess of BvS. Moments devoted to the interplay between the team members are enjoyable, as they feel one another out and sometimes even bicker about the best way to fulfill their mission. The whole “getting the team together” aspect is fairly well done.

Conversely, the individual scenes don't always fit properly. Justice League can be very disjointed, jumping as it does from one thing to another almost randomly. That's especially true in the way the movie fails to build toward the final showdown with Steppenwolf. What he's doing and the specific reasons why he's doing it are addressed only in the most perfunctory of ways, leaving a host of unanswered questions.

It's been much-reported that Joss Whedon took over reshoots when director Zack Snyder had to step away following a family tragedy. You can absolutely tell where those reshoots are. Rather than making the story cohesive, they serve only to gloss over gaping holes in the plot. For this reason, Justice League fails to generate the pulse-pounding excitement one reasonably expects from a picture of this sort. There are too many places where it feels like story strands have been chopped out or condensed.

The characters provide another example of something wrong for every thing right. Affleck seems much more comfortable as Batman this time around, which gives the Dark Knight an impact he lacked before. Gal Gadot remains terrific as Wonder Woman, and Ezra Miller steals every scene he's in as the Flash. (Seriously, we need a standalone Flash movie ASAP.) The actor has impeccable timing, which makes for excellent comic relief.

Aquaman and Cyborg are nicely played by Momoa and Fisher, yet they don't get the same kind of development as the other heroes. Knowing more about them and their backgrounds would have added significant value to the film. Steppenwolf, meanwhile, is an absolutely boring bad guy. He's nothing more than a generic-looking CGI monster, with no personality or discernible motivation. Without a compelling villain to fight, charismatic heroes can only go so far. He is the single biggest impediment to Justice League's success. The dramatic stakes are diminished because he's so bland.

Even the visuals are hit-or-miss. Special effects used to show how the Flash runs quickly and generates electricity are spectacular. Other sequences are full of that annoying digital haze that makes too many modern FX-heavy movies look like they were shot through a sandstorm.

There are absolutely effective components to Justice League. They are, however, slightly outweighed by the flaws. The movie has too much of a cobbled-together feel to provide the thrilling experience we rightfully seek from superhero adventures.

( 1/2 out of four)


Justice League is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action. The running time is 1 hour and 59 minutes.


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