Tuesday 20 August 2019

Review: Justice League is jittery and muddled but is redeemed by charming heroes

Justice League, two stars, 12A

Justice League
Justice League

Ed Power

The gang is all here as DC Comics finally brings together its brooding bigwigs for a lugubrious, deafening and occasionally (but only occasionally) enjoyable team-up.

With the fifth instalment in the studio’s “extended universe” franchise undergoing extensive reshoots, the budget ballooning past $300 million, and reviews embargoed until the day before release, the build up to Justice League has been rocky, to say the least.

Avengers director Joss Whedon was parachuted in late in production after the saga’s original custodian Zack Snyder departed because of a personal tragedy. Much of the new footage shot by Whedon was reportedly to give additional screen time to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman – brightest star in DC’s (admittedly very dull) firmament – following the success of her stand-alone vehicle this summer.

Also crow-barred in, alas, are blister-inducing quantities of Whedon’s patented rapid-fire “banter” – a clunking grafting-on that serves only to underline the crushing solemnity of the rest of the script.

Given the number of cooks fussing over the pot it is no surprise that Justice League is somewhat of a muddle – albeit nowhere near as flaming a disaster as the preceding Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

What’s missing is the lightness of touch of Wonder Woman– DC’s surprise foray into non-rubbish filmmaking. Snyder’s premature exit notwithstanding, in its portentous ponderousness Justice League slips into the continuum off his earlier DC excursions (Batman v Superman and original franchise reboot Man of Steel).

Not that Justice League doesn’t try, very hard, to be a lark. As motormouth millennial the Flash Ezra Miller is quirky to a fault – by the final battle you will praying for a falling chunk of masonry to silence his non-stop chatter.

Additional humour – this time of the genuinely amusing variety – is courtesy of Jason Momoa's Aquaman. Though the character can breathe underwater and hefts an impressive trident, Game of Thrones star Momoa has the smarts to approach Aquaman as essentially a regular dude who, all being equal would, rather wear cable knitwear and chug whiskey than save the world,

In addition to a jittery script, Justice League suffers the inevitable muddled story, in which the inevitable CGI entity from beyond space and time – here voiced by Irish actor Ciarán Hinds  – plots the downfall of humanity via the traditional method of assembling mysterious energy orbs.

Steppenwolf – he was hardly going to be named “Bob” – is assisted by an army of giant insect-men and the noisy, confusing sequences in which they tangle with Batman and chums will have you yearning for the biff-bow simplicity of older superhero romps.

Another problem is Ben Affleck's Caped Crusader – a sour stuffed shirt who sucks all the energy out of his scenes. He's a black hole on screen and Affleck looks consistently sad and distracted, with the puffy face of someone up all night crying (with a script such as this, who among us wouldn’t be weeping into the wee hours?).

The superhero tag team Batman and Wonder Woman painstakingly assemble, is completed by semi-human Cyborg (Ray Fisher), whose personality chip appears to have been mislaid in his transition to screen.

One final, familiar, face pops up at the end – it's probably not the biggest spoiler to reveal out that he wears a flapping red cape and, this being the Snyder-verse, is portrayed as a humourless demigod.

Super-hero team-ups, it should be acknowledged, are always mess – even the heralded Avengers falls apart on repeat viewing.

But Marvel has proved that haphazard plotting and an over-reliance on special effects can be surmounted with characters of sufficient charm.

The foundational flaw of Justice League is that Gadot and Momoa aside, the movie suffers from a great screaming charisma vacuum. It’s neither a triumph nor a smoking wreck – just another DC outing that, box office exigencies aside, has no good reason to exist.

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