Rivalries are one of the universe’s great gifts to journalists, because nothing sells papers (or these days, attracts clicks) better than pushing the buttons of a bunch of motivated fans. It works in football, it works in politics, and it works in popular culture. In the case of comic book franchises, the most obvious such rivalry is DC vs. Marvel. While you could make a legitimate case for a rivalry in the realm of paper and ink (DC’s Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the like are perfectly capable of holding their own against Marvel’s cast, which includes Spider-Man, the X-men, and my current favorite, Kamala Khan), in terms of movies, Marvel is clearly dominant. The success of Wonder Woman this summer suggested that DC might be turning the tide, but the franchise’s latest release, Justice League, represents a step backward. On the plus side, it’s not as relentlessly grim as Batman v. Superman; on the minus side, it displays neither the creativity nor the consistent artistic vision that made Wonder Woman such a welcome delight.
There are a lot of moving parts in Justice League, with six primary superheroes, one primary villain, and a whole lot of secondary characters. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), although less effective than she was in her own movie, makes the strongest impression among the superheroes. In contrast, Batman (Ben Affleck) looks like he really doesn’t want to be there (there’s also some odd changes in his weight over the course of the film, suggesting no one cared enough to try to make the retakes match the principal photography visually). For a guy that’s dead when the film begins, Superman (Henry Cavill) is given a surprising amount of backstory, with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) featured in several quiet, well-acted scenes that give me hope for the future of this franchise.
Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa, a.k.a. Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones) seems to be having a lot more fun and brings some much-needed snark to the franchise. The glimpses we get of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis are intriguing, which makes me hope that one of the movies in this franchise will be set primarily in Atlantis. The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) has some good moments as a teenager among the adults, even if his “speed running” looks hopelessly retro and not in a good way, while Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), an athlete reconstructed robotically after a car accident, suggests that there’s enough to his character that he could carry his own film, should the opportunity arise.
The featured villain is Steppenwolf (and if that name makes you think of a Canadian pop band and/or a novel by Hermann Hesse, you’re not the only one), voiced by Ciaran Hinds. There’s nothing wrong with the vocal acting, but the character is a singularly unimaginative CGI creation (he’s big and has horns) who wants to collect three magical boxes that will allow him to rule the world, or something like that. The boxes are the Maguffin, of course—details don’t matter, just the fact that they are the reason for the team to get together and fight the big bad.
Justice League isn’t particularly good as a movie, but it’s enjoyable enough from moment to moment as it plays out on the big screen. There’s not much in the way of a coherent story line—instead, it’s a succession of set pieces that range from pretty good to pretty pedestrian. One saving grace is that it keeps moving so fast that you hardly have time to think, and thus won’t be worried what’s not there, like character development or an internally consistent story line. This is an ODTAA (one damn thing after another) movie if ever there was one, and whether that’s enough for you is a question only you can answer. | Sarah Boslaugh