Putting Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and The Flash on screen together should be a pretty exciting, slam-dunk of a movie.
But then why does “Justice League,” the latest DC Comics film from director Zack Snyder, feel so much like a rollercoaster ride?
There’s a lot of ups over the course of two hours, but a lot of wild left turns and some heavy downs too in Snyder’s all over the place follow-up to 2016’s “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
The film follows Batman alter ego Bruce Wayne following the death of Superman as he tracks new evil emerging in the Man of Steel’s absence.
Unable to stop the impending threat alone, Wayne must track down and form an alliance with powerful, yet reluctant heroes to prevent the god Steppenwolf from destroying the planet.
Rightfully so, “Justice League” leans heavily on Israeli actress Gal Gadot, whose crowd-pleasing turn in the smash hit “Wonder Woman” solo movie earlier this year make her the perfect choice to center the emotional core of the film around.
Gadot’s innate ability to emphasize with unknown characters around her despite incredulous situations continues to be the best piece of acting in any DC film and makes the Amazonian princess the series’ most relatable hero.
The same cannot be said of Ben Affleck’s unaffecting, mediocre work as Batman, a character it’s clear the veteran actor/director no longer wants to play. Recently, Affleck admitted he wants to find a way to gracefully leave the franchise, though his relative disinterest appears on screen and helps hold back the DC franchise from becoming something greater.
The film’s breakout star, Ezra Miller, is a delight to watch on screen as the super fast, super geeky young superhero The Flash. The comedian steals the show at every turn with well written, expertly delivered punchlines that lighten the heavy overall tone of Snyder’s film.
Just as breathtaking are scenes of The Flash in action as the film often slows down in time to allow viewers the opportunity to experience what being super fast really feels like. These sequences are reminiscent of the spectacular Quicksilver scenes in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “X-Men: Apocalypse,” though they still feel unique to the DC Universe.
There’s also a lot of potential in Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, a thinly written, shirtless heavyweight who bruises his way through Justice League in an attempt to make the characters seem more than just the guy who talks to fish.
Momoa certainly looks the part of an intimidating, rebel superhero, though it’s too early to make a determination until the “Aquaman” solo picture arrives next year.
Where “Justice League” struggles most is in its clunky, uneven screenplay penned by Chris Terrio with rewrites from “Marvel’s The Avengers” director Joss Whedon. DC doesn’t offer the writers any favors by requiring the film to fill in the back story for three new superheroes.
“Justice League” often feels weighed down and bloated as it constantly jumps from subplot to subplot in its attempts for fan-service and sequel building rather than developing one consistent plot. This isn’t to say that Snyder’s film doesn’t offer fun and exciting moments, just they are gapped by extended filler is the DC superhero adventure from being a better movie.
The unevenness of this adventure carries over into the director’s chair, where Snyder’s dark brooding touch casts a shadow over a significant portion of the film. Stylistically, Snyder’s films often look as if the director forgot to budget proper lighting equipment and his hand feels present in all of this film’s heavier moments.
Whedon, who came on late in the filmmaking process to handle reshoots after a death in Snyder’s family, gives “Justice League” a friendlier, more accessible tonal shift and has to be given much of the credit for the film’s considerable comedic pop.
“Justice League” benefits and is simultaneously hindered from having a pair of directors with widely different visions of the film pushing their ideas into the final product.
If nothing else, “Justice League” serves as a decent roadmap for the DC film franchise moving forward, building on the success of “Wonder Woman” and leaning away from the lesser “Batman vs. Superman” and “Suicide Squad” films.
It’s a film best seen on the big screen for the spectacle of it all, but “Justice League” serves a limited audience of superhero fans and hardcore comic book nerds. It’s not a film viewers can jump into blindly.
If you know and love all things DC Comics, “Justice League” is built just for you. If not, taking a pass and catching more accessible films like “Thor: Ragnarok” or the simply delightful “Wonder” might be a better decision.