Review: ‘Justice League’ surpasses low franchise expectations

Stockton Grunewald, Film Critic

If you would have told me, even just three or four years ago, that a Justice League movie was in the works, I would have been ecstatic. D.C. was a staple of my life growing up. I can vividly remember sitting every Saturday night in front of the T.V., waiting for Teen Titans and then the animated Justice League to air. I had way too many action figures, comics, and box sets of D.C. shows – it was awesome.

The recent wave of live action films (Wonder Woman excluded), however, has arguably failed to live up to the source material’s potential, resulting in sapped enthusiasm, unfavorable reviews, and less-than-expected box office revenues for the franchise’s entries. Justice League comes to the screen not as a part of a well-packaged, coherent universe (cc: The Avengers), but as the crux of a thrown-together series of films held in place by a few consistent characters with occasionally interfering plots.

To be fair,  League’s production was complicated by unfortunate personal trauma for the director. This film could have easily broken the franchise. Luckily, Justice League should put studio executives’ – and fans’, for that matter, fears aside.

Taking a brighter approach to the franchise, this superhero team up is a fun installment that merits a viewing from comic book fans and moviegoers alike.

Our inter-galactic tale comes right off the heels of the Death of Superman. The world, still shaken by the departure of the Kryptonian, wonders what will happen next – but Batman decides to be pro-active, attempting to put together a team of super-humans to combat whatever the outside worlds have to offer.

We are introduced to Barry Allen (the Flash) – a socially awkward college student trying to get by, Victor Stone (Cyborg), a half human cyborg coming to grips with his new identity and the reclusive and reluctant King of Atlantis – Arthur Curry, better known as Aquaman.

Despite their initial reluctance to work together, the four are united when Wonder Woman returns with news that Steppenwolf – a cosmic warlord who once attempted to conquer the Earth, has returned to finish the job.

The first act of the film is extremely choppy. Characters are given brief (and when I mean brief, I’m talking less than two minutes) introductions before being thrown into the mix. It’s evident that a lot of the film’s first third has been cut in a number of places.

As the story unfolds (and the action picks up), however, it assumes a much more natural tempo. Ben Affleck once again dons the cape and cowl, delivering a solid performance as both the guilt ridden Bruce Wayne and the bruiting bat.

Gal Gadot yet again proves to be a fantastic Wonder Woman, stealing the show from whoever else shares the screen with her. The two are flanked by a strong supporting cast of newcomers, including Ezra Miller, whose Flash is by far the best addition to the film and one of the funniest superhero portrayals in recent memory.

Steppenwolf proves to be unfortunately yet another CGI mess, with no real agenda aside from conquering the world with a massive unnamed army of aliens, androids, or whatever they are, I’m not quite sure.

When the Justice League throws down, it’s really, really fun to watch. The banter between characters keeps it light even in the most hopeless situations. This is not, by any means, paving new ground in the genre, but Justice League proves that even after a couple of stumbles, a franchise can pick up the pieces and head for a much brighter future.