Director Zack Snyder, maker of filmed entertainments that crush the soul, has done it again — gone dark and dour and poundingly as he did in 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
Now he’s brought that same doleful sensibility to “Justice League.”
Look, saving Planet Earth from otherworldly menaces, the league’s prime mission, is certainly no laughing matter. Still, throughout “Justice League” the Joker’s signature phrase, “Why so serious?” resonates. The lethal clown isn’t in “Justice League” (more’s the pity), but those three little words capsulize all that’s wrong with the movie.
From Ben Affleck’s unchangingly grim-visaged Batman to the permanent scowl on the moist mug of Aquaman (Jason Momoa) to the baleful glare of the half-metal/half-flesh Cyborg (Ray Fisher), these guys are overboard with the angst.
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Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is pretty stern too, though an undercurrent of warmth suggests the character’s empathetic nature.
Only the super-speedy Flash, played by Ezra Miller, lightens up the proceedings. Miller’s goofy eager-beaver take on the character, very reminiscent of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, is the movie’s saving grace. Whenever he shows up, slyly mocking his sober-sided compatriots or just gleefully geeking out at being in the presence of these superhero stalwarts, “Justice League” suddenly feels 10 tons lighter.
The feeling doesn’t last long though. Not with Snyder cranking up epic CG battle sequences with numbing regularity, heavy (and I do mean heavy) with thunderous, fiery explosions delivered at ear-shattering volume.
The bringer of all this sonic badness is a gnarly horned monster named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who rasps and raves about being the nastiest dude in the universe while dispatching swarms of winged demons (from a distance they remind one of the flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz”) to wreak massive property damage across poor old set-upon Earth.
In between the rough stuff, Snyder and credited screenwriters Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon shoehorn in mawkish inspirational speeches such as Bruce Wayne’s paean to the late lamented Superman (killed off at the end of “Batman v Superman”): “Superman was a beacon to the world. He didn't just save people, he made them see the best parts of themselves.” Those words are delivered with thudding earnestness by Aflfeck.
The movie veers into bonkers sentimentality in a scene in which a couple, reunited under some pretty incredible circumstances, declare their quite literally undying love in a field of — wait for it — waist-high corn.
Corny is as corny does in “Justice League.”
Warner Bros. is achingly eager to establish a superhero franchise to rival Marvel’s dominant position in that cinematic territory. But Marvel movies are relatively light on their feet (see, lately, “Thor: Ragnarok”). On the basis of “Justice League” and “Batman v Superman,” it’s clear the studio has a long way to go to catch up.
☆ 1/2 stars out of 4
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher.
Director: Zack Snyder
Running time: 1:58
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.