Cluttered 'Justice League' promises a better future, but getting there is a rocky road

(L-r) JASON MOMOA as Aquaman, GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman, EZRA MILLER as The Flash and RAY FISHER as Cyborg in Warner Bros. Pictures' action adventure "JUSTICE LEAGUE," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/ TM & © DC Comics)

Justice League
3 out of 5 Stars
Zack Snyder
Writer: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder
Starring: Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Amy Adams
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action

Synopsis: Following the death of Superman, chaos and rage follows. As the situation grows dire, Bruce Wayne reaches out to Diana Prince to help him form a team to restore order.

Review: The road to “Justice League” has been a short, but difficult run for DC Comics and Warner Bros. “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” weren’t embraced by the masses and "Suicide Squad," while a massive moneymaker, was a huge blockbuster that few people actually enjoyed. At least there was “Wonder Woman” to offer a sense of hope that was desperately needed.

“Justice League” doesn’t exactly capitalize on the success of its Amazonian princess, but it doesn’t completely halt the momentum of the DC Extended Universe either. The film ends in a place that I believe most audience members will be comfortable with, but the path getting there is a rocky ride.

It’s no secret that DC have rushed to catch up with Marvel. Christopher Nolan’s refusal to build his Batman trilogy into a larger shared universe put them in an awkward position. They had the man they wanted to oversee their superhero franchises, but Nolan wasn’t interested in staying in the sandbox.

Like “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” “Justice League” comes too soon and the entire story suffers for it. Trying to introduce a trio of new characters in The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is complicated enough, but with each character we’re also given am associate. The Flash and Cyborg have their fathers (Billy Crudup and Joe Morton) and Aquaman has Mera (Amber Heard). The sidekicks aren’t given a lot of screen time, but it is enough to keep the film from finding its footing in the early going. Stumble out of the blocks and its incredibly difficult to win the race.

“Justice League” would have been greatly aided if both The Flash and Aquaman had been given films between “Batman v Superman” that would have allowed this film to focus on only introducing Cyborg, his father and their connection to the events at hand.

Not everything should be built upon Marvel’s template, but in this case, defining the majority of your characters before bringing them together for an epic event has been infinitely more effective than DC’s approach. Marvel was even able to work in the bulk of its team recruitment in post-credit scenes. Imagine an Aquaman film that ends with Bruce Wayne standing on a cliff looking down on the community that has just been saved by the King of Atlantis or Wayne visiting a disillusioned Barry Allen (AKA The Flash) in his bedsit after a failed attempt to set his father free.

Marvel’s The Avengers” was the sixth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By that time, we had been introduced to Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk in standalone films and we were already which also included Nick Fury and Phil Coulson. Black Widow was introduced in “Iron Man 2” and Loki and Hawkeye appeared in “Thor.” So, by the time they all got together the audience, assuming they had been following along, knew who these heroes and villain were.

“Justice League” is best summed up by a scene where The Flash shows off his super prowess only to trip and fall on his face. Every time the film starts to builds up momentum it introduces a new character or wanders off on a subplot tangent.

The movie does have a somewhat lighter tone, mostly due to the awkward nature of Miller’s The Flash. He’s something of a combination of the most recent incarnation of Spider-Man and the X-Men Cinematic Universe version of Quicksliver. He’s wide-eyed nervous about the role given to him, but begins to find his place as Wayne shows a great amount of faith in his abilities. I’m interested to see where they go with the character in the future.

The same could be said of Cyborg, a lesser-known character with skills that are ever evolving. He’s given enough of an introduction here to make his substantial role in the film make sense. I’m not sure that I’d want a film built entirely around the character, but he’s a fine second-tier hero.

Momoa’s Aquaman is harder to rate at this point. He’s given so little time in the water that we’re never really given the chance to see what his abilities actually are.

I’m going to keep this spoiler free, even though the big reveal is probably the worst kept secret in the history of cinema, but there are aspects of that storyline that feel rushed. Let’s just say that Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is an even better psychiatrist than she is a reporter and that only benefits the story in the sense that it happens quickly. Faster isn’t always more efficient when it comes to storytelling.

As many of you know, director Zach Snyder stepped away from the film to deal with events going on in his personal life. Joss Whedon was brought in to handle the various reshoots the film required. I could probably guess what scenes Whedon was involved with, but the film’s herky-jerky structure makes it difficult to know who to blame for the film’s weaknesses or celebrate for what the movie actually gets right.

Still, I think most people leaving the theater will feel better about where the DC Extended Universe is headed. I just wish that DC had taken their time to get us to this point. “Justice League” should make the audience feel like they’ve reached the top of the mountain; it feels like a stop on a road that will eventually lead to “Wonder Woman 2.” That’s great for Gal Gadot and her character, but it means that the men have a lot of catching up to do.

When it comes to “Justice League,” I like the story, but the execution is so rushed that it’s hard to enjoy it. Had they decluttered the story, given the characters some space to establish themselves and let the momentum behind the series grow naturally DC would probably find themselves in a far more favorable situation.

I hope DC has some sort of game plan moving forward; to this point it feels like they’ve been playing it by ear.

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