PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we got a moderately entertaining taste of what happens when iconic DC Comics superheroes are brought together in the same vehicle, an action-adventure fantasy pitched at an invested audience .
But Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, directed by Zack Snyder, was so frenetic and bombastic, the performances by Ben Affleck (Batman), Henry Cavill (Superman), and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) were more or less suffocated.
In truth, this action-oriented film was at its best when it slowed down.
But it hardly ever did.
Justice League, displaying an occasional sense of humor, is similarly narrow and distant, never quite letting the performances breathe. So, as it literally makes a special effects spectacle of itself, we remain spectators, barely given a chance to engage with the returning and new characters.
It would like to be seen as The Magnificent Six, but it comes up well short.
Set a few months after the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League tosses Cyborg (Ray Fisher), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) into the mix: it’s an explosion of spandex, tailor-made for DC geeks and fans.
The question is, is Justice for all?
The answer is, not really. But, then, it’s wrapped up in its primary target audience, and the closer you are to being in that category, the more you’ll enjoy it.
Snyder (300, Watchmen, Man of Steel) returns to the director’s chair, working from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, the latter taking over the project directorially when a family tragedy took Snyder away.
The premise: With Superman indisposed and trouble on the way, Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, turns to Wonder Woman’s alter ego, Diana Prince, to take on the catastrophic threat represented by Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and his army of demons.
The good guys will fight not as individual justice seekers, but as a crime-fighting collective of meta-humans.
The problem is that the extended action sequences play like a high-tech director’s audition reel. They’re competent, sure, but instead of pulling us in to the story being unveiled, they keep us at a respectful and unexciting distance, as if contemporary resonance was seen by the makers as an impossibility from the get-go.
Ultimately, fans of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) will remain just that, but new converts will be in very short supply.
So we’ll save 2 stars out of 4 for the latest installment in the DCEU, Justice League. It’s justice we expected, but the film is not quite in a league of its own.