Maybe Batman just needed to have a few friends around. Through the years, there have been so many movies about the caped hero lurking in his mansion and fighting crime—from the baroque silliness of Tim Burton’s films, to the overt cartoonishness of Joel Schumacher’s, to the thudding realism of Christopher Nolan’s. In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the grumpy orphaned billionaire (Ben Affleck) gets an actual crew to help him beat up monsters both literal and emotional. But that’s about the biggest innovation I can point to in a film that’s frustratingly short on satisfaction.
Some of Batman’s pals are familiar, like the dazzling Amazon warrior Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), whose solo effort was the best superhero film of 2017. Others are relatively new to the party, like the twitchy, superfast Flash (Ezra Miller), the beefy underwater king Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and the moody, mostly robotic Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Another, Superman (Henry Cavill), is sadly deceased ... or is he? That’s one of the few questions Justice League answers in its surprisingly slim two-hour running time, most of which is devoted to getting all these heroes together so they save the day.
Save it from what, you ask? I just saw the film and I can barely remember. Yes, there’s supposedly a looming threat from the devil-horned Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a demonic entity who has designs on annihilating the planet. But he’s a forgettable CGI construct, amounting at most to a flimsy MacGuffin for our heroes to unite against. Instead, I spent most of Justice League wondering if Affleck’s truly ill-tempered take on Batman might finally be mitigated by his new companions. Indeed it is—Justice League is almost pathologically chipper, as if trying to cast off the oppressive bleakness of earlier DC films—but that’s not enough to make it a good movie.