The good news for Warner Bros. execs is that the DC Comics franchise has sought and found incremental progress: Zack Snyder’s 2016 opus “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is one of the worst films in history, while his “Justice League” is merely one of the worst films of 2017.
The latter film begins shortly after the former concludes, with “Superman Is Dead” Daily Planet headlines still blowing along the dirty streets. And, as the camera meets the eyes of Batman, boy does Ben Affleck look like he wishes it were his character who had kicked the bucket.
His disposition is not improved by the appearance of the horned CGI superbeast Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds, in an all-time great “I can’t believe it’s not Liam Neeson!” performance). Reading the downcast mood in Gotham and Metropolis, Steppenwolf decides to set things back to the Dark Ages. To do so he must collect three Mother Boxes that will combine to form the Unity, a “Perpetual Energy Matrix” that will open portals to other worlds, rain hellfire, eradicate humanity — the usual. He is assisted by swarms of parademons that fly about terrorizing anyone on whom they smell fear.
The events in “Justice League” are hard on matriarchal real estate, with Martha Kent (Diane Lane) losing her home in Kansas, and Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) watching her sacred temple on Themyscira get torched. For her part, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is too sad about Clark Kent’s death to do any journalism in the face of the apocalypse.
Due to his crippling depression and distinct lack of friends, Batman must seek out help to defeat this new bugaboo. To round up some fresh superheroes, he stalks people online and rides around trying to find them in not only the expected Mercedes Benz concept cars but also atop horse (color: black).
Gal Gadot reprises her role as Wonder Woman and here she utilizes of course the Bracelets of Submission and the Lasso of Truth but her greatest weapon is… leadership! Given Batman’s general uselessness, she helps recruit The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller). While he is nearly a charming character, he suffers from the same oxymoronic fate as Quicksilver in “X-Men: Apocalypse” — he requires too much slow motion to show how fast he is.
Wonder Woman also pulls in Victor Stone, a.k.a. Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a football star whose father, for rather opaque reasons, has turned him into a machine with only a Phantom of the Opera amount of face left. As a young African-American, he brings some fresh lingo to the squad, at one point triumphantly uttering the phrase, “Boo-ya!”
The film begs the question: Can’t anyone have a secret identity anymore? Referring to a tatted-up god who looks like Jason Momoa as “Arthur Clarke” instead of “Aquaman” is an insult to each of his chiseled undersea abdominals. Momoa’s physical appeal is so massive that, in spite of carrying around a trident all the time, he only suffers one merman crack.
As mentioned, Superman (Henry Cavill) is totally and completely dead with no chance at being resurrected for any reason, ever. So the team must fight Steppenwolf without him. By pure coincidence, the characters do at a certain juncture dig up a corpse like the gravediggers in “Hamlet” but, sadly, this is not a film of infinite jest. Joss Whedon was brought on late in the game to lighten the mood of the picture, but he merely increased the number of jokes, not the amount of humor.
‘Justice League’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 1:59. Visit www.cinemawest.com.