JUSTICE LEAGUE | ★★★

The most astonishing thing that has emerged from the DC brand and its place within the superhero movie zeitgeist is not the discussion of the movies themselves, but everything that factors into their successes (and failures) before and after they are released. We hear so much more about production woes and critical reactions than the actual films - specifically, the films in the DC Extended Universe. It’s no secret to why and how this attitude has emerged. Marvel’s imperfect yet bankable formula has molded contemporary expectations for the genre to a point where every non-Marvel movie is met with a more judgmental eye. Never has this mindset weighed down so much on a DCEU flick more than “Justice League,” Warner Bros.’ answer to “The Avengers.” For those who know the myriad of issues that befell its production (myself included), it will be difficult for them to take the film on its own terms. After going in with little expectation and cautious optimism, I can say that “Justice League” works just well enough to appease worried fans. It’s easily disposable, but not at all worthless.

We all know the drill by now. Villain of the week (Steppenwolf) zooms down to earth to wreak havoc and destroy humanity with a powerful MacGuffin (in this case, three cubes known as Mother Boxes), prompting one hero (Batman) to recruit others with remarkable gifts (Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman) to save the world. Where “Justice League” somewhat diverts from this formula comes in its completion of director Zack Snyder’s vision for Superman, who was killed in 2016’s misunderstood epic, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Realizing the team needs one more member to turn the tide, Batman searches for a way to resurrect the Kryptonian to secure a more hopeful future for the human race.

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Snyder, along with co-screenwriter Joss Whedon, who was brought on to complete the film following a tragedy in the Snyder family, has made a fairly unique beast of DC’s inevitable team-up. In just two hours, all the boxes are checked with a surprising level of coherence, if not total clarity. The lean runtime results in a super-smash brawl that rushes certain character introductions and undercuts any weight that their arcs might’ve had. Even so, the effort to keep the ball rolling does a little more good than bad. Unlike the strangely static character beats in “The Avengers,” Snyder’s film opts for a more fluid narrative that doesn’t waste time in preparing for the big showdown. This isn’t to say that “Justice League” is better than “The Avengers” (not by a long shot), but it is strong in places where Whedon’s film isn’t.

Chief among these strengths is its appreciation for comic book overtones. This is the DCEU’s most saturated adventure, coming to (artificial) life through solid color tones, Snyder’s signature aesthetic - defined by slo-mo action and thick contrasts, and the characters’ distinctive personalities. Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Henry Cavill continue to rock as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, while Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, and Jason Momoa each add their own flavors to the Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman, respectively. The film absolutely revels in the iconography of Batman and Superman in particular, marking their final evolution into the heroes we know from the comics. The Dark Knight looms against the noir cityscape of Gotham, while the Man of Steel soars through the sunlit sky. It all looks and feels like the most exciting Saturday morning cartoon, but in its own wonderfully sloppy way.

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The problems that plague “Justice League” are the same problems that have plagued its genre for over a decade. CGI is embarrassingly noticeable, with Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) and his army of Parademons sticking out like figures in a PS4 game. Humor is also used as a crutch via the Flash’s wide-eyed, boyish quips, but not to the aggressive degree seen in Marvel movies like “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Thankfully, it manages to be light-hearted without actually stopping itself to squeeze in a few laughs. Snyder and Whedon seemed to have reached a relatively happy medium between studio demands, audience expectations, and creative vision, yet its mishmash stylings might make one actually yearn for the rousing ambitions of Snyder’s earlier work in the franchise. “Justice League” may be light on its feet, but it’s so light that is practically floats away before viewers can truly savor it.

(6/10)