The problem, which starts to show during the second act, is that when you get all these heroes in one room, the chemistry just isn’t there. Excuse another comparison to Marvel’s Avengers — the yardstick by which all superhero team-ups are measured — but for any quibbles about those movies, any scene where the team is together pops. Even just watching those heroes sit around and chat has a certain thrill to it. Here, the dynamic feels stilted, which, in fairness to the actors, may be a result of being tasked to deliver so much expository dialogue when they speak at each other. The exception is Miller’s Flash and Cavill’s Superman, an unexpected pairing who end up gelling well.
The league manages to assemble just in time for the Mother Boxes — a McGuffin that factored into the plot of Batman v Superman in ways too ill-defined to recall here and, anyway, the less talk of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, the better — to attract the new big bad, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). As it goes, Steppenwolf was defeated once before during the Age of Heroes and swore his revenge. And so he returns once again with a swarm of Parademons and threatens to turn Earth into a primordial hellscape, because…well, if a villain doesn’t want to destroy the world, who are the Justice League supposed to fight?
If the first act of Justice League is genuinely solid and the second act is where things gets a bit iffy, then the third act is a mess. For as much as Snyder and Whedon’s partnership aids earlier stretches of the movie, in the end each of their biggest individual flaws eventually emerges. In Snyder’s hands, the climactic final battle once again gets too big, becoming a soup of ugly flashing lights and CGI super-punching. It mostly ends up looking like a video game. (Or like the climactic end bit of Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman…) Meanwhile, the action of the movie is repeatedly interrupted to cut away to some irrelevant Russian family. It’s classic Whedon, attempting to add personal stakes to the city-leveling battle, as if the world weren’t enough.
There is actually a lot I like and am intrigued by here: The Flash and Aquaman, Wonder Woman, of course. (Though a return to Themyscira — now including metal bikinis! — just doesn’t feel the same without Jenkins.) There is also a lot that I don’t: Nearly everything involving Fisher’s surly Cyborg is dead on arrival. (More like Victor Snooze.) Most of my issues with Justice League trace backward to a stink still lingering from Batman v Superman, compounded by this movie leaning so heavily into that one. I found it difficult to get too excited about anything having to do with Batman or Superman or Lois Lane, who mostly just makes sad eyes as she pines over Superman. (Amy Adams might have the most thankless role in superhero movie history.)
All of the shiny new heroes and witty one-liners and color, oh, sweet color, draws the eye, but there’s still something rotten at the center of all this, keeping it from becoming the epic team-up it strives to be. It certainly doesn’t help that Justice League arrives after Wonder Woman, a breath of fresh air, and Thor: Ragnarok, so goofy and original and dynamic. How do you solve a problem like the DC Extended Universe, then? I’m not sure there is an easy answer, but there are pieces crammed into Justice League that are promising. And that’s all it takes to stay excited about what could come.