‘Justice League’ should have felt much more important

November 26, 2017

There have been countless iterations of the "Justice League" television adaptations through the years, and as a young geek, I was witness to the lion's share. It began in the '70s, when the Hall of Justice was populated solely by Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and some useless teenage human sidekicks.

Years later, other heroes would join the Saturday morning animated ranks, some from the DC Universe (Green Lantern, The Flash and Hawkman), some created solely for the show and to add diversity (Apache Chief, Black Vulcan and Samurai).

Each incarnation lasted only a year or two, but they were forever etched in my child mind.

And despite their shortcomings, even the most inconsequential players (I'm looking at you Zan, Jayna and your damn "space monkey" Gleek) left an impression far more lasting than anything witnessed in the latest big-screen adaptation in the flailing "DC Universe."

While there are moments that elevate it above the sulfuric stench of "Batman v Superman" or "Suicide Squad," "Justice League" is still a lugubrious affair, filled with strained attempts to build on a foundation that is nowhere near capable of handling the weight of the computer-generated baddies of its conclusion and the synthetic character-building in the film's first hour.

The film opens in the wake of "Batman v Superman," when the world is plunged into chaos following the death of beloved Supes (played by Henry Cavill). Batman (played by Ben Affleck) decides he cannot go it alone and acts as a job recruiter for those with superhuman abilities. Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) doesn't need convincing, as once she sees her home under siege by the latest universal threat, she quickly signs on. Human lightning rod Barry Allen (aka The Flash, played by Ezra Miller) is the team's young'un, and is rather reluctant to be placed in any real life-threatening situation, but he needs friends. Victor Stone (played by Ray Fisher), a one-time college football hero reconstructed by his scientist father with mostly metal to become Cyborg, is also hesitant but game.

And then there's Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa, desperate to channel his inner "The Rock"). Despite the unprecedented attempts to sex up the character, it's hard to get past the fact that his powers are used in the sea (he used to ride a giant sea horse in the cartoon, for crying out loud!). I mean, couldn't the villains just drive away to elude him?

Regardless, this time it's an underworld character named Steppenwolf who's vying for world domination, and here is where DC fails to get the memo. Just like Doomsday in "BvS" and Enchantress in "Suicide," the films inserts yet another computer-generated tsunami of light and noise that elicits no real peril, only a been-there, conquered-that round of fisticuffs with our heroes.

Affleck, who made marginal strides in his last outing, here looks all puffed up and uneasy, as though he's trying to still fit into his prom tux pants. Miller must have been told he was the comic relief, for he never misses a moment to crack not-so-wise and remind us how ill-equipped he is for heroism (it's one-note that sounds particularly repetitive in a year that gave us the nuanced "Spider-Man: Homecoming"). Momoa may have the bod and surfer-boy hair, but he's reduced to a handful of lines, most of which are "My man!" and "I dig it!" so they hardly inspire.

Gadot as Wonder Woman has a brief moment to shine early on during some random heist, but she becomes eclipsed during the schizophrenic symphony into which the film devolves.

There are several esteemed actors who have even less to do: Amy Adams shows up as Lois Lane to tell Superman he smells nice (not kidding), Diane Lane gets to look frumpy in about two scenes, J.K. Simmons is but a shadow, and Jeremy Irons, as Batman's butler Alfred, serves only as Tinder in human form, constantly trying to convince Bruce Wayne to ask out Wonder Woman.

"Justice League" should have felt so much more important than it does. When the franchise is rallying the best of its best, it should play like a "greatest hits" album and have audiences humming along the whole time. Sadly, it seems like the DC cinematic Universe is playing like a one-hit Wonder Woman.