Justice League ★★

The conventional wisdom is that 'Man of Steel' (2013) and 'Batman v. Superman' (2016), the first two entries in the wannabe “DC Extended Universe”, were critical duds partly due to their unremittingly dour tone. The grim, brooding atmosphere that worked well in Christopher Nolan’s 'Dark Knight' trilogy (2015 - 2012) is a poor fit for stories about the Last Son of Krypton, or so the thinking goes. In truth, tone is not actually one of MoS's or BvS's more glaring flaws. Notwithstanding the pouting of comic book fans with inflexible notions of how Superman “should” act or a Superman story “should” feel, Snyder’s conception of the material at least offered some fresh, off-kilter interpretations of iconic characters and scenarios. (Michael Shannon’s General Zod remains the DCEU’s most engrossing villain, by an enormous margin.) The films also boasted plenty of inspired design and striking images, even if such sensory pleasures were often shrouded in desaturated digital murk.

No, the most significant issue with MoS and BvS (the latter more than the former) is their general unintelligibility. Snyder’s DCEU films are feverishly ambitious and remorseless, but they are also unforgivably sloppy; chock-a-block with hazy motivations, muddled chronology, and glaringly disjointed editing. Not even Batman in his World’s Greatest Detective aspect could flowchart the theatrical cut of BvS, although it wasn’t until David Ayer’s 'Suicide Squad' last year that filmgoers truly got a taste for how incoherent and illogical a major studio blockbuster could be.

Sadly, Warner Bros. seems to have learned some cock-eyed lessons from their early stumbles, as the solution that has plainly been applied to 'Justice League'—Synder’s third foray into this dubious franchise—is to make it more 'Avengers'-y. Accordingly, Marvel Studios’ crossover event helmsman Joss Whedon was enticed to team up with Chris Terrio and take a whack at the screenplay for 'League'. (Whedon also stepped in for Snyder when the latter had to depart at the tail end of the production for family reasons.) Whedon’s fingerprints are discernible in the new film’s slathering of quips, jibes, and other super-banter, particularly the nervous, deadpan witticisms tossed off by Barry Allen, a.k.a. the Flash (Ezra Miller). Admittedly, Whedon’s warm-hearted snark is welcome, and Miller delivers the film’s more delicious lines with marvelous comic timing. (An anxious reference to 'Pet Semetary' is among the film’s best wisecracks.) [...]

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