There is something intrinsically compelling about a gathering like this. At its best, Justice League is a lot of fun–the kind of fun I look for in a comic-book superhero movie. It even removes the unpleasant aftertaste of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice–and for that alone I am grateful. In fact, the film makes a concerted effort to rebuild the image of Superman as an object of awe and the ultimate superhero.  I grew up with that character and he still holds a special place in my heart, and when he stands strong as part of the Justice League I revert to my boyhood feeling of hero-worship.

The core of the story by Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder (with a screenplay credited to Terrio and Joss Whedon) is fairly straightforward: enemy aliens led by a mega-villain named Steppenwolf are invading the Earth, bent on domination and destruction. Batman and his only ally, Wonder Woman, realize they need other heroes with special powers to join them or the world is doomed. One by one they find their reluctant recruits: Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller).

Although Justice League has a lot going on, including relatively brief appearances by such figures as Queen Hippolita (Connie Nielsen), Ma Kent (Diane Lane), and Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons), it thrives on a burst of momentum that only gives out in the 7th inning. Fortunately, the film pretty much recovers from that lull and even throws in a pair of Marvel-movie-inspired teases during the closing credits.

All the roles are well-cast, but for me, two performances stand out: Gal Gadot pops off the screen every time she is on camera as Wonder Woman. It’s no surprise that the director and editor cut to her smiles of approval so often. Then there’s the new kid on the block: Ezra Miller infuses Justice League with a steady stream of old-fashioned comedy relief. By day he’s an awkward kid who loves playing with his super powers but has yet to find his place in the world. When he receives the call to action from Batman himself, it not only gives him a sense of purpose but provides him the first friends he’s ever had. It’s a canny characterization on the part of the writers that buoys the movie and keeps it from sinking into seriousness. Miller hits just the right, keeping the audience laughing and smiling. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman seems almost prosaic by comparison.

The film isn’t perfect, and with so many details and characters—bordering on the edge of clutter—is ripe for nit-picking. But on the whole I had a good time. I wouldn’t dare guess at who was responsible for the better moments in the picture, knowing that Joss Whedon filled in for Zack Snyder during extensive rewrites and reshooting. After all, it’s the finished product that counts. Wouldn’t it be great if the inevitable sequel to this movie turns out even better?

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024