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'Justice League': Oh Superman, Where Art Thou?

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires film critic
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Prior to becoming one special effects-crammed battle scene after the next, director Zack Snyder's "Justice League" spends an inordinate amount of time detailing the difficulties of putting together the folks necessary to saving the world. Mind you, I'm not talking about the 20 or 30 influential U.S. senators and congresspeople it would take to flip their brethren in the noble pursuit of preserving America's currently endangered democracy, though that'd be a real good idea. Only the autocrats have fun in an autocracy. But no, this is just about superheroes.
 
All the same, this movie rendition about that gang of DC Comics crusaders who attempt to solve their differences for the greater good plays as a one size fits all metaphor. Pick any time in history when the greedy and megalomaniacal threatened humankind's freedoms and well-being and this will work. There's even a no-holds barred villain. No gray area here, the vile scourge known as Steppenwolf (no relation to either the Hesse novel or the band) is the essence of evil: a blustering, egotistical monster bent on some sort of self-aggrandizing apocalypse.
 
The difference between this fictional blackguard and our real-life examples is that no one in the movie is nutty enough to support Steppenwolf, y'know, say how he's really maybe a nice guy.
 
C'mon, let him have his way and he'll kill everyone. Still, our modern, pop culture versions of the Olympian gods known as superheroes have their disagreements of style, purpose and overall zeitgeist, which in itself can toss a monkey wrench into the world saving business. But a little bit of this soap opera stuff goes a long way, and after a while we just wish they'd get on with it.
 
I mean, there isn't really a choice. Either get together and defeat Steppenwolf or that's the ballgame. Problem is, there isn't much of a script here. So the ceaseless bantering among the potential Justice League members, a repetitious series of chides and tongue-in-cheek allusions to things only diehard aficionados of the culture will grok, is just so much time-filling gobbledygook. In all fairness, though, even if Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg mend fences, there remains a major difficulty. Remember, Superman died last issue.
 
Now, I don't mean to diminish the other five. But hey, channeling your childhood arguments about who was more indomitable, Superman or Batman (all the others occupied a tacitly acknowledged third place), Superman always won, except in the opinion of that weird kid on the block who was also a Cleveland Indians fan. OK, so the guy from Smallville has that Kryptonite issue. Otherwise, it's a no-brainer. In any case, way too much of the story hinges on whether or not Superman can do the Lazarus thing.
 
While the group tries to sort these matters out, Steppenwolf, in the mode of tyrants real and imagined, delights in detailing his perceived supremacy almost as much as he enjoys wreaking havoc. And, just as in real life, it gets awfully tiring, not just because braggadocio is unbecoming in civilized society, but owing to the fact that this demented screwball's diatribes are loonier than the self-conscious reasoning of an Ayn Rand character on crack. 
 
OK, we get it, Steppenwolf. Never in the history of the world has there been someone as wicked as you.
 
Attempting to ameliorate the malnourished plot, a brand-name cast stars as the title superheroes. Ben Affleck remains acceptable as the mouth-breathing, dark-voiced Batman; stately Gal Gadot is forcefully altruistic as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman; Jason Momoa is aggressively iconoclastic as Arthur Curry/Aquaman; Henry Cavill is Clark Kent/Superman, albeit little seen; Ray Fisher is nifty as Victor Stone/Cyborg; and, adding some needed but curiously hokey comic relief, Ezra Miller is the neophytic Barry Allen/The Flash.
 
While all these champions are good at demonstrating their attributed specialties, the production into which they've been plopped deters them from their primary mission: skating that fine line between fantasy and doing what it takes to earn our suspension of disbelief. Not unlike what's required if one is to enjoy professional wrestling, the performer must, for the moment, convince us that he or she is the real thing. Here, in all due respect, the Justice League members might as well be wearing really expensive Halloween costumes. I suddenly want a Butterfingers.
 
Pity is, "Justice League" does not waft us away to that vicarious place where truth, justice and the American way prevail. Remember, it was a foreign threat to our democracy in the 1930s that prompted the nascence of comic book superheroes, dime-novel purveyors of hope. Thus it only makes sense that now, as our democracy is trampled by domestic opportunists, arguably abetted by outside malefactors, a reinvigoration of that popular literature should artistically symbolize the heroics we so need. As it stands, both in fiction and reality, we wait for Superman.
 
"Justice League," rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Zack Snyder and stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Ray Fisher. Running time: 120 minutes
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