The DC superhero franchise has not been in a bit of an identity crisis since Christopher Nolan wrapped his Dark Knight trilogy. Unable to find a proper tone and unique strategy for their catalog of gritty superheroes, Warner Brothers has borrowed Marvel’s playbook to help launch their own theatrical universe. Except the rushed property feels overtly manufactured existing only to compete with the ever growing Avengers. And if summer’s Wonder Woman was any indication that perhaps Warner Brothers found their groove, Justice League is a reminder they still are uncertain how to make themselves unique.

Director Zack Snyder returns to the DC universe with the action packed Justice League. But this time, instead of Batman fighting Superman, Batman recruits of group of heroes with special abilities to battle the destructive and powerful Steppenwolf who has risen due to some hidden ancient magic boxes that were opened (it’s not that important). As Steppenwolf builds his army of bug like humanoids, Batman and his gang try to figure out how to stop him in a world where Superman is dead…or is he?

Justice League can be lumped in with the likes of its predecessors, Suicide Squad and Batman vs. Superman. It’s a sloppy, overstuffed mess that can’t land a tone. The action sequences are a blur of messy CG and the story is as Saturday morning cartoon as they come. This would be more forgivable if there was at least some style or organization within the sequences. Justice League looks like a bad imitation of a Michael Bay movie. It’s filled with slow motion, animated looking sets, and things that go boom. And it all happens so close to the camera. This movie is not subtle.

Now that’s not to say the movie doesn’t try to improve on the franchise’s old mistakes. Maybe it’s Joss Whedon’s involvement or the studio trying a different take but all the doom and gloom tone of Man of Steel and Batman Vs. Superman are dissolving. The franchise is slowly moving away from Nolan’s gritty Gotham world and stepping into, well, something more suited for the Avengers. It’s much more light hearted with specs light hearted fun. It’s not perfect but it’s a better fit. Even Danny Elfman’s Batman theme returns.

The best additions into the franchise are Ezra Miller as the Flash and Jason Momoa as Aquaman. Miller is wide eyes, sassy, and a much needed comedic relief while Aquaman takes a rough biker persona with a cool look that works quite well. Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman who gets some of the best fight scenes and honestly should be the leader of the group rather than sharing the duty with Batman.

Speaking of Batman, Ben Affleck returns in a sort of awkward wooden performance. And lastly newcomer Ray Fisher plays the troubled Cyborg- a human, robot hybrid who is haunted by his new abilities. It’s a fine if not forgettable role. They just don’t give Fisher much to work with. But when the Justice League actually assemble, they are given some snappy dialog and chemistry that mostly clicks.

The worst offender of the bunch is the villain, Steppenwolf played by Ciaran Hinds. He is a poorly crafted CG creation with yawn worthy dialog and powers. At times the character and sequences look built for a video game. He wields a giant hammer glowing with power and spouts the same old “I will destroy you” remarks that make him even more yawn worthy. Plus his army of bug creatures look just as dumb if not dumber than him.

Aside from cheesy looking sequences and bland story is an over bloated story. There is A LOT to take in, in the two hour runtime. The first half hour is strictly exposition, often told in monologs playing over sequences. It’s lazy storytelling but there is honestly not a lot of options available when you’re trying to create a movie of this caliber this early in the franchise. It tries to introduce a huge cast of characters and worlds in just minutes- it’s a mess.

In ways this movie is a big set up for the Flash and Aquaman movies (even Cyborg if that ever gets off the ground). This is a pretty big clunker and these heroes deserve a better movie. There is a great cast, shiny new characters, and a glimmer of a more cohesive DC franchise in the future. But for now, Justice League is only taking baby steps toward improvement when it needs a big leap.

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