Grade: B/B+
Entire family: 10 and older
2017, 120 min., Color
Fantasy action-adventure
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Amazon link

Since 2000, Warner Bros. has made 17 feature films based on DC Comics, the most successful of which have been the three Christopher Nolan-Christian Bale Dark Knight films, Constantine, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Man of Steel, and, most recently, Wonder Woman. So where does Justice League fit into the DC Universe, critically? Put it this way: it’s better than Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but not as good as Wonder Woman and Man of Steel.

Directed by DC Universe veteran Zach Snyder (Watchmen, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman), Justice League scores high marks for the action, special/visual effects, and strong villain; an appreciate round of applause for infusing the film with some humor; and a sympathy card for wrestling with the dilemma of how to create an interesting character-based film when the requisite focus for the genre is on non-stop action.

This is an origin story about how the Justice League came about, and the story picks up after the end of Batman v Superman. In the opening credits the camera pans across newspaper headlines proclaiming Superman dead . . . but is he?

The action begins with Batman battling what appears to be a winged human-sized insect that could easily be confused with a bat, if you were a small child reporting criminal actions witnessed. It turns out that the insect is a “scout” for an impending alien invasion.

It’s not exactly clear who summoned whom or how they knew of each other’s existence, but the first act assembles the core of what will become the Justice League: Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher). Henry Cavill also appears as Superman/Clark Kent, while the mere humans who are important to them are Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and Mera (Amber Heard), and Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons).

As I said, the villain is a strong and interestingly rendered one, despite a passing resemblance (headgear especially) to the evil rip-your-heart-out guy in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, despite the familiar trope of his suddenly “awakening” and finding a portal to Earth to conquer it and rule as the demigod he was meant to be, and despite an equally familiar borrowing from The Lord of the Rings that involves three power boxes rather than rings that need to be acquired for him to achieve an ultimate power.

While this group is figuring out how to save the world and viewers are figuring out how or why the first point of attack is somewhere in Russia, The Flash is busy saving the movie. After all, the plot is really the stuff of comic books:  a villain tries to conquer/destroy the world and the superheroes try to stop him. There’s nothing more in the way of side plots. But as the twenty-something Flash, Miller reprises his role from Suicide Squad and flat-out nails it, bringing much-needed comic relief to the production. His mannerisms and expressions are, like, totally believable for someone who hasn’t lived as long as the other superheroes and seems to still be a little uncomfortable with this whole laying-your-life-on-the-line thing. He has more phobias than a whole classroom of first graders, but that doesn’t stop him from getting up to speed (sorry).

Hermann Hesse gets the credit for inventing Steppenwolf, the title of his 10th novel about a man who feels a conflicting battle between his human side and a side driven by wolf-like aggressiveness. The ‘60s Canadian-American rock band of the same name, featuring the gravelly voice of John Kay, gets the credit for inspiring the flower-child generation to read Hesse’s novel, and both no doubt led to the appearance of Steppenwolf in the DC Comic book New Gods #7 (February 1972). In the DC incarnation, Steppenwolf is one of the New Gods whose uncle happens to be named Darkseid (and you thought Star Wars had that phrase trademarked).

Here Steppenwolf gets the time and space to ham it up in truly threatening fashion, and even if his minions reminds you a little bit of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz or a plague of locusts I think that director Snyder would be just fine with that. I personally could have used a little less action and a little more character interaction, but that’s a tough thing to pull off in a superhero movie that fans go to see especially for the action and special effects. And here, I have to admit they’re both pretty solid. What makes this suitable for a wider audience (read: whole family) is that it’s not as dark as the Man of Steel and Dark Knight movies, and isn’t bloody (just bug splat green goo), with nothing in the way of human deaths—only super beings fighting  each other.

Language: A handful of swearwords (hell, damn, shit, son of a bitch) get lost in the non-stop action
Sex: No sex, no implied sex, and no nudity, except for Cavill shirtless
Violence: All the violence is fantasy-based, with the most realistic sequence involving Wonder Woman’s people and a battle on horseback; the worse things that happen (a guard shot, a hostage’s neck broken) are implied and happen off-screen
Adult situations: There is drinking and one pub scene, and the horde of insect men that occupy a town is seen from the perspective of a frightened family
Takeaway: Take away a strong villain and The Flash’s personality and humor and I don’t think this film is a B; they, plus the action and special effects, make the film enjoyable to watch