Tell me if this synopsis sounds familiar (spoiler alert): A villain with a horned helmet arrives on Earth (at the behest of another bad guy from space who isn’t really in the movie) to find a box containing a great power so that he can open a portal allowing an army of vaguely insectoid aliens to invade. Meanwhile, a handful of superheroes (mostly established in previous movies) meet up for the first time, exchange banter, fight each other for a bit and then save the day.
That’s the basic plot of the new “Justice League” movie, though you’ll be forgiven if you thought I was describing 2012’s “The Avengers.” In many ways, they’re the same movie. But at the same time, they’re not. And that’s what makes the film worth watching.
Perhaps the biggest strength of Justice League is its characters. Sure, the similarities to the Avengers are uncanny – the team is made up of an eccentric billionaire, a seemingly invincible guy in a red cape, a guy who thinks he’s a monster, a token woman and two others – but their personalities play out quite differently.
Ben Affleck portrays Batman as a hero who knows that he’s outlived his purpose as a hero, contrasting Ezra Miller’s Flash, a superhero who hasn’t been around long enough to have fought any serious villains yet. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) serves as the heart of the team, while Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a would-be loner, doubts his teammates’ abilities. Oh, and Superman (Henry Cavill) comes back for this one, but he’s no longer the brooding sourpuss he’s been since Christopher Reeve hung up the cape. It’s a fun group to watch.
Speaking of 1979’s “Superman,” “Justice League” makes use of the fact that it’s characters have a massive pop culture presence outside of just the movies set within its narrative universe. It acknowledges that pretty much everyone knows who the heroes are (except maybe Cyborg) and doesn’t force the audience to sit through their back stories for the hundredth time.
It’s surprisingly subtle, but careful listeners will also hear both the classic John Williams Superman theme and Danny Elfman’s theme from the Tim Burton Batman films. Both serve to remind even skeptical viewers that before the grim and dark “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” these were characters we liked.
A large part of what made “The Avengers” and the best Marvel movies good was their levity, and it’s clear that DC is trying to capitalize on that as well. This isn’t a bad thing, though. While the shift in tone from the previous DC movies is a bit jarring and makes the Justice League seem more than a little bit like the Super Friends, it is precisely what this movie needed.
If you’re bored of superhero movies in general, there’s nothing different about this film that would make it worth your time. For anyone else, “Justice League” is an entertaining and relatively lighthearted, if not wholly original, comic book romp.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Nick Gonzales is one of The Durango Herald newsroom’s resident film buffs. He welcomes movie recommendations. Follow him on Twitter @lackingzones.