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‘Justice League’: One part religious allegory, one part slapstick jokefest

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DC Comics demonstrates the truth that a house divided cannot stand.

Following the critical lambasting of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC Comics decided a little course correction was necessary. To that end, they brought in Joss Whedon (whom we last saw helming Marvel’s Avengers movies) to do some work on Justice League. No big deal, right? After all, Hollywood does that sort of thing all of the time.

The problem is that director Zack Snyder already had a clear vision of the story he was telling with these DC characters, one that began all the back in 2013 with Man of Steel. It began with an all-powerful alien visitor who comes to our planet, is raised by Earthly parents, and upon reaching maturity, undertakes a mission to save all of humanity. Many greet this man as a messiah, but others view him with suspicion and plot to kill him. This “Superman” dies, saving the world in the process. Yes, It’s that blatant of a riff on the story of Jesus.

Regrettably, as the results have shown, Snyder’s handling of that riff was ultimately ill-conceived and wildly unpopular. If he wants to tell a Jesus story, fine, just don’t do stuff like turn Batman into a sociopathic murder machine while in the process. Nobody wants to pay to see that, not at today’s concession prices.

Still, Snyder had a vision, and it continues, sort of, in Justice League. As the movie begins, Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead and those who believed in him have sunk into despondency. To make matters worse, the evil forces hinted at in the previous movie have chosen this time to make their big move. The satanic Steppenwolf (he actually wears a helmet with horns on it) arrives on Earth to set in motion a plan that will turn the planet into a literal hell.

Fortunately, even though he is gone, Superman has inspired a small group of followers to take up his cause. Batman (Ben Affleck), who previously filled the Saul-like role of righteous persecutor, has now seen the light and taken on the Pauline task of spreading Superman’s gospel. With the aid of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), he brings together other heroes such as The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to help drive back the encroaching darkness. Unfortunately, even the combined efforts of such titans are unable to do more than delay Steppenwolf’s advances. The world’s only hope, Batman realizes, lies in resurrection.

It’s crystal clear where Snyder wanted to take this story. As noted in previous reviews, the man does like his religious allegories. Sadly, he so bungled the execution of Batman v Superman that DC (shall we say) lost faith in him and brought in backup to prevent the director from delivering another bummer of a movie. Now, Whedon has penned a few religious allegories of his own in the past, but that’s not why he was hired here. DC paid Whedon to bring the same humor he did to Marvel’s movies to this project, and he more than earns his paycheck. However, he muddles a lot of the story’s messianic undertones by doing so.

In short, what we have in Justice League is a split personality of a narrative. Somber scenes of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Ma Kent (Diane Lane) discussing a world without its messiah are interspersed with goofy images like Aquaman bodysurfing a para-demon down a collapsing smoke stack while a smirking Wonder Woman looks on. That’s okay if such scenes are put together properly, but they’re not. This film takes one moment from director A and one from director B, tosses them together, and sees if they will stick. From a filmmaking perspective, they don’t. It’s like watching two different movies spliced together; one a serious exploration of religious themes, the other a slapstick superhero comedy.

The thing is, though, Justice League is still a fun, watchable movie despite such flaws. Batman is no longer a villain, Wonder Woman does nothing to tarnish the good will her own movie generated, and the rest of the characters are welcome additions. Miller’s Flash, in particular, does his most to steal every scene he’s in. One reaction shot he gives is probably the best moment in the entire film.

Sure, it would have been interesting to see what kind of movie Snyder would have delivered on his own, even if he failed. Despite all the missteps, he was still working in some big philosophical concepts, a rare thing in superhero movies. But Justice League is what it is, and what it accomplishes is just enough to make up for most of Batman v Superman’s sins. DC has (shall we say) redeemed themselves. Here’s hoping they now go forth and sin no more.

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