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'Justice League' Filmmakers Made A Heroic Effort


Superheroes used to be super individuals. These days, they tend to travel in packs - "Avengers," "X-Men," "Guardians" and, starting tonight in movie theaters across the country, the "Justice League." NPR critic Bob Mondello says that filmmakers working against serious odds have made a heroic effort.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The Man of Steel having been laid to rest in "Batman V Superman," our sequel starts with the world in mourning and the survivors realizing that they need reinforcements - the survivors being Wonder Woman...


MICHAEL MCELHATTON: (As Black Clad Alpha) I don't believe it. What are you?

GAL GADOT: (As Wonder Woman) A believer.

MONDELLO: ...And the bat guy, who, when he's not swatting away big, mechanical gnats, is recruiting new superheroes. He finds one in Arthur Curry.


BEN AFFLECK: (As Batman) Also known as the Aquaman. I hear you can talk to fish.

MONDELLO: That man dispatches Wonder Woman to recruit a damaged tech genius soon to be known as Cyborg while he queries a dweeb teen about the superhero outfit he has hanging in his secret hideout.


AFFLECK: (As Batman) Silicon-based quartz sand fabric - abrasion-resistant, heat-resistant...

EZRA MILLER: (As The Flash) Yeah, I do competitive ice dancing.

AFFLECK: (As Batman) That's what they use on the space shuttle to prevent it from burning up on re-entry.

MILLER: (As The Flash) I do very competitive ice dancing.

MONDELLO: A potentially lethal test establishes this kid's superhero bona fides. And quick as a flash - well, not really since getting these folks together takes up fully the first hour of the film - they're ready to take on the world's most generic villain. He has devil's horns, a Beelzebubly (ph) voice distorted even more than Batman's. And he says things like...


CIARAN HINDS: (As Steppenwolf) This world will fall like all the others.

MONDELLO: Exactly like all the others in fact, which is part of the problem. When Marvel does this sort of thing, there's a lightness that has mostly eluded the folks in the DC cinematic universe. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman got the tone right last time, which suggested things were looking up. But without director Patty Jenkins around, she's subject to the dismissive male gaze for which Hollywood's long been criticized. At one point, the camera fixes on Gadot's leather-clad derriere as she's talking to one of her co-stars, and you think, given Tinseltown's rep these days, who thought that was a good idea?

In fairness, Aquaman's abs are equally fetishized when they aren't being obscured in murky underwater footage. Jason Momoa's debut as Aquaman is not done any favors by the special effects team, nor is Ezra Miller's Flash, who's speediness is treated visually as if it's entirely a matter of static electricity. Happily, his patter is also speedy, and he gets plenty of self-deprecating laugh lines.


MILLER: (As The Flash) OK, yeah, here's the thing. See; I'm afraid of bugs and guns and obnoxiously tall people and murder. And I can't be here. It's really cool. You guys seem ready to do battle and stuff. But full transparency - I've never done battle. I just push some people and run away.

MONDELLO: Ray Fisher's Cyborg has an intriguing backstory that will doubtless be done more justice to in some future "Justice League" installment, hopefully an installment that's less messy than this one. The film is credited to director Zack Snyder, though a family tragedy sidelined him before he could finish shooting. "Avengers" director Joss Whedon was brought in to punch things up.

Extensive reshoots later, the film is about as schizoid as that history would lead you to expect - dark and serious and cracking random jokes. It does have a few nice moments, most of which can't be talked about without spoilers and none of which are likely to make you glad you're sitting through "Justice League" if you're not already a fan. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.