Well, this is a happy surprise. After the sludgy, lumbering, overly serious smash-fests “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and the misfire of “Suicide Squad,” it looked like the DC Extended Universe was down for the count.
But then came the summer’s inspiring, uplifting “Wonder Woman” and now a truly joyous, lovable “Justice League.” It’s like a great comeback in the World Series.
A huge reason for the success of “Justice League” lies in a change of pitchers. When director Zack Snyder suffered a personal tragedy in March, he eventually made the difficult decision to step down.
He was replaced by Joss Whedon, whose work with the ensemble in Marvel’s 2012 “The Avengers” was remarkable, as were the liveliness of his writing and the clarity of his directing.
The result is not exactly cohesive — it’s as if Orson Welles were called in to re-shoot an Ed Wood film — and it’s easy to guess which scenes are Whedon’s and which are Snyder’s.
Any scenes that contain laughter or joy, or moments of humanity, are probably Whedon’s. Anything that includes digital globs bashing one another against walls is probably Snyder’s.
Yet it works wonderfully. It has the feel of something handmade and patchwork, of different personalities stacking ideas on top of one another. Perhaps the two opposites coming together have created a movie that all superhero nerds can love.
The story has a dull digital supervillain called Steppenwolf, employing an army of big bugs straight out of “Wreck-It-Ralph,” and coming to take over the world. To do so, he must gather three “power boxes.” It’s pretty basic bad guy stuff, and the movie’s biggest drawback.
But the good news is that he inspires Batman (Ben Affleck) to form a team. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is already on board.
They recruit a silly, eager Flash (Ezra Miller), whose socially awkward comments are pretty funny. A hard-drinking, badass Aquaman (Jason Momoa) takes a little more coaxing. And Cyborg (newcomer Ray Fisher) is still adjusting after technology from one of the power boxes was used to save his life.
Superman (Henry Cavill) appears in a delightful, winning flashback/prologue.
Incidentally, no one calls anyone by their superhero names. It’s a first-name basis: Bruce, Diana, etc. It’s like a club that any misfit could join.
The first three films in this series favored a gray, grimy look, in which the bright red and blue uniforms looked like they needed a wash. “Justice League” turns up the lights and brings back boldness and brightness. Brooding and depression are gone.
Whedon also hired Danny Elfman to compose a more old-fashioned, trumpeting superhero score; he pays homage to his own 1989 “Batman” theme as well as John Williams’ legendary 1978 “Superman” theme.
Even non-superhero Lois Lane (Amy Adams) becomes more human, and not just a victim to be rescued.
As the movie ends, she writes up her latest, sure-to-win-a-Pulitzer story, saying, “Darkness is not just the absence of light; it’s the conviction that the light will never return.”
With “Justice League,” the light has returned.
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams
Written by Joss Whedon, Chris Terrio
Directed by Zack Snyder
Running time 2 hours