HOL­I­DAY MOVIE PRE­VIEW

We un­wrap Santa’s top 18 movie gifts this sea­son — which in­cludes Star Wars: The Last Jedi PLUS: Our early re­view of Jus­tice League!

24 Hours Toronto - - ADVERTISING FEATURE - MARK DANIELL

Nearly 12 years after Christo­pher Nolan rein­vented the su­per­hero film genre with Bat­man Be­gins,

one thing is cer­tain when it comes to comic book movies on the big screen: they’re in­creas­ingly held to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard.

Should the films be light or dark is a con­stant ar­gu­ment among fans. And when Warner Bros. set about to craft an in­ter­con­nected se­ries us­ing its big­gest he­roes, start­ing with 2013’s Zack Sny­derdi­rected Man of Steel, it took a de­cid­edly more se­ri­ous tone.

Last year’s Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice (also di­rected by Sny­der) skewed dark. Crit­ics were unim­pressed and fan re­sponse was di­vided (though the film banked a re­spectable US$873 mil­lion at the box of­fice).

Next up was Sui­cide Squad,

which suf­fered from a host of is­sues. Crit­ics, again, panned the David Ayer-di­rected flick but a US$745 mil­lion world­wide haul en­sured a se­quel is on the way.

DC righted the ship with this past sum­mer’s stand­alone Won­der Woman film. But even though it was a hit with crit­ics and fans — Gal Gadot’s solo de­but as the Ama­zo­nian princess is now the high­est-gross­ing su­per­hero ori­gin movie of all time — the path that WB set upon when it started its DC cin­e­matic uni­verse has led to one movie: Jus­tice League.

Rife with talk of script doc­tor­ing, ever-chang­ing run­ning times and be­hind the scenes ru­mours of Bat­man star Ben Af­fleck’s wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to con­tin­u­ing as the char­ac­ter, Jus­tice League,

which is di­rected by Sny­der, with Joss Whe­don adding some fin­ish­ing touches, lands in a film­go­ing land­scape rid­dled with ex­pec­ta­tions.

I’ve seen the movie twice and the good news is, my ex­pec­ta­tions as a fan of the comic film genre and DC have been mostly met.

Pick­ing up sev­eral months after the events of BVS, Jus­tice League finds Bat­man and Won­der Woman charged with as­sem­bling a team of he­roes that in­cludes Aqua­man (Ja­son Mo­moa), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cy­borg (Ray Fisher) to take on an oth­er­worldly threat — the an­cient evil en­tity Step­pen­wolf (Ciaran Hinds).

I just started say­ing, ‘I study ge­og­ra­phy.’ Be­cause peo­ple are then like, ‘Oh.’ No fol­low-up to that, and so then the con­ver­sa­tion dies and you can move on.” — Mud­bound star Carey Mul­li­gan tells peo­ple she meets that she’s a ge­og­ra­pher in or­der to avoid awk­ward chats about her movies.

With Su­per­man (Henry Cav­ill) gone, Earth has be­come more chaotic, and su­per­nat­u­ral forces have pin­pointed the planet for de­struc­tion.

The story — from Sny­der and writ­ers Chris Ter­rio and Whe­don — is more eco­nom­i­cal this time around. There’s a threat, and the he­roes need to “come to­gether” to stop it.

Pretty sim­ple.

Bat­man and Won­der Woman are the de facto lead­ers of the team but what Jus­tice League does re­ally well is give movie­go­ers a chance to get to know the new char­ac­ters. Aqua­man, Flash and Cy­borg aren’t un­der-de­vel­oped; in­stead they’re given fleshed-out back­sto­ries.

The draw­back of that is that we don’t learn any­thing more of Bat­man’s com­plex his­tory bat­tling crime in Gotham for the past 20 years, or how he lost his part­ner, Robin.

Ditto Diana Prince. What has she been up to since the First World War events of the Won­der Woman film?

Gadot and di­rec­tor Patty Jenkins will pre­sum­ably fill in the blanks in the next Won­der Woman movie (due out in Novem­ber 2019), but Af­fleck has waf­fled re­cently about whether he’ll be back in any mean­ing­ful way as the Dark Knight. He told USA To­day that he wants to find “a grace­ful and cool way to segue out of it.”

It would be a shame not to see this in­car­na­tion of the char­ac­ter get a chance to don the cape and cowl for a solo out­ing. Af­fleck’s Bat­man is the glue that binds this team to­gether; it would be nice to see him come back.

In terms of how it looks, Jus­tice League is some­thing that needs to be ex­pe­ri­enced on a big screen.

One of the things I dis­liked about BVS and Sui­cide Squad was the murk­i­ness in its fi­nal acts. Sny­der has bright­ened that up to some ex­tent and, un­like its pre­de­ces­sors, there’s less talk and more ac­tion.

But, un­for­tu­nately, the CGI used on the vil­lain­ous Step­pen­wolf doesn’t al­ways work and there are scenes that look just plain silly. I would hope fu­ture DC films will ground its an­tag­o­nists in a more earth­bound re­al­ity, with more prac­ti­cal ef­fects. Per­son­ally, I think some com­bi­na­tion of Joker (Jared Leto) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisen­berg) and other mem­bers of the In­jus­tice League will work bet­ter for a Jus­tice League se­quel.

An­other draw­back is, un­like Gadot’s Won­der Woman stand-alone, we don’t get as emo­tion­ally in­vested in the char­ac­ters this time around. It’s al­most 80 min­utes be­fore we get to see the ro­man­tic re­union be­tween Su­per­man and Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

But the fu­ture of the DC cin­e­matic uni­verse be­longs to Flash (who tells us his solo out­ing is on the way), Aqua­man (who swims into the­atres on his own next year), Cy­borg and Won­der Woman.

That fu­ture is in good hands.

Miller’s Flash is a comedic high­light and fans will be clam­our­ing for his stand­alone tale tout de suite. Like­wise, Mo­moa’s Aqua­man adds a re­fresh­ing bit of cool­ness to the team.

A post-cred­its scene hints at what’s to come (fans went ab­so­lutely nuts at the screen­ing I at­tended, so stay put un­til the very end).

Hope­fully, this team that played so well to­gether stays to­gether — and that in­cludes you, Ben Af­fleck.

Won­der Woman, Bat­man, The Flash and Co. unite in DC’S su­per­hero team-up, Jus­tice League.

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