For a re­view of “Jus­tice League,”

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The sil­ver lin­ing of all the re­cent mon­u­men­tal fail­ures adapt­ing char­ac­ters from the DC Comics uni­verse into fea­ture films has fi­nally be­come clear with “Jus­tice League.”

After slog­ging through the mas­sive mis­cues of “Man of Steel,” “Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice” and “Sui­cide Squad,” any comic book movie that is in fo­cus would look bet­ter by com­par­isons.

That’s not to say “Jus­tice League” comes close to the beau­ti­fully crafted “Won­der Woman.” But it does have enough en­ter tain­ing mo­ments to bal­ance how the film still suf­fers from a dis­jointed plot, an open­ing that plays like an end­less loop of pro­logues and some painfully bad cast­ing. At least there is hope as long as Gal Gadot never tires of play­ing Won­der Woman and Ray Fisher keeps tak­ing on the role of Cy­borg.

“Jus­tice League” opens in a world that has given into the dark­ness of evil after the death (?) of Su­per­man. Things are so bad, an in­ter­ga­lac­tic world crusher know­nas Step­pen­wolf ( Ciarán Hinds) gets his mo­tor run­ning and launches an in­va­sion of Earth. All he needs are three glow­ing cubes— Mother Boxes — that once uni­fied will wipe out the planet.

Step­pen­wolf has no prob­lem grab­bing the Mother Boxes be­ing guarded by the Ama­zons and At­lanteans. Bruce Wayne/ Bat­man ( Ben Af­fleck) rec­og­nizes the prob­lem and de­cides he needs a team to stop the in­va­sion be­fore the last cube is col­lected.

This is where the plot gaffes start. The last time Step­pen­wolf tried to con­quer Earth it took an army of Ama­zons, At­lanteans and hu­mans plus some help from a few gods to stop him. This time it is five he­roes — one who has no su­per pow­ers, an­other whose skills are best un­der­wa­ter and a third who comes across more like a very bad stand- up comic than the fastest man on Earth.

If only Su­per­man could be brought back to life to save the day. If only.

Each char­ac­ter — in­clud­ing a rein­tro­duc­tion of Won­der Woman — gets their mo­ments. There’s also time spent by Lois Lane — again played with the emo­tional range of a sala­man­der by the usu­ally ex­cel­lent Amy Adams — and Martha Kent ( Diane Lane) lament­ing about their loss. The ef­forts to cre­ate emo­tional mo­ments in “Jus­tice League” are as thin as Lex Luthor’s hair­line.

The end­less one- lin­ers and wise­cracks by the Flash ( Ezra Miller) gets an­noy­ing quicker than a flash. His per­for­mance would be bad enough with his goofy ap­proach to fight­ing and silly looks, but it’s im­pos­si­ble not to com­pare his work to Grant Gustin, who plays the Flash in the CW Net­work TV se­ries with heart, courage, com­pas­sion and brains.

Then there’s Aqua­man ( Ja­son Mo­moa), one of the B- list ( or is it sea- list?) he­roes in the DC Uni­verse. His be­ing part of the team would have made far more sense if the big fi­nal bat­tle had been close to at least a drink­ing foun­tain. He’s a fish wran­gler out of wa­ter the way his char­ac­ter is used and is best sum­ma­rized when Bat­man pokes fun at Aqua­man for bring­ing a pitch­fork to an in­ter­ga­lac­tic show­down.

The only per­son who truly un­der­stands the right way to play a comic book hero is Gadot. Whether she’s Won­der Woman or Diana Prince, Gadot’s per­for­mance al­ways comes with great heart and courage. She plays the char­ac­ter with such pride that her work is the only part of the movie that feels hon­est.

As for other big plot mis­fires, the big­gest comes in the third act. The team is not hav­ing much suc­cess, and it takes a pre­dictable su­per plot twist to save the day. Hav­ing the fate of Su­per­man so ob­vi­ously loom­ing through­out the film serves only as a cheat to get to a proper con­clu­sion.

Di­rec­tor Zack Sny­der has not put to­gether a com­plete ac­tion film since “Watch­men.” In that film, Sny­der showed a great skill at blend­ing very per­sonal mo­ments with plenty of fist- throw­ing ac­tion. Since then, his ac­tion scenes are more chaotic than clev­erly con­trolled, and he puts to­gether scenes where events un­fold be­fore there’s any ex­pla­na­tion of what is hap­pen­ing. When he fi­nally gets to the ex­plana­tory mo­ments, they tend to slow the tempo of the movie.

The two best things go­ing for “Jus­tice League” is a run­ning time of 119 min­utes ( in­clud­ing se­cret scenes) and that it came out in the wake of so­many re­cent stum­bles with DC Comics movies. Buried un­der a stack of prob­lems is a core of a good idea that could be used should the fran­chise con­tinue. That core comes from a fe­wof the mem­bers of the hero team, not from the tease after the clos­ing cred­its that if used has the po­ten­tial to make a “Jus­tice League” se­quel the next flop.

“Jus­tice League,” a Warner Bros. En­ter­tain­ment Inc. re­lease is rated PG- 13 for comic book vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 119 min­utes. ★★ 


“Won­der” is the story of Aug­gie ( Ja­cob Trem­blay), a young boy with a ge­netic fa­cial de­for­mity at­tend­ing school for the first time, bravely march­ing into mid­dle school while dar­ing to be born dif­fer­ent. You cringe along with his par­ents as he dis­ap­pears into a sea of fifth graders as they say a quiet prayer: “Dear God, please let them be nice to him.”

His par­ents, Nate (Owen Wilson) and Is­abel (Ju­lia Roberts), who have shel­tered Aug­gie, knowthey have to let him wade into those treach­er­ous mid­dle school waters. It might be rough, scared, hard and hurt­ful, but without the risk, there­would be no re­ward.

If this were just the tale of Aug­gie’s tri­als in the fifth grade as a new kid who’s vis­i­bly dif­fer­ent, the film­would be a heart­warm­ing, pos­si­bly syrupy-sweet tri­fle of a tale. But what you come to dis­cover about “Won­der” is it’s much more than just a story of one per­son over­com­ing ad­ver­sity or phys­i­cal set­backs. Adapted from R.J. Pala­cio’s book, cowrit­ten and di­rected by Stephen Ch­bosky, “Won­der” is a story that’s enor­mously gen­er­ous of per­spec­tive.

This isn’t just Aug­gie’s story and Aug­gie’s ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s the story of so many peo­ple around him: his sis­ter, Via (Iz­abela Vi­dovic), his friend, Jack Will (Noah Jupe), even his sis­ter’s es­tranged best friend, Mi­randa (Danielle Rose Rus­sell). Fre­quently, we cut away from Aug­gie’s nar­ra­tion and are show nthe ex­peri-- ences of those around him, ti­tled with chap­ter head­ings, with their own voices ex­plain­ing their in­ter­pre­ta­tions of events. It does get a bit messy at times, jump­ing into and out of per­spec­tives, and the sto­ries are spread a bit thin, rather than delv­ing deeply.

How­ever, shar­ing the point of viewis a smart way to il­lus­trate the ways in which friend­ships are com­pli­cated by our own pro­jec­tions, as­sump­tions, mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions and slights. While Aug­gie cer­tainly has a more out­wardly ob­vi­ous strug­gle, ev­ery­one around him is strug­gling in their own way. And Aug­gie isn’t per­fect, ei­ther. He’s a young boy deal­ing with an im­mensely dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, but the world doesn’t al­ways re­volve around him, and he needs to be gently re­minded of that some­times.

The film also smartly un­der­cuts its own sen­ti­men­tal­ity, never dwelling too long in the pathos or poignancy, cut­ting the ten­sion with a typ­i­cally 10-year-old burp or fart joke. It’s likely you will cry, but you won’t feel ma­nip­u­lated into do­ing so— those tears are right­fully earned.

The glue that holds the film to­gether is the won­der­fully warm Roberts, who even un­leashes her sig­na­ture laugh for a mo­ment. She does most of the emo­tive heavy lift­ing, but, Vi­dovic, as Aug­gie’s sis­ter Via, is a won­der her­self, ex­press­ing word­lessly the bur­den of a sib­ling who doesn’t need as much at­ten­tion as her brother, but hopes for some any­way. Jupe is a young star on the rise, and he’s ex­tremely sen­si­tive as the friend who learns that stand­ing up for oth­ers means stand­ing up for him­self.

The mes­sages of “Won­der,” wo­ven through­out by the ac­tions of the char­ac­ters, and as “pre­cepts” out­lined by teacher, Mr. Browne ( Daveed Diggs), are ones we should all take to heart: to choose kind­ness, and to de­fine our­selves through our deeds. Th­ese ideas are earnest, yes, and heart­felt. We could all stand to grant a lit­tle kind­ness to our­selves and oth­ers right about now.

“Won­der,” a Lionsgate re­lease, is rated PG for the­matic el­e­ments in­clud­ing bul­ly­ing, and some mild lan­guage. Run­ning time: 113 min­utes. ★★★  


Ju­lia Roberts, left, and Ja­cob Trem­blay star in the Lionsgate re­lease “Won­der.”

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