‘Justice League’ is discordant and incomprehensible at best

It’s safe to say “Justice League” is more enjoyable than “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

But don’t get too excited. So’s a good, swift kick to your undercarriage.

Following the triumph that was “Wonder Woman,” promises of a lighter tone and a slick marketing campaign, I actually left Comic-Con excited to see “Justice League.”

Then, like Charlie Brown being teased by Lucy with the football, I trudged out of Tuesday’s screening wondering how I’d managed to be duped yet again.

“Justice League” is discordant and incomprehensible from the opening scenes, in which little kids interview Superman (Henry Cavill) on a shaky cellphone video, then Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) battles a giant buglike critter amid talk of “patterns” from Lex Luthor’s notebooks that are never explained.

Thankfully, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) rides in to attempt to save the day by doing some heavy expositional lifting.

Steppenwolf, a giant orclike monster, wants to turn Earth into the “primordial hellscape” from which he came, she tells Bruce. To do this, he’s gathering Mother Boxes, three glowing cubes that, when brought together, unleash unlimited power. So, you know, Infinity Stones.

Steppenwolf controls those space bugs, aka “nightmare creatures who feed on fear,” she adds. Also, sometimes the space bugs have ray guns.

Now that that’s settled, Bruce and Diana prepare to take on Steppenwolf by recruiting Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher). The least known of the group, Victor was a genius football star who was rebuilt by his scientist father (Joe Morton) after a horrific car wreck, and he’s gradually becoming more robotic.

The same can be said for “Justice League.”

There’s zero passion or drive on display, and it feels like more of a commodity than most blockbusters. There’s no discernible reason for this story — and I use the term “story” loosely — to be told, other than a sense of “we need to get this done to move on to the next movie.”

Zack Snyder, who directed every entry in the DC Extended Universe except “Wonder Woman,” which was helmed by the terrific Patty Jenkins, left the project in the hands of Joss Whedon when his daughter died.

Whedon, who already had done rewrites on Chris Terrio’s script, knows how to bring superheroes together, having written and directed the two “Avengers” movies for Marvel. So it makes no sense that “Justice League” is this messy.

More often than not, the dialogue is just brutal. You could randomly remove five letters from Whedon’s keyboard, and he should be capable of far better than this. I would have thought the same of Terrio, who won an Oscar for writing “Argo,” until he followed that up by vomiting forth “Batman v Superman.”

After complaints about that movie’s tone, “Justice League” overcorrects from grimdark to, at times, hokey with the members of the Justice League reacting in ways that would be more appropriate on a laugh-tracked, ’80s sitcom. At one point, Arthur threatens to introduce Barry to every piranha he knows.

Ugh.

Having said that, they’re both great additions to the franchise. As Arthur, the protector of the sea who’s dealing with some Mommy issues, Momoa discharges raw, undiluted testosterone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Miller’s Barry brings a wide-eyed awkwardness that’s fun in small doses, but “Justice League” leans into that far too often.

The only thing the movie relies on more is lingering shots of Gadot’s backside. I lost track of how many scenes started with a close-up of her glutes before panning out. And I swear her skirt is significantly shorter — so much so that she couldn’t keep from exposing some underbutt.

Early reports listed a 170-minute run time for “Justice League.” It’s now 119 minutes. And it feels as though there’s at least 51 minutes of footage on a hard drive somewhere. There’s just no way “Justice League” was intended to be this simplistic yet chaotic.

I thought I disliked “Batman v Superman” because it was too dark. It turns out I only disliked it because it was terrible.

If “Justice League” is any indication of the new direction for the franchise, whoever’s in charge of the sequel should just throw The Wonder Twins and their blue monkey, Gleek, into the mix and call it a day.

The result couldn’t be much worse.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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