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Is DC Finally Hitting Its Stride With Justice League?

As Justice League gets underway, Bruce Wayne is still struggling to wrap his head around the death of Superman. With Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) threatening widespread destruction, Wayne goes into Danny Ocean mode and starts rounding up an unlikely team of outcasts, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), half-fish Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and half-robot Cyborg (Ray Fisher). When it becomes apparent that this team of superhero all-stars simply doesn’t have what it takes to defeat their current adversary, Wayne pursues his only remaining option: bringing Superman back from the dead.

For most superhero buffs, there’s one big question hanging over Justice League: now that DC has enjoyed some critical acclaim with Wonder Woman, have they finally settled into a comfortable, reliable groove? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no. While some will be pleased to see a slightly more playful approach on display, anything that invites comparison to Marvel—which is, let’s face it, just about everything in this film—reflects poorly on DC.

Whereas Marvel has built a distinctive, appealing aesthetic from the ground up—reaching its zenith recently with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok—DC has found itself caught part-way between copying Marvel and arbitrarily doing the opposite, in order to combat charges of imitation. This has resulted in an increasingly schizophrenic approach that seems more like a marketing department lab experiment than the work of inspired filmmakers with something to say. It doesn’t help that Marvel vet Joss Whedon oversaw extensive re-shoots, deviating wildly from the sensibilities already built into the film’s DNA by original director Zack Snyder.

In spite of Justice League’s undeniable weaknesses (including its downright ludicrous, cartoonish villain), it must be said that most of the cast members acquit themselves relatively well this time around. Sure, the stoic performance style Ben Affleck has embraced since Argo is getting a little dreary and Ezra Miller’s wide-eyed wise-cracking as The Flash grows tiresome within minutes, but Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg are welcome additions, Henry Cavill’s Superman seems to be gaining authority over time, and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to be DC’s stand-out superhero.

Given the loyalty fans have shown for DC in good times and bad, this passable film is unlikely to set the company back, but rather than build on the momentum of Wonder Woman, they have retreated to the safe, formulaic thinking of their past successes. Until they align with an auteur of substance and integrity (new Batman director Matt Reeves seems like a good candidate), DC is unlikely to emerge from the shadow of Marvel or come anywhere near the glory of their high-water mark: Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

Justice League arrives in theatres tonight. Check out the trailer below.