As a rather weary Bruce Wayne puts it at one point during 'Justice League (2017),' - the latest movie from the DC Extended Universe and their attempt at an Avengers-style team-up - we certainly live in "the age of heroes," and if there was ever any doubt about that before, there certainly isn't now as 2017 has seen over six superhero movies all begging the question of whether the way to keep us awake is to make these films super-serious, or just a bit of fun.
Ask the successful folks over at Marvel and they're going for the latter option - injecting their projects with more jokes and retro colors than your average red dwarf episode - but look to the struggling DCEU and their approach is very different, with the poorly received 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016),' and 'Man of Steel (2013),' from Zack Snyder both drenched in equally copious amounts of superficial darkness.
But, with Snyder's 'Justice League (2017),' comes a chance to change course by injecting more humor and fun into the experience as the heroes we've been introduced to (Ben Affleck's Batman and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman) unite with some new faces (Ezra Miller's 'The Flash,' Ray Fisher's 'Cyborg,' and Jason Momoa's 'Aquaman,') to save the world from the evil god Steppenwolf. You know the drill by this point, but the question now is whether - despite a troubled production - 'Justice League' and its lighter approach can put this growing universe back on track.
Well, unfortunately what this film mostly serves to prove is that tone was never really the issue, as 'Justice League (2017),' still suffers from hugely incoherent storytelling, but it also shows that a few jokes and snappy character moments to lighten the mood can make it all a little more enjoyable despite the glaring flaws.
Now it would be easy to put the fun-factor down to Joss Whedon, the man behind 'The Avengers' who was brought in to direct after Zack Snyder departed late in the game due to a terrible family tragedy, however the fact the whole thing feels lighter makes it very difficult to determine who did what, and actually it doesn't feel like two contrasting visions at all.
The issue comes with the fact it lacks a coherent narrative, and whether that's down to the directorial shift or not, it stops the film becoming particularly investing as it feels more like a set of short, over-paced sketches (you could probably count 5 completely different introductory scenes) rather than a connection of consistent arcs or stories. There's also a number of hugely jarring course-correctional u-turns within the overall universe, like the entire characterisation of Affleck's Batman - not to mention Cavill's Superman whose personality seems to have the unique ability to morph frame to frame.
We've seen similar narrative issues in both of Snyder's other DCEU works too, and in fact in most of his films overall, but the one saving grace here is that 'Justice League,' doesn't ask you to take the work of one of the worst storytellers in Hollywood particularly seriously, which means it doesn't feel like quite the diabolical mess of 'Batman v Superman,' or 'Man of Steel.'
Indeed, what we get is something fairly rubbish on the one hand, but often enjoyable too as it's layered with the same kind of oblivious cheesiness and charm that 'Wonder Woman,' brought (albeit without any of the good action or emotionally investing undertones) thanks to a script that's packed with more laughable one-liners than the comic-books from which the film is sourced.
Also, there's the occasional smarter moment that may catch by surprise, as most of the characterisation is portrayed well enough to unlock some genuine engagement and have us just about interested to see these folks again, and the team dynamic and the way they spark off each other in one particular scene rivals its equivalent in The Avengers thanks to its overall snappiness.
All in all though, it has to be said that despite being a passably enjoyable blockbuster on the surface, 'Justice League (2017),' is still a film with deeply-routed issues, and as such it doesn't come close to rectifying this failing universe in the way it needs to.
In fact, if anything, this kind of attempt will likely have you feeling that these superhero movies are indeed over-abundant, as the lack of creativity or even something as basic as a coherent story will have you longing for something greater. A lighter tone may make 'Justice League (2017),' more passable, but it definitely doesn't make for a better film, and certainly doesn't make for the quick fix that DC were most probably hoping for, and most definitely need.