Justice League

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"Don't look at Alfred, I know that was you."

Superman is dead. He was killed by a monster (not Batman) at the end of “Batman v Superman” and is still dead when “Justice League” picks up the story some time later. The titular coalition of superheroes doesn’t exist yet, but Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) — not generally a team player — is trying to assemble one to protect Earth against an invasion of humanoid flying insect aliens that portend a graver threat, and so forth. You know, the usual world-saving business.

That’s as good a reason as any to assemble the Superfriends, but “Justice League” is a rocky start to what Warner Bros. hopes will be an “Avengers”-sized franchise. It doesn’t help that one of the founding members of the group is dead and that the audience knows he won’t be dead forever (Henry Cavill’s name is second in the opening credits) and is just waiting for the movie to get on with it. Superman’s absence hangs over the story like a fog, making Batman grumpier than usual, making Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) sad, making the world fall apart without a protector.

It’s a dismal set of circumstances, and there’s plenty of director Zack Snyder’s trademark moroseness and brooding (and slow-motion action and spandex-enhanced butts) to be had. But there’s lightness, too, thanks to Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), aka Wonder Woman (though nobody calls her that), who was eager to accept Batman’s call to action and serves as a humanist counterpart to his growling pessimism. Even more enthusiastic is Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), aka the Flash (though nobody calls him that), a super-fast kid whose wide-eyed, golly-gee excitement is tempered by the fact that he’s never been in battle and is terrified. He’s little more than comic relief, but that relief is much needed.

Because you know who else is onboard? Two more gloomypusses. One is Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), aka Aquaman, an Atlantis-dweller who fights underwater crime (I guess?) and helps his friends in Scandinavian villages by bringing them fish (i.e., his other friends) to eat. Part frat boy, part death-metal dude, Aquabro is an above-it-all loner who joins up only after the forces of evil threaten Atlantis. His powers include being very strong and sort of being able to control water, which comes in handy once. Bruce Wayne asks him if he talks to fish, and he scowls and says something like, “The water talks to them,” which sounds like deflection. Aquaman talks to fish but is too cool to admit it.

[Continue reading at Crooked Marquee.]

C+ (2 hrs.; PG-13, moderate profanity, a lot of fantasy violence.)