The opening scene in Justice League is, in a word, lame. Batman (Ben Affleck) stops a petty criminal, and then uses the criminal as bait to draw in a large mosquito-looking demon. The sequence is dark, cartoonish, and doesn’t look impressive at all.

This is not a good start to a movie DC Comics fans can’t wait to see after the tremendous success of Wonder Woman earlier this year. Thankfully Justice League and its new characters grow on you over the course of its 121 minutes, making it a moderate success that gets better as it goes.

As it turns out, the aforementioned mosquito was a scout for Steppenwolf, a CGI-created villain played by veteran character actor Ciaran Hinds. Steppenwolf wants to take over the world by gathering three “mother boxes” that will make him all-powerful. He is large and imposing, and if you find that his name prompts you to sing “Magic Carpet Ride” in your head, you will not be alone.

What’s Batman to do against giant mosquitoes and a villain who was born to be wild? Create a team, of course. He and Wonder Woman (Gadot) remain on good terms. They also recruit the super-fast Flash (Ezra Miller), the half man/half machine Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and the amphibious Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Some come more willingly than others, but each has a unique skill that pays off in key moments.

What’s interesting about Justice League is that the more you watch the more you enjoy it. The opening moments are dark and dour, and even Wonder Woman’s entrance is botched (it should’ve come as she crashes through the door — you’ll know what I mean when you see it). Then, the Flash offers some levity, Cyborg gets cooler and less self-pitying, and Aquaman lets the fun part of his personality show. This is all essential. Previously Batman has been depressing and Superman has been one-note boring. Surrounding them with more playful characters makes the movies more engaging, and boy has this franchise needed that.

Perhaps one reason for the tonal shift is that director Zack Snyder, who also made Man Of Steel and Batman v. Superman, stepped away from post-production earlier this year after his daughter’s suicide. In stepped co-writer Joss Whedon to finish the film, which led to $25 million worth of reshoots and additional scenes. Judging by the tone of Whedon’s wildly successful The Avengers movies, it’s fair to extrapolate that at least some of the lighter style and humor in Justice League comes from Whedon’s influence.

To be clear, though, the story itself is nothing special, and the dialog is as straightforward as it comes. The action and visual effects will not impress you, though there are some cool sequences. Ultimately, Justice League earns a reluctant recommendation because it has just enough to let you walk out feeling like it wasn’t a total waste of time.

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