The movie that seemed like it would never happen finally happened. And there I was, the DC fan that I am, on opening night to see if Justice League would be the improvement that the DC Movie Universe needed to keep itself afloat.
The answer to that question is a tricky one.
It’s been a long time since I have come out of a movie – especially a superhero movie – without a clear feeling about it. These movies aren’t that difficult to decipher – and either I love, like, dislike or hate them. Justice League sort of left me scratching my head – for all the elements of an entertaining movie were there, but it lacked weight and a driving force to make me care much about what was going on on screen.
The only thing that seems to make sense to me at the moment is that perhaps the producers tried too hard to move away from the über-weightiness of both Man of Steel and the even darker and more brooding Batman V Superman and in the process forgot about the core of these characters.
Let’s break it down
Batman is Batman – he never smiles.
Wonder Woman lost the love of her life.
The Flash has serious family issues and no friends.
Aquaman – has been in self-imposed isolation because, well, he lives in the ocean.
Cyborg is not exactly happy that he became a Post-Morten scientific experiment.
And Superman – died!!!
None of these characters has reason to be chirpy and slinging unfunny one-liners at one another, which is what they do more than I felt comfortable with considering their backstories. In fact, the movie works best when it acknowledges their darker side and lets the audience understand that saving the world can be just as exciting as it is a burden. Unfortunately, those emotions were not explored at all.
What was most frustrating was that the movie left wide open spaces for this deeper interaction to take place. Take for example one of the best lines of the movie (shown in the trailer) when Alfred says, “One misses the days when one’s biggest concerns were exploding, wind-up penguins.”
This line could have been a great segue into understanding the state of the modern world and the hero’s role in them. Yet, as quickly as a scene got serious and looked as if it were going to dig into these themes, it gave up on itself in order to feed us yet another one-liner about Aquaman talking to fish … because the movie has to be “more fun.”
This leads me to believe that the DC Movie Universe seems to be truly uncertain of what it wants to be. The pressure (although they would never admit it) is to be more like Marvel, whose last offering, Thor: Ragnarok, proved superior to even the last few movies in Marvel’s own catalogue by being light on its feet. If this is the path that DC wants to take, I believe it will fail miserably.
What makes Marvel unique is that at its core most of its popular heroes are truly fantastical. These are characters who mostly all acknowledge and embrace their super abilities and strive to accept their differential nature from humans.
The DC universe mostly takes the opposite approach. Their heroes also have immense power, but they try their hardest to be one of us – human, grounded, and most importantly flawed.
To illustrate this, compare how the two respective genius billionaires from each universe carry themselves. Tony Stark is pompous and even giddy about all that he knows and can do. Bruce Wayne, however, almost sees his power, knowledge, and influence as a curse. Iron Man is a product of “I do this because I am that cool” while Batman is a product of “I do this because I am that self-loathing.”
Even, Superman, who is often mistakenly described as a grown-up boy scout, spends a lot of his time trying to be the best Clark Kent he can be because he already has the Superman bit down pretty well. Compare this to Marvel’s most popular blue and red donned hero, Spider-man, who is a very rounded Peter Parker that spends most of his time trying to be the best web-slinger he can be.
Marvel’s characters either want to be super or have fewer issues being super – this automatically lends itself to a lighter atmosphere and laughs when it comes to a film. Flying around saving people and punching bad guys is something they enjoy and can laugh about with their other super friends.
DC does not and should not work like that. DC characters mostly seem like they want to retire into their alter-egos and oftentimes question how and when they should use the full extent of their powers – and when they don’t, they usually have to deal with the consequences as in The Flashpoint Paradox.
And while I agree with most critics and fans that both MOS and BvS took the heaviness factor too far, bypassing the gravitas of each of the Justice League members misses an essential ingredient in their team dynamic – friction. Without friction, there was no drama. Without drama, there was no character growth or revelation. Each member of the Justice League started the movie essentially the same way they ended it.
So, does this mean Justice League was the train-wreck some people are hoping it would be? Far from it. Like I said, it will keep you entertained. But for a movie that had so much riding on it and that fans have waited so long for, it plays at about the level of a decent DC Animated Feature.
I will probably sit and watch it again – and I won’t have a difficult time doing it like I would for Suicide Squad, for example. But though, it managed to brighten up the gloom of its first two entries of the DC franchise, it fell short of the heart and emotion that Wonder Woman brought to the screen earlier this year.
Put this one down as another DC movie that had a lot of good parts, and which I can give a bit more leniency towards as a DC fan, but didn’t quite get it all down right. I believe that once the reviews and box-office come in, the DCMU think tank will be back to the drawing board again.
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