by Michael B. Hock
I liked Justice League.
Let me back up for a little bit. I was in High School in the 1990’s, when it wasn’t really fashionable to like a lot of superheroes, Star Trek, or Lord of the Rings. The Internet was just getting started, and having any access to email meant that you were ahead of your time and you were really a nerd. I remember having this Green Lantern shirt that I would wear to school sometimes. It was just under that radar enough that no one really knew what it was, so I didn’t get many comments on it.
So if you told me one of the bigger pop culture problems I would face in 2017 was that the Justice League movie wasn’t as good as a third Thor movie, and that it was going to follow Wonder Woman and an adaptation of Old Man Logan, I’d say we were getting some pretty good nerd entertainment. Up until that point we had the Batman movies, and a Fantastic Four movie so terrible that it wasn’t released. That’s right. Go watch the most recent one, and realize that there was one so terrible, they didn’t even show it in theaters.
Look, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Justice League wasn’t a great movie. And there’s no reason why DC was so late to the game. Unlike Marvel, they didn’t have to piece together their cinematic universe from the leftovers. They didn’t have to say, “Ok you get Quicksilver, we’ll take Scarlet Witch, and at some point, we’ll film a bunch of scenes with Spiderman that are obviously on a different set as everyone else, but we’ll be far enough along in popularity that no one will say anything.” DC owned all it’s characters. They could have easily been on Justice League 10: Batman and Superman’s Day Off before we got to the first Thor movie.
But they were behind the curve. They never quite hit that groove. Which gave us our current Justice League.
The current Justice League was obviously rushed… no five movie build up to see these characters together. It reeked of trying to play catchup after realizing all the money was currently going to the Marvel movies. Like… all the money.
The problem is, that people were so against the DC movies that they kind of really ignored what they did right.
Let’s take Man of Steel. Yes, the “dark Superman” movie that managed to get Superman into costume pretty early on, and took the horrifying turn of having Superman murder General Zod in the heat of the moment instead of slowly executing him with Kryptonite. What’s that, you say? You don’t remember that? Yeah, that was in the comics. Say what you will about Zack Snyder, but he does his research in comics, doing things like bringing in this darkness to Superman. See, the thing is this, Snyder spends most of Man of Steel pointing out that Superman is an alien. so by the time we get to Zod tearing up most of the city, he’s reached he point where he really does have to choose: his alien side or his human side. Killing Zod solidifies that. Just like it did in the comics where Zod was introduced: It enhances the duality of the character.
The Justice League movies revel a little bit more in being comic book movies as well. Look, I love Marvel, I already have my tickets for Infinity War, and I’m probably going to see it four or five times in theaters. But there’s an undercurrent to the Marvel movies where they try to either keep them too standalone… watch Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World again…they almost break their necks not talking about the Avengers, or they try to joke about anything that’s important to people. The entire marketing campaign around Ant-Man was about how silly the character was.
Contrast that with the DC movies. Suicide Squad gets a lot of bad reactions (and it should for the last half) but it does something unique in that if features Batman as sort of an alien character. We get a few minutes of Bruce Wayne at the end where he talks about his team, but for the most part we get Batman running around, putting these criminals in prison. We get a glimpse of the Flash… just a glimpse. And that was the second time we saw him, because the first instance was in Batman v. Superman. They love reminding you that this is a shared world, that these characters exist in the same space, that there are different ways we need to look at them.
Which brings us to Justice League. I enjoyed this movie. Yes, again it felt rushed, and there were moments that pretty much existed to get Superman back into the action. (Seriously, someone is dead and their first reaction is sort of “hey, let’s bring him back to life?” That’s pure comic book, but a little rough in translation.) But we also get the full power of Aquaman running around. We get Batman damaged, trying to repair himself. We get the Flash as the new guy, just happy to be there. We get everything with Wonder Woman, showing us a warrior and a leader and just someone epic and awesome. We get battle scenes that heavily feature the Green Lanterns, something that’s so cool for us DC fans to see, and something we’ve been waiting for.
The thing is because DC came in late they were always going to be at a disadvantage. If they copied Marvel’s formula, that’s what they’d be known for: copying Marvel’s formula. If they did anything different, then we’d get…. well, what we see now. Honestly, my ideal version of a Justice League Cinematic world would start with a lesser known hero forming his own team. Maybe trying to figure out where the Justice League went. Build to those epic battles, build towards a real Death of Superman movie. But this is what we got. And I enjoyed it.
DC’s heroes, yes, did deserve a more epic introduction than what we saw in Justice League. But it in no way deserves the hate that it got. It was just different. Doesn’t mean that we need to enjoy it any less.
I’ve wanted to talk about Justice League since I saw it. I was afraid in some way that I would be disappointed in it, especially given the negative reaction to it. The thing is, it seems like there’s always a negative overreaction to the DC movies. I don’t know why. I don’t really care, because quite frankly I love the fact that I live in a time where all of my favorite superheroes from when I was growing up are being turned into movies. I liked the humor. I liked the action. I liked that we got a not well known bad guy, so we can start to look at other of the many classic villains, including Lex Luthor and Deathstroke, for those who stuck around. I’m glad that we have a Justice League movie. I love it. It’s not going to change the game or set the world on fire. I think there’s a better Justice League movie that can be made.