Justice League is not as bad as purported or as good as desired. At the time of this writing, Justice League won the weekend and reached just shy of $100M. And yet, it still failed to achieve its goals, and for its story problems, every future superhero movie in this DC universe is in jeopardy.
So What Happened?
*** AS ALWAYS, SPOILERS **
First, What Went Right!
A few interesting components almost make this tale work. First, Steppenwolf and the LOTR backstory. It’s almost there, but the idea that great ancient civilizations had to come together to beat this jerk. Still needs more work, and yes, LOTR, but it’s a good start.
Second, the Justice League is about individuals from separate cultures struggling to come together, and instead of spending two thirds of the story dealing with coming together (The Avengers), they struggled with concepts of celebrity and leadership.
The #2 BEST moment in the story is Bruce cornering Diana on the fact that Superman was around for 5 minutes and the whole world knows him but she lived them for 100 years and no one has ever heard of her.
Third, jump-starting Superman gives us the opportunity to explore that “zombie Superman” concept. We’ve NEVER seen that before. We’ve watched movie after movie about single antagonists with thousands of CGI minions flying in from another realm to take over NYC.
We’ve never watched a psychologically compromised super dealing with his identity while other (fairly terrified) supers try to corral him.
So, what Went Wrong?
They’re related to what went right!
Steppenwolf is a cool name that brings us warm thoughts of “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” — and they didn’t expand it! (And song placement tip!) I wanted more about Steppenwolf’s backstory, his plan, his personality and all that.
We get to see him swoop in with this buzzing minions, fight the JL and disappear.
One foundational concept when dealing with antagonists: they have to be in close proximity and intimacy to the heroes during Act 2 in order to force them to change, improve, and ultimately win.
We wanted more.
The Failure of Wonder Woman
Second, instead of Wonder Woman foiling a bombing in act 1 (we already know she can handle herself), we need to brainstorm why she fears leadership. With great power comes great responsibility (Thanks, Spidey!), and yeah, Diana spent 100 years recovering from Steve Treavor’s death. Really? She sat on the sidelines through WWII?
The reason Wonder Woman was so successful was that it treated her like a lady who kicked ass. Here, they give away all of that good will they built up by making her Batman’s sidekick and the school marm.
Did we really need her calling the men “Children. I’m working with children,” when the other supers laugh and quip after defeating the villain? That was horrid in a killjoy sense.
Parenthetically, on the “male gaze” concept: the term means that we watch the movie from a masculine perspective and that women (esp. Diana) are depicted as objects of male pleasure. First, it’s kind of hard to avoid that when your only female is dressed like Caligula’s dominatrix.
Second, these movies are written for boys because boys watch them. Plus, 70% of your movie is men being supermen, so you’re going to go with a male POV.
That said, Diana is underwritten. While we may cheer that she fights Steppenwolf right along with the others, Steppenwolf doesn’t treat her differently. If you want to make a feminist point, make it with the villain! How easy could that have been? It wouldn’t have taken more than a couple lines to separate our equality-rich present with the patriarchal past without adding pages of propaganda.
The Zombie Superman
We never get this storyline, it has so many possibilities, and we don’t have enough of it. Yes, the #1 BEST moment is The Flash realizing that he can’t outrun Superman.
We want more. They should have spent a sequence or two on his conceit, and expanded his awakening too. This jumpstart scene felt too much like Vision from Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Consider what Superman may have learned in some afterlife that connects him to Steppenwolf! Then if Steppenwolf is around more, we might have had an interesting moral decision for Superman where he must choose between power and love. That is, Steppenwolf might have taken the Satan tempting Jesus thing and offered Superman ruled with him — easier to swallow than Ares being a god of truth, and it makes the story more interesting.
Biggest flaw is that once Superman shows up for battle, the battle is over. This regenerated godlike being throws Steppenwolf around like a rag doll, toys with him and destroys his axe (giving Wonder Woman the strike but really, the damage was done).
It would have been better if the final separation of the cubes restores Superman’s power completely, but until then, he remained tentative and relying on his super friends to help. A good moment of teamwork that restores his rift with Batman would be nice too.
What do You Think?
Yes, I would like to have more of Cyborg. I don’t remember him from whatever other movie he was in. I liked Aquaman, and the fact he didn’t want to join the JL, but he needed more motivation and development.
Let’s hope DC can straighten out their mythology, use their CGI to do more than imitate, and bring this franchise back online. We already know how the Avengers do it, and we have decades of Super Friends cartoons to plunder.
And we have an increasingly savvy comic book culture to satisfy. Best of luck.