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Why Justice League Failed

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?

Justice League


What Justice League Did Right

A few interesting components almost make this tale work.  First, Steppenwolf and its LOTR backstory are almost there. We establish that great ancient civilizations had to come together to beat this jerk. Still needs more work, 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. That’s worth exploring since it didn’t tread on the same themes as MCU did.

The second best moment in the movie (see #1 below) involves Bruce cornering Diana on the fact that Superman was around for 5 minutes and the whole world knows him but she lived among them for 100 years and no one has ever heard of her. Strong point about leadership, well delivered.

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, but 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!

SteppenwolfJustice League Villain Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf is a cool name that brings us warm thoughts of “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” — but they didn’t build on it!  (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 Trevor’s death.  Really? She sat on the sidelines through WWII?

The original Wonder Woman was so successful because the writers depicted her like a lady who kicked ass. Here, they give away all of that good will 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? Thanks, Ms. Killjoy.

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 about men being supermen, so you already signed onto a male POV.

So, instead of leaving Diana underwritten, use her to your advantage. We’re going to cheer that she fights Steppenwolf right along with the others, but Steppenwolf should 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 of lines to separate our equality-rich present with the patriarchal past without adding pages of propaganda.

The Zombie Superman

Zombie SupermanWe never get this storyline, it has so many possibilities, and we don’t have enough of it. Yes, the 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.

In other words, Steppenwolf might have taken the Satan tempting Jesus thing and offered Superman the chance to rule with him. This concept is easier to swallow than claiming Ares being a god of truth, and it makes the JL story more interesting.

The Ending

The biggest flaw in the movie 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 primary weapon. Yes, he gives Wonder Woman the coup de grâce, 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.

1 Comment

  1. TomH

    The reason that you don’t remember Cyborg is because he wasn’t in amy previous movie. That’s part of the problem with DC: They’re so anxious to get “Avengers” money that they didn’t take time to establish these characters in individual movies so that we cared when they all came together.

    Ironically, it was because of that rushing that they didn’t get “Avengers” money. It looks like it’s not even going to get “Man of Steel” level money.

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I’m not sure I ever will. But there are a lot of great thoughts in your review!

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