For well over a year now, it has become increasingly harder and harder to find someone with something positive to say about the state of DC Films and Warner Bros. series of films (outside of Wonder Woman). Since 2013, I have heard respectable films critics, comic book fans, films lovers and general audiences talk about how the DC Films are heading in the wrong direction, and that they should completely drop everything and everyone involved with making these films and start over (to put it nicely).
It’s hard not to understand some of the arguments and reservations that people have had over the last four years. Seeing how dark and grim Batman v Superman went, seeing how chaotic Man of Steel was in its finale, and the botched editing job that arguably plagued Suicide Squad was all cause for concern for some people. Seeing how much of a hit Wonder Woman was and the impact it has today was a heavy sigh of relief for many; myself included. But even still, Justice League had an uphill battle every step of the way. No matter who was involved, no matter how good the trailers and posters were, and no matter the quality of actor they had playing the greatest superheroes ever created, it just seemed like Justice League was doomed to fail, and it may still. But if it does fail, it will go out on a high note.
Despite all of the setbacks this film went through, with changing directors, massive re-shoots, a weak villain and constant vitriol from supposed journalist and fans, plus unfair comparisons to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and “mustachegate” this film made me believe in heroes again.
The film finds Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) preparing for an invasion by assembling a team of people that may be able to counter the impending intergalactic threat. Along the way we see some familiar faces and some fresh takes on heroes that we haven’t seen on the big screen before and it all works so well because of the films bravery to just drop us in the middle of this massive world that, five moves in, we’ve only seen a glimpse of. We see that Bruce Wayne is so intent on forming the Justice League, not only to save the world from invasion, but to make peace with the mistakes that he has made in past films. You see Wonder Woman come out of the shadows to fight for the greater good. You follow Victor Stone/Cyborg as he comes to grips with the being the he’s become. You witness the Flash find the personal courage it takes to fight a losing battle. And you see Aquaman accept that he has to put his personal baggage aside for the greater good; and then you get Superman, and he is everything that fans of both Man of Steel and Superman: The Movie have been waiting for.
Yes, the villain, Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) is a one-dimensional, computer generated warmonger, but the film isn’t about him. It’s not about the editing that makes the film feel rushed at times. It’s more than another finale that focuses on a big beam in the sky. It’s about heroes, and how it’s okay to feel hope in the face of adversity.
There is one scene that perfectly captures this films message for me; or at least the message that I took from watching the film. You see the Flash/ Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) faced with a possibly life-ending conflict involving aliens and death rays and innocent hostages, and he’s scared. The Flash, the fastest man alive, is scared because he has never been in a fight before, much less against a nine foot tall alien…and then Batman notices this and tells him something that only a man who has fought crime for as long as he has can know.
“Save one person.” He says. “Don’t talk, don’t fight, get in and get one out.”
Bypassing the lore implications that suggest Batman had to say this to Robin at some point, you see that, above all else, this films is about being a hero, and about finding the hero inside you that can and will inspire others. As I watched this film, I realized the triviality of cinematic universes, connected narratives, fan-service and the freshness of imaginary produce. This movie made me think of a time when all I needed was the pure joy of seeing the Bat signal in the sky, or hearing “Cowabunga” shouted from the rooftops. This film shows that it’s okay to see a man or woman do what they believe is right. To see a group of people, regardless of their backgrounds come together and fight an overwhelming threat.
No, DC Films has not done what Marvel Studios has. They didn’t rely on origin stories and bank on the success of the inevitable team up film. They put a mirror to our world and showed fractured men and women that wanted to do the right thing in a world that constantly told them that what they were doing, and how they were doing it wasn’t good enough. But when we needed them, they came to our side and proved that they were always the heroes we knew, and that they were hiding in plain sight. While this film may not soar to the same heights as Man of Steel or Wonder Woman, it understands that it doesn’t have to. Time will tell the impact that this film will have, but at the end of the day, this film is just a good time. It is a decidedly different film that has come before from DC Films and this change of tone, and dare I say identity, is earned. It wears it’s inspiration on its sleeve right next to its heart, and proudly states that Justice League is about heroes, and that’s all it has to be. And that’s okay.
Justice League stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, and Jason Mamoa.