COMMENT: 'Justice League' is okay – but it should have been a milestone

Photo: Warner Bros Pictures
Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

Note: This commentary contains spoilers for the movie “Justice League”.

When “Superman” came out in 1978 starring Christopher Reeve as the title character, it promised audiences that they would believe a man could fly. And audiences did. Although other superhero films had come before it, “Superman” was the first major one to have a budget befitting a superhero movie.

When “Man of Steel” came out in 2013, with Henry Cavill in the role, it showed audiences just how much collateral damage Superman’s brawls could cause in real life. Favouring gritty “realism” over inspiring fantasy, it was a milestone in its own way because it showed Superman resorting to killing his opponent to save the lives of countless others.

So it’s not surprising that everyone expected “Justice League” to make as much of an impact as those two films. We would finally see DC’s premier superhero team — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg — on screen. They even threw in references to other canonical members of the Justice League.

What we got was a film that was… okay.

Not great. Not terrible. Just okay.

But that’s the problem, because “Justice League” wasn’t supposed to be just okay — it was supposed to be a milestone in superhero movies. Just as Marvel’s “Avengers” was a milestone when it came out, “Justice League” was supposed to be the next leap forward.

You can’t help but want it to be good. The film starts off fairly formulaically, showing us each of the superheroes in turn and what they’re doing in their individual lives. And you want to see it succeed, you want to see it become epic, you want to see them come together to become legends.

Instead, it becomes DC’s version of “Avengers”. To some extent, that’s to be expected since they have the same basic premise.

But you’d expect “Justice League” to be darker, grander, and a lot more differentiated. You don’t see enough of the Justice League fighting together as a team, which is the whole point of the movie. When they’re finally at full strength, the climax arrives and then the movie’s over.

Granted, it was announced that “Justice League” wouldn’t be as dark as the preceding DC movies. It integrates material from its reshoots much better than “Suicide Squad” did with their reshoots. However, the tone is a jarring difference from the last time we saw some of the characters together in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”. And to suit the new tone, it seems like Batman and Superman’s characters were completely changed — they’re totally different people now, being much chirpier and less angry than they were. While a happy Superman is a good thing, we weren’t even eased into their modified personalities. It just happened.

Photo: Warner Bros Pictures
Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

And while we’re on the issue of Superman…

He’s significantly more powerful than the rest of the Justice League put together, as a battle halfway through the movie shows. In the climax, he mops the floor with Steppenwolf (the main villain) while everyone is struggling to hold their own. Simply put, Superman could solve the entire movie’s problems by himself (if he were alive from the beginning), so why does the Justice League even need to be formed?

Superman’s godlike abilities have often proven to be a problem in other renditions of the Justice League, since a threat that would pose difficulties to Superman would kill a normal human being (e.g. Batman). Different mediums (like the comics and television series) have handled it with varying degrees of success, mainly through successful storytelling so that you don’t notice them handwaving the fact that Batman logically could not deal with the same sort of villains that Superman can.

Unfortunately, that sort of storytelling is not found here. You see Superman struggling (to use a very generous definition of the word) a grand total of once, but the rest of the Justice League struggles all the time. It only magnifies the fact that Superman is in a completely different league (pun intended) from the rest.

The writers should have solved this very basic issue of Superman being overwhelmingly more powerful than everyone else in the Justice League, especially given that it’s on the silver screen.

Photo: Warner Bros Pictures
Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

That being said, “Justice League” has some amazing gems. Ezra Miller steals all of his scenes as the Flash. Gal Gadot is delightful as Wonder Woman. Jason Momoa is amusing as Aquaman. The story behind the Mother Boxes (the artifacts that everyone are after) is reminiscent of the epic scale of “Lord of the Rings”, what with its tale of how the Amazons, Atlanteans, and humans fought together.

When you’re watching “Justice League”, you’re rooting for the film to get better. You’re cheering on the heroes to join forces as a team. You want it to be a memorable, impressive milestone that the world will remember forever (or at least until they change the cast).

Instead, it’s standard superhero fare.

“Justice League” doesn’t do justice to the Justice League.

Photo: Warner Bros Pictures
Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

“Justice League” opens in cinemas:
– 16 November, 2017 (Singapore)
– 16 November, 2017 (Malaysia)
– 16 November, 2017 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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