Are Superhero Movies Getting Old? A Review of Justice League

Mild spoilers below

 

 

Superhero movies have gotten stale.

This isn’t a controversial statement at this point. Eight major franchise films from either Marvel or DC were released in 2017 alone (granted, that is counting Lego Batman), with seven in 2016 and no sign of slowing down in the new year. Many of them rely on the same tropes, and while they are often fun to watch, very few feel like they have much else to offer. The two exceptions from this year are Logan, which specifically defied tropes of the genre, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which had a surprisingly strong emotional core.

 

It is fatiguing.

I have been a fan of characters from both DC and Marvel for most of my life, and while I was thrilled to see Wonder Woman finally receive the love she deserves, I didn’t even bother seeing Doctor Strange or Batman v Superman until months after they left theatres, when they happened to be on tv while I was visiting my family.

The modern trend of superhero films started in 2000 with the release of the first X-Men movie and hit its stride in 2008 with Iron Man. Almost ten years later, the market has been saturated with colourful characters. Not only that, gritty superhero films with protagonists who fire off one-liners, stop the bad guy, and rescue the girl don’t appeal to us the way they did ten years ago. We aren’t as easy to impress as we once were.

 

 

That is the cinematic landscape that Justice League was released in. This is the first live-action major motion picture for the original superhero team-up, featuring characters who form the bedrock of our modern mythology around superheroes.

If this film was released in a pre-Avengers world, it would have been instrumental in shaping the superhero genre. As it stands, it was Fine. Like, capital “F” Fine. It isn’t amazing, but it is amusing. And it is a sign that DC is beginning to change its approach to making these films for the better, though it’s not clear if they are learning quickly enough.

 

To begin with, Justice League is ostensibly a sequel to Batman v Superman, and Man of Steel before that, except Justice League has colour. And heroes who actually behave heroically.

Justice League ignores the controversy surrounding Superman’s existence and instead has the people of Earth remember him as having always been objectively good. Batman is similarly changed; rather than being a draconian vigilante with a body count, he cracks jokes and cares about his teammates in a way that feels completely divorced from what we have seen up until this point. Of the three heroes who saw action in the prior two films, Wonder Woman is the only one who feels consistently characterized, and she barely even spoke in Batman v Superman.

 

 

The tone of Justice League is so radically different from both of its predecessors that it makes more sense to treat this as unrelated to them. Instead, Justice League should be viewed as a sequel to Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad. The former is because of the previously mentioned stylistic changes, and because Wonder Woman is the best character in the film (though she is given stiff competition from Ezra Miller’s autistic-coded Barry Allen). The latter is because Justice League has virtually the same plot as Suicide Squad, but done better. Also like Suicide Squad, the acting of the core cast is what really makes this movie work. Wonder Woman has some of the best action sequences in the film and has some legitimately good scenes with Batman, and Cyborg and the Flash’s developing friendship really steals the show. And while Aquaman isn’t given much to do until the very end, he really pulls his weight in the final fight (Jason Momoa’s shirtless scenes also more than justify his inclusion here, even without that).

 

The strongest parts of the film come once the team has formed, and the most unexpected thing to happen is how legitimately fun the climax is. Characters have cheesy one-liners, and work together in a fight. Their personalities bounce off each other in a realistic way and, by the end, they even feel almost like a team.

While this is the first time these characters have come together in a live-action feature, it is not the first time they have come together in a film. In fact, that has happened several times in the past two decades or so in animated films, and they all deal with the same problems: how do we justify Superman being on a team with people who are ostensibly less powerful than he is? How do we justify Batman being present at all? And honestly, Justice League doesn’t really have a satisfying answer to these questions. Once Superman is on the scene again, the threat posed by antagonist Steppenwolf becomes virtually nullified, and short of providing a few fun lines, Batman’s role in this team is made obsolete by Wonder Woman and Cyborg. Speaking of Steppenwolf, he is an especially odd choice for a villain. Even most comic book fans don’t care about him, and in a market that demands villains who are at least as engaging as our heroes, someone who “lives to conquer” doesn’t really cut it anymore.

 

Despite all of that nitpicking and complaining …  Justice League was still a fun watch. It won’t revitalize the superhero genre by any means, but enough is done right here that both fans of the comics and general moviegoers will probably have a good time. We’ll have to wait and see if that is enough for this franchise to survive.

 

Sources: 1