“Justice League” is the film we need, not the one we deserve

Summary:  Few of the reviews, whether giving one or five stars, well describe Justice League. This brief spoiler-free review (nothing not seen in the trailers) explains why you should see it. If you have seen it, this highlights some points you might not have fully appreciated. Post your thoughts about it in the comments.

Justice League

This is a good film, in many ways. Perhaps most important, the Justice League (JL) members are shown as regular people. Heroic people, but with weaknesses like yours and mine. Such as anger, fear, and angst. Wonder Woman is the exception — appropriately so. An invincible goddess sculpted from clay, given life by Zeus, she is less like us than Superman (a humanoid alien). This unusually high level of thought (for a superhero film) is shown throughout the film (except in the plot, which is a bit ramshackle). WW plays the boring perfect icon role often assigned to Superman.

Most critics hate JL (a Rotten Tomato score of 41%), for good reason. First, it features a strong male leader — Batman, in his strongest appearance since Batman Begins. This is the brilliant, bold, self-sacrificing man that stands in the first rank of mythical heroes in modern America (unlike the oddball Batman in Batman v Superman). Ben Affleck nails the role, given powerful dialog to work with by the writers.

Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne. This is the face of a man who has carried a great burden for many years.

It is a serious film, which is the second reason critics hate it — since they believe classical heroism is only for mocking (it took them years to openly express this). That is why they loved Guardians Of The Galaxy, the sequel, and Thor: Ragnarok. JL nicely sets the stakes high, and lets the characters naturally evolve on the screen in response to it. They reveal themselves by their choices.

Like The Matrix trilogy, JL is about choices. At a key moment, Wonder Woman tells Batman he could have been killed by his decision. She is appalled by the cold decisive logic of his reply: “that is a trade-off I was willing to make” (quoted from memory). The core plot point of the film concerns a harsh choice confronting the JL. Batman saves the world by choosing the hard path that the other JL members won’t. That, and his foresight in locating and uniting the JL, proves that he is its natural leader — despite having no superpowers.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane
Amy Adams as Lois Lane.

This is the third reason so many critics hate it. They are bien pensant liberals who recoil from contemplation of harsh choices. For example, the classic science fiction story about hard choices is “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin (Astounding Magazine, 1954; see Wikipedia). In Locus magazine Cory Doctorow gave elaborate reasons for closing his eyes to such a scenario — explaining why stories shouldn’t discuss them. “It is a contrivance.” It is “moral hazard in action.” It is the fault of capitalism. All nonsense; harsh dilemmas are the nature of life.

The acting in JL is excellent across the board. The heroes are all well cast. Amy Adam is superlative (as always) as Lois Lane. Jeremy Irons does a fine job in the key supporting role of Alfred.

The moments of humor in JL are mostly handled well, in a Shakespearean way as brief counterpoints to the action.

Unlike most modern superhero film, the heroes evolve in JL. They are better and stronger individuals at the end. More importantly, they learn a vital lesson — one that American once knew well but has forgotten: they (and we) are stronger together than as individuals.

It is the lesson we need, although not one we want to hear. Since we watch all these tent-pole superhero films (giving the studios fantastic revenues), no matter how slap-dash their production, this is a film we need but don’t deserve. 

See the great “Justice League” Animated series

This series is excellent. Better than the film. Better than the comic books. See this excerpt showing creation of the Justice League. I recommend the DVDs for Season One and Season Two.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about heroes, about book, film, & TV reviews, especially these…

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  5. Review of Dr. Strange: a good film misunderstood by the critics.
  6. Jeff Beck reviews “Wonder Woman”, a contrary note amidst the ecstatic applause.
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The trailer for Justice League.

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33 thoughts on ““Justice League” is the film we need, not the one we deserve

  1. Interesting stuff! You put this on my radar more than the other reviews I’ve read.

    I’m glad to see that Batman’s “role” here was more of director and unifier. When I was into comic books (~2003-06) there was a strong trend in a lot of the stories where hard-grizzled veterans (or Batman) were valorized above and beyond most of the other characters, for they prevailed or surpassed the superheroes “without powers,” with the only negative consequence seeming to be that the stories were grim, joyless slogs marked by bloody murder (unless Batman was involved; Batman will, technically, never kill anybody.) To me, admittedly even then kind of old for the genre, this got stale.

    I don’t know much about Doctorow but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was reacting to that milieu, sort of like Asimov making his robot stories and the Three Laws in reaction to the Murder Robots of pre-Asimovian science fiction.

    I’m told that comics are getting less bleak and murdery lately, at least.

    1. SF,

      Interesting to see comparisons of the films with relatively recent comics! My experience reading comics was late 1960s thru the 1980s. They’re very different now! But the JL animated cartoon perfectly captured the spirit of the Silver Age comics, when they were a powerful art form for children and teens, but written on a higher level. The JL film was in a similar style, as were the Sam Raimi Spiderman films, the first X-Man, Captain America, and Avengers films.

      “Doctorow but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was reacting to that milieu”

      Interesting observation! Doctorow wrote his essay 2014, which matches that timing.

      “I’m told that comics are getting less bleak and murdery lately, at least.”

      From the circulation numbers, the print comics are almost dead as a culturally significant medium. They have become quite odd. How much of their readership are children and teens (giving them a new gen audience), vs. aging boomers?

    2. re: the art style, is it? I thought all the DC films lately looked very gray/blue and monochrome, though I’m told part of that is because it makes it easier to do CGI effects. This tone worked well for Batman films and Watchmen, it was weird for Man of Steel, but I’ll spare you critique of those movies.

      re: comix, yeah, there has been both a strong tack towards older collectors and a decline in sales, much of which is probably because comics are now primarily made available in specialty shops which often get bad reputations. (See the Comic Book Guy in the Simpsons. It’s a cruel stereotype but there is at least some truth there.) I believe there are some children’s comics but young people would be more likely to read something from Archie Comics, which are sold in supermarkets, or (most likely at all) comic collections sold through Scholastic’s book fairs. Someone at DC once said their average fan’s age was about 45, which I wouldn’t find too surprising.

      I do hear the DC comics cartoons have been wonderful and nail the spirits of the various characters better than the comics or the movies or even the TV shows.

    3. SF,

      I thought that most people got their comics by subscription through the mail? That’s how I got them in the 1970s.

      Marvel has almost totally reconfigured their heroes away from white males to a wide variety of women and minority characters (by race, gender, and religion). It will be interesting to see how that works for them.

      “I do hear the DC comics cartoons have been wonderful ”

      I agree. The modern Batman and Superman animated shows were great. See the post for the info about the JL show, imo the best of the bunch.

    4. Typically a comic shop will order them. You can often establish a “pull list” where the comic shop will guarantee you a copy of X-Men or whatever as long as you settle up regularly. It’s possible subscriptions are still offered but they certainly aren’t typical from what I’ve heard.

      As for diversity in the casts, it’s hard for me to say, but I gather Marvel Comics (as opposed to Marvel Entertainment, who makes the TV and movies) has been having mediocre results in general. They had a new Ms. Marvel who got popular (character was a Pakistani Muslim girl with a funny attitude) – past that I don’t know much. I have heard the sales figures are distorted in weird ways since they don’t count trade paperback sales or online views/purchases publically.

  2. First positive review of this movie I’ve seen. I haven’t seen it myself, but something tells me it’s also the first accurate review I’ve seen. Back when I was doing movie reviews (And that’s been a while) I sometimes had the feeling that other critics had reviewed a different movie with the same name.

    But if you’re right, then it makes me wonder. This isn’t the first movie made about a team of supers. A team has to function as a team and be stronger together than as a group of individuals or what’s the point? What’s wrong with these people? Like the guy said, can’t anyone here play this game?

    I’ve heard this movie isn’t doing well at the box office, but I haven’t really kept up, and I don’t know how accurate those stories actually are. (Accuracy cannot be taken for granted.)

    1. “I sometimes had the feeling that other critics had reviewed a different movie with the same name.”

      Same here. This time, I suspect that critics decided to dislike this movie before they even saw it. In “Birdman” starring Michael Keaton there’s a scene that talks about this attitude, if you’re interested.

    2. PAT,

      “This time, I suspect that critics decided to dislike this movie before they even saw it.”

      Why do you believe that? As I said in the post, the critics had good reasons to hate it — by their values.

    3. Before it came out they were speculating that it would be a flop. Some of them said that its reshoots meant disaster (even though almost every movie reshoots something), or they gleefully reported that test audiences laughed at parts of it (well, why not? there were plenty of humorous moments) or they posted a picture of Henry Cavill after digital alteration removed his mustache and said it was such horribly distracting CGI that it would send audciences for the exits, etc. Silly stuff like that.

  3. I don’t know if I should take this seriously. As an adult (and that’s open to interpretation) the concept of the JL is, well – dumb. Quite frankly I find all of the comic book based movies to be lame-o, even the movies about my fav Captain America. I wasn’t a comic reader as a kid so maybe that explains my lack of interest. But, based on your review I’ll give it a shot.

    1. Gute,

      All myths are subjective, and speak to some people and not others. I have often been told that science fiction is “dumb” and “childish”, and that rock music is dumb and childish (once by a music expert who extolled the spiritual value of hymns based on 15thC bar songs). I find most TV shows these days to be dumb and childish. Etc, etc.

  4. Well-said. I’ve been trying to get people to give this movie a chance. It addresses so many of the complaints moviegoers had about “Batman Vs Superman”, so you would think it would be getting better word of mouth. And I don’t mind saying my heart rose to see Superman acting like, well, Superman. I even went into the theater not expecting to like it all that much, but now I might see it again. And I’m totally looking forward to the Aquaman movie, which I never thought I would say.

    One minor complaint: Wonder Woman is shown as having a weakness, her unwillingness to take a leadership role the way someone of her abilities should. And when Bruce Wayne calls her out on that, she punches him. But by the end of the movie she has overcome this unwillingness.

    1. PAT,

      “her unwillingness to take a leadership role the way someone of her abilities should.”

      I don’t understand. What do her superpowers have to do with her ability as a leader? Not everybody is willing to make such harsh choices, nor does unwillingness to do make you a bad person. As we see with Batman — able to make harsh choices, but not a nice guy.

      “But by the end of the movie she has overcome this unwillingness.”

      How do we know this?

    2. We know this because there’s a tiny scene at the end where Wonder Woman has just busted some thieves and is talking to the police. It’s not much, but compared to how she spent the years between World War One and “Batman Vs Superman” it’s a big change.

      True, having superpowers doesn’t mean one makes good decisions, but I suppose Bruce Wayne figured (and the audience is supposed to as well) that being godlike does.

    3. Real Peterman,

      “We know this because there’s a tiny scene at the end where Wonder Woman has just busted some thieves and is talking to the police.”

      I don’t understand. How does busting some thieves make WW a leader? All superheroes do that. So do police.

  5. But how’d they do the nipples on the bat suit? Are we talking Val Kilmer-era style nips or the tyrannical censorship of the male body we’ve come to expect from Hollywood?

  6. FM,

    I look forward to reading your incisive posts every day, but your mention of the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited cartoon series really made my day. The Batman, Superman, and Justice League series in the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) are some of my all-time favorite TV-series to watch (animated or otherwise!). The storytelling, voice acting, musical score, and stunning art deco animation combine to make a feast for the senses and the Justice League was the pinnacle of the DCAU.

    As a lifelong nerd, I’ve never understood why cartoons or comic books get shrugged off as “kid’s stuff” by critics as they combine art and writing in a medium where you can literally tell any story. What to tell a story about empathizing with the “other”? Read X-Men. What to learn about self-sacrifice? Watch Batman: The Animated Series. Want to learn about love? Read Spider-Man. Want to learn about teamwork? Watch Justice League or Justice League Unlimited.

    Sincerely,

    SAF

    1. Steve,

      I agree on all points. These are a vital form of America’s myths. They are important since so many of our children are materially affluent but spiritually impoverished.

      In my 15 years as a Scout leader I learned how most of our children have no heroes except cartoon figures — since they are not taught history (except as boring names and dates). Unfortunately, most comics are empty. The DC animated cartoons are a powerful exception. They deserve more attention.

      I was sad to see that in season 3 they ruined the JL concept — switching to the Justice League Unlimited. An army of superheroes. More is not always better. A world with hundreds of superheroes is too unlike ours, and does not make much sense.

  7. “Marvel has almost totally reconfigured their heroes away from white males to a wide variety of women and minority characters (by race, gender, and religion). It will be interesting to see how that works for them.”

    Marvel apparently isn’t doing well at all. Here’s a link.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/books/marvel-comics-diversity-thor-hulk.html

    I take no position on whether or not diversity is to blame, but they do seem to have a problem.If you hunt around you’ll find plenty of stories online attributing Marvel’s drop in sales to diversity, social justice warriors, or what have you. You’ll also find stories denying that this is so.

    Surfing Comichron.com, there seem to be a lot of months when Marvel has the top selling title, but often that’s Star Wars related. The Muslim iteration of Ms Marvel seems move around a bit on the chart. The highest place I saw it was forty something in sales and about 41,000 units sold. That’s the best I saw. One month it was 62nd in sales and 18,000 units give or take.

    This is not a detailed scientific study of comics sales, just a me picking a few months at random.

    The chief economic value of comics at this point is grist for Hollywood. The people who actually own Marvel and DC may simply not care about their actual comic book sales figures as long as the movies do well enough to keep the producers in cocaine and teenage hookers.

    To the charge of “dumb” or “childish” I’ll quote a phrase Harlan Ellison once used – “Noble trash”. I think he was talking about the pulps he’d read long ago that gave many young people early lessons in values and ethics. So maybe comics at their best can be noble trash. Whether you focus on the noble or the trash may be a matter of personal preference.

    1. I’ve also heard Marvel will do things like give random stores 37 additional unordered issues of some random comic, gratis, and mark that as 37 issues sold. DC is probably beating them in sales. It is hard to tell due to the Marvel online comic-reader program not being counted in the same way, although apparently there are things that do not do well in physical copies, but DO drive attention on those apps.

      Whatever else they need to bring in new readers, by whatever means. You’re probably right that these are more like IP farms at this point, supporting movies, TV shows, cartoons and so on.

    2. SF,

      “Whatever else they need to bring in new readers, by whatever means. ”

      My guess (emphasis on guess) is that the people running Marvel Comics (Sony doesn’t let them touch the films) are just incompetent. They managed to bankrupt the company in 1996 — quite an accomplishment for such a stable biz. Now they are trying to do it again.

    3. The man,

      “Harlan Ellison once used – “Noble trash”. ”

      Guys like that in classical Athens probably said the same thing about “The Odyssey”. My guess is that it makes them feel big.

    4. @Larry: I would not be surprised if the management is incompetent, but are also not kept on a short leash by Disney. Disney’s main interest is probably making movies that produce three-quarters of a billion dollars and ancillary merchandise. I figure eventually they’ll get back the film rights to the X-Men characters and work them back in. It’s probably not great for the creative freedom of the comics, of course.

    5. I wouldn’t say diversity is to blame, but rather what Marvel did in the name of diversity. You can’t just, for instance, replace Tony Stark with someone else entirely and expect people to just shrug and go along. Tony Stark is the main reason to like the Iron Man stories–he’s a person who used to be selfish but grew into a hero, an inspirational character. He’s the draw. Casting him aside for any reason is foolish, and doing it so you can replace him with a black girl gives diversity a bad name.

      There is no reason not to create new characters if you feel that superheroes are too white or too anything else. Some of the most popular characters in comics–Deadpool, Harley Quinn, Spawn–are recent creations. There is room at the top.

  8. “Guys like that in classical Athens probably said the same thing about “The Odyssey”. My guess is that it makes them feel big.”

    I’m not sure he meant it as a put down, I ran across it in his intro to Philip Jose Farmer’s “biography” of Doc Savage, called Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. The book was foisted on me by a friend, and I actually never made it far past the introduction. (Not a Doc Savage fan) But I could be wrong about it not being a put down, since a lot of what Ellison says is, and yeah, his puts downs are probably meant to make him feel big.

  9. “My guess (emphasis on guess) is that the people running Marvel Comics (Sony doesn’t let them touch the films) are just incompetent. They managed to bankrupt the company in 1996 — quite an accomplishment for such a stable biz. Now they are trying to do it again.”

    I don’t believe Disney acquired Marvel until 2009, and I don’t think it’s still the same management team. Disney wants PC, and since Marvel Comics is a tiny fraction of their revenue stream (I’ve seen a figure quoted of 1/400th, but I can’t recall where) they may be willing to tolerate poor sales. They can certainly afford to, as long as runing the comics doesn’t compromise the appeal of the movies that are Disney’s bread and butter.

    I sometimes wonder if Disney tolerates the current state of affairs at Marvel because they fear the inevitable backlash and boycott threats if they dismiss the current management team and put things on a less PC, but more profitable basis. Or maybe they believe in the PC. I don’t know their minds, and I’m not sure they would tell the truth if you asked them .

    1. The Man,

      “I don’t believe Disney acquired Marvel until 2009, and I don’t think it’s still the same management team.”

      The President, Dan Buckley, was at Marvel from 1990-1997. My guess is that other key members of Marvel’s management team were there when it was run into the ground. When Disney acquired Marvel is not relevant.

  10. Then I’m surprised that the same management team is in charge, as it seems that running a company in the ground should lead to a change in management, but apparently that’s not what happened.

    1. The Man,

      It is common for management to bankrupt the company, fire a large fraction of its workers, then collect large bonuses for their good work. Modern American business at work.

      A similar situation are the US bankers who bankrupted their banks — the government bailed them out with our money (cheap or even free loans and guarantees) — for which the bankers paid themselves massive bonuses.

    2. But who are we to question the wisdom of the Market? Now get your college fund and 401k over here, Jimmy!

      I could see Disney giving the Marvel comics room to experiment (if probably with some ‘family friendly’ guiderails) because if they lose money, it’s too bad, but if they develop a new breakout character or storyline, that makes them hundreds of millions.

    3. SF,

      Yes, that’s the key point. That is the reason I prefer to review films as mirrors, valuable for what they reveal about us — rather than just the “I liked/hated it because …”

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