With yesterday’s release of Marvel’s culminating epic, Avenger’s: Infinity War trailer, it may not be best timing to release a blog into the Twitterverse that celebrates both the success and shortcomings of Justice League; what has been hailed online as a “Frankenstein” of a movie and that through the “critical” lens of movie writers has been savaged; deemed lesser in comparison to this past summer’s Wonder Woman and more pressingly the most recent Marvel release, Thor Ragnorak. As social media conversations and Rotten Tomatoes certification seem to readily dictate box-office success, the release of Justice League brings forward a pressing concern of film criticism itself, one that is deeply embedded in quick reading rather than a cinephile approach to analysis; providing a discourse to examine a popular artifact like Justice League (regardless of its shallow character development or its poorly cloned stamped upper lip of Superman) as a cultural artifact. Through this lens, the film is amply fresh for its attempt to shape a rich conversation about the age of heroes and the legitimacy of violence.
Let me assert that I’ve now watched Justice League twice and I find it to be unapologetically fun. Yes, the tone of the film is fragmented, the narrative feels rushed, the story succumbs to aggressive spectacle and the CGI looks oddly cheap for such an expensive production. However, within the mosaic of such cinematic mishaps, rests a film yearning to say something about our deeply darkened contemporary socio-political space that lacks a shared will for change. As with the rise of Superman in the Action Comics of the 1930s, the character’s resurrection in Justice League is entrenched in and speaks to a time where humanity lacks genuine leadership.
As shared by Bruce Wayne in the scene above “the world needs Superman.” It is within this framework that Bruce Wayne reminds us that Superman, both now and in the past, speaks directly to the political. Not only was he born out of the Great Depression but his most recent screen incarnation frames him directly within the lens of a fragmented cultural milieu. From him being an “immigrant threat,” in Batman V. Superman to the newly recognized emblem of hope in Justice League, he along with Women Woman as God-like characters, speak to a need our need to be saved; both physically and morally. At a time where politicians disingenuous runs rampant and wars continue to brew within the structure of post-colonial realities, characters like Superman and Wonder Woman not only save, but as Bruce Wayne, asserts “inspire.”
Importantly, as Bruce asserts that Superman was a symbol of hope, Diana (Wonder Woman) speaks openly about the nature of war and violence. In speaking to her love Steve Trevor, she reminds Bruce that leadership must be active and in service. As such, Diana’s cautioning to Bruce about placing soldiers in harm’s way unnecessarily out of a personal sense of righteousness, reminds us of the horrors of colonialism and more recent wars and realities. As such, Diana speaks to a need for accountability and for leadership to be sacrificial.
It is with this reflection that just today, I brought my students to a double screening of Justice League and Thor Rangorak. Two films completely different in form and style but aligned in their deep rooted colonial concerns. Although Thor Ragnorak is much more successful in framing a rich narrative between colonial and postcolonial realities, Justice League does attempt to deepen the superhero context beyond the CGI and action set pieces. With this, it most definitely deserves a second chance.
With Christmas just around the corner, give the League a chance even it is because The Last Jedi is sold out. You just may be surprised.