The long-awaited live-action film adaptation of the DCEU’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, a superhero team that made their debut in 1960, is finally here. I grew up with the Justice League and have been an avid fan of the animated series since its debut in 2004. I even shed a tear when the series came to an end. So, it is safe to assume that I have been looking forward to this film, amongst other DC movies, for quite some time now.

I recall the days when George Miller was at the helm of a JUSTICE LEAGUE film with an intended release year of 2009. I remember my disappointment when Warner Bros. scrapped the project. Despite my disappointment though, Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN trilogy comforted me, since it was still in production at the time.

DC Movies & The Nolan Effect

His trilogy was a fittingly dark adaptation of a multi-dimensional character who struggled to balance his own, personal sorrows. As a result, Nolan proved that superheroes could be vulnerable and susceptible to their personal demons without succumbing to them. Exploring the dark side of a hero can contribute to a more profound story that has the potential to resonate with audiences for generations. Nolan’s touch thus inspired the future of the DC Extended Universe that began with Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL.

Interestingly though, many felt uncomfortable with the depiction of Superman’s character in his solo film in 2013. Some believed the tone was the issue, thinking that a darker portrayal of Superman did not fit the character. Let’s be honest though. The tone of the film was not the primary fault of the film; it was the lack of character development of such an iconic superhero. Despite this though, in a world where people continue to compare films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to those of DC, many continued to perceive the tone of DC movies to be their main issue.

Let’s analyze why that is not the case.

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The first official still of MAN OF STEEL (2013)

Everybody Knows

In an interview with Empire Magazine, actor Ben Affleck responded to the mostly negative reception of BATMAN V SUPERMAN by stating,  “I can understand people saying [Batman v Superman] was too dark, or this was outside the tone of what I’m used to seeing with a Batman story, and I think that’s a fair criticism.”

Regarding JUSTICE LEAGUE, Affleck acknowledged the tonal shift that was going to take place in the 2017 feature,

“Zack [Snyder] wanted to make a movie that was more fun, that was a little bit light, that wasn’t so encumbered with heavy melodrama.”

Affleck’s remarks about audiences not being familiar with the tone of Batman’s story in BATMAN V SUPERMAN is especially strange considering the dark nature of Nolan’s trilogy.

DCEU: The Missing Character Arc of Superman

Darkness is not foreign to the world of Batman, or even the world of Superman. Tales such as THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN and SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE explore Kal-El’s inner conflicts regarding his place in the universe.

Yes, Superman is an exemplification of hope and positivity, but this does not mean he does not maintain his personal demons as he is no stranger to loss. Unfortunately, MAN OF STEEL, and its follow-up DC movies failed to portray these themes successfully. As a result, audiences perceived these missteps as a disconnection in tone rather than characterization.

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A still from WONDER WOMAN (2017). Cinematography by Matthew Jensen.

The War is Over

Though I did not believe MAN OF STEEL was underwhelming, I still hoped for better in the following DC movies. Unfortunately, BATMAN V SUPERMAN and SUICIDE SQUAD continued to disappointment through their extensive narrative faults.

With this though, WONDER WOMAN is perhaps the sole beacon of hope in this franchise. Regarding the narrative, the film maintained its own self-contained story that succeeded in developing the backstory of its titular hero. Yes, the villain deserved more development, but the execution of his motives was complex enough for that aspect to be forgiven.

With this, there is an issue in the portrayal of villains through modern superhero films after Nolan’s franchise. Filmmakers consistently fail to develop them, but that is an analysis for another day. So, yes, WONDER WOMAN had its moments of humor, but the story existed in a grim world. The cinematography was gloomy, and, overall, the film maintains a darker tone.

It worked.

5 Actors Who Can Play Batman If Ben Affleck Bails

The Fight Was Fixed

DC movies should not be attempting to parallel those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The characters within the DC Universe are not the same as Marvel’s. Thus, filmmakers should portray them differently.

Yes, Joss Whedon did a fantastic job with THE AVENGERS in 2012, but that does not mean that he was the appropriate choice for reshooting JUSTICE LEAGUE, a film that clearly attempts to establish a tonal difference from previous DCEU films.

The 2017 film glossed over many dark, thematic elements in BATMAN V SUPERMAN that appeared to foreshadow potential climactic events. The allusion to an evil Superman in Bruce Wayne’s “knightmare,” Flash’s visitation from a dismal future, and the dirt levitating above Superman’s grave was not mentioned in JUSTICE LEAGUE in any capacity.

As a result of these omissions, I’m left pondering the JUSTICE LEAGUE that could have been.

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A still from JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

The Good Guys Lost

It appears as though filmmakers removed these potential plot devices so the film could maintain a lighter plot. In addition to this, the film certainly makes an effort to make callbacks to nostalgic aspects of these iconic superheroes.

Unfortunately, this results in a sanitization of some of the positive innovations of DC movies. JUSTICE LEAGUE rarely includes Hans Zimmer’s score. It was an innovative endeavor that captured the grandness of the Superman character as well as his alien origins. It was a score that did not attempt to reinvent that of John Williams. Rather, it was presenting a new, original sound to a new generation.

Sure, hearing the classic Superman and Batman themes of the 1970s and 80s is exciting, but their presence in JUSTICE LEAGUE was too brief to make their intended impact. With this, the varying nature of the DCEU’s music parallels the overall unevenness of some of the characters.

Batman’s formidable presence in BATMAN V SUPERMAN fades in JUSTICE LEAGUE as the film presents his character awkwardly when metahumans surround him. In addition to this, I still feel as though I don’t know Superman well at all. We’ve witnessed three films with him, but his character has remained static.

I am frustrated because I love DC Comics. BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN and THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN were among the first graphic novels I ever read. JUSTICE LEAGUE, the animated series that ran from 2000 to 2004, was a huge part of my childhood. So, it is frustrating to see such rich and beloved characters so poorly adapted on the big screen.

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A still from BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016)

That’s How it Goes

Perhaps the main frustration I have with JUSTICE LEAGUE is the attempt to incorporate so many iconic characters in a two-hour film. Thus, to my disappointment, JUSTICE LEAGUE followed BATMAN V SUPERMAN’s example in its lack of cohesion. As a result, the superhero team-up film felt rushed.

It would have been so much more satisfying to see the other individual characters, besides Wonder Woman since she already successfully led a solo film, to lead their own film before JUSTICE LEAGUE. Going off of this, BATMAN V SUPERMAN should not have taken place so soon.

Superman should not have died in his second film. There was no poignancy to his death, since, again, Superman deserved more characterization and he could not attain that in a film that introduced a new Batman to the fray. Bottom line, Superman deserves more in this franchise. I would love to see him lead another standalone film that captures his grandness.

I mean, how long do we have to wait to see Brainiac on the big screen? Let’s see new stories that capture iconic comic book moments that allow audiences to fall in love with Superman truly.

Despite JUSTICE LEAGUE’s many flaws, I was happy with the performances of newcomers Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, and Ray Fisher. I look forward to the AQUAMAN film in 2018 with the hope that it does not repeat the mistakes of its predecessors. With this, I hope that Flash and Cyborg get the recognition they deserve in the near future, along with various other iconic DC Comics characters.

Maybe the DCEU will pull itself together… and, perhaps it won’t. In the meantime, enjoy some of the greatest moments of the animated adaptation of the Justice League to fill the void.

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