I’ve literally waited 20 years to see a Justice League movie on the big screen. My patience was well rewarded.
Just so we get it out of the way early — this is not a review of Justice League. That will be forthcoming tomorrow on the site from my lovely colleague Ariella, who will be able look at the film with a level of objectivity we expect from reviewers.
I, however, was never going to be able to look at this film with anything even approaching objectivity.
My love affair with the DC universe began 20 years ago, when, at the age of nine, I started watching Batman: The Animated Series with my older brother.
I was utterly captivated by that complex, serious, noir Saturday morning cartoon and eagerly watched every episode of that show and the related Superman: The Animated Series.
When AOL Instant Messenger became all the rage in my early tweens, my screen name was WonderWoman7132. When I started reading comic books in middle school, they were exclusively DC/Vertigo and remained as such basically all through high school. When I first started dating the man who would eventually become my husband in college, one of the first shows I made him binge watch with me was Justice League Unlimited.
This affection for DC never waned, even when The Dark Knight Rises sorely disappointed me and the MCU steadily grew to command a large, successful and incredibly popular comic book movie empire.
I, of course, watched every single MCU movie as they came out and enjoyed them all to varying degrees, but I eagerly waited for the day when DC would bring my favorite heroes back to the big screen.
Which they finally did in the summer of 2013 with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.
I know that Zack Snyder’s vision for the DCEU has always been divisive, but I’m one of those niche fans who unapologetically and almost fanatically loves what he did with these iconic characters and what he brought to the comic book movie genre.
I watched Man of Steel four times in theaters, Batman vs. Superman in theaters four times and the Batman vs. Superman: Ultimate Cut three times in one weekend at home.
I appreciated the way that Zack Snyder took comic book movies seriously. How he saw them as a modern mythology, a way to work through and discuss issues of power, responsibility and heroism.
I know this approach isn’t what people might go looking for when sitting down to watch a film about people wearing capes and tights. I even understand the argument that Snyder didn’t execute on these themes well enough to make them accessible.
But again, I’m one of those niche fans who does go looking for that level of storytelling in my superhero films, and who does think that Zack Snyder was successful in executing on them.
But while I am a fan, I am also a pragmatist. I understand that the WB is not making movies for weirdo niche fans like myself. They’re trying to build a franchise, and a franchise has to be able to appeal to a general audience who expect certain things in their superhero films.
Which brings us to Justice League.
I sat down on Tuesday night in the crowded IMAX theater for an advanced fan screening, jittery with anxiety and excitement. I had spent the last week obsessively reading every single fan and critic social media reaction I could find in anticipation for the film, had practically lived on reddit as I read through the endless speculation and every single fan theory.
Perhaps it was because of this that I could so easily gloss over the flaws — a generic storyline, an uninteresting villain, a too-short runtime — and accept the film for what it was.
But perhaps I was never not going to do anything but love this film.
No, I didn’t cry the way I had during the first few screenings of Wonder Woman — emotions brought forth from the utter relief and elation at finally having everything I ever wanted in the very first female superhero film. Neither did I spend the movie transfixed and awed by the level of depth and complexity in its emotional storytelling and thematic arcs the way I had in Batman vs. Superman.
But I was completely captivated for the entire two hours, my heart singing with joy and my face lit up in a huge grin as I finally watched — and was astounded by — the superhero team-up I have been waiting to see on the big screen for twenty years.
It reminded me of the very best episodes of Justice League Unlimited and made me feel as giddy and awed as a young kid sitting around on Saturday morning and watching my favorite cartoon.
The film succeeds wildly – and exceeds expectations, quite frankly – in how it handles the characters, both their individual arcs and the team dynamics. You are just as invested in Cyborg — a newcomer with whom most will be pretty unfamiliar — as you are in the iconic and wildly popular Wonder Woman.
And I have to say that as big of Batman fan as I am, and as much as I loved Wonder Woman in her solo film and in this one, it’s Superman who is the standout in this movie (this is not a spoiler, Henry Cavill has been at all the press junkets).
Those Superman fans who were disappointed in his characterization and arc in Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman will find nothing but joy in their hearts and smiles on their faces during all the Superman scenes in this film.
Those fans who loved the slow development of his arc and character across those two films will be rewarded by the completion of that arc and will revel in the awesome payoff.
And as someone who was initially a little worried that the Flash would feel forced or out of place, I’m happy to report that Ezra Miller’s Flash and his brand of humor are pitch perfect for both the character and the movie. I won’t be at all surprised to hear that Flashpoint is being fast tracked after this film opens.
The movie also does a fantastic job in making the team actually feel like a team.
The chemistry between all the team members is just perfect. No one’s story is shunted to the side and no one character feels useless or irrelevant. Each one has a role to play and the movie does such a great job in showing that they are truly all better together than they are apart.
What’s more, we see the value of why these individual superheroes need to come together. Not even to help save the world, but to help support one another.
“We need you,” Diana says when she’s trying to recruit Vic Stone/Cyborg. “And maybe you need us, too.”
And while she says it to Cyborg, it is a phrase that could easily be said to and about each of these characters.
There is a loneliness inherent to being a hero. It is a loneliness born out of self-preservation (Batman) or loss (Wonder Woman), history (Flash) or identity (Aquaman and Cyborg), and exacerbated by the reality of what it means to be a superhero.
What Justice League shows us in the necessity of leaning on others, physically and emotionally. The team members recognize just how heavy a burden it can be to be a hero, and how some of that burden can be lightened when in community with others.
And beyond this, they see just how joyful (and we get to see just how awesome) it can be to be around people you like and are like you.
Yes, there are conflicts, but they are real, adult conflicts — weighty and complicated — rather than childish bickering.
And the truly great thing — and what makes this team really feel like a team — is the way in which we see the team handle these conflicts like adults. The way in which members in conflict treat one another with respect and dignity, in which they are able to both admit fault and shoulder blame and truly make amends.
This team was everything I wanted and more.
I’m a fan, but I’m not so deluded to say that the movie didn’t have flaws.
It does, and it’ll be easy to find reviews and reviewers who’ll point them out to you. I’ll even tackle a few criticisms later this week here on Hypable after my third or fourth viewing.
But I went into this movie wanting to love it — and I did! Wholeheartedly. And it is so very easy to find things to love about it.
If you aren’t a fan of Zack Snyder’s brand of storytelling, or of Man of Steel or Batman vs. Superman because Batman and Superman didn’t appeal to you, then you’ll love both these characters in here. If you don’t like your superhero fare as dark, deconstructed or thematically heavy as those films, then you’ll definitely enjoy what this one does.
If you, like me, love both Zack Snyder and those films for exactly those reasons, you’ll still have plenty to love in this film. Snyder’s flair for visual storytelling is all over this film, and many of the fight scenes are some of the best we’ve seen in this genre. It also retains a lot of his thematic and narrative arcs — though more muted than his past two films — and provides good payoff and closure for them.
Either way, I truly think that there is a lot to love in this movie for any fan who loves these characters and wants to see the DCEU flourish.
I can’t wait to see what we get next.