Last night, I saw Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, and without being too hyperbolic (and spoiler-free), it rocked my world and I enjoyed 90% of it. Still, a lot of that comes from the actors who have taken up those roles for a long time. I love Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, etc., and a lot of them aren’t characters who I have any interest in comics-wise. Seeing them together was meaningful because of the 10-year bond we’ve developed, but it’s not the same as the way I wanted to feel watching Justice League, watching heroes I’ve loved since childhood be made flesh.
This is not a “DC sucks, Marvel rules” post, or vice versa, because for the record, I may have said Justice League was a big ol’ nonsense factory, but I’ve also said it was enjoyable and suffered from just a general lack of character cohesion and creativity in terms of story. It’s still better than Ultron, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and I’d probably say the Ant-Mans … if I’d seen them. What this is, instead, is a lamentation that, as DC is delivering some of its best solo films and taking a really bold and engaging creative pivot as it goes on to the next stage of its process, we’re stuck with a subpar Justice League movie for the time being.
Justice League was subpar for a number of reasons: It didn’t have the same slow buildup of characters that the MCU had. It was afraid to let Snyder go full Snyder again after BvS, and Whedon was brought in to take over a project in a way that may have improved on some of Snyder’s ideas, but it didn’t match the tone of the previous films. Even Wonder Woman managed to balance the hope and love of the main character with the dark tone of war and personal sacrifice. Justice League is just kind of a mashup of ideas and concepts—some good, some bad, and others just lost among the new and old perspectives.
It sucks because, even when it wasn’t good, there is something magical about seeing the Justice League together in live action. The casting was excellent, and I’d argue that if it was just slightly less ambitious and more internally driven, it could have worked. We don’t need origin stories for every character, and starting at a big moment and working outward is fine.
The problem is that we had two movies of objectivism Superman and one of fascist Batman leading up to a team-up of epic proportions. Justice League does match up with the individuals, they don’t feel like a team. Usually, in Avengers movies, the only characters getting screwed over are Black Widow and Thor, but in Justice League, there is no real canon, just a collection of scenes linked together until Superman returns.
Endgame works on most levels because it reflects a character journey we have been privy to for a long time. It works on the humanity that always made Marvel comics different from DC. DC has characters who exist as these larger-than-life god figures who protect the universe because they believe that is the responsibility that comes with their gifts.
With the Birds of Prey movie, Wonder Woman 1984, Joker, The Flash, and Aquaman 2, among others, coming up next, there’s the real possibility we could one day get another team-up movie, and I hope it comes. I know people have speculated that the Flash movie will help bring that about in a new way, but I hope that we get another chance at the Justice League, because the characters deserve it for all they mean to the world. There is space for both teams; they’re different enough and have different enough priorities in their narrative that all we need is a structured DC universe.
I love Avengers: Endgame and I have no idea what Marvel will do next and how it will follow this house that was built by Iron Man, but when I look at it, I also think of the house being built by Aquaman, Shazam, and Wonder Woman. The next phase of DC is what I’m looking forward to most, and I look forward to the next incarnation of Justice League, maybe featuring Supergirl and Nightwing?
(image: Warner Bros.)
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