Justice League: (Re)Born Into A Living Hope
There was a lot riding on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice when it released earlier this year. And, let’s be honest, in the eyes of most critics it buckled under the weight. The viewing audience wasn’t much more generous in its estimation as the film failed to reach the expected $1billion plateau. What was supposed to be the glorious opening act to a DCEU to rival that of Marvel sputtered under the weight of its own mythology and lost traction with every bounce over yet another plot-hole.
That’s not to say BvS was without its merits or was such a disaster that it necessitated scrapping the extensive DCEU-plans already in place in favor of relaunching the Universe in the near future. But it would necessitate a change in tone and approach to it’s follow-ups, particularly Justice League, which was schedule to go into full-scale production mere days after the BvS premiere. Now reports from the set from the likes of the ever-excellent and optimistic Steve “Frosty” Weintraub over at Collider and Peter Sciretta over at /Film seem to indicate that such a change has taken place.
Some will see the more hopeful/joyous approach as a knee-jerk reaction to the poor reception for BvS. There should be no doubt that this influenced decisions made going into Justice League’s production (Sciretta went so far as to label the change as “Zack Snyder goes full Marvel.”), but it would also be unfair to Snyder and BvS to not acknowledge that such a shift was was cued as being on the way by the end of Snyder’s last feature.
Spoiler alert from here on out.
Snyder had been pretty adamant throughout the production and promotion of BvS that he was taking Superman on a journey. That he wasn’t yet the full-fledged hero from comic-lore, but that he soon would be. Being both a son of Kent and a son of El made him neither one. The optimism of the latter was forever competing with the pragmatism of the other. To borrow a phrase, he was neither fully god nor fully man. He was half both and struggled under their combined weights. He loved a woman (as a man would) but also felt compelled to serve the world (as a benevolent deity). His journey was one of finding how to do both, of becoming the god-man he was destined to be. His sacrificial death to defeat Doomsday showed was both his moment of reconciling the two and also embracing what that meant.
"This is my world..." to protect and serve. "You are my world..." to love and cherish. And so he gave himself freely for them both. And seemed at peace for the first time in his life.
It was also clear that Batman’s story arc in BvS was leading him out of the fierce, well, depression that clutched him at the film’s onset and into a more hopeful posture towards both the heroes he would assemble in Justice League and the world. Also present in the film was Wonder Woman shaking off her own malaise and preparing to return to her evil-fighting destiny. The personal darkness at work in both heroes was clearly receding in the moment they shared over Superman’s grave.
And that’s the key to seeing how a movie as grim as BvS could have feasibly been transitioning to a more hopeful tone in its sequel Justice League. The use of “dawn” in the subtitle was not merely an allusion to the genesis of the Justice League found in the film’s story, but also to the hope that was stirring (literally) above Clark Kent’s casket.
The crisis of Superman’s existence sent Batman into a chrysalis. He would either die in it, as he nearly did, or he would be reborn. Wonder Woman was in a similar place, brought there by the depravity she had witnessed over her many years among the mortals. Superman’s supreme act of self-sacrifice was the catalyst that led them to finally break free of their personal, moral cocoons to become the beacons of hope and justice that they had wanted to be before despair set in.
This seems to be the story of Justice League, the tale of how a man-god’s death and resurrection initiated a rebirth in the eyes of those who saw and experienced it. Did it’s critical failure and box-office woes contribute to it’s “Marvelization”? Very likely. To think not would be irrational. The film will no doubt be a bit brighter and “happier” because of the criticism, but the evidence suggests it would have always been more hopeful and inspiring. The Justice League exists to push-back the darkness in BvS, both the physical threats and the existential despair and the movie by the same-title will tell the of how the fallen seed of Superman’s death grew into the harvest a fully-formed alliance for good. They will no doubt battle a great evil to a near stand-still until the return of Krypton’s Last Son tips the scales.
By his death, Superman gave hope. And, I assume, by his resurrection he will show that hope as justified.