I wasn’t necessarily disappointed by the Justice League film – as my expectations were low to begin with.
That being said, the film still managed to feel lackluster and devoid of purpose, direction or heart.
It had some ok moments here and there: and actually the one positive that the Justice League film gave me was a higher level of appreciation for the much-maligned Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – which I rewatched just before seeing Justice League.
And which was a much better, more interesting and layered movie.
One of the central themes of BvS is also the thing that – had it been explored properly in Justice League – would’ve saved this movie and made it (potentially) something more than an instantly forgettable piece of random blockbuster fare.
That thing is the Death of Superman.
Amid all the smaller things that were wrong with Justice League, the one thing that really sank this film for me was how the death and rebirth of Superman was handled. And how the matters of LIFE and DEATH themselves were treated like insignificant plot conveniences worthy of nothing more than a fleeting glance.
Now, we pretty much knew that Superman wasn’t going to stay dead – and that he would appear in Justice League. The BvS ending pretty much gave that away.
So there wasn’t going to be any shock factor – it was simply going to be a question of HOW they’d choose to do it in the film.
The way they ended up doing it in the film was beyond awful – it was horrendous.
Had they actually done it right, it could’ve made all the difference and turned this movie into something thematically meaningful or substantial.
Firstly, let’s recap how they do do it in this film. Superman is dead. The first half of the film doesn’t involve him – but focuses on Batman, Wonder Woman and co getting their team together and trying to deal with the apocalyptic threat posed by Steppenwolf.
Then, suddenly, Bruce Wayne just decides ‘We need Superman – let’s bring him back from the dead’ (I can’t remember the actual dialogue, but this was the gist of it).
There’s no real set-up to this, no indication beforehand that this was even on the table as an option.
Then, after an incredibly brief discussion, they basically go and DO it – using some techno-babble method to bring Superman back from the grave. Whether the method used makes sense or not is irrelevant to this article – I assume it fits with established comic-book lore.
They bring Superman back to life.
And then there’s a sequence where the resurrected Superman is in a state of confusion and seemingly turns dark – a result of the shock to his system. He attacks the various characters, including Batman, and for a moment it looks as if the decision mess with fate and resurrect him is going to backfire.
It even looks like we may get a Bad Superman and the movie might go in a completely different direction.
That would’ve meant something much more dramatically engaging and challenging, involving tension and inter-character conflict. Also, given the Superman As Messiah Figure theme explored in BvS, this would’ve had even more potential.
Either of those would’ve been more interesting than what we do get.
Instead, Superman snaps out of it – and within a scene or two, he is back to his old self. From that point on, the story pushes on to the confrontation with the random, Asgardian-like villain – and Superman is part of the fight.
The rest is a total insult. There is no discussion or exploration of the MORALITY of bringing someone back from the dead.
There are no real questions about whether anyone has the right to mess with the dead.
There are no consequences to anyone, including Superman himself.
There are no lingering after-effects on the Man of Steel.
There are no recriminations or doubts on the part of Bruce Wayne or any of the others.
Let’s just stop for a moment and think about this. They brought someone BACK FROM THE GRAVE.
That’s a pretty fucking massive thing to do.
At the very least there should be moral questions and conflicts. Now, okay, there’s a very brief bit where Diana has doubts about the plan: but it’s not nearly enough. Bruce Wayne’s moral compass seems to not exist in this film – but, worse, his flagrant messing with life and death and nature has no consequences to him.
And the implication is that – apart from that one stupid scene of Angry Superman – Superman himself is going to carry no real baggage or after-effects from this: from being DEAD and then BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE (with no say in the matter either).
The way this story reduces the enormous issues of life and death to nothing and is so nonchalant about the whole subject is, frankly, disturbing.
There are lots of example, of course, of characters being brought back from death in comics, TV shows and novels. Off the top of my head, I can think of two very good examples of it being done very well.
As a point of comparison, in the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy is dead – and her friends use dark magic to bring her back to life. But it’s a major issue for a long time. They explored the themes surrounding the idea of messing around with fate or with life and death, whether it is morally acceptable to bring someone back to life, whether that person even WANTS to be brought back to life, and – importantly – whether the person you bring back to life is still the SAME person as the one you buried.
In Buffy, the psychological, moral, even religious, aspects of this were explored for multiple episodes, giving us some quite challenging, interesting material.
But in this Justice League movie, none of that is touched on at all – just one dumb scene where Superman is a bit confused and angry and attacks them – and then that’s pretty much it.
The other good example that springs to mind is the death of Spock in The Wrath of Khan. Of course, Spock is restored to life in Star Trek III – The Search For Spock. But here’s the difference. In that film, we were shown – in meaningful and interesting ways – the struggles, decisions and motivations behind why Kirk and the others went back to find Spock.
The whole film was about that (also, in that film, they didn’t plan to bring Spock to life – it was an unforeseen effect from the Genesis planet).
And also, once Spock was alive again, it was clear this wasn’t the SAME Spock.
He needed a long time to recover his mind, his personality, his memories – there were scenes in the following film that showed how much he wasn’t simply the same guy he’d been at the point of death.
We were also shown that he needed to re-educate himself and re-learn much of what he once knew, but now didn’t (because death had erased all of it).
Also, Captain Kirk had to pay a personal price for the act of going back for Spock (he got demoted and his son was killed), showing that the act of bringing his friend back from death required sacrifice (the implication being that nature was somehow balancing the equation – in other words that ‘cheating death’ always comes at a cost).
Again, in Justice League, there’s nothing.
Just this: he’s dead, now we did this thing and he’s alive again. And, within no time, he’s basically on the team and back to normal. It was, as I said, insulting.
I don’t mind the idea of dealing with resurrection from death in a film: but, if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to treat the matter with the weight, consideration and seriousness it warrants. It can’t be a cartoon. You have to show that life and death mean something, even to a Kryptonian Messiah figure.
Justice League doesn’t do that at all. And that’s why I find it almost offensive (as opposed to just irritating). It doesn’t even try to do it.
It’s like a film written by a little boy. It’s as if it was too scared to really deal with the matter. Which raises the question of why they bothered ‘killing off’ Superman AT ALL in BvS.
If you’re just going to ressurect the guy in the next film, why bother? The only thing that would’ve justified the death of Superman in BvS would be if either (a) we were going to leave Superman dead for a couple of films, or (b) we were going to get a major, meaningful drama out of the death and resurrection of Superman in the next film.
Either of those would’ve been interesting (and actually leaving Superman dead for a few films probably would’ve been a good idea, allowing other characters to come into the fore).
Instead we got neither.
Just a mostly empty, big-budget blockbuster affair with a third-rate villain and a message that death doesn’t really mean anything, that actions have no consequences, and that the Good Guys can get away with anything without repercussions.
And, yeah, the rest of the movie wasn’t very good either.