[Note: This editorial was originally published at a prior date, but has been bumped to coincide with Justice League‘s premiere on HBO.]
Spoilers ahead for Justice League.
Justice League has a lot of issues, but its bookended by how Warner Bros. wants to take the DCEU in a different direction. Under Zack Snyder’s direction, he was more interested in deconstructing superheroes, finding out what made them tick, and seeing darkness and frailty beneath the surface. It made him a fine choice for something like Watchmen, but when it came time to pursue superheroes like Superman and Batman, his take felt morose, bitter, and completely ill-suited for our times.
The ending of Justice League feels like a major course correction. Not only has the villain been thwarted, but he doesn’t even really lay the groundwork for a follow-up. One could see an alternate reality where audiences spark to Sndyer’s darker take, and Steppenwolf serves as a lead in for Darkseid, a bigger, badder intergalactic foe whose introduction would also necessitate expanding the DCEU to include heroes like Green Lantern. But that’s not the film we got, and perhaps we’re better for it because for all of Justice League’s faults, its ending signals a more hopeful future rather than the gloom-and-doom of Snyder’s movies.
After the “group” defeats Steppenwolf (and I use “group” very loosely because all it really took to defeat him was some ice breath and a good slice from Wonder Woman), the Justice League goes their separate ways. Batman and Wonder Woman go to Wayne Manor and decide they’ll use it for Justice League headquarters “with room for more” seats. Barry Allen tells his dad that he got a job at a crime lab. Cyborg gets upgraded armor and his own logo. Aquaman presumably returns to Atlantis. And Superman takes to the skies to be a beacon of hope.
That hopefulness is what Justice League wants to leave you with. It’s a signal that the dark days are over and that while the movies will still have dramatic stakes and challenges for the characters, the movies won’t be like Batman v Superman where its bookended by funerals. And although hopefulness is good, and arguably necessary in times like these, I hope that Warner Bros. understands that fans didn’t reject darkness as much as they rejected the darkness wrapped in weak storytelling and poor characterization. A poorly told uplifting story is just as bad as a poorly told downbeat story.
Justice League leaves us with the impression that going forward the DCEU is about looking to the skies rather than down in the dirt, and that’s fine. That’s a proper step that shows a clear vision, but it’s only a step. The true test remains on whether or not films like Aquaman and Shazam! can do more than wear a smile and tell some jokes.