When Fandom Fills in the Gaps

Now about Steppenwolf (who does, yes, look like he wandered out of the Goblin-town underground from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).

I’m a firm believer that a person’s moviegoing experience is sometimes determined as much by his or her own subjective mood as it is the actual content of what they are watching on-screen. And I think sometimes a kind of collective mood settles over a given movie, whereby the kangaroo court of public opinion decides that this movie is going to be the scapegoat for the overall build-up of cinema sins. Even though it has forgiven other movies for some of the same sins, the only way it can justify letting those other movies get off scot-free is if there is a perennial sacrifice, something to appease the angry geek gods as we inflate our own sense of worth with qualitative judgments, affecting a Comic Book Guy attitude of “Worst. Thing. Ever.” Lord knows I am probably as guilty of this as anyone else.

Is Steppenwolf really that much worse than Ares at the end of Wonder Woman? If you look at the spiky helmet they both wear and consider the fact that they’re both goopy gods, they almost seem like the same villain. Yet Ares gets a free pass because the rest of Wonder Woman was so, well, wonderful. “What’s not to like about Wonder Woman?” Except for that part at the end where Ares goes full CGI and the movie craps the cot a little.

I recognize that people have some valid criticisms of Justice League. My own life partner rated it 0 out of 10. Actually, I’m as surprised as anyone else that a seemingly intelligent person could derive such pleasure as I did from this movie. In its capacity as a soft reboot for the DCEU, it did the unthinkable and made me look back on past transgressions, like the histrionics of Michael Shannon’s dialed-up General Zod, with more forgiving eyes.

When a movie gets critically lambasted, people involved in the making of that movie often spout variations on the line, “We didn’t make this for the critics. We made it for the fans.” Usually, that strikes me as a hollow, but with Justice League, I found myself slipping into the skin of a fan again, one who clearly has a blind love for something that other people hate. As a reader, I know I have absorbed a lot of comics history that allowed me to fill in the gaps with characters like Darkseid’s uncle, the New God known as Steppenwolf. Seeing the movie through those eyes is undoubtedly a very different experience from watching it as a casual filmgoer who remains uninvested in Jack Kirby’s comics creations.

If the movie’s 72% box office drop on its third Friday is any indication, Justice League is not a film that will go down in comic book movie history as a life-changing event for anyone. But look on the bright side: no longer are we being treated to the feel-bad movie of the summer with each DC Films release. The DCEU is now in the midst of course-correcting. The road to rehabilitation, full and successful course correction, can involve many steps, some forward, some backward. I think this is another step forward.

If you’re a movie fan who is now or was ever a comic book fan, I think it’s a good time to be alive. For years, readers of Wizard: The Guide to Comics could only peruse that magazine’s “Casting Call” column with a wistful eye, as each edition assembled the perfect “dream” cast for a comic book movie that would (it seemed then) very likely never get made. Now we’ve reached the Promised Land; manna is reigning down from heaven in the form of superhero films fortified with excellent casts. In Justice League, the list of supporting actors alone reads like a litany of Oscar nominees and winners.

Top-notch casting like this amid the wider trend of comic book movies has arguably come at the expense of serious dramas and other mid-budget films that are not crass or commercial enough to survive in today’s blockbuster landscape. I do miss motion pictures of that nature; I wish more of them were around. One day, probably in this generation’s lifetime, comic book movies will go riding off into the sunset like the westerns of old. If Steven Spielberg says it, it must be true. Maybe that is why I am so desperate to enjoy the ones we do have before the well dries up and there are no new sequels.

Again, I saw Justice League on Thanksgiving. I want to really emphasize that, here at the end. What’s more, I live in a foreign country where turkey is not usually on the menu. But this Thanksgiving, for the first time in years, I was able to enjoy a turkey meal on Thanksgiving Day. You could argue I ate two turkey meals that day: one at the restaurant, one at the movie theater, where I swallowed a bird called Justice League. Maybe I’m just a dumb fan with a big cheesy grin on my face. But now I really wish I had held onto that old mail-away Steppenwolf action figure from Kenner’s Super Powers Collection. Because if I still had that figure, I might be inclined to display it on my desk, as a show of solidarity with Ciaran Hinds and his unimpeachable voice work.

Justice League is a decent comic book movie. We’re all just too spoiled to enjoy it.

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