‘Justice League’ Finally Gets Superman Right

Superman Hero

Superman Enjoys Being Superman!

The best scene in Justice League comes at the very beginning, before the credits have even rolled. We’re treated to cell phone footage, being shot by kids off screen, of Superman before his demise. The kids pester the Man of Steel with a bunch of cute questions about his life as a hero, and Superman obliges them.

This, right here, is the film’s way of signaling that things are different from the very start. The Superman on display in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman would have absolutely no time for these kids and their questions. He’d probably frown at them before flying off. Here, however, we get Superman playfully interacting with kids who idolize him.

It culminates with a moment that’s handled so deftly, so powerfully, that it caught me completely off guard and made me think I was in for a truly fantastic film (I wasn’t, sadly, but still). After a barrage of questions, one child asks Superman, “What’s the best thing about planet Earth?”

Superman is taken aback by this, and the camera lingers on him. Cavill does this wonderful thing here where he looks off to the distance and lets a slight, knowing smile creep onto his face before the scene cuts to black. We never get to hear Superman’s answer, but the power in that scene comes from the fact that Superman takes the time to consider the question. He mulls it over in his super-brain, and even comes up with his own unique answer. We may not hear what it is, but we don’t need to hear it. We can just take comfort in knowing that there is an answer.

up in the sky

Superman Does Heroic Deeds!

After Superman comes back to life, he flies off to his family farm with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. He gets his bearings, readjusts to being alive, and he and Lois share some touching moments. Then Lois tells him he has to put on his super-suit and save the day.

And what does Superman do? I can tell you what the old Superman would do – the one from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. He’d throw a fit, and complain, and demand reasons. “Why should I save the day?” he might say, frowning and crossing his arms. The Superman in Justice League does none of that. Instead, he agrees that he does, indeed, need to be a hero. He flies off to help his new friends in the Justice League battle the annoying villain Steppenwolf. And he does it with gusto!

There’s no collateral damage here. There are no scenes of Superman accidentally destroying a city block, or snapping a neck. He fights Steppenwolf heroically, and he even gets to use his ice breath – something we haven’t seen the character use in these films before. It’s a big, bold, sort of dumb moment that resonates because it’s fun to watch Superman be Superman. It’s fun to see him actually saving the day instead of pummeling Batman or slamming a CGI Michael Shannon into the side of a skyscraper.

When he’s not battling Steppenwolf, Superman is saving lives. He picks up an entire apartment building and transports it to safety at one point, in a scene that’s meant to be played for laughs. Again, it’s dumb, but it works anyway because we’re just so relieved to be spending time with this helpful, non-gloomy Superman.

Superman art

The Man of Tomorrow

You could make the argument that the DCEU had been building towards this redemptive arc for Superman the entire time. That this was the plan – to introduce an insecure Superman and build him up to become the hero he was always meant to be. But I’m not buying it. There’s no evidence to support this, and even Cavill himself has admitted the series has had problems.

“There was a style they [DC] were going for, an attempt to be different and look at things from a slightly different perspective, which hasn’t necessarily worked,” the actor said in a recent interview, adding: ““I feel like now the right mistakes have been made and they haven’t been pandered [to], and we can start telling the stories in the way they need to be told. It is even better to come back from a mistake or stylistic error into the correct vein because it will make it seem that much stronger. Wonder Woman was the first step in the right direction.”

I don’t know what the future holds for Superman in the DCEU. They will undoubtedly keep making these movies, and perhaps they’ll give Superman a chance to lead his own movie again, one free of him playing second fiddle to other characters (he’s very much a supporting character in Justice League). And the funny thing is, I’m actually interested in seeing those future adventures of Superman now. Perhaps that’s the greatest feat Justice League accomplishes: it makes us want more of Superman.

After Batman v Superman killed Big Blue off, I honestly could’ve cared less if he ever returned. After Justice League, I want more. I want Cavill to have the chance to shine; to step out into the sun in his own adventure again. One free of doom and gloom, and neck snaps. I want to believe in a better tomorrow, and it would be nice if Superman is one of the characters that helps guide us there (you know, when Wonder Woman is too busy). It’s a tall order, I know. It’s a lot of weight to hoist upon one character’s shoulders. But he can take it. He’s Superman, after all.

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