Justice League – A Good Beginning

Okay, let’s hop off the Marvel hype train for a second. Justice League gets right what Marvel’s been getting wrong since the beginning: Good narrative structure is built around changing character motivations, not canned plot progression. I’m not without criticisms, but here are a couple more things I like about what DC’s doing that Marvel could learn from:

1. Marvel’s movies keep apologizing for being superhero movies. They need constant quippiness now to distract us from contrived plot development. Justice League has fun being what it wants to be. Every character gets a believable arc of personal growth. (Wonder Woman’s is the best, and it picks up right where her inner journey left off from the previous movies.)

2. Superheroes are legendary and mythological. You’re supposed to start in the middle of the story so that we want to know how the legend “really” began. Marvel started with origin stories before we cared about the characters. We all had to catch up on who they were through Wikipedia. Justice League gives us a reason to want more of these characters–in their pasts and their futures–by letting them be myths unfolding right before our eyes. (Superman needed an origin story because he’s a different Superman than the one we’ve seen before. Wonder Woman needed one because Justice League continues her arc–and remember, we started with her in BvS anyway.)

3. Marvel and DC both have weak villains. Marvel either tries to make their weak villains relevant, or they try to apologize through comedy. DC let Steppenwolf be this shadow figure in the background, whose full history wasn’t explored–and wasn’t important. He was Thanos at the end of the first Avenger’s movie–an omen of more to come. It’s why Nolan’s Joker and Bane work better than Schumacher’s Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. Marvel is on a serious spiral into Chill-Joke territory, and no matter how self-aware they are of that, it’s not a sustainable trajectory.

4. Gal Gadot is incredible. Absolutely everything about WW’s arc throughout the franchise is just the greatest thing. She’s the moral center of the group, and the true leader in a lot of ways. The way she answers the call first, takes ownership of the project, wrestles with her own cynicism, and responds to Batman’s more direct personality–constructively, without defensiveness, with absolute confidence, without a need to prove anything–is what makes cohesion in the team possible. It’s a lot of subtle acting that pulls it off, but it’s the heart and soul of this universe.

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