Comics on Film: 'Justice League' Is a True Return to Form for the Man of Steel

Comics on Film: 'Justice League' Is a True Return to Form for the Man of Steel

Nov 27, 2017

Spoilers for JUSTICE LEAGUE follow immediately.

When Justice League first hit theaters a little more than a week ago, the critical reaction was decidedly mixed. While the overall reception seemed to be a bit warmer than the one to either Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Suicide Squad, critics were definitely put off by the patched together nature of the film overall, and the somewhat clashing visions employed by directors Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon. Very visible CG work to Henry Cavill's face due to Paramount's annoying and jerk-like imposition of a contractually obligated mustache didn't help matters, either.

Still, when we posted our review for the film here on release day, we presented a bit of a different vision and outlook on the finished product. Did it have issues? Yes, absolutely. Still, in spite of those issues came a film that felt more true to the core characters than we'd seen in this universe before, and in no greater place was this visible than in the film's treatment of the original superhero: Superman.

Within the film's opening minute, the movie stakes a very different vision for Superman than we'd previously seen in the cinematic DC Universe. In addition to actually smiling (albeit through the aforementioned CG touch-ups), he's talking to children about what the symbol on his chest actually means. Equating hope like a river and even throwing a down-to-earth metaphor to car keys into the mix, the opening scene for Justice League emphasizes that the Man of Steel is also a man of the people, taking his part as a symbol very seriously. Perhaps, though, some of the biggest service to Superman's place in the universe came before his return from the dead.

After Bruce makes his case to use one of the Mother Boxes in the Kryptonian ship to try and kickstart Superman's body, he shares a scene with Alfred that emphasizes something that the best stories featuring the character always have: his humanity. Yes, Superman is of course defined by the fact that he is a being from another planet, but unlike many other superheroes in the DCU, he actively chooses to live among us. Why? Because he has always felt like he is one of us. He was raised among us, he was taught by wonderful parents what we value and why, and his powers have always put him in greater touch with human vulnerability that is coupled with his overriding sense of compassion.

Contrary to popular belief, Superman doesn't see himself on a pedestal above humanity. People who don't understand him, especially his adversaries, always seem to think that Superman sees himself as above humanity. Lex Luthor has always perceived Superman as a demigod who doesn't need to struggle, which is at the root of his immense hatred for his nemesis. The people who know him, though, as Batman came to do in this universe through both Clark's self-sacrifice against Doomsday and because the Dark Knight aimed to learn more about his Kryptonian colleague, realize that he has always placed the safety and well-being of his adopted people first in his mind.

While the previous DC films since 2013 emphasized this on a macro-scale, seeing Justice League provide a point of quieter, more humanistic identification on a smaller scale goes a long way in aligning the films' vision of the character with his longstanding characterization in the comics, as well as another endeavor like the Christopher Reeve films. On top of that, Henry Cavill having the ability to portray this Superman should just make a significant amount of people understand that he's a great actor to embody the Last Son of Krypton for this generation: Justice League makes clear that Henry Cavill is Superman.

This is made even clearer after the character's return in the story. As alluded to in our review, Steppenwolf's larger purpose was to facilitate getting punched in the face by the icon of the League (which is Superman, in case you're wondering). He served that purpose perfectly, but beyond that we also get to see Superman assume leadership in saving civilians alongside the Flash, as well as a great moment of teamwork with Cyborg that also helped to show that he was also "one of the team." When Wonder Woman laughs to herself about being on a team with "children," we see Superman and Cyborg laughing together after surviving a painful jolt from the separation of the Mother Boxes, and even in a small moment, it's easy to see that the shared, short moment of struggle only adds to the camaraderie of the team as a whole.

The feelings of the performer also matter very much in this equation. In an interview with Los Angeles Times, Henry Cavill spoke about embodying that more hopeful vision of Superman, and what he hopes it means for his future in portraying the character, giving a fair amount of credit to Joss Whedon in the process. He said,

"I’ve always enjoyed the traditional, very classic view on Superman in the comic books,” Cavill says. “I think there’s an enormous complexity to that character. I know when I was working with Joss he and I saw eye-to-eye on some of the aspects of Superman. That paragon of hope. That ideal. That wonderful feeling of, ‘Oh, good, Superman’s here!’ I have also developed a very personal and protective relationship over this character, and it was just lovely to have the opportunity to smile and feel good.

As for what he thinks Superman's answer was to the question posed to him in the film's opening minute, "What's the best thing about planet Earth?," Cavill offered what he believes might be Superman's answer:

"I think — and I imagine Superman would also think — ,” he says of the possible reply, “the greatest quality of people and humankind is their capacity to love regardless of hardship or difficulties or personal trials. People can be living in the most horrendous war zone or under the most incredible oppression and yet they can still love so selflessly and so unconditionally — and still bear hope through that love. It’s amazing to see what people can do. I think Superman would recognize that and appreciate it."
 

Superman is back, and like we said at the end of our review: even though it may have taken him a little longer to arrive, now that he's here we hope he never leaves.


Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango and others. He also hosts the podcasts Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at Movies.com, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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