What's So Great About Superheroes?
After the disappointing performance of Justice League, the latest from DC film universe, this weekend at the box office, the question swirling throughout the movie space is "why?" Why did a film that brought together some of the most recognizable and beloved superheroes of all time fail to make over $100 million at the box office?
To put that in perspective, these are the box office numbers for the other four films in the DCEU:
- Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice - $166 million
- Suicide Squad - $134 million
- Man of Steel - $117 million
- Wonder Woman - $103 million
That's right. Justice League, the pinnacle of all superhero team-ups, performed lower at the box office than any DCEU film to date.
So what happened?
The extensive drama behind the scenes, including massive reshoots and a wishy-washy commitment from Ben Affleck on returning as Batman in future films, brought negative buzz to the film, and a mediocre marketing campaign didn't help. Add the influx of comic book fare at the box office, meaning moviegoers can be more selective where they spend their comic book film dollars, and you have a movie that isn't exactly set up to succeed.
But beyond that, when I went to see the movie Saturday night, I felt the film was lackluster and forgettable. I, a massive comic book fan watching three of my favorite superheroes interacting onscreen with other superheroes in the team-up to end all team-ups, was honestly kind of bored. That realization inspired a reflection on what it is I even like about superheroes anyway. What has caused me to invest so much time, money and energy in the comics, TV shows and films?
It all comes down to one thing that I think Justice League just missed the mark on: relationships between beloved characters.
"But that's the POINT of the Justice League!"
Yes, well, it's supposed to be. CGI baddies and green screen battle sequences are all well and good, but the filmmakers seem to think that those are what keep us coming back for more. Small, clipped character sequences shoved occasionally between action set pieces aren't enough to do the job.
What I love most about Batman is the Batfamily that comes along with him. The strained father-son relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, the first Robin turned Nightwing, the binding ties between all of the children who have worn the Robin costume, the will-they-won't-they between Batman and Catwoman, the guiding, grandfatherly presence of Alfred, and so much more, all combine to create the most intriguing and beautiful family drama...in which they also happen to solve mysteries and catch criminals.
Superhero stories aren't really about saving the world from epic, world ending events. At their heart, whether you want to admit it or not, the superhero genre is just another form of soap opera. That's it. A soap opera with superhuman fighting. And the stories that shine the brightest are the ones that embrace those roots while incorporating a compelling story that causes the heroes to get super.
But those relationships don't work if we don't care about the characters involved. What Marvel did so well was to slowly introduce to each of our heroes, allowing us to get to know and love them, so that when they finally met to save the world in The Avengers, it felt like a group of old friends finally meeting for the first time.
"I knew Tony and Bruce would get along because they both love science so much!" "I just knew Black Widow and Cap would bond since they are both soldiers!"
This makes watching them fight side-by-side more exciting, as they continue building relationships during the fight. It's never just about the kicks and punches. It's about the conversations that happen midway through. It's about who's looking out for who. It's about how they use each other's strengths to elevate their own.
Finally, it's about those relationships bringing about change and growth within each of the individuals.
In my office, I have three pieces of superhero artwork hanging in which the hero is silhouetted and beneath that silhouette is the hero's iconic quote. Each of the quotes is about who they are on the inside, not what they do on the outside. Superheroes are supposed to inspire us. I don't love the Flash because he can run fast, I love the character for his attitude and outlook on life. I may not be able to run as fast as The Flash, but the quote, "You've got to forge ahead, keep moving, even if your path isn't always lit, trust that you'll find your way," means something far deeper.
So while Justice League fell short in my opinion, I'll keep hoping that eventually these characters will be well-served on film. Until then, back to the comics I go!
What do you think? What is it about superheroes that you love so much? What did you think of Justice League? Let me know in the comments!