“It’s alarming that millions of young men are watching—and internalizing—this display of toxic masculinity.”
Title: Justice League (2017)
Director: Zack Snyder 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Story by Zack Snyder 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Chris Terrio 👨🏼🇺🇸, screenplay by Chris Terrio 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Joss Whedon 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Justice League is utterly unremarkable, if passingly enjoyable in the moment. The action sequences are well-choreographed but the humor consistently misses the mark; the Flash (Ezra Miller) is uncomfortably geeky, Batman (Ben Affleck)’s deadpan completely flops, and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is perhaps the most disappointing, as Momoa is so charismatic but is forced to read dudebro lines that masquerade as levity.
The special effects are almost endearingly mediocre (if you haven’t already chuckled along to the ribbing about Henry Cavill’s bad CGI job, it’s never too late) and the superheroes all seem vaguely soulless. If you had to ask me why any of them were bothering to save the world, I wouldn’t have an answer for you beyond their actors being paid six figures to do so.
Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, delivers the entire full point afforded this category. She is a major character with plenty of screen time and is central to the plot. Unfortunately, she is never given room to stand on her own and goes from a box office-smashing headliner by her own right to Batman and Superman's sidekick. Noah Berlatsky writes for NBC News:
“The film's heroic, inspiring moral center is not Wonder Woman, but Superman. The guy who brings the team together, and teaches Wonder Woman how to be a leader, is Batman. It's also Batman who gives Flash tips. The greatest hero in the world is reduced to merely the greatest female hero; she ultimately needs a man to teach her about superheroing.”
Looking beyond Wonder Woman, the gender landscape only gets more regressive. Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, spends the entirety of her scenes tear-streaked and diminutive, barely cracking even a wobbly smile upon the revivification of Superman (Henry Cavill). Martha Kent (Diane Lane) also sees a few scenes but is similarly dependent on her son’s storyline. Without Clark Kent, neither Lois or his mother have any reason to exist.
In background roles, an army of Amazons should normally be an easy bump for any film. Hiring that many female extras is a good thing; unfortunately, all gains are thwarted by the overt objectification of this all-female army. This tweet by Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood, says it all:
On the other side of the gender spectrum, we see toxic masculinity in full force. During a team meeting, Aquaman expresses his doubts about the upcoming fight, addressing each hero, one-by-one: “Superman’s a no-show. [Batman]'s got no powers, no offense. [Cyborg] might be working for the enemy. We don’t know. [The Flash] is tripping over his feet and mine...” When he reaches Wonder Woman, he trails off and eyes her up and down, groaning, “Oof. You’re gorgeous. And fierce. And strong. Ngh. I know we went to war with the Amazons, but that was before my time.”
His advances are played for laughs as Wonder Woman is forced to stop the direction of his comments, stealthily snagging Aquaman around the ankle with her Lasso of Truth so that he starts to admit he’s scared about being part of a bigger team.
This seemingly innocuous scene shows exactly how easy it is to slip into gender norms that fail women. For starters, Wonder Woman should not have to stop Aquaman’s leering during the middle of a team meeting. Sure, she can defend herself. But the point is that she shouldn’t have to. Society continues to tell women that the onus is on them not to be sexually harassed, and Justice League plays right into this ass-backwards mentality. And it’s fucked up that Wonder Woman’s “revenge” is to force Aquaman to show vulnerability. All in all, it’s alarming that millions of kids and teenagers are watching—and internalizing—this display of toxic masculinity.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 11% of creative decision-makers were POC
Of the six Justice League superheroes, two are people of color. Aquaman is played by Jason Momoa, who is mixed-race with some Native ancestry, and Cyborg is played by Ray Fisher, who is black.
Their roles are substantial, each seeing some flashbacks and character growth, and their depictions do a fine job of avoiding stereotypes. But ultimately, both Aquaman and Cyborg take a backseat to the narratives of Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman, as you can see below from the film’s marketing:
Luckily, audiences will soon be treated to standalone films for both these heroes. Ray Fisher pushes for the 2020-slated Cyborg to achieve the kind of diversity that Marvel’s Black Panther boasts, while Aquaman, due to come out December 2018, reveals a mixed bag behind the scenes—a lead actor and director of color, but otherwise lily-white cast including Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, and Willem Dafoe. Only time will tell if these two superheroes get the origin stories they deserve.
Mediaversity Grade: D 2.33/5
Justice League is largely shrugged off by critics, and my reaction is no different. If you need a comic book movie, there are better options to choose from—Wonder Woman is our highest-scoring one so far, while Thor: Ragnarok, Logan, and Spider-Man: Homecoming are all better options than this rote film. Or if you need more DCEU in your life, try the CW’s Supergirl, The Flash, or Arrow, all of which come with their own diversity issues but are ultimately more memorable.
It’s not all bad news, though. The lackluster performance of Justice League has spurred a shakeup in the DCEU creative team. We can only hope the studio learns from its mistakes and finds a way to break out of its never-ending cycle of straight, white male narratives and the crushing mediocrity that comes from rehashing the same perspective over, and over, and over again.