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Roland Martin - Issue #65


Roland Martin

December 5 · Issue #65 · View online

Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Justice League and the thirst for  heroes.

It was my daughter’s birthday recently, so I took the opportunity to take her to see the new Justice League film. It’s great! We both really enjoyed it. It’s a proper old-school all-action super-hero movie with a good heart. I’d heartily recommend it as good family viewing in a similar vein to the Christopher Reeve Superman films of (some of) our youth(s) … 
All action heroes
Since the inception of DC and Marvel, readers have devoured the stories peddled about masked and caped crusaders defeating evil, or at least holding peril at bay. Like the Star Wars and Harry Potter sagas that followed, it’s not a new argument to suggest that the stories owe much to the Bible, or other religious tomes where good (resolve) is regularly pitted against evil (temptation). 
Pulitzer Critics prize finalist Matt Zoller Seitz, writing online, puts it this way:
“If the big blue marvel is, as “Batman v. Superman” suggested, something like a god, that means God is temporarily dead when our story begins (his allure smashed into pieces like that giant statue of Kal-El), and therefore can’t watch over us. God’s absence means the weaker, meaner, more opportunistic mortals and immortals feel emboldened to do their worst. These aspects of the film are so intriguing that one wishes that they’d been more fully developed, along with the allusions to rising religious fundamentalism and the straightforward equating of Steppenwolf to Satan, a creature of raw chaos and viciousness stepping into a power vacuum. (“Praise to the mother of horrors!” he roars.)”
I’m pretty sure I’ve covered Batman before in one of these blogs - #21? One of the pitfalls of the combination of being over 45 and running out of topics - but the new film seems worthy of comment after the last blog on Wonder Woman. We all loved seeing her take a lead in this film, indeed, her purposeful decision as a half-God to take on Steppenwolf. We loved nerdy/geeky Flash and his self-deprecating wide-eyed wonder and surprise that he was actually there being ‘super’. But then we as a family would probably rate Disney’s The Incredibles as one of our all time favourites. The under-18 part of our household is split between Batman (although certainly not Affleck’s) and Spiderman (definitely Garfield) as all time favourite superhero incarnation. But it wasn’t just the Martin kids feeling like punching the air and whooping for delight when the ‘goodies’ seized the day in Justice League
Why we need heroes
Much has been written about the psychology of why we find superheroes so fascinating and why we crave their stories. There’s a 10 point checklist over on a University of Richmond blog which sums it up pretty succinctly - worth a skim, even if we might not quite get behind the ‘all-American way’ over here in Blighty.
Lateral Mag’s Jake Crasker makes the case that we are able to witness the impact of prosocial behaviour, pretend in childplay, and weigh up our moral compasses as adolescents alongside the characters in comic books.
Psychologist Robin Rosenberg writing in the Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) unravels the allure of origin stories  - they ‘show us not how to become super but how to be heroes, choosing altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power’ - he posits that ‘they tap into our capacity for empathy, one of the greatest powers of all’ and I know I’ve certainly written about that quality before!
Noah Balatsky does get a little tangled up in The Atlantic discussing Tony Stark’s alcoholism in a review of Our Superheroes, Ourselves, a collection of essays by psychologists on why we crave superhero stories. The essays offer explanations ranging from readers/viewers connecting with the heroes’ stressful work lives in their ‘human life’ to seeing an authority figure put the world into much-needed order. 
Psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley argues that children specifically need superheroes because in role playing them, they feel that they can make a difference: “Suddenly, they have the power to participate and help. That sense of helping other people, of being part of something bigger than them, fulfils an elemental human need.”
Here’s a couple more links you might enjoy on this topic too, there’s a good deal out there as you might imagine: Victoria McNally on the appeal of superhero fights, although the film references have been outdated since writing; Travis Langley on what we learn about ourselves through analysing ‘supers’.
What the reviews said about JL
(No, not the John Lewis ad) I leave you not with my own words, but with reviews of Justice League, in case you’re still wondering if it’s worth a watch …
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman:
“Justice League,” the latest link of Tinkertoy in the DC Comics universe, has been conceived, in each and every frame, to correct the sins of “Batman v Superman.” It’s not just a sequel — it’s an act of franchise penance. The movie, which gathers up half a dozen comic-book immortals and lets them butt heads on their way to kicking ass, is never messy or bombastic. It’s light and clean and simple (at times almost too simple), with razory repartee and combat duels that make a point of not going on for too long.”
Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan:
As directed by Zack Snyder, and, more importantly, co-written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, character is more than destiny here. It is the key reason ‘Justice League’ is a seriously satisfying superhero movie, one that, rife with lines like ‘the stench of your fear is making my soldiers hungry,’ actually feels like the earnest comic books of our squandered youth. Unlike the glib denizens of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, residents of the DC Extended Universe have always had a somber gravitas, a sense that the weight of the world’s troubles might all but crush them.”
Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers:
“For those who loathe Zack Snyder’s ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,’ and they are legion, ‘Justice League’ will be just the corrective followup they’re looking for. Granted, BvS got a bad rap for staying true to the dark instincts of the DC Comics universe from which it emerged. It’s just that director Snyder lacked the artistic cred that Christopher Nolan brought to his ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, to put it mildly. Instead of the Freudian gloom and doom of the Caped Crusader (Ben Affleck) and the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) hating on each other, this coming together of DC’s heavy hitters takes so many happy pills it almost overdoses on them. No one sings ‘the sun’ll come out tomorrow’ in this movie. But the attitude is so bright and optimistic that you might mistake it for a fun ride on the Marvel express.”
New York Times’ Manohla Dargis:
“… touches of humor in ‘Justice League’ lighten the whole thing tonally and are a relief after the dirgelike ‘Batman v Superman’ … It has justice, and it has banter.”
USA Today’s Brian Truitt:
“Justice League is as solid an outing as any superhero fan could hope, with a clear family vibe: Wonder Woman and Batman prove to be a dynamic mom-and-dad duo while the fastest kid around steals the show. A better effort than ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ and a worthy follow-up to runaway hit ‘Wonder Woman,’ ‘Justice League’ does the DC icons proud with some high-profile additions and a strong if unspectacular effort full of fun character moments.”
Chicago Sun Times’ Richard Roeper:
“Doesn’t take much imagination to know how it’s all going to turn out — but the fun in “Justice League” is in seeing Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman teaming up with Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/Flash, Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone/Cyborg. It’s a putting-the-band-together origins movie, executed with great fun and energy. About those actors playing the Fab Five (with room for more to come). They’re a wonderful (and ridiculously good-looking) group of performers, and they play well together.”
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