So here’s the thing. Aside from my lifelong love of Wonder Woman, I am a bit late to the DC and Marvel movie bandwagon. But a year or so ago, I got hooked via Wolverine and the stories around him. And that led to DC. And then of course Gal Gadot blew up moviedom with her Wonder Woman and now I’m fiercely going through “back stories” and catching up on all things superhero.
Justice League had me at hello with a line about how hope is like your car keys, easy to lose, but generally close by if you dig around for it. I grinned as I heard the words, knowing that if we were starting with that kind of framework there was nowhere to go but up. Because ohemgee, how I love an epic good v. evil film in which it looks so much like evil’s gonna win…and yet….
But I don’t want to be a spoiler. In fact, I’ll try real hard not to in what I want to say, but consider yourself warned before proceeding with the things I loved about Justice League, and why it’s all about exactly the sort of outrageous hope we all need these days.
They are all SO jacked up! Superheros they may be, but man do they have baggage! Way more than even generous Southwest Airlines would allow. Batman’s wealth is handy, sure, but dude is so closed off from the world he can barely function, and is so overloaded in guilt about Superman’s death he will stop at nothing to somehow “fix” it. His scenes with Wonder Woman, about her own baggage of Steve Trevor are both painful and priceless and deeply humanizing. A couple of broken hearts trying to do some good past what has wrecked them. Aquaman is so jaded and drunk, a bit like Wolverine at his worst, completely focused inward on what can make him forget wherever he’s been. Cyborg is raging mad at his dad for making him what he is, and yet also has, from the beginning, at least, I thought, this cautious desire to see if he can really live and have any kind of being in his current state, and The Flash is like every middle schooler I ever worked with in youth ministry: eager and confused and insecure and so unaware of how completely brilliant he is capable of being.
I mean, basically, y’all, they are like all of us after we’ve done some living. Trying to live past what’s been and figure out how to have life again after what they’ve done and seen and lost. They are all so achingly human. Except…not.
They’re ready to die for it. They are ready to straight up die if it means defeating Steppenwolf and his lust for power. “If we make it through the night,” Batman says to Wonder Woman just before the last epic battle, and they clink their whiskey glasses as only desperate heroes can do. There is no sugarcoating what they are up against. It’s crazy, really. But they are determined to do what they can against such raging evil. They are, in their determination, the sort of things we all are at our very best–after goodness and love and peace, and ready to fight for what’s necessary to make those things real again.
They know that real power is grounded in love and relationship, not violence and destruction. Steppenwolf is mighty, to be sure. He is loud and fiery and angry and willing to destroy whatever he has to to quench his desire to rule all things (even if all things are dead, apparently…). But his bloodthirst is no match for the hearts of the Justice League. No. Match. And isn’t this always true? At least, isn’t this the story we are always after? Harry Potter. Star Wars. The Hobbit. Always, it’s the ones who don’t want the power to begin with who wind up winning. Always, it’s the ones who are simply after goodness and grace who save the day.
This is what it means to be a superhero–to know that there is something bigger than you at work, and no matter the heartache, no matter the cost, that something bigger is worth dying for, worth giving everything for, if it means that in the end, love wins.
Let me be real clear I know it seems impossible. I know that it almost seems as if Steppenwolf or Voldemort is going to triumph. Like you, I’ve known days that seemed so damn hopeless, and so it was futile, at best for me to even try to insist that not all lost and it was still possible for something good to happen. Just yesterday, someone so dear to me insisted that “justice is not served like that, Julie,” in response to my insistence that something good was still possible. And I get it. I so, so get that feeling.
But also? I know that every day we are given is one more day where we can make hope a conscious choice. And I do not mean pie-in-the-sky optimism. Don’t talk to me about Pollyanna or rainbows and unicorns or fairy tales that end nicely. Just. Don’t.
What I mean is deep-down, way inside our hearts, burrowed in the depths of our souls. And it is gritty and real and raw and terrifying: it’s hope. That most dangerous of words (h/t Shawshank Redemption). Hope. The tiniest, almost imperceptible bit of it. Stubborn enough to insist on its own way even in the face of everything–everything–that stands against it having a chance at being real.
Y’all, we need some superheros. All over the place. And yet…this capacity that we have for hope…it can make us our own superheroes, ready to do what needs doing such that our lives and our world might be the sort of place we’re proud to leave our children.
This is what the Justice League has to teach us–that it’s possible. Even if by a sliver.
At the end of the day we all want to belong. To be loved. To be held safe in a community that makes us our best selves and calls out of us our best actions. This is Superman and The Flash facing off right at the end–pushing each other to their best, teasing out of each other their very finest. All of it for sake of something good and real and more than they could ever each do on their own–even as superheroes.
In fact, most especially as superheroes. After all, “You can’t save the world alone.”