Justice League is a perfectly fine film. Zack Snyderís latest film (with a substantial assist from Joss Whedon) is breezy fun that doesnít take itself too seriously, with solid performances by its core cast that makes the DC cinematic universeís future seem very bright. Itís not going to win any Oscars, the villain is lousy, and the plot is paper thin, but itís an agreeably diverting way to spend an afternoon. And yet, itís decidedly out of step with whatís currently happening in the superhero movie genre, which is unquestionably a contributor to its middling reviews and lukewarm box office returns.

2017 has been the year the comic book movie took a creative leap forward. The genreís stale tropes have largely been jettisoned in favor of big swings that have pushed the possibilities of costumed heroes into exciting new territory. Logan is maybe the closest that mainstream comic book movies have come to arthouse cinema, showcasing a bleak future that is a dark meditation on mortality and legacy. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a John Hughes style teen movie that occasionally features Spider-Man jumping along rooftops. Thor: Ragnarok reinvigorated Marvelís weakest cinematic hero by embracing the absurd and leaning into Chris Hemsworthís comedic talent. And Wonder Woman not only told a female fronted period piece with grace and heart, it tapped into the righteous feminist revolution currently facing off with Americaís darker impulses. Wonder Woman somehow managed to be a beacon of hope in a time when many people are feeling hopeless.

Justice League should have been the genreís victory lap after a historically successful year. Instead, the filmís relative failure has thrown the future of DCís film slate into question, with only Aquaman, Wonder Woman 2, and Shazam seeming like sure things at this point. A safe, traditional superhero film just wasnít what audiences were looking for in 2017.

The great irony is that DC had just got done taking a massive creative risk with these characters. Itís probably safe to say Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is the most divisive superhero film of all time. While it was critically savaged, Batman V Superman has a deeply devoted following who adore it for its dark deconstruction of DCís two biggest icons. Indeed, itís hard not to wonder if Batman V Superman would have been more warmly received in 2017; while Wonder Woman is a ray of light in a dark world, Batman V Superman embraces that darkness with a level of glee that borders on nihilism. That level of cynicism was off putting for most viewers in early 2016, and yet it feels oddly prescient at the tail end of 2017, predicting the chaotic forces that would come to dominate real world events soon after its release.

Batman V Supermanís greatest creative risk is the one that, for many people, was a bridge too far: its framing of Batman as such a deeply broken man that he is essentially the filmís antagonist for the majority of its run time. Batman V Superman showcases a version of the Caped Crusader that wide audiences had never really seen; not simply a Batman who is losing his fight against crime, but who has, for all intents and purposes, already lost. Batman, generally portrayed as the smartest DC hero, acts in brash, shortsighted ways, as heís so blinded by the paranoia and fear that he fought against for so many years. He exists in a bubble of his own misery and cynicism, convinced the world is spinning out of control as the emergence of godlike beings push his feelings of helplessness into overdrive.

Batman V Superman is also, structurally, a very strange movie. One of the chief criticisms lobbed against it was that it was incoherent, a collection of scenes that donít really have much to do with each other. Thatís not a wholly unfair criticism, and one that was partially rectified by the filmís extended Blu-ray cut. But it was also just a bit of the point; Marvel has done a fantastic job of establishing a structural template for superhero films. You can set your watch to certain beats in those movies. Snyder has largely eschewed that structure; he did it to generally greater acclaim in Man of Steel by borrowing the flashback heavy structure of Christopher Nolanís Batman films. But Batman V Superman was a decidedly different animal, seemingly edited in a way to wallow in the Supermanís self doubt and Batmanís nihilism. The film eventually clicks back into a more traditional narrative, as the third act consists of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman wailing away on a big CGI monster, but those first two acts are unlike anything that had been seen in superhero films, as it ruminated on the very nature of heroism in unusually fatalistic ways.

Thereís a lot about Batman V Superman that doesnít work. Its dream sequences within dream sequences, while visually arresting, donít really go anywhere, and seem unlikely to ever be properly paid off now that Snyder is likely done with these films. Batmanís paranoia too often descends into buffoonery, where the worldís greatest detective should really be aware of the fact heís being manipulated. And while Supermanís self doubt in Man of Steel was crucial in the lead up to his saving of Earth and taking his rightful place as the worldís beloved protector, Batman V Superman muddies those waters too much, concentrating too much on the vocal minority who hate and fear him and, perhaps worst of all, showcasing a Superman who is too easily discouraged, who treats his duty as a burden.

On an objective level, Justice League is probably a better movie than Batman V Superman. It manages to give all of its heroes some strong character moments in its relatively brisk two hour run time, the plot is incredibly easy to understand (sometimes to a fault), and itís just generally a lot of fun, as the Flash banters and Aquaman flexes and Batman rolls his eyes at this motley crew. Perhaps best of all, Justice League gives Superman a chance to be, well, Superman; Henry Cavill gets to smile and talk about truth and justice as he happily saves the day. Batman V Supermanís fans may bristle at that interpretation of the last son of Krypton, but a slightly more traditional take on Superman is both a logical evolution of the character three movies in, and is just viscerally pleasing. The crowd pleasing markers of co-writer and reshoot director Joss Whedon are all over the film, much more so than Snyderís divisive, wild eyed superhero mania.

And yet Justice League unquestionably lacks a certain spark that Batman V Superman has in spades. Batman V Superman feels dangerous Ė the work of an artist pushing at the boundaries of his genre in an attempt to say something new about these characters who have been part of the American lexicon for almost eight decades. He doesnít quite pull it off, but thereís enough there that people are still passionately debating the filmís merits and shortcoming almost two years later. Itís difficult to imagine anyone discussing Justice League with that level of fervor even a month from now, as it inevitably gets steamrolled by Star Wars in the cultural consciousness.

Justice League was a necessary corrective for the DC film universe, deftly setting the stage for solo films for most of its heroes that will likely be more hotly anticipated than Justice League itself. And yet it also feels like a sort of creative surrender, an overcorrection to the Batman V Superman backlash that promises safer, more general audience friendly fare. Maybe thatís the right call, and Justice Leagueís soft box office is more reflective of the publicís mixed feelings about Batman V Superman than an indictment of Justice League itself.

But it canít help but feel like the safe course correction of Justice League came at the exact wrong time, in a year where people were looking for their superhero films to take big, bold risks. If the only lesson Warner Bros. learned from Batman V Superman is that they shouldnít take creative risks with their most iconic characters, the DC film universe might be in an entirely different sort of trouble moving forward.