The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan’s review of “Justice League,” click here. 

“Justice League” shares many of the problems that have cropped up in DC Comics films — a thinly written villain, a criminal underuse of both Amy Adams and Lois Lane, LOUD NOISES, (presumably) Zack Snyder shooting Gal Gadot like she’s on a late-night Cinemax show. And it’s terribly uneven; Joss Whedon was brought in to complete the film, and Whedon and Snyder aren’t exactly the chocolate and peanut butter of cinematic styles. Its fundamental flaw, though, lies at its moral center.

For those of you who were mercifully spared Snyder’s 2016 film “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” all you really need to know is that Superman died at the end. This has given Batman (Ben Affleck) a severe case of Batguilt, not only because he feels somewhat responsible, but because he feels that the world needs Superman. And, judging from the new movie’s early scenes, we do: The loss of the Last Son of Krypton has apparently directly led to an uptick in crime, a heavy reliance on slow motion and an unfortunate alien invasion. It seems the only thing keeping Earth from devolving into a free-for-all hell-scape was an undocumented immigrant from another planet who, 2013’s “Man of Steel” strongly suggested, attended the University of Kansas without even bothering to help out the football team.

In the world of “Justice League,” Superman was a deterrent against the worst of humanity. Which is so reductive that it borders on offensive — it means Superman is a red-caped crusader bent on saving humans from ourselves. It means he is reactive; he serves no function but to prevent and punish crime. While that is part of his role, it’s by no means the most important.

The threat of punishment, whether it’s a speeding ticket or a building-demolishing punch in the face, does not deter all — or even a majority, I think — of evil acts. Most people don’t drive 90 mph in a 45 mph zone, because they recognize that doing so puts themselves and others at risk, not because they fear a ticket. For those who do drive that fast, the threat of a ticket is not enough to convince them to take their foot off the accelerator. Even larger crimes — rape, murder, genocide — happen in spite of the legal or moral consequences. It’s not the law that keeps most people from committing murder, it’s that they don’t want to kill anyone. To cast Superman as cop, judge and jury and to suggest that without him all hell would break loose is not only to demean his message, but to render him largely ineffective. Evil is not deterred by authority, but counteracted with goodness. People don’t love Superman because of how he protects them (though he does come in handy for that), but because he’s a symbol of what we can be, even if we can only glimmer in response to his beacon.

Bruce Wayne pays lip service to that argument, rambling on for a bit about how Superman gives Earth hope, but we never see that represented in the movie as a whole. In “Justice League,” Earth needs Superman primarily to protect, not to inspire — and that’s not what Superman was ever about. Superman was never a wall against our baser instincts, but a bridge to our better ones.