Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Themes and Characters in JUSTICE LEAGUE

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Justice League's themes and character arcs. Scene-by-scene analysis will begin in the next episode.

  • What is the name of Zack Snyder's Superman trilogy?
  • Themes: How do we deal with loss? Collaboration is stronger than isolation. With support, one can come back from damage stronger than before. It is better to lead through inspiration than fear. Is humanity worth saving?
  • Major characters: Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, Cyborg, Superman, and Steppenwolf.
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Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd @NBego

Some scenes axed from the theatrical version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mC_XYBWjsSw

DC Cinematic Minute Review of Justice League: https://www.patreon.com/posts/dc-cinematic-15441890


<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast focuses on analyzing the DC Films that are part of the Justice League Universe, produced by Warner Brother Pictures. This universe is centered on the Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League trilogy by Zack Snyder and also includes Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer, and Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, with Aquaman, Shazam, a Wonder Woman sequel, and several other exciting films coming in the future. Speaking of Zack Snyder’s trilogy, we’re going to comment in a moment on what to call it, but first I just want to say that you can’t analyze deep films alone, so I have to acknowledge my team of contributors: Alessandro Maniscalco, who is @raveryn on Twitter, Rebecca Johnson who is @derbykid, Sydney who is @wondersyd, and also Nick Begovich, who is @NBego. You can also follow the show on twitter @JLUPodcast.

In this particular episode, we are going to answer our major questions that we had going into Justice League, which we listed in our last episode, and then we are going to share our initial interpretations of the film with regard to conceptual themes and character arcs. We have absolutely loved the depth of thematic content in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, and so we’re eager to dig right into what we saw in this film. We have only had a few days to process it all, and it’s been a bit of a roller coaster of emotions and reactions, so needless to say these thoughts are all preliminary. We reserve the right to clarify or modify our interpretations as we proceed through our full analysis of the film. Also, across the five of us, we don’t all necessarily endorse everything said here, but we think they are all reasonable interpretations, and obviously for any rich creative work, we should always welcome multiple perspectives. So in a moment, we’ll share a few of the themes that have come across to us, and we’ll also comment on the major characters.

But first, let’s just appreciate the fact that Zack Snyder’s trilogy has now concluded with Justice League, and we are very curious what this trilogy will end up being called. There was of course The Dark Knight trilogy, by Christopher Nolan, which ended up getting its name from the middle installment, which was emblematic of the overarching story and also helped to distinguish it from the earlier Batman films that all had “Batman” in the title. Other trilogies from Warner Brothers were very obviously named, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy. But for Zack Snyder’s, the name isn’t as obvious. There is the connective tissue between the titles of the second and third film, with Dawn of Justice leading to Justice League. But that kind of leaves out Superman, who was basically the sole focus of the first film, and whose rise as Superman, his sacrifice, and then his resurrection are clearly a massive part of the trilogy overall.

As naturally happens, we predict that social conversation will gradually settle on a name for the trilogy that will stick, and it will probably happen in the next few months if not weeks. Some possible names that might come up are:
  • Man of Steel trilogy
  • Death of Superman trilogy
  • Superman trilogy
  • Zack Snyder Superman trilogy
  • Dawn of Justice trilogy
  • Dawn of the Justice League trilogy
  • Snyder Justice League trilogy
  • Zack Snyder’s Superman Saga

There’s not a really obvious leading candidate. Our listener @PoulosGarrett thought that the Man of Steel trilogy works as a name, and @dudeseid proposed the “Zack Snyder Superman Gospel.” As for me, if I had to pick right now, I guess I would say the “Dawn of Justice trilogy” because overall it’s not just a Justice League story, it’s about the formation of the Justice League, so Dawn works well to indicate that the films all lead to the Justice League. And I like how “Dawn of Justice” clearly refers to both the second and the third installment in the trilogy. The main drawback to this is that it doesn’t explicitly include Superman in the trilogy title, but I think you have to either go toward Justice or toward Superman -- I can’t think of how you’d do both, unless you go really long and say the “Death of Superman and Dawn of Justice trilogy”. But I guess “Dawn of Justice trilogy” is where I’m leaning now, and Alessandro agrees with me on that. And including the word “justice” does give a subtle nod to Superman, who stands for Justice and says as much in the movie. If, however, I wanted to go with a title that is more clearly toward Superman instead, I think my second choice would be the “Zack Snyder Superman trilogy”.

If you have thoughts, let us know in the comments or reach out to us on twitter @JLUPodcast. If our community coalesces around one of the names, maybe we can start pushing for it online.

Answering our Major Questions from last episode

Okay, let’s get into Justice League. First of all, we want to answer the questions that we laid out in our preparatory episode. So let’s go through those first.

  1. How will Superman be resurrected? And as a follow-up, how does Lois Lane factor into it, given The Flash’s message to Bruce Wayne in BvS that Lois is the key?
    1. So Superman was resurrected using the genesis chamber’s amniotic fluid as a conductive field for the energy from the humans’ Motherbox, which they charged by the speed force. This ties in well with Doomsday’s creation and it was great to hear the Kryptonian music from Hans Zimmer in that scene. The connection to Doomsday also helps build the tension of whether Superman is going to come back good or evil. It was also kind of cool that both Superman and Doomsday left the scout ship and went to Heroes Park. Another nice connection to BvS is that Bruce was set on killing Superman in that movie, but in this movie he is leading the charge to try to bring him back. If we compare it to the comic book story of Superman’s resurrection, the movie wasn’t exactly the same as the Regeneration Matrix, and it was a much faster process in the film, but there were some similarities -- the regeneration matrix was housed in the fortress of solitude, and the scout ship was originally sort of the fortress of solitude in Man of Steel. And both relied on alien technology plus the fact that Superman’s cells don’t really decay after death.
      In our last episode, we also wondered about how Clark Kent was going to be reintroduced to the world, but Justice League just didn’t deal with that particular aspect. Hopefully we get a Man of Steel sequel -- we know Henry Cavill has one more film in his contrast -- so that might be a good place to handle Clark Kent. And as for Lois, she does end up being the key to fully awakening Superman and preventing him from turning into the ruthless Superman in the knightmare vision from BvS. She is Batman’s “big gun” so we can conclude that Flash’s message from the future has helped him come up with the idea of having her ready to help.
  2. If Arthur and Victor hesitate to join the others in forming the Justice League, what changes their minds?
    1. For Arthur, he has a direct connection to the ancient civilizations who faced Steppenwolf before, and he initially rebuffs Bruce’s invitation but a series of events leads him to come on board. He sees an alien encounter at sea and then he sees Steppenwolf, who has reclaimed the Atlantean motherbox. This leads to his conversation with Mera, who reminds him of his royal responsibilities as heir to the throne of Atlantis. His mother would have pursued Steppenwolf even up onto land. So that spurs him into heading back to Gotham, just in time to help out in the tunnel fight.
    2. For Vic, he has a direct connection to the motherbox because it helped to form him but what really changes his mind is the fact that his father gets kidnapped. Seeing the threat first hand and wanting to save his father leads him to join in.
    3. Overall, the film did a great job of giving everyone a reason to join the league, and we’ll mention all of that when we get to our character section.
  3. What will be some of the clear influences on the movie in terms of prior works? We initially guessed Justice League Origin, The Seven Samurai, and The Magnificent Seven (which itself was inspired by the Seven Samurai).
    1. At first glance, we didn’t see much in the way of influences by The Magnificent Seven and The Seven Samurai aside from the story-level fact of recruiting a group of people to fend off a threat. But some of the potential visual connections may have been lost with the reshoots, or we may just not have caught them yet and we’ll keep looking in our scene-by-scene analysis. As for Justice League: Origin, the first volume of the Justice League comic book in the New 52, by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, there were some small connections but the overall structure was fairly unique. The clearest connection was probably the opening scene with Batman and the Parademon. Aquaman having a big arrival moment after he came into contact with the threat was also similar, but the details were different. We’ll look for more as we go through, and I can say that the film has inspired me to reread Origin, and I’m also planning to read Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA book, too.
  4. Will any Green Lanterns show up?
    1. Yes, we are pleased to say that one did. He looked great way back in the history lesson. So it wasn’t a present-day Green Lantern but it was good enough for us. And we actually saw his green lantern ring fly off after he was killed, so that makes us curious for more.
  5. Will the musical score be a fitting conclusion to the Zack Snyder Dawn of Justice trilogy?
    1. No, not really. In our opinions there were lots of missed opportunities because Danny Elfman refused to use the existing themes from Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, with the small exception of their entry into the scout ship and a version of the Wonder Woman theme in London. For us, big fans of Man of Steel and BvS, the music could have drawn out a lot more of the emotional weight and meaning that had been established in MoS and BvS, like the beautiful magnificence of the Flight theme from MoS for Superman as he returns to the skies, or the sincere, raw emotion of the Clark Kent piano theme when he reunites with his mother. He did have some hints of past superhero films in his score, but it wasn’t MoS or BvS. In the opinion of one of our contributors, Elfman totally blew it.
    2. For me, the orchestral score wasn’t as bad or as distracting as I had feared, but it did NOT form a fitting conclusion to the trilogy. The inclusion of pop songs and rock songs is also a mixed bag. Some people might have liked the White Stripes pairing with Aquaman, but others might say that it stuck out and didn’t quite work in the film. It does have precedent in the trilogy, though, with Man of Steel using Chris Cornell in the film, for example. And there might also be disagreement about the inclusion of the Batman 89 theme or the Superman 78 theme. I can understand people being opposed to those, because they are from very different versions of the characters, but I surprisingly ended up being okay with them. It’s like in the comic books when a reboot happens -- it’s new versions of the characters, but we still allow for homages or connections back to the characters’ long histories. So I don’t mind those nods to classic scores, but we just wish Elfman had also used more fully the existing music from this incarnation of the characters, too.
  6. Will this movie continue the strong presence of parents?
    1. Parents were definitely very present in this movie, with Martha Kent, Hippolyta, Henry Allen, and Silas Stone all having memorable scenes. They provide some background and heart for the characters, but they didn’t seem to be as profound of a thematic presence as in past movies, with fathers in Man of Steel and mothers in Batman v Superman. It’s also possible that some scenes with the parents were cut out of the theatrical version.
  7. And finally, number 7, what will be the main theme or themes of the movie?
    1. This is our bread and butter so we already have quite a bit to say about the themes, so let’s do that now.

Initial Thoughts about Themes

We want to start off by saying that one of the reasons we all love Batman v Superman so much is because of how deep the themes run throughout the movie. The themes seemed to direct the character journeys, the visual motifs, and the plot. BvS also represented important aspects of our current society in real life, and it’s hard to see that on screen sometimes, especially for people who go to the movies for escapism, but we actually do have skewed media narratives and powerful people with fragile egos, and we do have controversies and tribalism in the face of outsiders. We also tend to prejudge people and we can fall victim to the same things that Bruce and Clark were grappling with, namely, a failure to see things from another person’s point of view, or a failure to realize and admit that we might be mistaken about something.

So overall, we give BvS high marks for tackling real world issues. And on first glance, it might seem that Justice League is a step away from that approach in favor of more escapist-type cinema. And to be honest, that was kind of how I felt when I saw Justice League the first time and was a bit disappointed in several regards. But thinking about it more and seeing it a couple more times, I’ve really come around to loving the movie, and part of that is because I DO see Justice League taking on real world issues. In fact, it’s a continuation of exactly what BvS was dealing with. BvS showed us that our human behaviors are kind of ugly, and that we risk breaking the spirits of even the most well-intentioned people. Building from that low point, Justice League explores the idea that we will have to find a way to rediscover optimism and a positive way forward. Many of the characters are trying to seek out that way forward, and the world inside the movie is also struggling to get itself out of a period of anger and violence. And by the end of the movie, they find it. So connecting that to the real world, we can think that even though times are pretty dark and frustrating and scary right now, with threats of violence on a large scale and an erosion of truth and trust in institutions like journalism, science, and education, the Justice League film is an example of art trying to actually speak to the challenges of our era. Yes, on one level, it’s just a team of fictional superheroes getting together to fight a bad guy, but if you look for it, it also has an optimistic message that we can rally together and we can save the world, we just can’t save the world alone.

So those are some top-level thoughts that are kind of just generally about optimism and connections to the real world. But we’ve also started to identify some more specific themes from the movie. We are going to share our preliminary thoughts on four of them:
How do we deal with loss?
Collaboration is stronger than isolation.
With support, one can come back from damage stronger than before. That one also involves the idea of rebirth. And finally,
It is better to lead through inspiration than through fear.

So let’s look at these one at a time. First, how do we deal with loss?
  • This idea continues from BvS where Bruce was still struggling to cope with the lose of his parents. He had also lost a Robin and now, partly through his own actions and inactions (not seeing and stopping Luthor), he has lost Superman. The way he was dealing with that new loss in Justice League is with a vigorous commitment to trying to protect the world and defeat Steppenwolf. He is also trying to bring others together, because he had formerly dealt with loss ineffectively by pushing everyone away.
  • The theme of dealing with loss also continues from the Wonder Woman film this summer. Diana lost her home and she lost Steve Trevor. Her way of dealing with that was to isolate herself and withdraw from public heroics. But now we’ll see her starting to shift the way that she handles it.
  • This theme also connects to many other characters. Lois and Martha have lost Clark. Lois is not dealing with it very well at all. She has a tough time getting back to work. And Martha has let the farmhouse go -- it’s rundown and foreclosed. She is trying to find a new normal, and trying to see if her connection with Lois will still work with Clark gone. They’re a bit awkward together but they share a common grief, and that’s an important bond.
  • For the other characters, they are also dealing with loss. One thing we’re really happy about is how this theme really connects through to all of the major characters. And several of them are specifically about losing parents. Of course there’s Bruce, but also
    • Aquaman lost his mother and dealt with it by harboring resentment against her. And he refused to join with her civilization, the Atlanteans, even though they asked him to in the past. (There’s a quick line where Arthur says they tried to tell him what to do, but he’d rather stay a loner. I think it’s when Bruce was also trying to tell him what to do.) But overall, Arthur is dealing with his personal losses by being a loner and only helping people in isolated situations.
    • Barry lost his mother when she was murdered, and then he lost his father to prison when he was convicted for the crime. He is dealing with it by being restless and aimless, and also trying to find a way to get his father exonerated, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Henry fears that it’s a fruitless endeavor, that Barry is just running in circles. It seems like a fool’s errand, at the beginning of the movie. But by the end, things change a bit.
    • And finally there’s Cyborg, who also lost his mom. She was killed in the same accident that maimed him. And he’s also lost all his contact with the outside world (except through data). He is dealing with it by staying shut in at the apartment.
  • On a bigger scale, the world has lost Superman and with him they’ve lost a bit of their optimism and direction. The world is clearly descending into anger, terror, and a failure to cope. Evidence of this are the World Without Superman montage, the terror attack in London, and the comments from characters like Martha Kent.
  • Now, if you listened to our Suicide Squad analysis, then you know we heavily criticized that movie because its villain, Enchantress, didn’t tie in well to the main themes of the movie. Luckily for Justice League, we see some good connections to Steppenwolf for a few of these themes. With regard to dealing with loss, this actually does apply to Steppenwolf, too. He lost the earlier battle for Earth, and this was a big blow to his ego and his standing amongst the new gods of Apokolips. So how did he deal with it? He basically stewed for thousands of years, waiting for his opportunity to come back and redeem himself in the eyes of mother.
  • As we’ll see as we go through the movie, the heroic characters all have moments where they realize and reflect on the ways that they’re coping or failing to cope with their loss. And they find ways to move forward in healthier ways, often supported by their newfound friendships. But for Steppenwolf, he provides the contrast, because he isn’t really self-reflective at all and he doesn’t find a healthy way to deal with his loss. Thus he suffers yet another loss, again failing to conquer Earth.

But before we get to the resolution of that theme at the end of the movie, let’s back up to the start again. In many cases, the losses people experienced have caused them to become isolated. And that puts them in a position for character growth and it leads us to our second theme.

Collaboration is stronger than isolation. Or a shorter way to say this might be, “Stronger Together.” Again, it’s impressive how every major character connects to this theme in some way.

  • Bruce, as we said, was very isolated in BvS, but now he is “working well with others.” It is “the others” who gave Bruce purpose - to bring them together in order to fight a greater threat. He knew he couldn’t do it alone, and he found new strength in depending on others. This includes making new accommodations for more people like building the Nightcrawler and the Flying Fox. And in a way, Bruce is a mentor to Flash so he has to be better for his sake too.
  • Diana is separated from her sisters, isolated for 100 years after losing Steve and learning the truth about mankind, leaving them to their own choices. But fighting Doomsday with Batman and Superman inspired Diana to be Wonder Woman anew. And now meeting Cyborg and being challenged by Bruce, it helped Diana to overcome her sense of loss about Steve and to work on opening up to the world and to close relationships again.
  • Arthur emphasizes his isolation at the beginning of the movie with the line “the strong man is strongest alone.” He hasn’t joined either society -- the Atlanteans or Mankind. But Aquaman is unable to stop Steppenwolf alone, failing just as the Amazons failed. But he grew to realize he needed friends, just like the Flash.  We see insight into this with the lasso scene.
  • Barry is very clearly isolated at the beginning of the movie, and whereas Arthur said he was strongest alone, Barry knew right away, “I need friends.”  The rest of the league supports Barry and helps him grow and mature. He is stronger because of them.  Batman helps pave the road for him to be heroic by telling him to save one person. He even helps him get a real job. And Barry also finds commonality with Vic, so he ends up with a group of friends that have helped him in many ways.
  • Victor begins the movie cooped up with his father -- no one else even knows he’s alive, other than Lex, Bruce, and Alfred. Vic is separated from humanity (and from his own humanity). He goes from feeling isolated and not belonging in the world to having people to lean on and valuing his own life again.
  • And finally, although Lois isn’t a major character, her grief has led to her isolating herself from work. Martha is her only connection that we see in the film, until Clark comes back.
  • From these starting points of isolation, eventually they all connect and find the value in working together. The resolution of this theme is highlighted in several specific moments later in the movie:
    • There’s Aquaman riding on the batmobile, a contrast to Arthur throwing Bruce against the wall;
    • Cyborg catches Aquaman in the sky, a contrast to Aquaman doubting Cyborg’s allegiance to the team;
    • Batman coaches the Flash, which reinforces the idea that the Flash would benefit from having friends; and there’s also the Flash/Cyborg fistbump at the very end ot the movie;
    • The Flash also helps Diana with the sword and he clears the way for Cyborg when he’s working on the unity;
    • And a big one is when Diana makes a leader’s decision to save Batman from the parademons.

So the heroes very thoroughly illustrate the idea of moving from isolation to collaboration, and the film shows that collaboration is more powerful and more humanizing. From the villain’s perspective, this theme also works pretty well. Steppenwolf is basically isolated -- in exile after his prior failure. That failure, by the way, was caused by the collaboration of Amazons, Atlanteans, and the tribes of men. And back then and ever since, Steppenwolf seems to be alone. We don’t see him with any collaborators or mentors or support structures other than the parademons. And thematically, he is driven to reform the unity, bringing the three motherboxes back together. So he is also trying to gain power by bringing disparate things together. But in the climax of the movie, the Justice League separate the villain’s unity while staying unified themselves, which leads to the heroes’ victory.

It might have been great to get even one more layer on top of the heroes coming together, for example, mankind or Atlanteans or Amazons also reuniting in some way, but that may have been beyond the scope of the movie in terms of what they could pull off at the end. And it may have drawn attention away from the 6 leaguers at the end. So it’s understandable that they left it out.

Alright, the third theme that we’re working on is about rebirth or overcoming adversity. We’re not quite sure how we want to phrase it yet, but here’s the idea: With support, one can come back from damage stronger than before. Or maybe it’s as simple as, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or should we saw, what kills you but doesn’t keep you dead makes you stronger.

This theme is most clearly at play with Superman. He is resurrected and returns from the dead, seemingly stronger than before, burning brighter like a Phoenix. He has superspeed and freeze breath, and may generally pack a greater punch than before. He also returns with greater hope and joy, thrilled to have a second shot at life, and from seeing the hope that he has inspired in others.

Vic Stone is another obvious element of this theme. He basically died, or was on his way to death from the explosion, when his father resurrected him using the motherbox. And he obviously came back with new capabilities and powers as Cyborg, and those powers are actually still growing throughout the whole movie. He has also had to find new psychological strength to be able to cope with the change. And that connects with real people’s experiences of damage and trauma --- there’s the physical healing that needs to happen but also the emotional and psychological healing, and once people make it through that, they are in many ways stronger and more resilient than ever.

Bruce is the other one who really represents the idea of rebirth and coming back stronger. He is not physically stronger than before, and in fact we are shown that he is an aging and vulnerable human, but Bruce is having a sort of rebirth after the events of BvS. In that movie, he almost went over the edge, but he had a moment of clarity and was able to pull himself back from the brink. And after witnessing Superman’s sacrifice, he reemerged, dedicated to his new mission of trying not to fail Superman in death. And now in Justice League, he is in a healthier, stronger mindset, and he is able to bring a team together that can accomplish much more than he could’ve done alone. Where he used to handle exploding wind-up penguins, now he and his team are powerful enough to save the world from an alien invasion.

At the end of the movie, this idea of rebirth is even suggested symbolically by Bruce and Diana planning to renovate Wayne Manor. The Justice League is born out of Batman and Superman’s revitalization, and even Wonder Woman’s, with her now stepping fully into the public spotlight, and the Hall of Justice will be emblematic of that, being born out of a revitalized Wayne Manor. As an added bonus, Martha and Clark are renovating the Kent farmhouse, too.

As for the villains, this particular theme wasn’t as strong. The parademons are shown to come from dead people, so they are an evil sort of rebirth that contrasts with Superman and Cyborg. The fact that the filmmakers include this fact about parademons I guess is better than nothing, but it would’ve been even better from a thematic perspective if they would’ve explored the idea of whether the parademons have a soul. After all, Aquaman did suggest that when you die, you lose something, like a soul, so it seems like they could’ve extended this question to the parademons themselves. If they do still have a soul, then that changes our views on just killing all of them as quickly as possible. But I guess with the goal of Justice League being more of a popcorn blockbuster movie, it was less complicated to just have them be mindless insect monsters. No worries to our consciences.

The fourth and final theme we’ll mention in this preliminary episode is the idea that it is better to lead through inspiration than through fear.

Right at the very beginning of the film, we learn that the parademons feed on fear. This is emphasized again several times, such as when Steppenwolf is interrogating the kidnapped scientists. Also, the London terrorist talks about returning the world to the age of “holy fear.” So there’s this sense that fear is a way of keeping people in line, or it’s a driving force for humans and other living creatures, so it can be used to control them. But notice that it tends to stem from the villains of the movie. And yes, Batman is often associated with fear, but we would just say that Batman striking fear into the hearts of criminals wasn’t really central to the plot of this film, and in a way, this film is almost about Batman switching tactics. Where he used to use fear as a tool against criminals, now he realizes that it isn’t a good way to bring heroes together. He has to find other ways to bring them together and then to motivate them or spur them into realizing their full potentials.

So the villains have a strong connection to fear. On the flip side would be the notion of leading by inspiring. Bruce accuses Diana of staying out of the spotlight and not being a public inspirational figure like Superman was. This is where we can actually tie in the cellphone scene from the very beginning of the movie. Superman has just helped out with a fire or something like that, and he is staying around to talk with people afterward, and then he comes over to chat with the kids for their podcast. He is not just doing good deeds, he is trying to be an inspirational and accessible figure, standing, smiling and answering their questions -- it’s the polar opposite from Steppenwolf interrogating those scientists. So this kind of inspirational work that Supemran does is what Bruce is accusing Diana of failing to do. But at the end of the movie, in the final montage of all the Justice Leaguers, what do we see? It’s Wonder Woman after she has stopped a museum robbery. The criminals are confessing, thanks to the lasso of truth, which Diana has lent to the police officers, and Wonder Woman comes onto the screen and returns a stolen object. Then she walks right over to the public and to some children, smiling and talking with them, just like Superman did in Scene 1. She has changed her public behavior and joined Superman as an inspirational figure --- and it’s a stark contrast to the fear-based system of the villains.

Note that this is yet another theme that actually connects well to Steppenwolf. He is directly involved in the fear stuff on the villain side. Perhaps the filmmakers could’ve deepened the theme even further by showing Steppenwolf being fearful of Darkseid, perhaps worrying about what Darkseid might do to him if he fails again. But even without that, it still works pretty well throughout the movie.

And we really like it that the film not only has fear as a topic, but it actually makes a clear statement about the topic -- the film takes a clear position that inspiration-based leadership is better than fear-based leadership. And this position is not just a personal stance from the filmmakers, this is actually the same position that is supported by psychological and business leadership research alike. Over and over, researchers have found that motivating people by fear or trying to lead a business through fear is ineffective. It can produce some short-term gains like people being compliant or completing tasks on time, but it also causes stress, stifles creativity, and causes people to focus more on looking good or not getting caught rather than actually doing their best. In business situations, it can also cause people to resent their employers or seek other employment as soon as possible. In other words, fear-based leadership often backfires, and this point is driven home in the film when the fear motivation backfires on Steppenwolf and the parademons actually swarm him as he’s taken away in the final boomtube.

The final things we’ll mention in this section before we move on to character analysis is one overarching theme and one motif that we noticed. We think Justice League works well with regard to the overarching theme for the entire Justice League Universe. We’ve talked about it in the past how each movie takes up the question: Is humanity worth saving? And thankfully, the answer is always yes. We don’t have time to get into it now, but it’s clearest when Bruce is talking to Arthur and he says that, with the world in crisis and the sea levels rising, maybe they deserve what they get. Arthur seems to not care too much at that point, but by the end, everyone is on board with saving the world.

One motif that we wanted to mention is humanity. Right at the start of the movie, there’s a question about “What’s your favorite thing about planet Earth?” And as we’ll talk about in the next episode, humanity might be Superman’s implied answer. It encompasses humaneness, Brotherly and Sisterly Love, philanthropy, compassion, understanding, tolerance, and the peoples it is attributed to. You might even say it’s the reason he hangs around to answer the children’s questions at all. When Superman comes back, he is lacking his humanity, but Lois is his connection to humanity and she helps him restore it. Batman recovers his humanity at end of BvS when he talks about how Men are still Good. Diana also comes to see that Men are still good in Justice League through Batman’s change and in the team’s stories. Seeing the world's humanity leads her to follow Superman's example by the end. Victor fears he has lost himself and his humanity and that he is more a threat than anything else. He comes to realize he hasn't lost it and finds comfort in others. Barry’s humanity shines in his childlike innocence. It's his humanity that allows him to overcome his many fears. It is Aquaman’s humanity that causes him to show concern for peoples that have shunned him. Although he is not part of either world, he saves humans from the sea and rushes off to Atlantis when he suspects they are in danger.  Insight into his thoughts, thanks to the lasso, show he values the company of these unique individuals. Steppenwolf wants to take away everyone's humanity and turn them into mindless, obedient parademon drones. It was the bonds of the beings of Earth that allowed them to fend off Steppenwolf’s first attack ages ago and share in the responsibility of protecting the Motherboxes. And it is the reclaimed humanity of the Justice Leaguers that fend him off this time, too.

Major Characters

Alright, our last main section of this episode is a quick look at each of the major characters. We have already gotten to know Clark, Bruce, and Diana quite well from prior films, but we can look at how they developed in Justice League. As for the newcomers, Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg, they actually didn’t include full origin stories for them. Instead, they opted for allusions through dialogue (e.g., Mera and Aquaman interact where we can tell that Aquaman has resentment toward his mother whereas Mera has great respect for the Atlantean queen; Barry and Cyborg talk about their accidents). We saw a bit of Cyborg’s origin in Batman v Superman, but we don’t know the details of the accident. We didn’t see his mother. We didn’t see him before the accident. Overall, the lack of origin stories here allowed for good momentum in Justice League from start to finish, and it leaves room for future solo films to fill in backstory.

Because this film is obviously the formation of the Justice League, we thought it was great that they gave each character a pretty even-handed amount of screentime and development, and it’s also good that they made sure each had a clear reason for joining the team. None of them were just conveniently roped in or dropped off on the league’s doorstep.
  • For Bruce, he knows about the threat from the end of BvS and he is trying to live up to his promise to not fail Superman in death.
  • For Diana, she knows Bruce is trying to find the meta-humans but it’s really the warning flame from the Amazons that spurs her into joining him.
  • We already mentioned Arthur and Vic earlier.
  • For Barry, he is kind of aimless at first but his father encourages him to find some direction in his life. Right then, Bruce comes to him with the invitation to join and Barry takes it right away. The fact that he joins the fastest is kind of a funny aspect of the character.
  • And finally, for Superman, it’s plotted out well where it’s after the other five heroes fail against Steppenwolf that they realize they need the big guy. So that is a clear reason for him to be brought back to join the team. And although Superman doesn’t immediately become a team member, he eventually finds himself with the help of Lois, and she lets him know that the league needs him, so he of course goes, with his same willingness to help and also with joy because of his new lease on life.

So overall, the film did a nice job of structuring the story so that they all have a reason to join up. So “this is the team.” But now let’s look at each of them individually in a bit more detail. I’ll start us off with Bruce, Diana, and Arthur, and then Sydney, Rebecca, and Alessandro are going to help out with Barry, Vic, and Clark. And then I’ll finish things off by sharing our thoughts on Steppenwolf.

First up is Bruce Wayne / Batman

As we mentioned earlier, Bruce is trying very hard to make good on his promise to Superman. There was even a line where he says, “I made him a promise,” and although they cut that line, they kept the idea and the intention that was there at the end of BvS (“I failed him in life, I won’t fail him in death”).

Looking across BvS and Justice League, it’s ironic that Batman goes from wanting to kill Superman to wanting to resurrect Superman. One might even wonder if, after Bruce learned about the motherboxes from Lex’s notes and from the Cyborg video footage, that reviving Superman may have been a secret motivation of his -- just like he kept his motivation for Kryptonite secret in the first parts of BvS. He just had to wait until the team suffered a big setback before he could bring up the idea to everyone. To be clear, we aren’t saying this is definitely the case, but it’s interesting to think about. Especially since Bruce seemed to have already thought it all through and he knew somehow that Superman’s cells don't decay.  He must have done his research, maybe even taken a tissue sample before transporting the body to Kansas. Anyway, it seems like he was looking for a way to make things right not by simply keeping his promise, but by undoing his mistake. And Diana may have even suspected the same thing. So we’ll think about that more in our scene-by-scene analysis.

Another thing about BvS and Justice League is that it’s ironic that Lex may have been hoping that Batman would seek out the other meta-humans to take them out, and now Batman is finding them all, using Lex’s information, but it’s to join forces with them, not to take them out.

Now, focusing just on Bruce Wayne in Justice League, a few things stand out. One thing is his interactions with the other Justice League members. It’s a big deal that Bruce is opening himself up to them and letting them in on his secret. Before now, it’s been just him and Alfred, and sometimes in the past Bruce was even trying to shut out Alfred. We mentioned some of this in the theme about isolation.

And another thing is the team dynamics. Bruce serves as the veteran, the equipment provider, and the initial leader. It’s also interesting to look at his interactions with each of the others. There’s still a little bit of sexual tension between him and Diana, which was hinted at in BvS, but they didn’t take it very far, which we think was a good call. The movie didn’t need that romantic element. With Arthur and Barry, we see Bruce approaching them and trying to recruit them, and he is a distinctively less-empathic style than Diana when she recruits Vic. Bruce almost just tries to impress them with how much information about them he’s been able to discover and then he tries to convince them of the threat that’s coming. Diana, on the other hand, manages to use the idea of personal connections and personal growth, not just cold logic.

A strong part of the movie is that Bruce’s relationship with the other leaguers progress throughout the movie. He gives advice to the Flash to help him overcome his fear and rise to the new, other-worldly challenge. And Batman ends up giving Aquaman a ride on the batmobile, even after Arthur claimed that the strong man was strongest alone.

Speaking of strong men, Bruce is shown to be a vulnerable and fragile human, especially relative to the impervious Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Superman. Even Cyborg, who also gets cut apart, is able to be reassembled. But Bruce shows his bruises and his dislocated shoulder. He is not only vulnerable but also aging. This comes up explicitly when he’s talking to Diana. If we compare him to professional athletes, it suggests that he’s toward the end of his long career as Batman. With professional athletes, for example, it’s very rare to have anyone continuing on past their mid-thirties, let alone into their forties, so this Bruce Wayne is older than basically all professional athletes. Therefore, implicitly he might be thinking about the next phase of life and passing the torch to the meta-humans.

And he seems at peace with this possibility. We see him willing to sacrifice himself twice in the movie -- the first time is with Superman in Heroes Park. Superman could’ve killed him, but afterward Batman said he was “willing to make the trade.” And the second time was with the parademons in Ukraine. Batman told the team to go confront Steppenwolf while he took out the tower, but really he was planning to use the sonic emitter to lure all the parademons away, which would’ve killed him if the team didn’t decide to forego the plan and come to his rescue. So Batman in this movie is much more at peace with himself than in BvS, and the fact that he is now willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good connects in a powerful way back to BvS. In that movie he talked about his legacy, but due to his dark mental state and his feelings of powerlessness, he thought his legacy would be killing someone else. Now, after witnessing Superman’s sacrifice at the end of BvS, Bruce has shifted in a profound way and now he is willing to sacrifice himself, leaving a positive legacy.

Alright, let’s talk about Diana Prince / Wonder Woman

She gets a great action scene early on the movie, and the terrorists there also help to show that the world is kind of spiraling down into hatred and evil. But the more important thing for her character with regard to plot is that she has the connections to the Amazons, which allows her to explain to Bruce and the audience the history of the motherboxes. She also serves as the co-leader of the league and she brings a different sort of energy and style to leadership.

And she isn’t actually prepared to lead right from the start, even though she probably should. Her main arc as we currently see it is about stepping forward into a full leadership role -- not just on the team, but also as a leader for humanity. Not just saving people when the moment calls for it, but also leading them by example and being an inspiration for them in general.

This allows for some connections to prior movies. It seems as though her first scene follows up on the ending of the Wonder Woman movie. In that movie, the epilogue was in present day, and she was jumping forth to help with some emergency in Paris. And now in Justice League, we see her coming down from the Lady Justice statue to help with an emergency in London. She has come back to the world of man and is active again, but as she says, she is mostly reactive. She is not really leading yet. And Bruce also challenges her on the point that she was relatively dormant for one hundred years, at least as far as the broader public was concerned.

This gives her character some room to grow. She had shied away because of her profound personal loss in Wonder Woman and because she saw the truth and complexity of mankind -- that they can’t really be saved or damned by gods, they have to make their own choices. But in Justice League, she steps forward and becomes a leader, and by the end of the movie we see that she is also taking on a more public role as a hero and beacon for the world. She, like Batman, is following Superman’s example. And that is part of what makes this a cohesive Dawn of Justice trilogy about the emergence and establishment of superheros in our realistic world.

And going back to that conversation about leadership between Diana and Bruce, she says that it’s too much pressure to have others’ lives depend on your own decisions. She is focusing on loss and death when she talks about this worry. But the flip side of it is that a leader can make decisions that save lives. And this is what happens at the end of the movie when she asserts herself as leader and decides to risk the league to save Batman’s life.

There were also some nice dynamics between Diana and Vic. She is the one to recruit him and she makes a connection with him, about how they’re both trying to find a way to come back out into the world. She admits that she is still trying to work on that, too, and this compassion and empathy, which are hallmarks of the Wonder Woman character, eventually open the door for Cyborg to join the team. Dealing with this grief and struggle is also something that Lois is working on, and it’s a normal part of the grieving process. Diana, over one hundred years, took much longer than others to come to terms with it, but for Diana, an immortal, maybe things like this are just naturally protracted in time.

On a more surface level, it was great seeing the lasso again and her sword and shield from the old gods were a great match for Steppenwolf’s ax from the new gods.

Arthur Curry

And that brings us to Arthur Curry, Aquaman, because his quindent was also a great weapon to pair up against the ax. And by the way, we’re calling it a quindent because that’s what Jason Momoa called it in an interview with a Miami TV station. He alluded to an actual royal trident that Mera didn’t let him have, but instead she gave him the quindent. Perhaps we’ll get a fuller explanation in the Aquaman movie next year. For now, we’ll try to call it a quindent, but sometimes we may slip into the traditional terminology of trident, especially because some tridents, like in the New 52 comic books, have two smaller prongs outside the three main prongs. So if we do use trident sometimes, please grant us some leeway.

Anyway, about the character of Aquaman, we talked earlier about how he is an ultimate loner, and he also presents as an extreme tough guy, but he gives us hints that he has a soft heart. Consistently helping out that village in Iceland, for example, because “no one else does” and the fact that the villagers have a great affection for him, helps us to see that might be more of a teddy bear than a polar bear.

He is also willing to help out Atlantis, even though he isn’t really accepted as one of them. He is part Atlantean and part human, born of the Atlantean queen Atlanna and left with his father, who from the comics is a lighthouse keeper. When he hears Bruce’s story and then sees some evidence of the parademons out at sea, he goes back to see if he can help protect the motherbox. He also shows his bravery and toughness, going right into battle with Steppenwolf. He tries to help the Atlanteans even though it seems like he has a bit of a troubled past with them. In an interview, Jason Momoa mentioned that earlier Vulko tried to groom young Arthur to take over the throne, but others viewed him as a half breed, so Arthur left and decided he’d rather live a lonely life up on land.

Because of this loneliness and this lack of acceptance, he has developed a tough emotional shell, and this is why he rebuffs Bruce at first, but eventually we see the inner softness come through, with a little help from the lasso of truth. Although he needed friends just as much as the Flash did, Arthur was not willing to say it out loud.

The scene with Mera was also a highlight for Aquaman and it’s a good preview of the forthcoming Aquaman film. We got the sense that Mera knew of Arthur but had never actually met him before. She has great respect for Arthur’s mom, but this is at odds with Arthur’s own complex feelings about his parents. There’s some tension here between Mera and Arthur, but they also have a hint of admiration. Arthur is impressed at how Mera held up in the fight against Steppenwolf, and Mera is able to get through to Arthur and should be somewhat impressed that he is willing to go up and pursue Steppenwolf, like Atlanna would have.

Aquaman also brought some great physicality to the movie and had some of the best moments in the action sequences. And the underwater scenes, though brief, looked really good. It definitely increased our anticipation for the full Aquaman movie.

Alright, although all of this analysis was written collaboratively, I’m going to pass it over to Sydney, Rebecca, and Alessandro for the next few characters.

Barry Allen / The Flash

We’ve seen this iteration of Barry Allen in two movies already -- in Batman v Superman through security camera footage and a visit from the future to inform Bruce that Lois is the key (a warning that pays off nicely in Justice League), and in Suicide Squad, where he’s seen apprehending Captain Boomerang. But this is really his big introduction to the movie-going audience, and he definitely brings a lot of personality and kinetic energy to the film. He brings a lot of comedic relief, and as with any comedic character, some people in the audience will like it and for others, it might not quite fit their sense of humor, but most of the reactions to Barry seem to be positive. And we like that his humor was mostly a natural part of his characterization, not just for the sake of forced comedy. When he gets nervous, he cracks jokes as a sort of coping mechanism, and when he finds himself in a tense situation, he tries to lighten the mood to make himself and hopefully everyone else more comfortable. Ezra Miller brought a lot of his own boundless energy and talent to deliver a nuanced performance - between the quips and jabs we get to know Barry as a nervous, quirky, yet eager young person.

Barry’s fears are also a big part of the character, and yet he rises to the occasion when he’s needed, despite his lack of training. Up to this movie Barry may have felt that his speed powers would protect him from getting hurt, and it’s only when confronted with Steppenwolf that he realizes the true magnitude of the situation, and that this isn’t at ALL as simple as stopping convenience store or bank robberies. He gets scared, but ultimately pushes forward with the support of his new friends, especially Batman, who acts as his mentor and protector in several scenes.

In terms of character’s arc, there are two very clear threads of Barry Allen’s journey in Justice League. First, there are the bookend scenes with his father, Henry Allen, where they talk about what Barry is doing, or not doing, about his future. And second, there is the evolution from being someone who “needs friends” to someone who is surrounded by friends, even getting a fist bump from Cyborg in the final group shot.

To say a bit more about each of these arcs...Henry Allen initially seems skeptical about why Barry is working so hard and yet not getting anywhere in his life, and he may have a point. Barry’s elaborate secret workstation and high-tech suit suggest that a lot of time and effort has been put into his vigilante work, rather than seriously looking for a real job. He clearly cares about proving his father’s innocence, but his isolation and anxiety prevent him from focusing his efforts. Being a superhero, while clearly showing Barry’s compassionate and heroic qualities, is at first almost a distraction from real-life responsibilities - “running in place”, as his father says. By the end of the film, and after working with the rest of the League, Barry has a lot more focus and confidence, and he finally applies to and gets a job at a crime lab, thus seizing control of his own future.

In joining the League, Barry meets kindred spirits with whom he shares much in common. He and Victor both got their powers in accidents, lost their mothers in horrific ways, and have challenging relationships with their fathers. He and Arthur both need friends. He and Clark both see the world in slow-motion, and he and Diana both have loving parents who, while still alive, are beyond their reach. And finally, he and Bruce both feel the need to make things right and do better by someone else, Bruce by Superman and Barry by his father. These connections empower Barry and make him feel less alone.

To address some criticisms of this take on The Flash, it’s true that his brand of humor isn’t for everyone. There are some moments that we would agree are out-of-place or distracting, and we’re going to address those moments in our analysis, but overall most of us feel that the quips and wisecracks were appropriate for a young man who is early in his crime-fighting career and intimidated by both his vastly more experienced allies and their massively powerful enemies. And I also don’t believe that this Barry is a copy-and-paste of Peter Parker from Spider-man: Homecoming, despite some superficial similarities. I’d say that while both Peter and Barry are very eager to join a superhero team, Barry is just happy to have other people in his life to encourage and empower him in the absence of family. He wasn’t actively trying to get noticed, and in fact had no idea the Justice League even existed as a concept before. His primary motivation in life is exonerating his father and making him proud.  

We also want to mention that many people are identifying with Barry because of the hints that he might be on the autism spectrum. This would incorporate yet another form of diversity into the team, and we’ll talk more about that aspect of the character as we go through our analysis, but if intentional it was a bold choice that we support and it also works well in a movie about people learning to interact and collaborate with one another, which is a unique challenge for those on the spectrum.

Ezra Miller brought his own natural charm to this role, and his Barry Allen was clearly one of the audience favorites at every show I went to. He’s funny and relatable, and since he’s still a bit of a rookie there’s promising potential for growth in future films.

Victor Stone

In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we are given a glimpse of what Silas Stone did in order to save his son’s life, but in Justice League, we learn that the rest of the world believes Victor Stone to be deceased.

Because of this secret, Victor has hidden himself away from the world, cloaked in a hood so that nobody can see him as a “monster”. Confused about his new abilities and what it means for him to have a connection to the Mother Box (which we have a few questions about), makes Victor feel alien and alone. Silas tries to remind Victor that he can have a life, but Vic needs time to literally process what has happened to him.

Needing time to process a tragedy is something Diana Prince knows all too well and it’s fitting that she is the one who takes responsibility to recruit Victor Stone to the team that she and Bruce are forming. Victor is shy (and maybe a little suspicious of Bruce and Diana’s motives) and he hides behind a screen when communicating with her. I thought it was clever that Diana earns his trust by revealing that she could track him without any of his fancy tech.

That fancy tech gives Victor an incredible skillset, but also unintentional downsides. He informs his teammates that “the Mother Box destroys as it creates” and we see the negative aspects of Victor’s gifts on display when Cyborg’s self-defense kicks in and unwittingly, incites a brawl with a newly-resurrected Clark Kent.

Diana argues with Bruce over technology and science when she makes the case that “Technology is like any other power. Without reason, without heart, it destroys us.” Victor embodies Diana’s warning by using his technology and making peace with who he has become, admitting to Superman that he, too, likes being alive. It’s his combination of technology and heart that gives Cyborg the opportunity to be a hero despite his past circumstances.

Previously, I had never connected to the character of Cyborg on a personal level, but in watching Justice League, I found myself relating to Victor Stone’s struggle over the changes made to his body. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 HER2+ positive Breast Cancer and I elected to have a double mastectomy surgery. Even though I considered it to be the best option to help save my life, it has been an adjustment to live life with the way my body has been altered. So, on some level, I can relate to what Victor goes through to come around to his new reality.

Actor Ray Fisher wears t-shirts that display the words “Borg Life” on them. For him, Borg Life isn’t simply a means to promote the Cyborg character, but rather, it’s an effort to embrace the idea that we can take the negative situations in our lives and turn them into something positive to help other people. Victor Stone’s character arc takes him from feeling like an unpredictable monster who wrestles with the loss of who he was to a valued and essential member of the Justice League who accepts who he has become. Borg Life, indeed.

Clark Kent / Superman

At first I was disappointed that he wasn’t like MoS or BvS, but it works well if you view him as having those burdens from BvS lifted (the world criticizing him, people trying to kill him out of fear or prejudgment) and him having a new joy for life because he didn’t expect to come back. This can explain the smiles, the enjoyment and dialogue even during fights.

The new powers can be explained by his encounter with the motherbox. It was described as cycling between life and death and it creates new powers for Cyborg over time. This might be why he now has superspeed and eventually freeze breath.

He was confused -- didn’t know who Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman were. That gave an opportunity for the newly formed league to test their metal against him. And it showed that Superman really is the preeminent member of the league.

His stuff with Lois and Martha was like the minimal amount needed. It was there, but it wasn’t fully developed and, in my opinion, didn’t completely land home, which is a shame after such great character arcs and emotions for him in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman.

Not sure about his dynamics with Bruce. They tried to have some callbacks to BvS, but it seemed jumbled. I need more time to process it.

Didn’t like some of his dialogue -- “Did I not before?” “I take it back, I do wish I were dead.” Knowing how aggrieved Lois and Martha were at his death, I really don’t think Superman would joke about that.

It was a great moment with Cyborg, though, with both affirming their desire for life (after death).

This trilogy of movies can be viewed as a life, death, and return of Superman when you consider each movie’s role.  In Man of Steel we saw Superman be given life by his Kryptonian parents biologically, something which is significant given Kryptonians no longer bred in that manner.  They further gave him life by giving him a chance to survive sending him off to Earth.  Additionally the Kents gave Kal-El a life as a human.  And in the end he found a life with Lois.  

In Batman v Superman we saw not only Superman’s literal death, but the breakdown of what Superman stands for, the loss of hope and faith in heroism as people questioned Superman’s role on Earth and by extension the heroics of any superhero including the Batman who had fought crime for 20 years.  

And finally, on the 3rd film he rose again.  Fulfilling his Jesus role, Superman rises from the dead in Justice League to save humanity from the quote devil from the sky, right down to the horns.  The world’s faith in Superman and what he stands for has been reinvigorated by his sacrifice and miraculous return.

The method in which Superman is resurrected has a lot of significance.  The act of dipping Clark’s body into the amniotic fluid is much like a water baptism from Judaism which is fitting given Superman’s creators were Jewish.  It differs a bit from Christianity in which Baptism is more an act of obedience to the Lord, but in this case Superman is the Jesus figure which can be connected to Matthew 3:13-17 in the New Testament in which Jesus himself is baptized.  At its religious roots baptism symbolizes death, burial, and new birth.  Note that coming out of the water does not symbolize resurrection, but being reborn.  This distinction is an important one given the change we see in Superman from previous films.  Thanks to @TheCharlesBuda on twitter for noticing the baptism connection right away.

Placing Clark Kent’s body into the amniotic liquid to resurrect him also ties into the comics in which an orange fluid filled regeneration matrix is used to rejuvenate his cells.  And once he is resuscitated he is similarly not quite himself, but it is a physical dearth in his lack of superpowers rather than a psychological one as in the movie.  

Superman symbolically rises from the ashes as he stands over his crumbled statue in Heroes Park.  His resurrection parallels and ties into Doomsday’s method of origin from the previous movie.  Zod too had a baptism of his own by the hands of Lex Luthor in which he was reborn as Doomsday, a devil figure, who lands in Heroes Park destroying the supposed false idol of Superman.  As a contrast to that, Superman is reborn to become humanity’s savior akin to Jesus’ resurrection.

The use of the Motherbox to regenerate Superman’s body could attribute to a possibly stronger, more enhanced version of his prior self which would also relate to the idea of rebirth, a word recently used in the comics to signify a new start.  He is as fast as Flash and exhibits abilities not seen before such as freeze breath.  This is not to say he didn’t have these powers before and we’ve just never seen them used within the context of the previous films’ plots, but even in the comic Superman was stronger when he fully returned, and given the nature of the Motherbox as Cyborg explains, it does suggest the possibility especially when considering how it has affected Cyborg who is continuing to evolve and develop new abilities.  We get to see Superman unleash his power on a New God, a moment that for me was reminiscent of Superman giving Darkseid a beat down in the animated series.

With Superman not being in his right mind at first and the threat of Steppenwolf rising it's reasonable to see how this world could develop into the one seen in Bruce’s nightmare vision of the future in Batman v Superman.  We see him fight against the other league members, including Wonder Woman who he should have recognized as a friend but doesn’t and Batman who he had already reconciled with in Batman v Superman.  This confused and altered state of mind gave an opportunity for the newly formed league to test their metal against him. And it showed that Superman really is the preeminent member of the league.
Fortunately Bruce seems to have heeded Flash’s message and brings in Lois to fulfill her role as the key to unlocking Superman’s superego.

With a new lease on life, a chance to be engaged to the woman he loves, and seeing the way the world has mourned him and been inspired by him, its no wonder Superman is hopeful and in high spirits.  It’s like a weight has been lifted, and in many ways it has been.  Like an immigrant being granted citizenship, Superman has been accepted by the world finally.  This shines through in his actions.  And seeing a group of individuals with special abilities other than himself, fighting the good fight, and looking up to him going as far as to resurrect him, most certainly inspired and brought comfort to a previously alienated Kal-El.

While not unreasonable given the circumstances in the movie, it is unfortunate we didn’t get to see much bonding with Lois and Martha, something which Lois makes explicit to Clark when she says she has to send him away to fight.  There were some lines he spoke which seemed out of character, mostly for the sake of humor.  Sam had specific issue with his line about wanting to be dead following the separation of the Motherboxes.  He felt that knowing how aggrieved Lois and Martha were at his death, Superman wouldnt joke about that.
For me it seemed like an off-handed remark that people just say when they get hurt and want the pain to go away.  Supposedly there is peace in death, and for someone who has experienced death, he is qualified to comment on it.  Everyone dies, it is a natural aspect of life.  He may even appreciate experiencing something human which he might not have normally experienced for god knows how long.  And Snyder has made a point of having Superman experience mortality in these films.  But ultimately he was making light of the fact he had died possibly even as a coping mechanism.  And he still values life as not only does he leave the fight to go save people, but the preceding moment which Superman and Cyborg share affirms both their desires for life having experienced death.  We all agree that was a great moment for the movie and the characters.

Overall this movie did a great job at showing how important and how badass Superman is and can be.  I personally thought he was a great part of the movie, and I was pleasantly surprised by the lighter colored costume.  We’re looking forward to seeing the future of Henry Cavill’s Superman and if and how this movie shapes it.


Alright, to finish up I’m just going to say a few things about Steppenwolf. He is often cited as one of the weaknesses of the film, and I even offer some criticisms of him in a YouTube video that I’ll be posting on my channel right after this. One critique that I heard from others is something Mark and Nathan shared on their DC Cinematic Minute review of Justice League. They made a point about how Steppenwolf was just a one-level villain, whereas many of the great superhero or fantasy films have a two-level threat. Like Darth Vader and the Emperor, Lex Luthor and Doomsday, the Joker and Two-Face, or the T-1000 and Skynet. Those kinds of villain dynamics make the whole thing just really stand out more and feel more epic, and Mark and Nathan rightly pointed out that Steppenwolf didn’t fit that bill. Sure, in Justice League they did have to stop the unity and then Steppenwolf himself, but that was really just the main threat throughout the film -- the second-level threat would’ve been if we saw Darkseid or the planet Apokolips in some form, with those being the forces that were even beyond Steppenwolf.

But there are several positive aspects of Steppenwolf, too. First of all, there is a clear reason for his arrival -- Why here? Why now? The first reason is that Earth was the site of his previous failure, so he’s been anxiously awaiting mother calling him back to reclaim victory and conquer Earth. And the other reason is that Superman has died, so that leaves the planet less protected and more vulnerable, plus it has led to the rising darkness of anger and hostility shown at the beginning of the film. So this is why Steppenwolf is invading now and the motherboxes are activating after thousands of years, and it’s a nice connection to BvS.

Another positive thing is that Steppenwolf ends up being a fitting villain given that he’s exactly what Lex feared from Superman: a [new] “God” stripping away people’s freedoms (i.e., free thought, free will) and taking away their humanity. This threat is especially meaningful if we view “humanity” as Superman’s answer to the question about what is the best part of planet Earth. Steppenwolf is the ultimate tyrant. So to see Lex’s fear, the threat of an all powerful tyrant, an actual devil from the sky, materialized, is fitting for the followup to BvS.

He was also a fitting villain because of his connections to several of the overarching themes that we covered earlier. But many people focus more on the CGI and that sort of thing rather than the thematic coherence, so that’s just a matter of personal perspectives.

One critique we can share here, however, is that, even though he was fitting, he was a bit shallow in the way of backstory. Sure we got an awesome flashback, but that was still based only on Earth and it really just went toward showing us his intent.  There is little in the way of reason or backstory for that intent. Even mentioning that he comes from a planet called Apokolips in the flashback would have gone a long way. Instead we got only snippets to work with, and for people without knowledge of the comics and the Fourth World, it was probably very vague and unsatisfying. He does mention wanting to claim his place among the new gods, but it’s never explained what the new gods are and why Earth is his right. He even mentions Darkseid at one point without ever elaborating on who that is. The dynamics with regard to Steppenwolf wanting to get out from under Darkseid’s tryannical rule -- a tyrant who is actually underneath another tyrant -- was mentioned by the actor, Ciaran Hinds, in an interview but did not seem to make it into the theatrical version of the movie.

We can understand that from the heroes’ perspective that they would know relatively little about the villain, but it would have helped the audience identify Steppenwolf as a less generic bad guy to know more about him. And there’s also the nuance between Steppenwolf and the unity of the motherboxes. Steppenwolf appeared to be the main threat, but really he was actually just trying to serve the unity.

He was a formidable physical threat, though, as shown with the great action sequences on Themysicra and in Atlantis. And his defeat of the league in the tunnel under Gotham Harbor made him a good impetus for bringing Superman back at the very end. And a reason that he may have gotten relatively little development was because the filmmakers were focusing on giving full and even treatment to each of the Justice Leaguers, which we think they pulled off well.

End of Episode

Alright, so those are our preliminary thoughts on the themes and characters in Justice League. We have many more ideas and will of course refine them and dig into further details as we go scene-by-scene through the movie, starting after Thanksgiving, which is this Thursday in the United States.

It hasn’t even been a week yet, and already our team -- Alessandro, Rebecca, Sydney, Nick and myself -- have had quite a journey in our thinking about this movie. Most of us started off with a little bit of disappointment, mainly because we were looking for certain things or we were hoping for a certain style based on our love of Batman v Superman. But we saw several positive aspects of the film and as we started thinking and talking more about the bigger ideas, we realized that it actually does hang together quite well -- better than many other films that are also in the category of “blockbuster action movie.” I personally have had a pretty sizeable swing in opinion, once I got my own self out of the way and tried to receive what the movie was giving me. From my first viewing to my third viewing, my opinion of the movie went from near Suicide Squad level to near Wonder Woman level. It’s not yet up to the heights of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, but I am withholding final judgment because our analysis has just begun. And as we’ve said before, this podcast is a place to get away from all the fanwars and frustrating controversies. Here, we just try to dig into the actual content of the films. Now if you do want to keep up with DC Film news, we recommend the Suicide Squadcast, because Tim and Scott are very reasonable and level-headed, and they’re very consistent in keeping up with everything. And we also recommend Man of Steel Answers, if you are in the mood for even deeper dives into these movies.

And as always, thanks for listening. We really appreciate the support.

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