Thursday, July 18, 2019

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Justice League Scene 21

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 21 (Arthur and Mera talking in an air bubble underwater) of Justice League.

  • Setting the scene in an air bubble
  • Connections to Aquaman and the DCEU 
  • Hints at Mera's backstory
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<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast focuses on detailed analysis of the Warner Brothers films that involve the DC Justice League characters, and the cinematic universe that is commonly referred to as the DCEU. Contributors to this podcast are Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, Nick Begovich, and Sydney. You can find us individually on Twitter and you can follow the show @JLUPodcast.

In this short episode, I’m going to use our new, faster-paced structure specifically designed for Justice League, which is to simply discuss three points for each scene. And this time we have Scene 21, which is Arthur and Mera talking underwater after Steppenwolf just took the Atlantean mother box.

So let’s go through three points. Our first will be the air pocket as the setting for this scene. Second will be the continuity between this scene and his solo Aquaman film. And third will be Mera and the information we can glean about her backstory. 

So we’ve just finished the underwater battle with Steppenwolf and he’s escaped with the motherbox. Then Mera uses her hydrokinetic powers to open up an air pocket for her and Arthur. This is a nice way to showcase her powers. I also just want to say that visually, it’s a very unique and memorable effect. They say in screenwriting that you can’t just have good plotting and good dialogue, you have to also choose interesting settings for the scenes, and I think this air pocket does a nice job of it here for this scene.

The air pocket, the separation of air and water, also has symbolic meaning, with Aquaman standing on land but putting one hand in the water. And right as he’s doing that, he’s being confronted with his responsibility to the Atlanteans, but he’s not really a member of that society, nor is he a member of the surface society --- but we’ve seen that beneath his rough exterior and loner personality, he does have an instinct to help out.

With regard to connections to Aquaman, some people might say this is a discontinuity because in that film, the Atlanteans can speak underwater without needing air pockets. But even in Aquaman, they do still use air pockets. For example, Mera, Vulko, and Arthur meet at the bottom of the ocean in an air pocket when they’re talking about their plan to retrieve the trident. So this might be a matter of convenience for those who can breathe air. Or perhaps it is a way to exclude other Atlanteans if you are having somewhat sensitive conversations.

Also, Mera might have been creating an air pocket as a gracious gesture to Arthur, knowing that he has lived almost exclusively on the surface thus far.

For us, a potentially more problematic discontinuity is Arthur’s attitude here. Arthur harbors some anger toward his mother. In Aquaman, the anger is directed toward Atlantis. At first glance, this seems like a contradiction. But in reality, human emotions are complex and our feelings toward past events, especially tragic ones like being separated from a mother, can be very multilayered. So it’s certainly possible that Arthur grapples with some resentment towards his mother for not being there, perhaps that’s not a feeling he’s proud of and it only arises in times of stress. But here having fought Steppenwolf and having to protect Atlantis when it’s not his home would qualify as a stressful time.

It’s also possible, that when he’s in a more calm state of mind, that Arthur primarily blames Atlantis for taking his mother away and for presumably executing her. In fact, the “Ultimate Guide” to Justice League states exactly this, that “Life is rough at the bottom of the sea.  At least it is for Arthur Curry, the superhero who believes his own people killed his mother, Queen Atlanna.” So official materials for Justice League confirm both things -- that he is somewhat angry toward his mom, or he at least misunderstands a bit about his mom’s situation, and he is also angry toward Atlantis, which connects with Aquaman.

On a more practical issue, we can trace the trident. Here in Scene 21, Arthur asks for something which will later be revealed as a trident. He has that same trident at the start of Aquaman, but then of course gets the trident of King Atlan. So that checks out.

Another connection that Nick noticed between this scene and other parts of the DCEU is the thematic idea of accepting responsibility. In Wonder Woman, Diana had to accept some responsibility toward the world of man, even though she wasn’t fully of that world. And even previously in this movie, Diana talked to Victor about accepting some responsibility to help out when it’s needed. And now here, Mera is making an explicit appeal to Arthur to accept the responsibility of his royal lineage and follow Steppenwolf up to the surface to retrieve the motherbox.

Alright, the final point we wanted to mention in this episode is the hints of information that we get about Mera here. Of course her character is fleshed out a lot more in the Aquaman film, but this is our first chance to learn some information about her in the cinematic universe.

I think this brief scene is a nice way to provide hints about her broader backstory, but not give too much information or take too much time with her when it’s not really her movie. We can see, though, that she has a sort of regal costume and she seemed to be a leader during the protection of the motherbox, and she has some special powers, so she stands out right away as a special character in Atlantis. We also see that she has some interesting interpersonal dynamics with Arthur. They fought side-by-side and have some respect for each other physically, it seems, but they’re a bit cold toward one another. That is an interesting start for their relationship arc, which of course continues in the Aquaman film when she again has to appeal to Arthur to help out on something that he would probably just as well like to avoid.

We also find out that Mera knew Queen Atlanna, and indeed Atlanna took in Mera while Mera’s parents were fighting in the wars. The reference to the wars is a nice bit of world building, and suggests a long and tumultuous history of the Atlantean societies. But the fact that Atlanna took in Mera, when she had abandoned young Arthur, is a really interesting contrast which also plants a potential seed of discord in their relationship.

As we said, Arthur has some resentment toward his mom, but nevertheless Mera uses that as the lever to try to get Arthur to help out. She says, “It would’ve been her responsibility to follow the monster to the surface.” This does work to get Arthur to help out, but it’s also interesting to think about the fact that there was an implied possibility of an Atlantean ruler going to the surface if the circumstances called for it. And indeed Atlanna did go to the surface in the past, but it wasn’t to stop a monster -- Atlanna went to the surface to try to get away from Atlantis and she ended up making a family up there. So that notion of going to the surface contains a reference to the two worlds at play with Arthur, but it also directly connects to Atlanna’s backstory as well as Arthur’s next steps.

End of Episode

Next up in Justice League is the Russian family. What Russian family? Well, we’ll find out. And although we’ve been having a busy summer, we are still planning on continuing our Aquaman analysis and we’ll have full commentary episodes coming up for Aquaman and Shazam.

Most of our activity recently, though, has been over on our Patreon page at So a big thank you to our patrons. We are doing our Man of Steel scene-by-scene analysis over there and will be having more of those episodes out soon. Patreon also has some bonus episodes about the recent animated movies and some of the DC Universe content. So check that out if you’re interested, and thanks for listening.

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