Themes in the JLU Movies

One of the primary reasons I love the DC Films Justice League Universe (aka, the DCEU) is that they explore deep themes in complex ways. They are more akin to cinematic literature, in my opinion, than to cinematic pop fiction. This is my attempt to gather some of the themes that I've identified in the movies or that I've seen from other people who have analyzed the movies. Themes are always up for interpretation and may be a matter of perspective because we all come to movies with different experiences and points of view, but we can all look for evidence of the themes in the movie itself.

Note that, in literary analysis, themes (ideas or underlying meanings that are repeated in a literary work; they can be phrased as a proposition) are distinct from subjects (a topic of a literary work; they can be stated as a single word or phrase) or motifs (an object or representation that is repeated in a literary work, such as falling, horses, and shell casings in Batman v Superman). So I've tried to stick to themes here, but others may be interested in a longer list of motifs and other dimensions of the films as art.

Themes in the Justice League Universe Overall

Source: Adam White (@adamcw3232)
  • Is it worth it to save humanity? (Alternate phrasing: Is humanity worth fighting for, even with all its flaws?)
Source: Sonny Bunch at the Toronto Sun
  •  How would humanity react to the discovery that gods walk amongst us?

Themes in Man of Steel

Source: Myself
  • There are people who will treat you poorly and those who will treat you well, but it is still better to live your life with hope in humanity.

Source: Man of Steel Answers
  • The pain of birth is worth the potential.
  • Organic is better than engineered.
  • Acknowledging our brokenness and restoration makes us better.
  • Adaptation to change is necessary.
  • Forgiveness and cooperation are powerful.
  • Reality is nuanced and complex; dilemmas will arise that set principles into conflict.
  • The crucible of suffering creates strength.
  • Inaction arises more from choice than impossibility.
  • Hope requires perseverance, tenacity, and faith.
  • Power doesn't solve dilemmas.
  • Suffering is universal, whether powerful or righteous.
  • There's no such thing as a perfect, singular ideal.

Source: The Bible of Zack Snyder
  • Despite disagreements and fights, the bond of family keeps us going.
  • Despite society designing a certain role for us, we have the power to choose our future.
  • Even with substantial power, there are times when one can feel a bit hopeless and looking for answers. 

Source: Peter Lawler at BigThink.com (drawing on Plato's Republic)
  • People cannot flourish without choice and chance.

Themes in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Source: My own Justice League Universe Podcast
  • Good and evil cannot be statically identified with above or below, with heaven and hell; rather, they are choices that individuals make in dynamic situations.
  • Actions are not absolutely good or evil because their virtuousness is a matter of perspective.
  • All good deeds have a cost, but they are still worth doing.
  • Power can be a corrupting force, but so can feelings of powerlessness, turning people toward cruelty.

Source: Pulpklatura
  • When public avenues of accountability fail, people are naturally drawn to private vengeance.

Source: Art of the Film Book for BvS
  •  Humanity is often too quick to judge and too willing to act or form opinions on incomplete information. (Curt Kanemoto, co-producer)

Source: Pedro Saez Williams in Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective
  •  To hold tight to rigid ideals, or to a rigid understanding of Truth, is equal to dismissing the truth of others.

Source: Empire Podcast interview with Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven
  • Justice and vengeance are not the same thing.

Source: Mark Hughes on the Popular Opinion Podcast
  •  Either the world's cynicism will change us or we will change the world's cynicism.

Themes in Suicide Squad

Source: My own Justice League Universe podcast
  • Friendship is more powerful than leverage or manipulation.
  • Love can be the basis of human connection -- one doesn't necessarily have to love the other, but if one recognizes that the other has love, that can be enough.
  • Those who can love are still redeemable.
  • It's hard to see someone as evil once you know their backstory.

Source: Mark Hughes in Forbes
  • If people are still in touch with their humanity, then they still have a chance at redemption.

Source: David Ayer via Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje on DC All Access
  • Even villains have souls.

Source: Jay Hernandez in Behind the Scenes with the Worst Heroes Ever book
  • "When somebody makes a misstep along their journey through life... should they be locked up and forgotten? Or is there room for redemption?"


Themes in Wonder Woman

Source: Myself
  • Is war ever worth fighting?

Source: Justice League Universe Podcast Team (@ottensam @raverny @derbykid @wondersyd)
  • Mankind does not deserve saving, but we should save it anyway.
  • Men are more than their baser qualities.
  • We all have hatred and love, anger and compassion… but love and compassion are the more powerful forces.
  • The ugliness in the world comes from mankind following its baser urges.
  • Everyone is fighting his or her own battles, but they still have the potential to do great things.
  • During challenging times, friendship can be a saving force.
  • Men and women are equals.
  • War is nothing to hope for.
  • When you see an injustice, you should do something.
  • Legacy is part of what defines us.
  • How do you love and be heroic in a complex world?
Source: Paraphrasing Patty Jenkins (via blogger set visit and Twitter)
  • The shortcomings and injustices of a society are more readily observable to an outsider than to an insider.
  • Each of us can change the world if we have the strength to take on the challenge.
Source: Chris Pine with DC All Access
  • No matter how ugly this world gets that we live in, no matter how much death we encounter, no matter how many homicidal dictators are out there, no matter how much genocide happens, how many wars happen… there is still hope in the best parts of ourselves to be good and to protect one another and to do right by one another.

Source: Mark Hughes in Forbes
  • Faith is most important precisely when we see no reason to believe anymore.
  • Mercy is most necessary for those who have no other hope except the mercy of others with the power to bestow mercy.

Themes in Justice League


Source: JL 2017 Comic-Con Sneak Peek
  • The world is worth saving, even if you don't recognize it.
  • It is better to face challenges together rather than alone.

3 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. I appreciate the support. I plan to keep this as a living document as I come across new themes and as new movies come out. I really wonder if Suicide Squad is going to tackle similarly deep themes as Snyder's films or if it will be more of a character/action movie (which can be great, too).

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  2. I go to this page so much when people say BvS is just another popcorn film with no mature themes. BvS is truly a genius art house film.

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