Monday, January 30, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Scenes 17-19

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Suicide Squad, Scene 17 (Activate Task Force X), Scene 18 (Van Criss Labs), and Scene 19 (Enchantress Bolts).

  • Analysis of Academy-Award Nominated Suicide Squad
  • Down-to-Earth Mission or Non-Human Entity?
  • Connections to "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath
  • Neck bomb injections
  • Griggs and Harley set-up (no pay-off)
  • Panda Man and the Van Criss Break-In
  • Parallels between the Joker and the Wall
  • Flag and June not really in love?

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast
@JLUPodcast on Twitter

<Transcript of the episode>

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scene 64

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 64 (Superman and Lex in the scout ship, Metropolis blackout) from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

  • Thoughts looking back at the warehouse rescue (friends and capes)
  • Lex's countdown timer
  • Continuity error with Superman's arrival?
  • Three meanings of "Right, wabbit?"
  • Lex won't let Superman win
  • Extra lines in the extended cut
  • Blackout in Metropolis and canted angles
  • Doomsday hatches from his egg
  • Lex as creator, Doomsday as devil
  • Fist and abomination!
  • Thoughts from listeners (Deo, kain, Marco, Casper)

Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco.

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast
Lex Essay:

@JLUPodcast on Twitter

<Transcript of the episode>

Saturday, January 7, 2017

MAN OF STEEL Revisited: 5 Things to Love

I love Man of Steel. I've seen it probably 10 times and it has gotten better each time because of the depth and the rich but subtle characterizations. I have landed on a personal rating of 9.5/10, and I have only given about thirty 9+ ratings to the nearly 2000 movies I've seen. It is one of my Top 20 favorite movies and it is my third favorite comic book movie, behind only Batman v Superman and just barely behind The Dark Knight.

But not everyone feels the same way about the movie. It was divisive because it was a bold new take on the Superman character who's been around for 75 years. I think it was a good take on the character and I appreciated the realistic approach -- not that this has to be the only version of Superman, but it is a good one and I think the right one in terms of building up the entire Justice League Universe.


1. The entire movie is about Clark trying to judge how humanity will respond to him.

Clark’s character arc and his big decision points involved him making judgment calls about humanity. And Clark’s judgment was influenced by his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, who worried for his son because he knew that it would be a big deal when Clark was revealed to the world. He had been around long enough to judge pretty accurately how humanity responds to things. That's why Jonathan talked seriously with his son about hard decisions that are not clear cut, and he encouraged his son to wait until it was the right time to reveal himself. (By the way, a popular misconception is that Jonathan said to NEVER reveal himself. Actually, Jonathan told Clark to wait until he's ready and at that time he can finally stand proud before the human race. This is part of Superman’s original lore. In fact, the Kents telling a young Clark to hide his powers goes all the way back to page 1 of Superman issue #1.)

So a big question for Clark is how humanity will react to him, an alien with strange powers. Through that lens, let's look at several important scenes. When Clark is in grade school, he has a tough time dealing with some of his sensory powers. How do people react? The other kids tease him and ostracize him. Even the teacher is a bit perturbed and less than empathetic. But a glimmer of hope comes from Martha. When Clark is a bit older, he partially reveals himself when he saves the bus. Pete's Mom represents the views of a lot of the community when she freaks out. The only saving grace is that she attributes it to divine intervention. As a young adult, Clark has a nomadic existence because he has strong instincts to help out but he needs to hide away because he is not yet clear on his purpose and so isn't ready to reveal himself. And he is still trying to assess humanity, thus the importance of the scene with the trucker.

This contemplation by Clark is what makes Lois such a great complementary character. Lois quickly uncovers the truth behind Clark, but she greets it positively and is thankful to Clark for what he's done (including saving her own life). She recognizes what he is going through and he opens up to her even more by sharing the story of Jonathan's death. Lois's positive reaction to who Clark is finally gives Clark the hope that humanity might accept him. She, along with Martha, now provide two promising examples of acceptance and love from humanity. Plus, at this point in the movie, Clark now knows his own background and has a purpose for revealing himself and standing proud before the human race because they need him in the face of Zod’s arrival. This all comes together to pull him out of the nomadic phase of his life and we get character growth as he takes the "leap of faith" to reveal himself to humanity.

So to take stock of Clark’s experiences with humanity, he had adoptive parents who loved him even though he's an alien. They showed him unconditional love, but they’re his parents, so maybe he thinks it won't generalize to humanity at large. But there are other positive signs, as well, such as Pete Ross shifting from being a bully to later helping him up. Pete shows Clark that maybe people can come around once they see that Clark has good intentions. That might be an indication that, once Clark becomes a public hero, the general population will accept him. And on top of this, of course, there’s Lois and importantly there is also his interactions with the military. The soldiers are initially hostile, then skeptical, but finally come around and eventually partner with Superman. This all comes together and builds toward the climax when Superman has to decide to save Earth over Krypton.

But throughout the whole movie, we get to go along with Clark and empathize with him as he tries to assess the heart and soul of humanity, looking for the positive signs even amidst some fear and anger. And we see that Clark does take the leap of faith, after which, in the movie universe (and in the real world) his presence as Superman was met with mixed reactions. As expected, he gets adoration and thankfulness but also people who fear him or even hate and resent him. This later plays out in a big way in Batman v Superman as the logical extension of his character journey, but even in Man of Steel, this fit very well with Goyer and Snyder's overall mission to do a first-contact take on Superman's origin.

2. The Kents are loving, realistic, and wise parents.

The Kents got a lot of flack from some fans, but I saw them as one of the highlights of an already great movie. First of all, I appreciate Goyer and Snyder's decision to try to make them parents rather than grandparents, because they are often quite old in the comics or in the original movies. Second, I thought Jonathan and Martha showed genuine love for their child and a very natural desire to protect him. Martha provides comfort in those moments of Clark feeling like an outcast, and thus she provides him with a sense of home even as he roams to try to find out the truth behind his secret origin. Jonathan fully grasps the implications of Clark's extra-terrestrial origins and knows that if Clark were outed, he would be taken away from the Kents and it would also cause upheaval amongst the entire world population. So Jonathan talks realistically and deeply with his son about these issues. He doesn't hide the implications or the difficulties. He doesn’t oversimplify things or sugarcoat them with some folksy but shallow wisdom. Jonathan’s famous "maybe" line is him being very honest with his son about how his life is not going to be easy, it is going to involve hard choices where the right answer isn’t obvious, but Jonathan has unconditional love for Clark and he supports him through the difficult times. He doesn't want Clark to have to face all those challenges and responsibilities until the time is right, so that means helping an immature Clark protect his secret until he can fully realize the implications.

I think this complex but loving relationship rings truer than some past, fairly simplistic versions of the Kents where they just gave straightforward but somewhat naive advice ("Do the right thing," "I believe in you"). I also thought the "You are my son" scene, inspired by Geoff Johns's Secret Origin graphic novel, was very touching. You could really tell that David Goyer is a stepfather himself and he drew on his experiences in the script, both in that scene and in the argument just before the tornado. (By the way, I think the tornado scene was great and we’re going to have an episode in the future that debunks the criticisms people have against it.)

3. The music is otherworldly and exhilarating while still incorporating the pure intervals of Superman from the original score.

Many people love the John Williams score from the 1978 Superman: The Movie. I agree that that that score is great, but it is great for that movie, not for Man of Steel. John Williams seemed to take a lot of inspiration from old news reels and a stereotypical news bulletin type of rhythmic musical cue, which made sense given the central role of the Daily Planet in the 1978 Superman. It also hearkened back to the old Superman radio show and the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV show. Instead of this, Hans Zimmer composed what was needed for Man of Steel, which was an otherworldly sound palette to go along with the sci-fi elements of the movie, and the percussion orchestra to represent the action and clash of civilizations.

For John Williams, on top of his news reel foundation, he built the 1978 Superman theme on perfect 4th and perfect 5th intervals, representing the pure and prototypical superhero that is Superman. Williams' intervals lead up to the brass motif that literally sounds like they're saying "Superman." This was cool, but it wouldn't fit for a movie in which Superman really only appears for the last few minutes. Instead, Hans Zimmer took the core of the perfect 4th and perfect 5th intervals and completely stripped them down. A single piano playing C-G (perfect 5th) and C-F (perfect 4th), that becomes Clark's theme. It builds up to a borrowed chord (an A-flat major chord in the key of C major) that reminds us of his extraterrestrial origin.

Overall, there were so many moments where the music masterfully accentuated the emotion and the action. "Flight" for example, was an absolute pinnacle of the score and my kids and I both love that piece, in the scene and just on its own as a musical work.

4. Lois is a full partner in a full relationship with Clark.

I respect and appreciate Man of Steel for deciding not to continue with the love triangle of Lois having the hots for Superman, Clark having the hots for Lois, and Lois not knowing that the two are one and the same. Other people, though, were not happy about this change. Some feel like it’s an essential part of a Superman story. The old Adventures of Superman show with George Reeves and Noell Niel, the comics for quite a while, the Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder movies, and the Lois and Clark TV show with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, all these and more made substantial use of the love triangle. In fact, in some of those shows and in a lot of comic book stories, Superman protecting his identity from Lois is sometimes the primary concern or the main thrust of the tension in the story. Will she find out? How will he manage to hide his secret?

But I don’t agree with people using this as a criticism of Man of Steel. If you like those older stories, then you have those older stories to go back to. But for the story they were telling in Man of Steel, they needed to make Lois a source of Clark’s hope in humanity, and to accomplish this they made Lois the first person (besides his parents) to discover the full range of Clark's identity, and this can be a very intimate experience to be known in such a way, especially for someone who's largely been treated like an outcast. Lois also responds positively to Clark's secret, rather than with fear or jealousy, and this gives Clark hope that maybe he can reveal himself to the world. These are very deep emotions that, to me, make sense as a basis for Clark to love and appreciate Lois.

The other thing, of course, is that having Lois figure out Clark’s identity just makes her a much craftier and formidable character. It shows her journalistic skills, but it also makes it so that Lois, through her investigation, sees Clark's inherent kindness and heroism. Yes, she is saved by him first-hand, but she also hears from countless strangers about the good things Clark has done. I think it makes it more powerful for her to hear the compliments and praise about Clark from people who don't know Clark personally and who are just sharing the truth without an agenda. Lois sees Clark's deep goodness but also the pain that he's gone through being ostracized and not fitting in. That, plus the fact that Clark opens up to her about his father, draws Lois in. Then, the next step of their relationship is that they go through the harrowing ordeal of the Battle of Metropolis and work together to save the world, which must have been exhilarating for them. To me, that's a potent recipe for romance.

5. There are great themes, such as that hardships make you stronger.

A big reason I love Zack Snyder’s work is that he puts thematic development at the core of most of his movies, and as you can tell if you’ve listened to episodes from this podcast, I really enjoy delving into themes and underlying meanings. This was definitely true for Man of Steel. Based on my own interpretations of the movie, and helped out a lot by the Man of Steel Answers podcast, some of the themes that one can trace through the movie are as follows:
I will share some links to places where you can read more about those themes. And there is also a detailed analysis on YouTube about how Man of Steel is the story of Kal-El's rebirth as Superman, with Krypton the father, the escape pod the seed, and Earth the mother. The symbolism is driven home in the final scene with Zod’s death, which echoes the birth scene at the very beginning.

But the theme that is perhaps my favorite is the one that I listed for this entry in my list -- hardships make you stronger. Man of Steel Answers talked about this one, and I just think it’s so fitting for a movie called Man of Steel because steel is actually strengthened rather than weakened by being heated and tempered. Rather than Superman just arriving and taking to the skies to save the day with a smile and a quip, readily accepted by everyone as a benevolent hero, he is put through emotional and physical challenges, and through impossible decisions. He wanted to save Jonathan, but he also wanted to respect Jonathan’s wishes. He wanted to reconnect with his Kryptonian heritage but he also wanted to protect Earth. He didn’t want to kill the last remaining Kryptonian besides himself, but he needed to stop Zod. We got to see him grapple with these issues and come out the other side, although I think part of why Man of Steel was controversial with audiences was precisely because these decision-points were dilemmas, and the audience was split over what he should’ve done. To me, that just means the filmmakers did a great job of setting up those tough choices and having real stakes.

And through all of this, we saw what kind of person Clark was through the difficulties. He was always trying to help, even at risk of harm to himself. He was able to come out the other side stronger, and it was a great way to establish this character and give him a foundation upon which the next installments of the movie universe could be built. And for me personally, I appreciate this foundation of having gone through hardships and having made difficult choices but also finding strong relationships like with his mother and with Lois, I think this sets up a richer background for the character than just having adoptive Midwestern parents who told him to “be good.”

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 62-63

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scenes 62 (Batman's warehouse rescue) and 63 (Lois throwing the Kryptonite spear in the water) of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, directed by Zack Snyder.


  • "Every time we say goodbye" Knyazev
  • Batman shooting the men outside
  • The batwing design
  • An amazing Batman fight scene
  • Connections to the Knightmare scene and to The Dark Knight Returns
  • Is this the resolution to Bruce's powerless arc?
  • Why did Lois throw the kryptonite spear in the water?
  • Parallels between BvS and Excalibur
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

Stan Kube video:

<Transcript of the episode>