Monday, March 12, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Justice League Scene 4

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 4 (Wonder Woman in London) of Justice League.

  • Reactions to the assassination of Superman
  • Connections between Wonder Woman and this scene in Justice League
  • Film techniques at the beginning of the scene
  • Wonder Woman on Lady Justice
  • Upward shots and the lasso of Hestia
  • Dark ages and Holy fear
  • Blocking bullets
  • "A believer"

Follow @JLUPodcast on Twitter
Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd @NBego
Episode artwork by Matthew Rushing (@mattrushing02)

<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast analyzes the DC Films from Warner Brothers studios. Our analysis is written by myself with Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, Sydney, and Nick Begovich. You can find us all on twitter and you can also follow the show @JLUPodcast. In this episode, we are going to break down Scene 4 of Justice League, which is our first scene with Wonder Woman, as she saves the day in London.

This scene follows the world-without-Superman montage in Scene 3, and it adds on to the same idea, also mentioned by the criminal in Scene 2 -- that the world is drifting into negativity, anger, and violence after the death of Superman. Our view of this descent is not just that Earth lost its primary protector and inspiration, emboldening some bad actors, but that there is also a general feeling of hopelessness because if something good and pure can be taken away in an instant, then what’s the point? The death of a prominent figure like Superman can lead to at least a temporary surge in feelings of depression, frustration, or even anarchy.

And although Superman sacrificed himself at the end of Batman v Superman, it was really Lex Luthor’s concerted efforts that put him in that dangerous position in the first place. So in that sense, the death of Superman was a successful assassination carried out by Luthor. And so we can look to research on the actual fallout of assassinations to inform our interpretation of the world’s reaction to Superman’s death. A research summary compiled by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point contains a few points that are relevant for us. First of all, assassinations tend to have profound political effects but the effects are not necessarily predictable. In some cases, the assassination of a leader really sets back the causes that that person fought for. This was the case following the deaths of Itzhak Rabin in Israel and John F. Kennedy in the United States. But in other cases, assassinations became sort of like a martyrdom that spurred the causes forward and increased positive sentiment, as occurred for the Civil Rights movement after the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. and for the Pakistan People’s Party after the killing of Benazir Bhutto. Bringing this idea over to Superman, we can see why Lex was so set on defaming Superman and turning public sentiment against him before killing him, because Lex, always mindful of contingencies, wanted to make sure that Superman’s death was a blow to the whole idea of meta-humans and not something that elevated him to sainthood.

Now, back in our analysis of Scene 1, we talked about how it seemed at the end of BvS that Lex had failed. With the monument all around us, and the candlelight vigil, it seemed that people were responding with sadness and newly clarified affection for Superman. But in keeping with the complexity of this cinematic universe, it makes sense that there would not just be one simple response to Superman’s death. There would be a multi-faceted reaction, differing for different people and having nuance at the personal, municipal, national, and international levels. So it’s not that Justice League, by showing the negativity and anger was contradicting the hope at the end of Batman v Superman, it’s that the world is complex enough for both to be true at the same time, or for an initial feeling of sorrow and admiration immediately after Superman’s death to give way to more general negativity as people get accustomed to life in his absence and they see how some people are taking advantage of Superman being dead.

Another thing that the West Point summary on assassinations points out that is relevant for the Justice League Universe is that the effect of the assassination of political leaders is much more profound in authoritarian regimes than it is in democracies. This is because authoritarian regimes hinge much more directly on single leaders, and there is often no clear line of succession because the supreme leader is intending to serve for life or to hand-pick a successor. But in democracies, the effect of assassinations is more contained because there is a constitutional line of succession and political power is diffuse across parties and coalitions rather than just one person. Now obviously Superman was not an elected official, but we can still think about the broader context for Superman and whether the situation was more like an authoritarian regime or a democracy. Superman never actually became the tyrant from the Knightmare scene, so he was not an authoritarian ruler, but he was basically the only meta-human out in public for the timespan from Man of Steel through most of Batman v Superman. So in that sense, he was the sole meta-human superhero, and so there was no line of succession that would be visible to the public. In private, Bruce Wayne pledged to be a successor and he tried to talk to Diana about joining him in that cause and finding other meta-humans, but as far as the world was concerned, Superman was the sole superhero, so it makes sense that losing him would be profoundly disorienting and strike a negative blow for the general public morale. At the time of Superman’s death, there was not yet a democracy or an institution of shared responsibility among meta-humans, so research suggests that the outcome would be kind of like we see it here in the opening scenes of Justice League. But throughout this movie, we will see that meta-human institution arise, led by Bruce and Diana based on the inspiration of Superman’s example, and then ultimately joined in leadership by Superman himself. This means that going forward, after the forming of the Justice League, there will be more stability and both the heroes and the public will be able to better absorb and deal with tragedies than they could before.

Alright, let’s get into more of the details of Scene 4. One of the really nice things about this scene is that it is not only the introduction of Wonder Woman in this film, but it also offers many strong connections between Justice League and the Wonder Woman film from the previous summer. In this way, there are some very cohesive links between the two DC Films that were released in 2017. Here are some of the connections that we saw, just thinking about this scene:
  • First of all, it’s obvious but still worth mentioning, just the presence of Wonder Woman portrayed by Gal Gadot is a direct link to the Wonder Woman film, with audiences only having to wait a few months to see her back on the big screen.
  • The Wonder Woman film featured early 20th Century London, and now we get to see her in modern day London.
  • This also continues the trend of Diana being in famous locations -- there was the Louvre and Tower Bridge in Wonder Woman, and now Justice League places her at the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England.
  • More specifically, Wonder Woman is high above the cities. In her first shot in Justice League, she’s up high on Lady Justice. And this nicely picks up from where we last saw her in Wonder Woman, which was soaring above the city of Paris.
  • Those are some contextual connections. There are also visual connections, with both movies early on featuring a big vehicle that pulls up to a fancy building and then a man with a briefcase getting out to enter the building. In Wonder Woman, it was a Wayne truck with what turned out to be a personal photograph for Diana, whereas in Justice League, it’s a van and a much more nefarious briefcase. But in both scenes, the shots are framed to emphasize the briefcase over the men themselves.
  • In terms of action, there was Diana busting through a window (in WW), and now she’s busting through a door (in JL).
  • In both films, Diana protects innocent people from men who are seeking to spread destruction (it’s the people of Veld in WW, and it’s the children on the field trip in JL).
  • Another connection is that her musical theme is used here in Justice League, played by a strings section of the orchestra rather than an electric cello, but the link is still there.
  • And finally, at the end of this scene, the terrorist says, “What are you?” And Diana responds, “A believer.” Both of these lines connect to the Wonder Woman film. Ludendorff said almost the same thing when he realized Diana’s powers -- what are you? And Diana’s response about being a believer connects to the fact that belief is central to WW. After all, it’s not what you deserve, it’s what you believe, and we know that she believes in love.

So in just this one scene, we get several solid connections between Justice League and Wonder Woman.

In terms of what this scene does overall for the Justice League film itself, it mainly contributes an early action scene, keeping an even balance between the two co-leads, Batman and Wonder Woman. We saw a small bit of action from Batman in his element, on the rooftops of Gotham apprehending a criminal and investigating a larger threat. And now we get a bit of action from Diana, in her element as a protector of the innocent in a major European city. And the tension and the action of this scene are both executed really well, and although it’s a pretty self-contained threat that doesn’t directly connect to the bigger plot related to Steppenwolf, it does connect to the state of the world following Superman’s death, as we already mentioned, and there are also two quick links to themes that will be developed later -- the terrorist mentions “holy fear” and Diana talks about being a believer.

But let’s go through the whole scene in a bit more detail. The beginning starts on a really nice transition from the end of the “Everybody Knows” montage. That previous scene had been showing different cities around the world, and then they end on a wide shot of London with a banner mourning the loss of Superman, and then the camera tracks right from that down to the white vans. It’s a smooth way to bring the audience from that scene into this one, and we are immediately curious about these vans.

They cut to the vans pulling up and we can tell right away that this is a formidable group. They are very confident and organized in what they are doing. Even though they’re going up against a secure location -- the Old Bailey high court -- they operate and carry themselves as if they own the place. There are several armed guards, but the terrorists are prepared and are so proactive, they immediately have the upper-hand and make it into the center of the building with relative ease.

And it’s clear right away that they’re not robbing the place, given that they go in with guns blazing. This inevitably garners the attention of the authorities quickly, and that’s the last thing you would want if performing a heist. So this is clearly some sort of terrorist attack, and that does make it kind of strange that they are careful with the children and some of the other bystanders. If the ultimate goal is to blow them up, why be so careful with them initially? Perhaps it’s because the whole crowd will be easier to manage if they are huddled in fear, and so they just gather them together up against the wall, whereas if they had just shot people freely, there would be more chaos and they might lose some control of the situation. The main guy does say, after all, that they should keep the kids quiet. So he wants a bit of order and room to carry out the next part of their plan.

This first sequence in the scene was filmed in a very interesting way. There was consistent momentum going forward and in. A lesser director would’ve probably stopped out front to show the first part, then shifted to the inner checkpoint and stopped there for a moment, and then shifted to the inside. Instead, Zack Snyder had consistent camera movement and blocking with the characters always moving forward and in. That movement brings more emphasis and anticipation to what’s going to happen when they get to where they’re going, which is where he puts down the briefcase -- right when he puts down the briefcase, that’s when the camera movement stops, and then it cuts to another stable shot on the faces of the woman and children who are being lined up against the wall. So we can feel in the energy of the scene cultimating to this point that this is where stuff is going to go down.

There were also some unique camera angles used in the first part of the scene, rather than just basic coverage, and there were deliberate shots that set us up for other shots later in the scene -- for example, back when the van was pulling up, there’s a stone statue of a woman overlooking the events, and later we will see the actual Wonder Woman overlooking the events as well. And as the terrorists are taking the building, there’s an extreme upward shot of the main guy; it not only shows the fancy and recognizable ceilings of the Old Bailey building but it sets us up visually for the later upward shots when Wonder Woman has arrived.

Alessandro pointed out that the start of this scene reminds him of the opening bank robbery from The Dark Knight. Perhaps there was some inspiration there as Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan are friends and have collaborated in the past. And the white vans are kind of like the one that Scarecrow used at least once in The Dark Knight, too.

So anyway, the first part of the scene ends with the children in obvious danger, and the main terrorist tips his hat out the window at somebody. I’m not sure who. Maybe the police, in which case his nod toward them confirms that they are not doing a stealthy robbery or anything; they actually want the attention of the police.

But that look transitions us back outside the building, and then we get the sweeping show of the Lady Justice statue, with the scales of justice very fitting for a Justice League film. And then it pans over to Wonder Woman perched atop the statue, holding onto the sword. For Brits, this is an especially iconic shot because that is a famous statue for them. It’s sort of like when American movies feature characters on the Statue of Liberty. And for Diana, it’s not just a cool visual but it’s especially meaningful because as a superhero she is a character that often stands explicitly for justice. But she, more than other superheroes, is often willing to use violence in the pursuit of justice. For example, in the comic books, there have been some stories where other heroes aren’t willing to kill the villains but Diana will do so if it means stopping the violence or ending the threat to innocent lives. And perhaps this is why she is standing on the side of the statue with the sword, not on the side with the scales. It even foreshadows what’s coming in this scene -- her imminent battle with the terrorist where she is willing to achieve justice through violence.

Now that we’ve seen Diana, we know a bit more what to expect from this scene. Before now, it wasn’t clear whose terrain this was going to be, or if a superhero was even going to there at all. Maybe it was just going to be a tragedy and then the aftermath would play into the plot -- but now that we’ve seen Diana, we know that it’s going to be a rescue scene featuring Wonder Woman. The musical cue, with the famous minor thirds swelling in a crescendo also let us know that we can expect some action from her.

We cut from her looking down in concern to an upward shot of one of the terrorists, in a high-ceilinged part of the building by himself. These upward shots are the ones set up earlier, as we mentioned. And Wonder Woman, because we just saw her up high on the statue, it flows nicely that she now comes into the building from the upper floors. Her lasso drops down around the guy, in a new use of the lasso that we haven’t seen in film before, but it seems like a very comic booky type of move. It then lights up, and she pulls him up for some interrogation under the truth-telling influence of the lasso of Hestia. This is another element of the scene where it does a good job of quickly showing us some of her powers and capabilities, as she shows great arm strength and describes how the lasso compels the truth, and later we’ll see some more of her physical powers and her bracelets. So using the lasso, she and we learn from the man that they are reactionary terrorists and he says something about sin. She is initially concerned with the hostages, but he truly believes it’s too late for Wonder Woman to save them. And he talks about a countdown and a four-block radius being destroyed. We get a sense of a time bomb, which is also a comic booky type of danger element, and it adds some tension to the scene as time becomes very important, and Diana shifts her attention first to the bomb before she will save the hostages. And he also adds the phrase “while the world watches” which emphasizes the terrorists’ desire to draw attention to themselves.

During this lasso scene, there’s a borderline upskirt shot, but it’s not egregious, and she did lift the guy up a great distance and it’s very common practice in filmmaking to put the camera down low when you want to emphasize the height. Shooting someone from below like that also puts them in a position of power, so in that sense, it’s an appropriate shot for Wonder Woman, but because of the skirt, it is understandable for some people to take issue with the angle.

Right after the lassoed guy mentions the bomb, we cut back to the briefcase right as it’s being open and now we see the bomb. All the hostages react audibly, and the leader says, “This is man’s best hope. Down with the modern world. Back to the dark ages and the safety of Holy fear.” These are interesting lines. First off there’s the connection of hope. Superman is dead so hope is lost. But for the hostages, Wonder Woman is just outside, so hope is not far (kind of like car keys), and hey, the man does use a key to activate the bomb.

Additionally, the man suggests going back to the dark ages and the safety of holy fear. This suggests that the terrorist group rejects modern society and its values, even though they seem to be using modern technology and weapons. But overall, they want to return to prior times, and the earlier mention of sin and now this reference to “Holy fear” points to a religious angle. And religious imagery was heavily featured in Man of Steel and BvS, but not so much in Justice League other than this scene. Even the resurrection scene with Superman was not as overtly religious as we expected. But here, the Holy fear might be referring to the past when people were more god-fearing or more stringently religious. Fear in a religious context doesn’t always mean being afraid, by the way. It can refer to notions of respect and reverence, which may be how these terrorists are thinking about it. In the Justice League Universe, an interesting wrinkle is that there actually were gods on Earth in the past, with Zeus and Ares and others, according to Hippolyta’s stories from Wonder Woman. The distant past also happened to be the time when Steppenwolf attempted to overthrow the tribes of Earth. And it would seem the world is in fact diving back into the dark ages as Steppenwolf approaches once again, a God that really should be feared. Steppenwolf’s success would also mean an end of the modern world.

Speaking of gods, Wonder Woman busts powerfully into the room. It’s a great entrance and is reminiscent of how she broke through the window in Veld back in her solo movie. Here, she quickly assesses the situation and she dodges a bullet as we see the time bomb countdown from 13 seconds to 12 seconds, indicating that everything that happens after that moment takes less than 12 seconds. Seeing Wonder Woman move so quickly here, and watching bullets graze by her, really emphasizes later how fast the Flash and Superman are, because even she can’t keep up with them.

But Diana quickly takes out two of the terrorists and then when she looks at the bomb again, she gets hit in the back of the head with the butt of an assault rifle, which causes her to grunt. It sounds like a grunt of slight pain, though it could simply be a grunt of dismay or surprise. Either way it seems that though she has great strength, she is not impervious to physical attacks.

With only seconds to spare, Diana closes the briefcase, jumps up, and then throws the bomb up into the sky, where it explodes relatively harmlessly. Now, an earlier trailer for Justice League seemed to show the bomb going off inside the building, with the windows being blown out -- a sort of British version of the Capitol explosion from Batman v Superman. This discrepancy led to speculation that the reshoots and changes to Justice League included a shift away from an original version where Wonder Woman failed to save the kids. The online rumors were that they changed the scene to make it so that she successfully saves them. But these rumors were shot down by Shazam! director David Sandberg, who said on Twitter that he talked to a crew member from Justice League who confirmed that the scene was shown in theaters basically as conceived by Zack Snyder and Chris Terrio. They may have changed the blast, but the plot beats of the scene were still the same, with Wonder Woman successfully thwarting the terrorist attempt.

Anyway, once the bombing has been thwarted, the lead terrorist arms himself with one of the dead men’s assault rifle to prepare an onslaught on the hostages. Since he was unable to kill everyone with a big explosion that would “be over quickly” as he puts it, he instead opts to shoot everyone to maximize his profile and to spark holy fear.

We see the terror in the hostages, well acted by the extras, and there’s an interesting view of the shooter’s finger on the trigger, showcasing that the safety is off. And then the tension that has been building throughout the entire scene is all released in a last second save by Wonder Woman. She drops down with a great look of conviction on her face. There’s some slo-motion for a moment as she blocks the first bullet, then it goes to full speed as the man starts firing quick bursts panning the gun to the right. We once again see a display of Wonder Woman’s speed as she blocks the stream of bullets spewing from the assault rifle. Our first glimpse of this type of speed from Wonder Woman was in her solo film after her true power had been unlocked. Although she had always been able to dodge and deflect bullets, it wasn’t really until Ares pushed her over the edge in their final confrontation that she tapped into her true potential, empowered by her compassion for humanity. And although blocking and dodging shots from guns 100 years ago was impressive, it’s even more amazing now to see her keeping up with this modern automatic rifle. And it’s possible that she’s developed her powers even further since her solo film, becoming both faster and stronger.

Overall, this is a very exhilarating sequence to see Wonder Woman blocking bullets again, and the filmmakers pulled it off really well where it looks good even though it should look implausible. There are other movies that don’t pull off this kind of rapid motion as well as it is here -- I’m thinking of the fast climbing or running in the Twilight movie, for example. But here, it looks solid and it ends with a great arm pose in front of some little girls. It’s great to see Diana literally as the protector of people and children. It positions her as a different sort of hero than Batman, who we saw more as someone who confronts a street-level criminal, whereas Wonder Woman is stopping a terror attack and saving innocents.

The Wonder Woman musical theme with the driving bass rhythm is pumping as the man lowers his rifle and says, “I don’t believe it.  What are you?” This line matches with the idea that Wonder Woman has been absent from society until very recently. And it’s natural, given Wonder Woman’s desire for secrecy as seen in Batman v Superman, that people, especially in modern times, don’t really know who she is. And saying “What” in the question rather than “Who” makes the distinction of implying she is not human, which of course she is not.

Her response goes back to the first part of his line. He says I don’t believe it, and she says that what she is is “a believer.” There are several thoughts we have about this response. First of all, this marks a change from Batman v Superman. This change in attitude could’ve been spurred by Superman’s selfless sacrifice, plus the inspiration of seeing how people across the world mourned the hero where before she had believed the age of heroes would never come again. Speaking of which, she has also learned that more meta-humans are out there, which might make her a believer now in the potential return of heroes. Plus, there’s also Batman, who not only did a bit of coaxing to persuade her to answer the call to arms, but also showed her that men can change and hence are never completely lost and without hope. He also took the step of retrieving and returning her photograph to her, which speaks well of him and also provides some closure and possibly some new inspiration for Wonder Woman.

So she is obviously now out in public, saving the day and making a difference, and she is professing that she’s a believer -- which shows clear development since BvS. And being a believer also connects to the Wonder Woman film, as we mentioned earlier in the episode. In her solo film, belief was a key idea. And she is recommitting herself to that idea. So this can be interpreted as meaning that she still believes in humanity, even in a time of turmoil or trouble. Even recognizing the good and the bad, she believes that mankind is on the whole worth saving and worth believing in. It can also be interpreted as her being a believer in love, rather than holy fear, or a believer in the potential of the future rather than a return to the past. However you want to take it, Diana saying that she is a believer connects very directly with the final act and even the final monologue in the Wonder Woman movie, where she talks about belief being important and she says that she believes in love.

Then Scene 4 ends with her stepping forward into her patented bracelet blast, and the white light that fills the screen serves as a visual transition to the snowy sky of Iceland for Scene 5. Having her bracelet blast here in her opening scene also sets up the moment later on when she’s fighting Superman and he grabs her arms before she can clash them.

End of Episode

So that’s our analysis of Scene 4 in Justice League. It’s a well executed scene and a very exciting and memorable way to bring Diana into the movie. Although the events of the scene are not really connected to the main plot of the film, and the details of who these terrorists are does not matter for anything later, the scene overall does connect to the general malaise and danger with Superman being gone, and the terrorists trying to bring things back to the dark ages is basically the idea that mankind as it is now isn’t worth saving, but a theme in this movie and in the Justice League Universe overall is that humanity, even with its flaws, actually is worth saving. Another connection is that the fear being created by these terrorists is only fueling the Earth’s vulnerability, priming it for Steppenwolf’s pending invasion, which not only involves parademons who are drawn to fear but also the motherbox’s summoning of Steppenwolf is predicated upon turmoil and discord in humanity. And the line about “holy fear” connects with the overarching theme about fear vs. inspiration.

This particular scene also establishes Diana’s capabilities within the context of this particular movie, and it’s a solid little action sequence. It’s kind of like a quick comic book introduction (where the writers give a character an action scene in Issue 1 before the real story takes off in Issues 2 and 3). And as we said, this scene shows how Diana is now operating in public in the modern world, which is a difference from how she was in both Wonder Woman and BvS. It shows that she’s re-entering Man’s World, and even in the face of terrorism and the flaws of mankind, she is still a believer. And so maybe she’ll be willing to join Bruce’s team... eventually. But even though she’s out in public, she is not enough to fill the void left by Superman. And indeed, Bruce will throw this in her face later -- that she doesn’t fill the boots of Superman and that she didn’t do enough prior to BvS, when she was sticking more to the shadows.

Thinking about Scene 4 in conjunction with Scene 2 allows us to compare and contrast Wonder Woman and Batman, the two co-leads of the movie. Bruce was shown in his first scene trying to anticipate the next threat and prepare for it; Diana, on the other hand, is just reacting, in the nick of time, for a current threat. She is reacting rather than leading, which becomes part of her character arc later in the movie.

Alright, in closing here, we want to share a follow-up comment on Scene 2, which we just mentioned. Mister Batfleck on twitter pointed out how Batman’s wrist display screening, showing his tracker on the parademon, is directly out of the Arkham City video game. That connection continues the tradition of Batman’s crime-fighting and detective style in BvS. Many fans have pointed out that his action scenes in BvS felt like they came straight from the Arkham games. But we missed the connection in Scene 2 here from Justice League, primarily because I have not played those video games. Unfortunately, I’m just not up with the modern times on video games -- for me, my gaming history is still predominantly King’s Quest, Donkey Kong Country, Mario Kart, James Bond Goldeneye, and a little bit of Left 4 Dead 2. But it’s great to hear all the stuff about the Arkham games, which sound like they are great, on the whole -- I’ve just never had an opportunity to play them.

So that will do it for this episode. Next up we’re going to have a flurry of episodes about Wonder Woman and we’ll be mixing up the format a bit, so please stay tuned for that. Thanks for listening, and thanks as always to the Suicide Squadcast and to Man of Steel Answers.

No comments:

Post a Comment