- Themes - stronger together, free will, second chances, and more (0:01:32)
- Introduction to character analysis (0:28:30)
- Bruce Wayne / Batman (0:29:13)
- Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (0:33:00)
- Victor Stone / Cyborg (0:38:16)
- Steppenwolf and Darkseid (0:46:29)
- Arthur Curry / Aquaman (0:50:38)
- Barry Allen / The Flash (0:54:52)
- Clark Kent / Superman (0:58:21)
- Lois Lane and Martha Kent (1:08:02)
- Comments on the Dawn of Justice Trilogy (1:11:30)
- Ending Remarks (1:18:40)
Written by Sam Otten, Alessandro Maniscalco, and Rebecca Johnson
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Ray Fisher second chances - https://twitter.com/ray8fisher/status/1373741233571500034?s=20
MarVeVi on Black representation - https://twitter.com/marvevi_/status/1372941329555197953?s=20
JLU Podcast on the Superman/Snyder parallels - https://twitter.com/JLUPodcast/status/1372988361816739840?s=20
Welcome, passionate and patient fans of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The moment has arrived for us to begin discussing the actual work of art that is the Snyder Cut of Justice League; the true sequel to Batman v Superman and the rightful conclusion to the Dawn of Justice trilogy. This is the Justice League Universe podcast, where we analyze select DC Films from Warner Brothers studios and HBO Max.
In this episode, we share our top-level analysis of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, focusing as we often do on the themes and the character arcs of the film. There is a lot to process in this one, so we reserve the right to revise our interpretations or add nuance later when we do our scene-by-scene analysis, but for now, this is what spoke to us in terms of the deeper messages and the character development in the movie. And at the end of the episode, we will include a few quick thoughts about what it feels like to have the intended conclusion to this Dawn of Justice trilogy, extending and honoring what came before in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman.
We are not going to spend our time comparing and contrasting this movie from the one that was released in theaters. Instead we are going to try to focus on the substance of this film on its own terms. And as usual, we aren’t going to focus on bashing other movies or trying to make direct comparisons to other film universes, about which one does this better or which one has a better whatever. As a podcast, we try to stay positive and we try to focus on appreciating the works of art that are presented to us --- more of a literary analysis rather than a fan war.
So let’s talk about a few of the overarching themes of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. And you may have gotten different messages from the movie, which is totally legitimate as art is open for interpretation, but speaking for myself, Alessandro, and Rebecca, here are some of the themes that cut across multiple characters and multiple plot points in the movie. We’ll list them, and then talk a bit about how we saw each of them playing out in the four-hour film.
- Probably the central theme is that we are stronger together than we are in isolation.
- Our relationships can help us deal with loss and also accept who we uniquely are. And the bonds we have with one another can help us make it through tragedies and show us that none of us is broken or alone.
- Evil does not sleep, it waits, and thus it is always necessary for a new age of heroes to arise and fight for the good.
- Family is a strength, not a weakness. And parents or parental figures have a large influence on people finding their way in life, especially parents who do not dictate a future for their children but instead simply want their children to reach their potential and make the most of the possibilities of life, whatever that may mean to the child individually.
- Free will is essential to our humanity, and sometimes that free will means taking a leap of faith.
- The film also explores the idea of second chances and that it is important to cherish and make the most of those second chances.
Now we’ll take a look at how each of those themes show up in various characters and plot points in the film.
First, we are stronger together than we are in isolation.
This theme has actually also been a driving force of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, so it’s fitting that collaboration and unity are also central to the movie itself. Bruce states this theme explicitly near the beginning when he tells Arthur that Superman thought we were “stronger together.” Bruce spent the last movie sinking deeper and deeper into his rage, putting up barriers between himself and others, especially Superman, but now in the Snyder Cut he’s actively recruiting others to form alliances. This follows on directly from the end of BvS and the promise that Bruce made to Superman. And Alfred even comments that a person who has been stuck alone in a cave might not be the best recruiter, but that just speaks even more to how brave Bruce is to take on this big recruitment effort, opening himself up to others, sharing his secret, and trying to build something bigger than himself.
This theme is not just about collaboration, it’s about the strength that comes from emerging from your isolation. And it’s not just Bruce coming out of isolation, with him being willing to form partnerships again after the tragic loss of Robin. The other characters are also coming out of isolation in one form or another.
- Diana is separated from her sisters, and has largely isolated herself after losing Steve a hundred years ago. But she was drawn forth by the threat of Doomsday, and even at the end of BvS she wasn’t sure that she wanted to fully join up with other heroes, but after the warning from Themyscira and learning about this new threat, she is willing to help bring people together. And as she tells Cyborg, she is still working on building those relationships again -- it’s an ongoing struggle, but one worth doing. This isolation-to-collaboration movement for Diana is emphasized visually. For example, our first shot of Diana is her alone, statue-esque above London, but she gets called down amongst the people to help out. Later, she’s alone again when she learns about the threat of Darkseid, but then she brings that information to Bruce and helps to recruit others, eventually taking a place at the head of the team in some of their key battles.
- Arthur is isolated as a roaming man, caught between two worlds but belonging to neither. He explicitly marks this isolation by saying that “the strong man is strongest alone.” But Aquaman is unable to stop Steppenwolf alone, failing just as the Amazons failed. So although he was reluctant at first, more or less, and although he might not wear his heart on his sleeve like Barry, we do see that he needs and benefits from making friends amongst the League.
- 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.” We see that he’s physically separated from his father by the prison barrier, and he has lost his mother, and he seems to be viewed as a bit of an oddball by the regular folks he interacts with. But the other League members accept him into the group, quirks and all, and he is able to make unique contributions that no one else could do. And he not only gains some colleagues, but also some friends, especially Cyborg.
- Victor begins the movie isolated in his father’s apartment. He’s not only isolated from the rest of humanity, he even seems to be separate from his own humanity, viewing himself as a monster. He goes from feeling isolated and saying f*** the world to working very proactively to save the world, and valuing his own life again.
- Lois is also isolated, choosing solitude as she deals with her grief and trying to find her way forward without Clark. She eventually gets a bit of a nudge from Marthan Manhunter as an invitation from isolation back to connection with others, which ends up being crucial to the plot.
- Superman is also isolated -- first, isolated in death, and then isolated because he doesn’t remember who he is and he doesn’t know how he fits in with the people standing before him. It is through Lois and his mother, and their scene where their love is strong together, that he is put back on the positive path.
it’s not just the heroes who come from a place of isolation. Steppenwolf
is also very isolated in this movie. He has been ostracized by Darkseid
because of a past misdeed, and Steppenwolf desperately wants to rejoin
with his lord and nephew. So with the villain, we also feel that pain of
separation. But whereas the heroes find one another and support each other
as they form a new collaboration, Steppenwolf gets no such support. Desaad
seems to taunt Steppenwolf with his past failure and undermines his
efforts to prove himself again, and Darkseid does not offer much in the
way of grace. He tells Steppenwolf he has to produce his great prize in
order to lift the punishment of isolation. And Darkseid literally crushes
him underfoot when he fails.
So basically all the characters are dealing with some form of isolation and they illustrate the theme of being stronger together, with the heroes finding connections and collaborations while Steppenwolf suffers and dies still feeling the desperate sting of his isolation. This theme is explicitly highlighted in several visual moments and excerpts of dialogue. Here is just a sampling:
- Bruce alone on the mountaintop to Batman standing with the team at the top of the tower.
- Batman saying “don’t worry about me” to the team coming to save Batman during the batmobile chase.
- Arthur throwing Bruce up against the wall to Aquaman riding with Batman on the batmobile.
- Aquaman doubting Cyborg’s allegiance to Cyborg catching Aquaman in midair and saying “you’re welcome.”
- The Flash needing friends to the Flash fist bumping Cyborg at the end.
- Bruce saying that there are 6, not 5. There’s “no us without him.”
- Bruce explicitly says that they haven’t “faced us, not us united.”
- Diana says that “we do this together.” Not alone. And they aren’t quite synchronized in their first battles, but they work much better as a team by the end.
- Cyborg says that he is not alone.
- Martian Manhunter says that he and Bruce both have to recognize that they have a stake in this world, and so they should unite to fight for it, which can apply to all of us because we all have a stake in this world.
- And there’s an AFSP billboard that says “You are not alone,” which is not only a callback to Man of Steel but also a connection to this theme of stronger together. And hopefully this movie can speak to people who do feel alone or who feel isolated, and they can know that we care about them and there are others who want to connect, such as at afsp.org.
Of course any discussion of unity and the notion of “stronger together” must also address the fact that the villains have a unity as well. The three mother boxes become even more powerful if they synchronize and form the unity. So it’s not as simple as the heroes having unity, and the villains having separation. The villains are also pursuing their own form of unity. In the past, it was the cooperation of various civilizations, from Amazons to Atlanteans to Europeans to Asians and Africans, that allowed them to repel the mother boxes’ unity. And in this movie it’s the heroes from very different backgrounds coming together that prevents the mother box unity again. So overall, either side can gain an advantage through unity, but thankfully it’s the Justice League who accomplish it most profoundly.
So we have an overarching theme of uniting and being stronger together. What must we unite against? There are several mentions of a “great darkness.” And one can interpret this as mere comic book threat development, but one can also interpret it as whatever “darkness” might mean in their life. Whatever that darkness is that we feel settling on ourselves, that is what we must unify against and find strong connections to combat.
Hippolyta also talks about the fact that “evil does not sleep, it waits.” This makes me think about evil in the general sense of the threats to our society, like hatred, division, scapegoating, selfishness, etc. They aren’t new, they just resurface or come around again in new ways. And so each time the evils return, we have to all unite and try to fight back. Each generation has to do their part in pushing down the evils and trying to make a better world. As Coretta Scott King said, “the struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation. That is what we have not taught young people, or older ones for that matter.” Hopefully this film can do a small part in teaching that lesson to a new generation, a new age of heroes.
What must we unite against?
Another place where connections are important is in dealing with loss. Justice League shows various people dealing with loss in different ways.
- We can go back to BvS where Bruce was still struggling to cope with the loss of his parents. He had also lost a Robin, and now he has lost Superman. And he holds himself partly to blame for Superman’s death. The way he was dealing with that new loss in Justice League is with a vigorous commitment to trying to protect the world, build an alliance, and defeat Steppenwolf. He is no longer dealing with loss by isolating himself and lashing out in anger.
- The theme of dealing with loss also continues from the Wonder Woman. Diana lost her home and she lost Steve Trevor. Her way of dealing with that was to isolate herself and withdraw from public heroics, at least temporarily. But now we see her working on making new connections.
- Lois and Martha have lost Clark. Lois feels his absence every day and is not going back to work yet. And Martha has let the farmhouse go.
- Aquaman lost his mother and dealt with it by harboring resentment against her. And he refused to join with her civilization, the Atlanteans, even when Vulko reaches out.
- 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. He is still grieving over his mother and not sure that he wants this new, monstrous life for himself, and then later he has to deal with the tragic loss of his father, which makes it even more important that he has the connections with the other league members.
- Steppenwolf is also dealing with loss, namely, the loss of his position and his status relative to Darkseid.
- 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.
And it’s not just the loss of others, there is also the idea of losing parts of yourself. Each member of the league has some sort of faults or inner demons that they are dealing with. But by supporting one another they are able to face those demons, improve themselves, and come to terms with their unique qualities and their lot in life. Cyborg probably represents this idea in the most compelling fashion, and he is also the one to capitulate the idea most clearly --- “I’m not broken.” And an important part of what helped him to realize that fact is that he is “not alone.” We are stronger together, and part of that strength is in realizing that we are wholly valuable.
Zack Snyder has even talked to Kevin McCarthy about how the visual aspect ratio of Justice League subconsciously reflects this idea of overcoming adversity and rising up to achieve new heights. Across the Dawn of Justice trilogy, the aspect ratio goes from 2.35:1 in Man of Steel, to a mixed ratio in BvS where the iMax scenes are a bit taller, and now Justice League is fully in the 4:3 ratio which is a bit more upright in stature, so to speak.
Alright, now that we’ve seen how the movie sends the message that you can overcome loss and overcome some of your inner demons by building connections and being stronger together, we’ll go through a few of the other themes more quickly.
Family is a strength, not a weakness.
This is a continuation of Man of Steel, especially with its focus on fathers, and then Batman v Superman, with its focus on mothers. Zack Snyder’s Justice League has several references to family, and then there is the new family that the league forms amongst themselves. And there is definitely a particular emphasis on the role of parents and parental figures.
Family is especially prominent with Cyborg. He is sad about his father being too busy at work, but he clearly has a close connection with his mother. And when he loses his mother, he rejects his father and resents his father’s ill-advised attempt to save him. He destroys the tape player rather than hear anything from his father’s perspective. This is a family in distress, but we start to see some repair as Vic begins to accept his new gifts and he shows up to save Silas. Vic clearly still cares about him, and after that rescue he calls him father. Silas also covers for Vic at STAR Labs, with a meaningful nod between the two that speaks volumes. Vic’s new family, the league, also show good compassion and concern for Vic, recognizing that he has now lost both parents. But we can assume that Dr. and Dr. Stone would be proud of where their son ends up in this movie, clearly putting his intellect, his pure heart, and all his gifts to good use.
Barry also has to deal with some friction with his father, with Barry wanting to stay connected and right that wrong, but his dad not wanting to hold Barry back. Like Silas, Henry Allen wants his son to reach his full potential. And we see that Barry does take the advice, as he steps out of his comfort zone to join Bruce and then gradually learns more and more about how to be a hero. The connection to his father is especially evident at the end during the time sprint when he is clearly moved by the thought that he is accomplishing something supremely important, one of the “best of the best.”
Although we don’t see Bruce’s parents, they still play a role as Bruce tries to make new efforts in this film to honor their memory and make the world a better place, this time by gathering a team of heroes rather than just hunting criminals. And Martian Manhunter at the end makes an explicit reference to Bruce’s parents, saying that they would be proud of him.
Aquaman has some resentment toward his mother, but we can see that he pauses a bit when Mera points out that his mother leaving him might have been for his own good. Mera also appeals to Arthur’s mom when she tells Arthur that it is his responsibility to follow Steppenwolf, so that’s an indirect way in which Arthur too may be trying to live up to the expectations of his parents, and he does leave in the Epilogue to go see his father.
In contrast to the leaguers, Steppenwolf says that family is a “weakness.” He views those connections and relationships as something that may hinder you from pursuing your selfish aims, and they are also a point of leverage that he can use against you whether you’re a hostage or a foe on the battlefield. This may come from his own experience with Darkseid who is his family, which we get clues that it played a role in his own selfish pursuits.This comes through very prominently when he faces Wonder Woman. He tries to exploit Wonder Woman’s sisters and mother as a point of leverage over her. “Why did you abandon your sisters?” He tries to use those emotions and that love that she has for her family to distract her. He also tries to divide the team, trying to make her feel guilty for siding with her new family over her original Amazonian family.
So Steppenwolf sees family as a weakness, and he also has clear problems and a dysfunctional relationship with his own nephew, and he tries to use family connections as a way to drive division. This puts the villain on the opposite side of the actual messages of the movie, which is that family is a strength and that those relationships make us stronger.
This is just scratching the surface of the family relationships at play in the film, but we definitely noticed how those family relationships really supported the Justice League members through their struggles. And the parents also inspired the heroes by hoping for the best, supporting them in reaching their full potential, especially both of Victor’s parents, Barry’s father, the narrations from Superman’s fathers, and what we remember from Hippolyta in the Wonder Woman solo movie. There’s even Commissioner Gordon’s mom who thought that dentistry may also have been a viable career path for him. It’s important to note, however, that for the heroes, it’s not that the parents were trying to dictate exactly what they wanted their children to become---they just wanted them to pursue their full capabilities and find happiness and acceptance with who they are. In this way, the parental hopes also align with our next theme, which is that...
- Free will is essential to our humanity, and sometimes that free will means taking a leap of faith.
A big part of this free will theme comes from all those quotes alluded to above of the main characters making their own way. For example, Silas in the tape recording tells Vic that things are up to his will, and that he can choose who he wants to be. It harkens back to the advice Superman received in Man of Steel from Jonathan and in BvS from Martha. And of course Henry tells Barry he can be whatever he wants to be, that he should make his own future. Diana also tells the girl in London that she can be whatever she chooses to be. So choice is certainly an important element as each of the heroes must decide for themselves whether to be the heroes, the angels against the demons, or be none of it.
Steppenwolf and Darkseid, on the other hand, explicitly say that they want to defeat our free will. They want to usher in an era of blind devotion to a single lord and master. Even Steppenwolf himself is sort of trapped in that absence of free will. He kneels before Darkseid and is consumed by a desire to please him and win back his respect. Steppenwolf doesn’t have that freedom like the heroes have because he chose to commit himself to Darkseid.
Free will can also mean sometimes choosing to take a leap of faith rather than being beholden to cold reasoning. This is most apparent with Bruce. Alfred tells Bruce that his guilt has clouded his reason. But Bruce has actually shifted from where he was before. He says, “For once, I’m operating strictly on faith, not on reason.” And Batman repeats this reliance on faith on the flying fox. Batman spent most of BvS relying on reason -- a rage-induced form of reasoning, but reason nonetheless as he had his 1% doctrine and he felt he had to act on it rather than trust that Superman would stay good in this world. But in Justice League he has taken the leap of faith, that recruiting the league will be worth it and that resurrecting Superman will work out. And like the pastor in MoS said, the trust part can come later, such as the trust among the league.
There are other connections to faith as well, and this faith can be interpreted secularly, like faith in family or friends or faith that we are stronger together. But it can also be taken as having a religious connotation. Bruce having faith in the resurrection has a Christian parallel. And Lex does refer to Superman again as a godlike figure, saying that god is back up in the sky. And Bruce, the main character who talked about his shift from reason to faith, said at the end when he’s returning to Wayne manor that there is room for more, “God help us.”
Alright, the last theme we want to mention is the idea of...
This one stood out to us right away because Silas explicitly tells Victor to give himself a second chance, even if he won’t forgive Silas. And Superman also says that he has a second chance and he’s not going to waste it. This second chance also relates to Bruce, who is trying to right his previous wrongs and make up for his mistakes in BvS, which is why all the scenes related to the resurrection have moments where the camera keys in on Bruce’s reaction.
There’s Aquaman who gets a second chance against Steppenwolf in battle. And then there’s the Flash, who literally gets a second chance at the end of the final battle. Taken together, these second chances show that we don’t have to be perfect -- we make mistakes, even our heroes make mistakes, but when you get another opportunity, you should strive to do even more or be even better, to the best of your ability.
Going back to the idea of being stronger together, the leaguers in many ways support one another through their second chances. This contrasts with Desaad, who seems to be undermining Steppenwolf and basically rooting against him as Steppenwolf seeks his second chance; his redemption in the eyes of Darkseid. If there were to be a sequel to this film, we may also see Darkseid’s second chance at an invasion of Earth.
There is also a second chance on a collective scale. There was an age of heroes before, where they united across races to save the world, but now that age of heroes has to happen again. We have to join together a second time. It’s up to us, we have the free will to choose not to go “back to the Dark Ages” like the London terrorists want, but to go back to that age of heroes when we united across our differences.
And as it’s presented in the movie, that collective second chance with the age of heroes is about literally saving the world. But at the same time, the age of heroes is also shown on a very small, personal scale. Being a hero is not just about an epic battle against evil, it’s also about showing care and kindness to regular people. Being a hero is Lois bringing the coffee and having a warm morning greeting with the police office. It’s Cyborg helping a single mother when she needs it the most. It’s not just Barry reversing time to stop the mother boxes, but it’s also Barry saving Iris West, a person he just met. It’s Diana checking on the young girls after the trauma of the terrorist attack. And it’s Arthur helping the Icelandic villagers or the guy out in the storm. It’s also Silas, director of STAR Labs, showing respect to the custodian, or Hippolyta showing deep care for each Amazon.
So we see all these smaller acts of kindness, even while the heroes are still separated from one another, and it indicates their good hearts even before they are called upon to deal with the larger threat, which is something they cannot do alone. It also shows that the idea of “stronger together” encompasses everyone, even the so-called little people, not just the superheroes. And it shows us how we can be part of an age of heroes, too.
Zack Snyder spoke in the virtual premiere about how he thinks about heroes. He said that “these heroes are misfits. They [are] incredibly relatable to just people. The best myth speaks to us in an archetypal way to the struggles we all face in our lives. These heroes are us. ...If you look at Cyborg's journey, he's the linchpin. ... In the end, there's a line, ‘I'm not broken. And I'm not alone.’ In a lot of ways that has a beautiful meshing of our message of mental health... We all are heroes to ourselves. We can all stand up. We can all be strong. We can support each other.”
And with that reference to suicide prevention and mental health, Zack is bringing the message of the movie out into the real events surrounding the movie. Ray Fisher also commented on twitter about how the movie itself sort of connects to the saga that was the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. Ray Fisher tweeted: “Random Thought: Getting a second chance to bring a film to life while playing [a] character that gets a second chance at life within that film is kinda trippy... #Cyborg #SnyderCut”
Now we are going to share some of our initial, top-level thoughts about the main characters in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. There of course could be an entire episode on each one of these characters as we see them throughout this 4-hour film, so what we’re going to do right now is just comment on the main elements of their characterization and how we viewed their arc across the course of the movie.
I wrote this together with Alessandro and Rebecca and so they’re going to help present some of our character analyses, and we’ll try to be relatively brief because we already mentioned some ideas about characters in relation to the themes and we will also save many of the details for later scene-by-scene analyses.
But let’s start with the guy who is trying to pull together the league...
Bruce Wayne / Batman (REBECCA)
Bruce’s arc is a direct continuation from Batman v Superman, where at the end of that movie we saw him emerge from his shadowy descent and come back into the light, pledging himself to a new cause, inspired by Superman. Bruce is continuing his redemption arc and is now moving from isolation and toward connection. As part of those connections to other people, he has found faith and he has moved beyond that mentality of promises being worth very little, and people not staying good in this world. BvS was a battle between that pessimism and Superman’s optimism, and although Superman’s optimism was tested and shaken, it didn’t crumble and in the end it won Batman over into the place that we see him now in Justice League. Batman in this film doesn’t necessarily have all the answers, nor does he know exactly how things will turn out, but he has enough faith to try. And his faith does work out well, at least in this film, as Superman does show up as Bruce said he would.
One can also think of Bruce through the lens of religious allegory, which is often a part of the Dawn of Justice trilogy. We can think of Bruce as a sinner who fell from grace -- think about the strong motif of the fall, especially at the beginning of BvS -- but then he is redeemed through the savior as represented by Superman. That savior then becomes an inspiration for Bruce to rededicate himself in Justice League, where he gets to be a part of resurrecting Superman. From this standpoint, the faith component in Justice League makes sense. He is now a believer. He's been born again. He's that Batman he once was before the rage and the feelings of powerlessness. And it's that faith that leads him to encourage others to be their best selves, for example, telling Cyborg that flight is in his nature.
Even for people who don’t see it through the religious lens, there is clearly an arc going from isolation to collaboration. He goes from lashing out at the alien Superman to accepting the help of Martian Manhunter. His collaborative turn even extends into the Knightmare timeline. He brings Justice League members together even in the worst possible circumstances, to try to right another wrong that he may have had a hand in. And it’s interesting to think about how far Batman’s newfound collaboration might go. In the knightmare scenes, he even joins up with former adversaries, Deathstroke and the Joker. That is a long way from the branding that he was doing in BvS.
Zack Snyder sums up all of this when he was interviewed on GeekVibesNation. Snyder said, “I like seeing Bruce starting to turn toward a less dark, calculated character, one that’s inspired by faith that the world will turn correctly as opposed to a character who believes the world will always turn toward the dark. That’s a big move for Bruce in the movie.” - Zack Snyder
We also want to mention Bruce’s most important relationship in these films, and that is Alfred. At the end of BvS, as Batman was emerging from his tunnel vision, he said to Alfred, “I don’t deserve you.” That humility has continued and expanded in Justice League. He now has the humility to know that he needs help from the other Leaguers, but he also says, “Thank you, Alfred,” and “I work for him.” Bruce has detoxified his masculinity a bit, but that hasn’t made him any weaker or more vulnerable, but instead it has strengthened him by allowing him to have stronger relationships.
Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (SAM)
Diana is the first one to join Bruce’s cause, having connected with him in BvS, and in this film she gets quite a bit of focus in the first parts of the film. Like Bruce, she is re-emerging in a sense. A hundred years ago she walked from mankind and she has been trying to work her way back --- it’s been a struggle and as she says, she’s “still working on it.” This also gives her a connection to Victor, and she opens up about her own struggles to him, which is just enough of a human connection that he is willing to come around and join the team. She even says to him that she needs his help, so it’s not about “fixing” Victor but is instead about a notion of mutual support. This showed a keen insight and emotional awareness on Diana’s part, highlighting her strengths as a recruiter with a different style than Bruce.
A unique thing about Diana is that she does have experience as part of a team that had to face a world-level threat, with the Oddfellows taking on Ares. The Wonder Woman film also presented the idea that everyone is fighting their own battles and dealing with their own struggles, and to be a true team, you have to see each other in that full light and you have to build connections and trust. Wonder Woman is an important part of both teams because she does have that empathy and compassion. As Gal Gadot described it in a behind-the-scenes short, Wonder Woman is basically the glue of the team. She loves everyone and accepts everyone for who they are, and she offers encouragement so they can reach their full potential. She did that with the Oddfellows and she does it again here with the Justice League. She even shows that compassion and encouragement with the young girl in London -- it’s a consistent part of the Wonder Woman character.
Some other quick connections to the Wonder Woman film are the references to Steve Trevor, which is handled in a subtle and respectful way, where we can still see that she carries the love and grief for him but it doesn’t prevent her from going forward. The very brief little romantic moment between Bruce and Diana was minor enough that it doesn’t encroach on her feelings for Steve, but it hints at something possibly developing in the future between Diana and Bruce. And there was also the parallel with the flying fox, where we see that Bruce is actually a pilot, too, like Steve. It’s also kind of nice that Diana bonds with Alfred just as much as she does with Bruce, and the bit with the tea and her also teasing them about copying her gauntlets were enjoyable moments.
The biggest connection to the Wonder Woman mythology is that we see several scenes on Themyscira and we also have the Amazons centrally involved in the history lesson. These are important for Diana’s characterization in the film because, as she is working to save the world, she is also dealing with guilt for having left Themyscira. Steppenwolf tries to prey upon that guilt by taunting her with the death of the Amazons and their failure to guard the mother box. But it is unwise to taunt a godkiller. And as Zack Snyder said, he uses gods to kill gods.
In the Wonder Woman film, Diana uses the power of love to defeat Ares, and in Justice League there’s a quick joke that Barry makes about saving the world with love. It doesn’t seem disrespectful, though, because it fits with Barry’s sort of nervous-energy characterization. And Diana is an unapologetic belief in love. Love drives her character. Her knowledge of love is how she can recognize that Clark is not necessarily all bad when he resurrects and she understands that his love for Lois Lane was the key to his memory returning. And Diana knows about the depth of that love because she was there when Superman died and Lois grieved over his dead body. Diana was also there to see Lois alone at Clark's grave.
Diana also says that “hate is useless.” This allows her to move past the Amazons’ animosity toward Atlanteans, and so it’s through her commitment to love and understanding that she is able to get past any suspicions of Arthur and make connections with him that allow them to be a very effective duo by the end of the movie.
In terms of how Diana was portrayed, we share the view of @lombacarol which is that this film avoided depicting Diana as an objectified, sexual figure. She is not there to titillate the male characters nor is she lacking in intelligence, which unfortunately is often the case in male-dominated media. In the Snyder Cut, she is very intelligent and her body is shown in ways that emphasize her strength and skills. For the Amazons, too, their bodies are often shown but it’s not salacious, it is emphasizing their strength and abilities.
One final thing we want to say about Diana is something that’s not very deep but is just fun to notice --- there are two early foreshadowings of her final beheading of Steppenwolf. First of all, Diana blasting away the lead terrorist hints at the fact that she will not hesitate in killing a villain who threatens innocent life. And second, Hippolyta in the early Amazon fight sequence does the move where she steps up and then launches off the wall to stab a parademon, which foreshadows the exact move that Diana will use to decapitate Steppenwolf. She has a love for humanity, but she doesn’t hesitate to do what is necessary.
Victor Stone / Cyborg (SAM)
Like Diana, Victor is closed off and is working on opening up to others, though for him it is a much more recent trauma and it involved a drastic change to himself physically. But early in the movie, we see Victor refusing to talk to his father and literally turning his back on him as a form of withdrawal. And Cyborg says to Diana, “I don’t need anyone.” He feels like a monster and is in a sense torn between two worlds -- who he was before and who he is now, which was not something that he chose for himself. He also has his human side and his Apokoliptian enhancements, so this combination of origins lays the groundwork for a connection to Superman or Aquaman, although those aren’t explored fully in this movie.
Cyborg has very strong arcs in Justice League. He goes from viewing himself as a monster to taking his place as a hero on the league. “I’m not broken.” And he goes from isolation to being basically the co-leader of the group by the end. “I’m not alone.” And as we mentioned with the family theme that cuts across many characters, Victor goes from losing his family to forging connections with a new sort of family.
The relationship between Victor and Silas is one of the strongest parts of the arc. In their opening scene, Victor totally refuses even a hint of pleasantries with his father. The general audience may have wanted lots of explicit dialogue between the two to explain exactly what they’d been through and what they were feeling, but this movie tends to show rather than tell. And Victor’s pain is so acute that he starts off not even giving his father a chance to try to repair things; Victor is not ready for that yet. Vic’s animosity is clear as he goes straight to, “You know a lot about monsters. Especially how to make them.” And that’s all he says. It establishes at the beginning that much of Vic and Silas’s communication is going to be nonverbal, or it is through the recording that is not an actual conversation between them. That recording becomes symbolic, representing Silas’s desperate attempt to open up some sort of channel of communication with his son, and Silas’s attempt to somehow offer guidance and encouragement to Vic. At first Victor crushes it, representing his destruction and rejection of their relationship because of the anger he feels about Silas not being there before the accident and then anger at turning Victor into this alien monster. But later, the recording and the relationship are symbolically restored, when Victor is finally willing to listen to Silas as a father.
This relationship also arcs well because it has some meaningful story beats in the middle. We eventually see more from Vic’s backstory, we see Silas with pride and relief when Victor comes to STAR labs because it shows that Vic is emerging from his isolation and they are starting to have the possibility of reconnecting, even if communicated just through a nod. We also see Cyborg’s genuine concern when Silas is taken, so there is still the love from a son to a father underneath the prior anger. And this concern is shown even more clearly when Cyborg saves him from Steppenwolf. There’s a key moment after that rescue when Silas says he wasn’t sure Victor would come, but Victor says, “You’re my father.” So he is acknowledging that relationship, which is a step forward from crushing the audio recorder. At the same time that it’s a step forward, there is still some implicit friction there. For Silas to say, I wasn’t sure you’d come, this harkens back to a younger Victor who was not sure that his father would show up, and indeed, we saw that Silas wasn’t there at the football game and he often put his work ahead of his family. So in this sense, Cyborg saying, You’re my father, could be interpreted as a subtle jab saying that, since you’re my father, you should’ve also been there for me. This uncertainty about whether they can count on one another is also a contrast to Bruce in this movie, who is now trying to put faith in other people.
As for Victor and Silas, their relationship does end up at a little bit of a better place in STAR Labs later, but they never get to fully heal their relationship because Silas is killed when he marks the mother box. This is especially tragic because Cyborg was starting to turn the corner, but before that full repair can happen, he has to actually witness his father’s death. What also makes that an especially potent moment is that Silas got a lot of development in this film, and he was centrally involved in the plot. He not only saved Vic’s life earlier, but he also ultimately saved the world because Silas' sacrifice helps the Justice League find the Mother Box and where Steppenwolf has set up his base of operations.
We’re just scratching the surface here, but Cyborg was an amazing and deep character in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. From the character’s creation in 1980 by Wolfman and Perez, it is now forty years later and we finally get to see the origin of this character in cinematic form, and this is his awesome introduction to the general audience where we see this star athlete who is also extremely smart, kind, and emotionally vulnerable. We can’t speak from personal experience what it is like to see this sort of representation of a Black character in the film, but we do want to share a tweet from MarVeVi who, from her profile picture, appears to be a Black woman. She shared the following reaction to Cyborg’s portrayal in this movie: “I can’t explain the importance of a portrayal of a young black man who is powerful, capable [of] showing pain, insanely smart, and very respectful with a good heart. Ray Fisher is extraordinary Thank you @ray8fisher and @ZackSnyder.” https://twitter.com/marvevi_/status/1372941329555197953?s=20 Ray Fisher himself responded to this tweet. He added: “AND has successful parents with genius level intellects.” https://twitter.com/ray8fisher/status/1372945911404498956?s=20
A few more quick things about Cyborg, just because we can’t help ourselves:
- Joe Morton, the actor playing Silas Stone, said the following about Silas’s sacrifice and how that relates to the theme of humanity. “I think that his self-sacrifice was the ultimate human gesture, if you will. The same thing was true in Terminator 2. When the Terminator actually sacrifices himself at the end of the film, it’s because he understands the fullness of humanity and what that means in terms of making it better for other people. And I think that’s certainly what Silas is going through in that moment.” https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/why-justice-league-star-joe-morton-thinks-fans-should-have-more-of-a-say?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter
- The flashback scene to Vic in school is a good one. It shows Vic’s good heart, as he uses his ability to try to help another student in need. That foreshadows the way that he helps the single mother later, when he has his digital powers. There may be questions about exactly how Vic carried out these efforts, and whether in his youth changing grades was the best way to support a student having a tough time, or maybe questions about where the hundred thousand came from for the single mother. But beyond those questions, there is a broader call to all of us. Just as Dr. Stone asked the principal, we can ask ourselves, what have we done to help?
- Arthur is initially a bit skeptical of Cyborg and his connection to the motherbox, and we don’t really blame him for that. It also makes it more meaningful when they come together later that there was some doubt to overcome and some trust to build in the first place. There’s also that leap of faith again, with the trust part coming later.
- It’s awesome to see Cyborg eventually taking a leadership role in the league, and the fact that he is willing to put his life on the line to enter the motherboxes, and to do it so soon after suffering the tragedy of losing his father, raises the stakes in that final battle. And he was not only the most crucial league member at the end but he was also central to them making it out of the gotham harbor battle.
- In our scene-by-scene analysis we are going to dig more into the visual motifs with Cyborg. One that we already noticed is the focus on either side of his face, depending on the moment. You can tell that these were purposeful choices right from the start when his father comes into the apartment, and Vic starts with the right side, his human side, but then when he accuses Silas of creating a monster, he shifts to his left side, the Cyborg side. It’s meaningful in many later scenes, too, like when he nods to his father when he’s entering STAR labs, he looks back and nods with the camera focusing on his human side.
Steppenwolf and Darkseid (Alessandro)
In this film, Steppenwolf and Darkseid are the opposite side of the coin, sort of the yang to the yin, of Batman and Superman. Like Batman, Steppenwolf is seeking redemption from Darkseid, his own Superman figure to whom he feels beholden to. Instead of bringing a team of heroes together to fend off an evil conquest, he is trying to bring together the Motherboxes to fulfill one.
If Superman is the Christ figure, Darkseid is the Anti-Christ figure. Darkseid, like Superman, appears to have a second chance following a previous fall when he was previously defeated by Earth’s defenders. Neither Superman or Darkseid want to waste their second chance, with Darkseid saying he will stop at nothing.
Steppenwolf makes clear that he wants to return home. He seems to regret his past indiscretions, and he desires to return to Darkseid’s good graces. His desperation to be valued once more by his blood relative appears to be motivated by both a thirst for clout he once might have held sitting at the dark one’s side, as noted by Desaad, and a fear of Darkseid’s wrath. He might’ve succeeded too if not for The Flash’s ability to rewrite history.
Darkseid is not as well developed as Steppenwolf, but he is an impressive looming force. He also has a clear motivation of ultimate glory and wanting to redeem his loss from thousands of years ago. And of course he wants to bend everyone to his will and so he’s sort of a classic conqueror villain, with the added threat of the anti-life equation as a possibility in the future.
Having Steppenwolf be the villain in this movie, rather than Darkseid himself, allows for some additional layering in terms of the villains because we are seeing Steppenwolf as the destroyer of Earth but he himself is also marginalized and oppressed by Darkseid, and yet Steppenwolf wants to please Darkseid. He desperately wants Darkseid to see his worth again.
These nuances from Steppenwolf come through in the voice acting by Ciaran Hinds but also some surprisingly good CGI acting in his facial expressions and body language. One really good moment of CGI acting was when he announces the anti-life equation and Desaad steps away and then Darkseid appears through the communication obelisk. Just watching Steppenwolf’s face there is great. It was also a compelling visual choice that Steppenwolf mostly uses his spiked armor to show his power when intimidating those he is interrogating or in front of the parademons as well as to protect himself when fighting, but when he bows to Darkseid, the spiked armor goes away and his vulnerable skins shows.
With regard to the theme of unity, Darkseid does actually provide unity for the Apokoliptians. But it’s an oppressive sort of unity where they are all united underneath him. Nevertheless, there is some strength that comes from that absolute adherence to Darkseid. And the mother boxes also have additional strength that comes from synchronizing. In contrast, Steppenwolf describes Earth as divided, at war with one another, and too separate to be one.
But of course the heroes end up forming their own unity, and they do it of their own free will and by supporting one another, flaws and all, rather than through domination. And by the end of the movie, we see that it’s the unity of free will that wins the day over the unity through domination or subservience. Diana sums up this rejection of subservience well when she tells Steppenwolf, “I belong to no one.”
We also get a glimpse at the flaws that can emerge within a dominating type of unity. Sometimes it’s only unity on the surface, but under the surface people may be jockeying with one another and looking for opportunities to backstab or throw someone under the bus. For example, at the end of the movie, Desaad says to Darkseid, “I told you he would fail.” So they did not have unity and collaboration. They were undermining one another or trying to compete with one another for Darkseid’s good graces.
As for us, we really appreciate films like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman where the villains also tie into some of the main themes of the film, and they show the negative side of the theme.
Arthur Curry / Aquaman (REBECCA)
Arthur Curry is a character who chooses isolation. He makes it clear to Bruce Wayne that he wants to be left alone, which is the opposite of Barry Allen’s desire for friends. This reluctant and closed-off attitude which Arthur exudes can easily lead someone like Barry Allen to come to the conclusion that Arthur doesn’t care about anyone else. Bruce, however, sees through this tough exterior and knows about Arthur’s good deeds that Arthur tries to hide. In an effort to break through to Arthur, Bruce references Superman and says “He thought we were stronger together”, a lesson learned by Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman during the battle with Doomsday and which applies here in the Snyder Cut as he recruits members for his team. Arthur hasn’t learned this lesson yet. He hasn’t needed to. He’s been operating solo and doesn’t yet recognize the value in working with others until Atlantis is attacked, a situation requiring teamwork with Mera in order to survive.
Some interesting connections that come from Arthur’s loner phase is that we see him doing some good deeds, kind of like Clark in Man of Steel. And we also see that Arthur finds solace in some monuments from the past, particularly the memorial to King Atlan, similar to how Lois finds her solace in visiting the Heroes Park tribune to Superman.
Arthur is also a lot like Diana, being torn between two peoples. Even though he is drawn towards the quiet of Atlantis in his visits to the remnants of King Atlan’s throne, Arthur fights against his calling. He may not want to be King at this point, but he still chooses to help others when they are in need. Like Diana and Victor, Arthur’s “strongest man is strongest alone” attitude reflects his attitude about not needing anyone. But he hasn’t given up on others because we see him actively helping those in need. He struggles with the bitterness of not wanting to embrace a part of himself, similar to Victor, and in that respect, can relate to him in that way. He shows his ability to be open and his understanding of Victor by showing empathy for his well-being after he loses his father.
Arthur thinks that the surface doesn’t expect him to be king, but what he doesn’t seem to see are the villagers left behind who display reverence for his heroism through the singing of a folk song. Vulko (much like Bruce Wayne, driven by promises) argues with Arthur, telling him, “You can’t turn your back on the world forever”, and in time, Arthur makes the decision to step forward and join as a leaguer, helping save both the surface world and the Atlanteans against Steppenwolf. After rescuing a sailor from almost certain death, Arthur suggests that he “Respect the storm.” This respect for stakes and consequences is why he questions Victor about his history with the Mother Boxes, would be concerned about fighting the Devil and his army in Hell, and how this future King of Atlantis would be prepared for menacing threats like an Evil Superman and a Darkseid, who, in the Knightmare, will skewer him (paralleling Aquaman’s offensive strike against Steppenwolf) and end his life.
We also want to remark on the fact that Arthur Curry was a character who brought some subtle, organic humor that was nevertheless effective. The next character was clearly the main one providing comic relief, but Arthur had his moments too, saying to Cyborg, “You talk to machines?” which mirrors the way that Aquaman often gets called out for talking to fish. We also got a chuckle out of the moment with Barry trying on hats when Arthur says, “show me A again.” And there’s also a good moment when Aquaman glares at The Flash after the Flash had crashed into him. These moments do not take away from any seriousness of the film, they don’t interrupt any building tension, and they fit well with the gruff characterization of Aquaman.
Barry Allen / The Flash (Alessandro)
Zack Snyder’s Barry Allen has caught favor from many, but he is notably different from the comics in that his personality is very similar to Wally West’s at times with his silly, humorous remarks. As we mentioned, he fills the role of comic relief on the team. There are even brief physical gags, like the Flash pressing himself up against the wall during the Gotham tunnel fight to avoid being shot, and some of his facial reactions during his slow motion scenes. So in that respect Ezra Miller plays a bit of an amalgamation of the different versions of Flash. But he is also integral in the major plot points of the story. And he is shown to be confident and capable with his abilities.
For us, Ezra’s best scenes are those in which he captures the essence of Barry Allen. From his emotion-filled rescue of Iris West to his evocation of his father's words as he turns back time, it's his sincerity that makes him like the Barry that most are familiar with.
Barry’s journey in many ways resembles Superman’s own journey in Man of Steel, so it is very fitting that he should consider Superman his hero. They both start off as loners taking on odd jobs and trying to find their place in the world. And both had their mettle tested before saving the world from destruction of alien origins and fulfilling their fathers’ dreams for them. For Barry it’s about being the best of the best. And while he can’t quite tell his father about how he saved the world, he can share that victory of getting a real job and starting to find his direction as Barry Allen.
Similar to Clark, Barry has found that he doesn’t quite fit in, evidenced by his need for friends. He appears to be socially awkward around people, something on display while interviewing for a job as a dog walker. Like Clark, Barry also exposed his abilities to a woman who would eventually be his love interest. Admittedly we don’t see any character development for Iris West in this film, but she does seem to have an interest in Barry, so it’s not just a one-way infatuation. “Song to the Siren” by Tim Buckley and Larry Beckett is the song that plays during the Iris rescue, a moment that is over in a flash for Iris but, much like the tempo of the song, a much slower, longer-lasting moment for Barry. It really strums at the heart strings despite the added comedic element of the hot dogs.
Of course Barry and Victor both share a lot of the same similarities with Clark, but Barry and Victor also have their own uniquely-shared backgrounds. Both are struggling to find a steady relationship with their fathers while they are also dealing with having lost their mothers. They seem to relate most with each other for which their similar age likely is a factor.
An interesting element to Barry’s scenes in the film, given his ability to time travel, is their foreshadowing. Almost like bookends, in the character’s very first scene he is late for a job interview, and in his very last scene he is late to jolting Cyborg into the unified Motherboxes. And the scene with his father in prison also foreshadows his big third act moment when he tells Barry to make his own future which he does by changing the past. Part of Flash finding his path is creating his own future, as his father tells him to do. The lesson is to create your own past and your own future in the present. Because the present becomes the past and shapes the future. Unless you have time altering super powers of course. Suffice it to say, it’s not wise for him to create his own past or future in the past, which comic readers know results in the dour Flashpoint timeline.
Clark Kent / Superman (Alessandro)
Clark continues in a revitalized pursuit to find his reason for being on Earth, as Jonathan Kent told him he needed to do. He explicitly says to Martha, echoing Jonathan’s sentiments from Man of Steel, that he was brought back for a reason and he needed to find out what that reason was. He returns to his world, both Lois and planet Earth. And he is able to fulfill his role as protector of Earth by going toe to toe with Steppenwolf. In a way, Clark has to rediscover himself all over again after being brought back to life. He starts out as an alien among humans, only to find love from Lois in this instance, as opposed to Martha and Jonathan when he was a baby. He then needs to find his humanity as he did as a child, only to then embrace his Kryptonian origin to protect the people of Earth. It comes full circle for him as he retreads his arc from Man of Steel to BvS.
Clark tells Lois that he has a second chance, a sentiment Silas shared with Victor about his rebirth. Both Victor and Clark stood at death’s door without actually crossing it. (And by the way, given that the scout ship recognizes Clark when Barry rolls his body through its halls, we think that he likely was in a deep coma similar to his presumed death in the comics.) Both Clark and Victor use their second chance to do great things, to save the planet and embrace their place in it. For both, what didn’t kill them made them stronger. Victor has acquired a whole array of powers and abilities. Clark has gained new appreciation and perspective for his world. He also seems to possess new strength and abilities he has not shown before. Specifically he uses super breath to freeze Steppenwolf’s axe. We don’t know if this is a newly-acquired ability or if Zack’s previous films just never had the occasion to show it. One possibility is that perhaps his body adapted or evolved a bit from his encounter with Doomsday. Alternatively, the Motherbox might have resurrected him with improvements. This is all of course speculation. It does lead to the question of how Superman would know about this new ability unless it manifested itself off screen during his second first flight after soaking in the sun’s rays in his black costume.
Speaking of the black suit, the film doesn’t quite explain its purpose, however it certainly plays an important role in Clark’s continued theme of choice, especially in the context of his free will being taken from him by Darkseid in the nightmarish future. It’s an important connection to Superman’s origins in Man of Steel. He is born instead of bred like other Kryptonians, and bestowed with free will by Jor-El to choose his own path. Steppenwolf saying “their free will must be ripped from them” connects directly back to this hugely important theme from Man of Steel and as it relates to Superman specifically.
Back on the scout ship, Superman passes by several suits, including his recognizable blue and red one, and settles on the black and silver suit. Comic readers may be familiar with this suit as being helpful to Clark in reenergizing himself. And a general knowledge of physics tells us that the color black absorbs more light and releases the energy around it. Theoretically it should naturally allow him to fully power up more quickly. This is something Zack Snyder consciously considered in choosing the black suit. He mentions the practicality of “needing a way for Superman to charge up quickly and be stronger than he was.” He adds that there is also symbolism to the black suit, referencing the book The Red, White, and Black by Robert Bly in which white represents naivety, red anger, and black humanity. Superman’s choice to keep the suit even after they defeat Steppenwolf is another choice, one which we hope would be explained within the story in the sequel. However, we can already gain some insight into the symbolism of the suit color going forward where the black suit represents his connection to humanity, and once his free will has been stripped of him following the death of Lois, he returns to the red cape to represent anger.
Going back to the resurrection, it’s a bit of a callback to Doomsday, who came from a re-animated Zod in the genesis chamber in Batman v Superman. Before both of them are brought to life, the Scout Ship specifically warns of such action. To Lex the ship says the action is forbidden citing the Kryptonian counsel’s decree. To Victor it advises against activation, stating the action is irreversible. Both actions lead to death and destruction which ties directly back to the saying both Atlantians and the Amazons have, “None are taken back from the darkness, not without giving one up in return.” When Zod is taken back from the darkness, Superman is given up in return. When Superman is taken back from the darkness, Lois is given up in return as Victor’s vision shows us. Once activated the ship says that “the future has taken root in the present,” a line borrowed from Merlin in the movie Excalibur.
Both Doomsday and Superman then emerge from the ship and land at Heroes Park. When Doomsday arrives, the Superman statue is still intact and Doomsday throws Superman through it, foreshadowing his death. When Superman arrives, the statue is in pieces, like his mind. And the phrase written on the ground “If you seek his monument, look around you,” reflects both the crumbled statue and the need for Superman to rediscover himself by finding his place in the world again. Both Doomsday and Superman are confused with vague memories of their previous lives as indicated by their subtle recognition of faces. But as Barry brings up, the “power of love” is what returns Clark to his right mind, as opposed to the heartless, objective-driven Zod. During that brief time that Clark’s thoughts were clouded, he became the very thing he fought against in Man of Steel and the thing that Bruce was afraid of in BvS: a menacing Kryptonian threat to humanity. To emphasize this point, a variation of the song “Arcade” from the Man of Steel soundtrack, which was Zod’s theme, plays when Clark sees Batman for the first time.
Diana even makes mention to Arthur that hate is useless. This ties to Batman’s own fall from grace in BvS when he became the very thing he was fighting against, the killer that murdered his parents.
Once Clark’s clarity has returned, he has some beautiful moments reuniting with the women in his life. This is especially heartfelt given Clark hadn’t seen Martha since before she was kidnapped. And he talks about being home, and both Lois and Martha represent home in different ways. Martha was the mother who gave him that loving home after his world was destroyed. And Lois connected with him in a way that allowed him to be both Clark and Superman in the world, and they established their new home in Metropolis, which was on track leading to an engagement and possibly even a child, depending on the results of that pregnancy test in the bedside table. The clothing enhances this feeling of home, as Lois specifically chooses the Clark-Kent style flannel shirt. This familiar clothing, plus the familiar setting, all seem to help bring back his memories and his sense of self. It’s a nice, subtle moment when he remembers that not only did his mother love it in this farm house (making it all the more sad that she was foreclosed on), but he also remembers that he loved it here. And we get that great camera shot pulling back to the swingset from Man of Steel. It’s also great to hear Zimmer’s piano theme for Clark Kent. And the butterfly is another visual connection to Man of Steel, and Clark’s gentleness with the butterfly shows that he has fully recovered from his violent phase at Heroes Park. The butterfly can also be symbolic of flight and the fact that Clark is as gentle as a butterfly in spirit, but that he also has this great power to fly. It's an infusion of both of his identities.
In all his scenes, Clark and his alter-ego Superman continue the character trait of being fairly sparse with his words. He doesn’t talk at all when he’s first resurrected, which is understandable given he is confused. But once he reconnects with Lois and returns to his old self, each line with Lois and then with Martha are delicate and meaningful. As is personifying the historically attributed catchphrase of fighting for the American way, Superman evokes leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Franklin by speaking softly, or little, and doing much, including showing strength.
Although we see little of Superman, and his arc seems slightly rushed, we do get a sense that he has completed his original character arc which began in Man of Steel and we definitely see direct continuations from BvS, and thus by the end of the Snyder Cut he becomes the Superman that audiences expected him to be right off the bat. Almost as if his fathers are speaking to him from beyond the grave, a reference to when Superman was killed in the comics and met Jonathan Kent in the afterlife, we hear the voices of Jonathan and Jor-El speaking to Clark telling him how much they love him and are proud of him, and to fly, it’s time. This sort of implies it wasn’t time before, suggesting the world wasn’t ready. And as we learned from Batman v Superman, there seems to have been some truth to that. Whereas the women in his life helped him to reconnect with Clark, the men in his life help him reconnect with Superman. He’s been through great ordeals, learned much, and has a new perspective with his new lease on life. He also is widely accepted and has friendships with commonalities. In that respect he too is no longer alone, something that resonates with all the members of the Justice League and connects back to the through line “You are not alone”.
Lois Lane and Martha Kent (Alessandro)
Lois, as Superman’s world, has always been his connection with humanity. She is also a representation of the people of the world and acts as a lens into their state. Just as Lois is mourning, so too is the world.
She is still deep in grief, so much so that she has not gone to work in over a month. This just so happens to be relevant to the #ReleasetheSnyderCut movement’s cause, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness. It also brings Lois into the fold of dealing with the loss of a loved one like the rest of the heroes.
Lois has shut herself off from the world which fits into the theme of isolation. She goes alone every day to Heroes Park and mourns the death of her fiance under the cover of mourning the death of a public hero. It’s a way she can display her grief in public and be around or among others who miss him too. Similar to Cyborg and Diana, it seems she too may be working on opening back up again by visiting the memorial and seeing the flowers left by others which probably makes her feel less alone and isolated in her grief. This connects to the Lois/Martha scene when they talk about the public is mourning a symbol but the public didn’t know the real Clark like they did. Lois knew both, represented by the fact that she mourns with her personal picture with Clark and she also mourns at the public memorial. Lois carries her black umbrella at Heroes Park, like a metaphorical shadow cast over her. Her grief is also symbolized by the rain which can act as a cinematic metaphor for crying.
Lois’ opening scene is especially emotional because we can see Zack Snyder’s cameo and we know that he too ended up facing a devastating loss in his family. So in a way Lois’s mourning here is also the Snyders mourning.
Lois and Clark’s arcs in this film go hand in hand and somewhat mirror each other. Lois is lost without Clark, and Clark is lost without Lois. Without Clark, Lois has shut herself off and is a sense dead to the world just as Clark is literally. Without Lois, Clark is confused and missing his own identity. They are both reborn at the same point in the film with the help of some super friends. Lois is guided back to the world of the living, out from the metaphorical grave she dug herself, by Martian Manhunter, and Clark is revitalized by the league from his dormant state and out from an actual grave. Both Lois and Clark reclaim their love and their second chances. And together they once again are not alone.
In coming full circle, Lois’s arc leads her to fulfilling what she set out to do in Batman v Superman when she hopped on a helicopter to Gotham. Because in BvS she couldn’t have suspected that Batman had any means of killing Superman, after Superman said he might have to kill Batman, Lois went after him to stop him. She ended up arriving just in time to save Superman from Batman. This time she arrives just in time to save Batman from Superman. It’s also fun to think about how this is the second time Batman has been saved from a blast of heat vision by a woman arriving just in time. So Lois is not only the key here in the Snyder Cut, but she is also hinted as the possible key in a possible future where Lois may be destined to die in the Batcave, along with her unborn child.
Summary / Conclusion / Comments on Trilogy
There’s much more that could be said about this four-hour epic, but those are our initial thoughts focusing on the messages we took from the movie and the journey that the characters went on together. The overarching idea of being stronger together may seem like a bit of an obvious theme for a team-up movie, but we think that this movie went above and beyond the obvious with all the nuance in how the different characters were previously isolated and how they all benefitted in different ways from coming together and supporting one another. And even if stronger together is a bit of an obvious message to send, we nevertheless feel that it is an important message in this moment because we live in a society where partisanship and division are still big problems, and we need inspiration to come together as we face our own collective challenges like the pandemic or climate change.
We also really like how Zack Snyder’s Justice League has a sub-theme of second chances. That’s fitting for a movie that is literally a second chance at telling this story, and it’s also a good reminder that to form connections and truly be stronger together, that sometimes means offering someone a second chance, or being willing to give yourself one.
Now to close this episode, we want to ask one final question:
What does it feel like to have the rightful conclusion to the Dawn of Justice trilogy?
First of all, it was emotionally resonant to have the familiar musical themes from the prior films. And as many people have pointed out, it is great to have the structural parallels tying all three films together, such as BvS starting with a return to the ending of Man of Steel but showing a new angle on how those events impacted other people, and here in Zack Snyder’s Justice League we have a parallel structure where we return to the death of Superman but now we expand out to see some new aspects of how Superman’s death impacted the motherboxes and the protectors of those motherboxes. Another structural parallel is the use of dark, alternative visions -- first for Superman from Zod, then Batman’s knightmare, and now the motherbox trying to tempt Cyborg with the return of his family and his human form. Even beyond the trilogy, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman also featured these sorts of manipulative visions.
As fans of BvS, it is also rewarding to see the direct continuations of the Knightmare scene, the Flash time travel, the engagement ring, and so much more. There was also a continuation of the overarching story. There are many ways to look at the story across the trilogy, but from one perspective we have...
- Man of Steel, where Clark has the freedom of choice and has the influence of two fathers. He chooses to side with Earth and strive for a better future rather than returning to Kryptonian society.
- Then in Batman v Superman Earth now has to choose whether they will support and accept Superman. They do during the honeymoon phase, but then the halo starts to fall. Lex and Bruce represent powerful men rejecting a being more powerful than themselves. As Earth starts to have doubts and prejudgments about Superman, will Superman still stand up for them?
- BvS is also a metaphorical battle between two futures -- the one represented by Batman, which is a future dominated by fear, anger, resentment, and the idea that a 1% chance of someone being your enemy has to be acted upon. Versus the future represented by Superman, which is a future of personal sacrifice and shrugging off the slings and arrows of public ridicule. Superman also represents looking for the best in people and trying to see the good in humanity --- Lex and Bruce really test this idea, because they keep making things worse when Superman is trying to turn a corner, but that’s when hope is most important -- when people are disappointing you and showing you a darker side. But Superman does not give up, he continually finds new inspiration, from Jonathan and from Lois, and ultimately Superman wins the debate, wins the battle for the future, even as he loses his life. Superman’s victory is most poignantly represented by Batman’s turn at the end, re-dedicating himself to the potential of mankind and following in Superman’s footsteps.
- And now we come to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Because Superman chose humanity, and after some tribulations, humanity chose Superman by the end of BvS, that leads right into the Snyder Cut where Batman is actually leaving his isolation and his solitary cave and is trying to recruit others. Batman is no longer trying to kill meta-humans but is recruiting them because, like Superman, he wants to focus on their potential for good. Recruiting heroes, this is the thing he can do that matters! And it’s not just Batman, several of the other Leaguers are directly inspired by Superman too, just as we all can be the monument to Superman’s example. As Jor-El said, embodied in that hope is the fundamental belief of every person to be a force for good. That idea from Man of Steel has now come to fruition. And we literally get to see others joining Superman in the sun at the conclusion of this Dawn of Justice trilogy.
Although this film continued many elements that we appreciated about Man of Steel and BvS, it also expanded things and became even more epic in scale. Those prior films already had worldwide threats, but in the Snyder Cut the worldwide threat is truly universal in scope and it built things out across multiple societies and also across time, to the past and to the future. This makes it a big and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, even if that expansiveness also means that we are very eager to see more or to see what might happen next.
Our final comment is that it’s interesting to think about how the Dawn of Justice trilogy actually parallels some of the real-life events and reactions to the movies. I’ve written before on my blog, comicandscreen.blogspot.com, about how Man of Steel tries to give freedom of choice to the character of Superman, and yet the backlash to the film is that some fans only wanted the character to behave in a certain way. And with Batman v Superman, it cautions against prejudgment and bandwagoning, emphasizing the importance of considering multiple perspectives because you may actually be missing the full story, and yet the backlash to that movie was largely a piling-on by people who didn’t understand it or in many cases didn’t even see it. So with those movies, the villains in the movie and the detractors of the movie were basically one and the same.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League also reflects the real journey of the film because it required a diverse team of people to come together, to face challenges and setbacks, but to persevere and basically give a second chance to this movie. And as we posted on twitter in a conversation with @theSNYDERVERSE, the trilogy has an arc for Superman that is eerily similar to the journey that Zack Snyder had to take in making these films. https://twitter.com/JLUPodcast/status/1372988361816739840?s=20
With Man of Steel, it involved difficult choices but they ultimately continue with this world. With Batman v Superman, there is a mob mentality that undercuts and attacks them but they give of themselves anyway. And with Zack Snyder’s Justice League, people realize what they’ve lost and a team of supporters unite to bring them back for a rousing victory.
End of Episode
Thanks for listening to our initial thoughts on Zack Snyder’s Justice League from HBO Max. We are looking forward to continuing our analysis by going scene-by-scene through the film. But with kids and busy day-jobs, we can’t necessarily promise a particular schedule. We’ll do our best. We’d certainly love to hear from you at @JLUPodcast on twitter or via email at email@example.com. You can also help motivate us by supporting the show at patreon.com/jlupodcast and we will also be continuing with our Man of Steel analysis, which will post first at patreon.com/jlupodcast.