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During the Spring of 2017, the DC Extended Universe suffered the family tragedy of Zack Snyder, the Batman v. Superman director suffered a tragic loss of his daughter to suicide and the departure of Zack Snyder from the Justice League film in the process of reshoots, parting ways definitively from the DC Extended Universe. Upon his departure, Joss Whedon was brought onboard the project for reshoots.

The DC Extended Universe

In 2016, Zack Snyder laid out his vision for the DC Extended Universe, a loose term for the connection of shared stories told by the director and Warner Bros. since Man of Steel. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was released during that time with great anticipation. Early box office was a $422 million opening debut though the movie would go on earning $855 million, a mild success despite its one-year promotion and marketing.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is loosely inspired by The Dark Knight Returns, a grim comic book alternate continuity classic written by Frank Miller that sees the Dark Knight come out of retirement to solve crime in Gotham City. Batman finds himself in conflict with the government, and Superman is brought in to take him down. A vicious battle ensues during which Batman emerges victorious though with a twist.

The basis of Zack Snyder’s approach is to introduce the audience to a more modern take on iconic superheroes of the DC Extended Universe, including Batman and Superman. Referring to the comic book in question, Zack Snyder states:

“When I read that comic book series, you know, in ‘86 I was floored by it because I felt like it promised me something. It challenged…my fundamental notions about Batman. It sort of inspired me to reconnect with Batman the character and comic book in general.”

— BlackTree TV Interview

The DC Extended Universe was planned by its godfathers around the notion of deconstructing the myth of iconic DC characters in favor of a more grounded approach. Zack Snyder’s first installment in the DCEU, Man of Steel (2013) reads very much like a science-fiction alien invasion film as opposed to simply a DC comic book movie. It presents with important themes of alienation and xenophobia, free choice and predestination, inter-species conflict and immigration. Superman is presented as veritably alien, different from humans, and one who despite his good nature, his upbringing, and his protection is unable to fit in. There are deep issues of anxiety, angst, deep-seated frustration and visceral distrust at a world that does not accept him. It is very much a film compared to the comic book Superman: Birthright.

A Messiah

Philosophical analysis of Zack Snyder movies is replete with symbolism, mythological references, comic book Easter eggs and numerous action poses straight from the comic books. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice reads like a political thriller, and from alien invader Superman figures as a messiah, a Christ-like figure that the world has come to embrace passionately or reject dispassionately and with intensity. The religious symbolism commenced in Man of Steel is taken to its extreme end with Superman’s sacrifice at the hands of Doomsday, a Kryptonian monster-mutant who is bent solely on the destruction of Superman and everything he stands for, engineering by the Kryptonian scout ship and Lex Luthor.

Criticism was mounted at the fact that Superman’s story ends abruptly only within two movies, before the audience can fully invest in the character. Batman, here, figures as a tragic figure, tortured by paranoia to the point of insanity and time travel in the forms of dream and Knightmare. Part of it is inspired from the popular Injustice: Gods Among Us series that sees the fear of a Superman tyrant here due to having succumbed to the Omega symbol.

Snyder’s Vision

The DC Extended Universe created by Zack Snyder has proven very divisive among critics and fans alike. Despite its superstar talent, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice garnered a “rotten” score of 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. For all its ambition and its attempt, at soaring its characters “in the sun”, Snyder’s vision has proven to many critics as too somber, depressive, angst-ridden, lacking heart and characterized by poor storytelling. The main critique mounted against Snyder’s work has been that the characters are not faithful to their authentic iconic representations; rather, they are deconstruction mythos of DC archetypes.

Justice League released in 2017 and was originally meant to follow Snyder’s formula introducing a two-part Justice League story featuring Steppenwolf invasion of Earth and Darkseid’s attempt to impose the Anti-Life Equation on Earth. The DC Extended Universe is at heart a Superman story, which the director meant to tell in a five-part storyline. Darkseid was meant to appear at the end of Justice League in Zack Snyder’s original 3-hour long plan before Joss Whedon stepped in for reshoots upon the family tragedy. This was to be the set-up for Justice League 2 and a potential Justice League 3 which would essentially recount the story according to the events of Final Crisis.

Warner Bros. Steps In

Upon the family tragedy, Zack Snyder’s unpopular and unsuccessful vision led Warner Bros. to part ways with the director and embrace Joss Whedon’s vision for Justice League. WB indicated its difference of vision from Snyder’s more somber tone and wanted to emphasize a more lighthearted approach to its characters and actually make Superman “smile” in Justice League. In that regard, Justice League was a success though it under-performed at the box office, because it featured a superhero team-up that convincingly set the stage for the rest of the shared universe.

Wonder Woman released in June 2017, 5 months before Justice League. To date, it presents as the DCEU’s most successful cinematic adaptation and the most well received among audiences. This proves that audiences are able to react positively to DC characters when they are portrayed according to their iconic portrayals in comic books and media. Wonder Woman was particularly powerful for its portrayal of love, of Wonder Woman’s decision to choose love over Olympian power and the false dream of a utopia presented by Ares at the end of the movie. It is in a sense, a coming-of-age movie that sees the transformation of nubile Diana Prince into the fierce princess warrior Wonder Woman.

In Retrospect

The DC Extended Universe is the product of a brain-trust of Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Geoff Johns and Christopher Nolan. In many respects, its passing marks the passing of a great experiment in tragedy, conflict, drama, and cinematic production the likes of which frankly attempt to transcend the superhero genre into mythology. That the DC Extended Universe attempted to separate itself from its main competitor, Marvel, by presenting its characters in a shared universe in single films such as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, before spearheading their solo films, shows their attempt at difference and at providing a distinctive voice.

For all the criticism mounted at Zack Snyder’s films, the films took some creative chances that it can be safe to say may stand the test of time despite being “dark and gritty”. Zack Snyder may yet prove to be the sage, the ground-breaking director of our time who spearheads a complete cultural re-consideration of our cherished icons, heroes and super heroes and forces to look into mythology with new fresh eyes, with eyes of wonder but tragedy, drama but heroism, passion but ferocity. Zack Snyder, has been described as a visual director and a comic book fan though, he seldom respects the source material in the DCEU in the proper way.

In the end, the current direction of the DC cinematic universe is one of hope and optimism, which moves away from the plan of a shared universe and prefers separated solo film story outings with the recent Aquaman film, which was well received. The future is bright for the DC cinematic universe, only if Warner Bros. and its executives are willing to look at signs of hope and present authentic representations of the characters that are timeless and strong.

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Justice League (2017) released to mixed reviews and performed mildly for a movie of its caliber on a $300 million budget with a box office of around $650 million. It was less financial profitable than Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice though less divisive. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a “rotten” score of 40% while audience score was around 72%.

Despite its apparent shortcomings and its failure in establishing the DC Extended Universe, a vision of a shared universe of characters spearheaded by Zack Snyder and Deborah Snyder and godfather by Geoff Johns and Christopher Nolan, Justice League made some interesting developments.

One notable character development is that of Cyborg. Cyborg is portrayed by Ray Fisher. Justice League centers around Batman recruiting Wonder Woman, the Flash and Cyborg in his superhero fight team, “an alliance” to fight the alien invasion of Steppenwolf, a general of Apokolips’ armies, with the three mother boxes. During mythological times, Steppenwolf’s armies are fought off by the heroes and the gods of Earth – for the first time – and the three mother boxes are enthrusted to the Amazons, the Atlanteans, and the tribes of man.

Cyborg, is at the center of Steppenwolf’s conquest of Earth. Upon the death of Superman, darkness overcomes the Earth and Steppenwolf decides to invade the Earth: He hears the Mother Box’s call to invade the Earth possibly as a response to Superman’s passing, the over-bearing darkness on Earth, and the creation of Cyborg by scientist Silas Stone with the Mother Box. In DC comics science-fiction, mother boxes are sentient computers used by the New Gods in order to connect to the Source and grant them highly advanced and technological abilities.

Cyborg is presented as the breakout character in Justice League. Though Superman and his death figure as the prominent centers of the movie, in fact, the heart of the movie, and the motivation to revive him, to restore hope to the world, Cyborg is the one who actually moves many of the story plot points forward.

Cyborg might be the only character who truly develops throughout the movie. He goes from being a complete loner, presumed dead, and who isolates from society to being part of a superhero team, and learning how to work with others and trust others. He is the true genius of the team and though Batman makes the executive decisions and Wonder Woman the tactical and the battle field decisions on the team, Cyborg is the technological genius of the team, the one who orchestrates everything. An interesting theory is the fact that the creation of Cyborg by Silas Stone and not simply the signal sent by Lex Luthor to Steppenwolf in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the signal that attracts finally Steppenwolf to Earth.

Cyborg may be considered in this fact, an agent of Apokolips, Steppenwolf calls him “a child of chaos”. In the resurrection of Superman, Cyborg is the one that actually attacks Superman first though due to his armor’s defense systems over-powering him. It can be stated that, Cyborg is the character who is the most mysterious since we do not know how much of his allegiance lies with Apokolips, how much control the Mother Box has on his mind, and how much he is willing to commit to the Justice League.

Justice League paints Cyborg as heroic who intervenes at pivotal points in the film plot. He is instrumental in the formation of the Justice League, in locating Steppenwolf and the Parademons under Gotham Harbor, in resurrecting Superman, in locating Steppenwolf and the Parademons’ base in Russia, and in ending the threat of the Mother Boxes by helping to separate all three, despite the “blowback”. Cyborg’s only flaw or hubris in the movie, is his link to the Mother Boxes, to an Apokoliptian technology that in theory should have killed him from his fatal injuries but that ended creating him with “cybernetic enhancements”, a Cyborg. He is veritably “a child of chaos” who is able to solve the problems that the Justice League is facing: the absence of Superman and an alien invasion from Apokolips.

In the end, Cyborg is the breakout character. The fact that he is African-American is consistent with the comics, that he is a genius and capable of solving crises shows that the DC Extended Universe is able to portray diverse characters in a positive light. And this, is a sign of hope.

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The Mother Box guarded by the Amazons in the Justice League movie.

Justice League (2017) directed by Zack Snyder and written by Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio may not have enjoyed great commercial success. However, it is notable for introducing important DC Comics characters, expanding the DC Extended Universe into the multiversal world of the New Gods. A central element of the story, revolves around the Mother Box. In DC Comics continuity, this sophisticated artifact is created by the New Gods, a race of metaphysical beings born from the First World at the beginning, Urgrund, forming with New Genesis and Apokolips, a Fourth World. This fictional technology is possessed by the New Gods and enables them to bridge time and space for multiple applications. The Mother Box, is essentially, a sentient super-computer that grants its New God user fantastic abilities such as levitation and flight, teleportation, and matter and energy manipulations.

In the film, the boxes are presented as a perpetual energy source, called by Cyborg’s father, Silas Stone, a Change Engine. Upon an invasion of Earth by Apokoliptian Steppenwolf during mythological times, the three Mother Boxes are entrusted to the Amazons, the Atlanteans, and the tribes of man and guarded in secure strongholds. The premise of the movie, then, reposes on the return of Steppenwolf upon the Death of Superman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a casualty of the battle against Doomsday alongside Batman and Wonder Woman; he sees the demise of the Kryptonian as the fall of darkness upon the Earth and an opportunity to conquer.

Justice League, is in fact, a movie of two directors. Upon the death of his daughter — by suicide — Zach Snyder stepped down from the movie project duties to stay with family. From that moment, Joss Whedon took over and directed the movie. The movie appears to showcase the lightheartedness and the humor that is characteristic of Whedon’s work, particularly on Marvel’s The Avengers. Snyder mentioned that, he had always intended for the film to be brighter and more hopeful than Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movie does appear so. At the same time, it seems to lack the spectacle and the grand action characteristic of previous Snyder work, which seem to reveal, perhaps, the conflict that the director was experiencing over the critical reception with his two previous outings at Warner Bros. in the DC Extended Universe. Was Snyder’s vision, perhaps, darker than the film seems to portray as reflected in Batman v. Superman?

“The Age of Heroes”

Justice League Tunnel Battle

Justice League is distinctive for its association of the events of mythology with science fiction. In this respect, it relates the invasion of Earth by Apokolips to the Olympian gods, and even to alien allies. Wonder Woman, in her history lesson, speaks of an Age of Heroes, where men and women of great power blessed by the Olympian gods walked the Earth. It is, perhaps, this Age of Heroes, that is the substance of Justice League — here, the newly formed Justice League succeeds the place of the old Greek pantheon and of its associated heroes. It is a meta-fictional transposition of mythology to science fiction; it figures, then, as the placement of science fiction as functioning in a similar role to the mythology of yesteryear. The film, then, succeeds in this aspect: in reflecting its heroes, as the successors of mythology, an Olympic passing of the torch so to speak, where man, no longer animated simply by the belief in God, reflects a superhuman power of evolution — this, then, is the reality: the gods for having abandoned humanity, have allowed man to evolve with the powers of science and technology.

In this regard, the Mother Box, an alien transposition, figures as that power of evolution, the inauguration of a new age, where through advanced science, man lays claim even to the power of life over death — the Resurrection of Superman!

There are interesting themes addressed in Justice League, from alien invasion, to advanced technology, from mythology to a new age of heroes, and to the more simple power of friendship and the reality of war. What separates the film from other comic book movies, is its adherence to a certain comedy — though the movie is serious, it is also comedic and figures as a chance for the DC Extended Universe to extend its reach and follow, in a sense, a formulaic route threaded before long by Marvel with great success. Critical reviews show, however, that, despite its optimism and light-hearted nature, such a treatment may not be entirely fitting for a team of gods among men. The consensus is that Justice League does not fully develop its main villain — Steppenwolf, and its action sequences are lacking — the result, is a story that appears thin and formulaic, despite its brighter tone.

In comic book lore, the Mother Box figures as a representation of the New Gods, an advanced race of techno-gods entrenched in a deadly battle between good and evil, that is, between New Genesis and Apokolips. It is certain, that, the boxes are in themselves, evocative of a power that transcends humanity and seems to unveil the potential for progress that is inherent to human civilization. The applications of an advanced Artificial Intelligence, to the problems of civilization are wondrous. The question is whether, as many artistic works are raised, man will become enslaved by the power of the super-computer, or whether his wisdom will benefit humanity. The computer, is a wondrous machine that greatly enhances quality of life; however, it appears to foretell the times of a society that is completely socialized, that is, interpreted by the rhythm of the machine — the mechanization of life! Hence, there are dangers looming in the horizon of humanity, and as human knowledge increases, it is important to question our ability to put progress at the service of man, and not merely, to serve utilitarian interest or the temptation to nihilism; for science, despite its eminent benefit, can prove a power of destruction as much as it is a force of civilization.

Is the comic book here to stay, or, perhaps has it run its course? Only time will tell. It can be safely assumed that, its adaptation to the big screen is surely costly though, at the same time, its power to inspire minds is almost without equal. Mythological beings, alien gods, advanced technology, perpetual energy sources, planetary engineering, and superhuman feats — science fiction has succeeded in creating worlds that defy explanation, revealing that, man at this juncture in the 21st century, is attempting to evolve truly.

Justice League marks an important step in the extension of the DC Extended Universe. Despite its shortcomings, it betrays Warner Bros. desire to truly do its characters justice and present them in the best possible light, in respect with their comic book mythology and with a manifest desire to appeal to general audiences. Personally, I favor a more serious approach to the DC mythology, one that establishes their place as modern mythology in contrast to the Marvel universe; indeed, DC superheroes function best, when they are regarded as archetypes, representations of the Olympian gods, but also of greater ideas, virtues and values. They can steer history towards a greater future, for they help humanity realize its potential by believing in the power of the gods and the example of heroism.

In the “Introduction” to All Star Superman, Mark Waid concludes with the following remarks:

“Gods achieve their power by encouraging us to believe in them.

Superman achieves his power by believing in us.”

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