[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s Justice League.]
Justice League is a movie that demands that its audience has seen 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice in order to understand it, but also hopes that its audience doesn’t really remember BvS all that well. Justice League sets the stage for a brighter DC cinematic universe by quietly rewriting the brief history of its own movies.
The most obvious shift is the core concept that drives Justice League as a whole: Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death took hope away from the world, spiked fear and anxiety and activated the Mother Boxes, which feed off negative emotions. While that makes narrative sense from the point of view of the Justice League movie, it only takes a cursory viewing of Batman v. Superman to realize that the world wasn’t a particularly hopeful or fearless place when Superman was alive — in fact, his presence in the world was seemingly one of the driving forces behind the heightened state of anxiety, leading both Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) and Batman (Ben Affleck) to move against him.
While his death at the end of BvS was clearly intended to convince the world that he was a hero — and complete the Christ allegory, because the last son of Krypton had given his life for us; finally, Russell Crowe got to play God — it is unlikely to be the kind of thing to produce the kind of reaction Justice League asks the audience to believe. Now, a more traditional Superman than the one who’d appeared in BvS and Man of Steel? Sure, his death would’ve done it, but that wasn’t what we had, despite what the phone video at the opening of Justice League would suggest.
There are smaller changes and retcons, however. For example, isn’t the epic fight against Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) that brought Amazons, Atlanteans, humans, gods and alien Green Lanterns together something that would’ve been mentioned when Diana (Gal Gadot) was learning the history of the Amazons in Wonder Woman? For that matter, when did it happen? According to Hippolyta’s (Connie Nielsen) story in Wonder Woman, the Amazons didn’t arrive on Themyscira until after the gods had been killed by Ares — indeed, the island didn’t even exist until Zeus himself was dying. So how could the gods have fought alongside the Amazons, with the immediate aftermath taking place on Themyscira?
Similarly, the origin of Cyborg doesn’t make sense in terms of timing. Justice League states clearly that the Mother Boxes were activated by the death of Superman, but Batman v. Superman features a video of Cyborg being transformed by a Mother Box that’s watched before Superman dies.
While we’re at it, Justice League also drops two of the purposefully hanging threads from the end of BvS: Superman returns from the dead, sure, but wasn’t he already doing that while he was being buried in the earlier movie, as suggested by the floating earth? (Apparently, no one noticed, and it didn’t keep happening at all.) And Lex Luthor, when he eventually shows up, seems remarkably sane compared to his final appearance in BvS — perhaps because Steppenwolf showed up, as he was expecting…? — having escaped Arkham despite Batman’s promise to keep an eye on him. To be fair, the Dark Knight was a little distracted at the time…
Ultimately, these are nothing more than minor course corrections as the DC Extended Universe evolves, and easily forgiven considering the outcome — I’m willing to accept that Superman was more loved before he died if it means we get a Superman who smiles and isn’t weighed down by existential angst in future films, if nothing else. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to see such changes being made quite so clearly, contradicting movies less than three years old, as if the audience gets to see earlier drafts and reworking as they happen. Justice League points the way to DC’s big-screen future, but shows its working in how to get there, too.