Warning: This entire post is one big spoiler, so stop reading right now if you haven’t seen Justice League.
Superhero superfans have to have their own kind of X-ray vision when it comes to cinematic adaptations of their favorite comic books. Whether it be DC or Marvel, these flicks are typically jam-packed with nods to the source material to reward keen-eyed viewers. Justice League is no exception. The latest installment in the DC Extended Universe unites Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, and, back from the presumed dead, Superman, to form the titular team, along the way giving audiences plenty of callbacks to the comics. Some are tossed off — like Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) noting that he knows “ape sign language” (a winking reference to the longtime Flash nemesis Gorilla Grodd) — while others are more deliberate — like Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) designing a round table that seats six “but has room for more,” setting the stage for an expansion of the League in future films. Here are a half-dozen of our favorites, as well as the closing-credits sequences, which take the Justice League Easter egging to a whole new level.
— Ethan Alter and Marcus Errico
Even before we get to the movie, let’s talk about the latest poster (above), which takes its painterly cue from the seminal Justice series by famed writer-artist Alex Ross (below).
The Emerald Knight has been MIA from the big screen since 2011’s would-be franchise launcher, starring Ryan Reynolds as flyboy Hal Jordan, failed to earn much, er, green. When the Justice League movie roster was revealed and Green Lantern, one of the founding members in the comics, wasn’t included, the conventional wisdom was that DC and Warner Bros. wanted to put a little more distance between the Reynolds debacle before recasting the seminal hero for the DCEU.
An early sequence in Justice League suggests that Sector 2814’s Lantern will shine brightly once more. While providing Bruce Wayne with a brief recap of the history of those dimension-opening Mother Boxes, Wonder Woman recalls an ancient battle royale that pitted Steppenwolf’s invading forces against the combined forces of the Amazons, Atlanteans, and humans, and Oa’s galactic guardians. During the battle, one soldier in the Lantern Corps is felled by a Parademon, and, as per tradition, his power ring flies off his finger in search of its next host. That suggests there may already be a Green Lantern somewhere on Earth, as the ring would presumably have been handed down to different wearers in the centuries since that fight. And its current owner wouldn’t necessarily have to be Hal: John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner could all join the DC Extended Universe via the upcoming Green Lantern Corps, which is scheduled for a 2020 release.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
The film’s antagonist, Steppenwolf, has had it out for the Earth for centuries. Comic fans recognize him as one of the New Gods, a race of potent aliens that includes one of DC’s biggest bads, Darkseid. Created by the legendary Jack Kirby, Darkseid, Steppenwolf, and their kin attacked each other on the distant worlds of Apokolips and New Genesis before taking their fight to Earth (via the Mother Boxes), where they frequently fought the Justice League.
Several clues have been planted throughout the DCEU suggesting that Darkseid (who has more than a passing resemblance to the Marvel Cinematic Universe menace Thanos) could be making his way to Earth for a future face-off with our heroes.
Holy smartphone, Batman!
One of our favorite Easter eggs is a blink-and-miss-it reference to the classic Adam West 1960s Batman series. Bruce Wayne has a source at the Central City prison ready to alert him when Barry Allen (aka the Flash) comes to visit his incarcerated father. When Barry arrives, the tipster dials a number on his smartphone to notify Wayne. The icon representing Wayne? The classic red Bat-phone.
Now that’s what I call music
It’s not hyperbole to say that Justice League musical maestro Danny Elfman changed the way that comic book movies sound with his moody, atmospheric score for Tim Burton’s 1989 Bat-blockbuster. So you can’t hold it against the prolific composer for paying homage to … himself. Sharp-eared listeners will be able to hear Elfman sample his classic ’89 Batman theme in a key moment in Justice League.
But that’s not the only vintage superhero track he includes in the Justice League mix. John Williams’s immortal curtain-raiser for Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman: The Movie also makes a flyby. We’re only sorry he couldn’t find room for the equally classic intro tune to Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman series.
Once set to carry the mantle of the Bat forward into the further adventures of the DCEU — including a standalone Batman film that he was originally going to helm as well as star in, before ceding the director’s chair to Matt Reeves — Ben Affleck is now apparently looking for the Batcave’s emergency exit door. During the Justice League press tour, the actor has gone on record as wanting a “graceful and cool way to segue out of it.” A rare quiet moment in Justice League may help set the stage for that segue. After a bruising battle with Steppenwolf, Bruce is nursing his wounds when Diana stops by and gently reminds him of his mortality. “You can’t do this forever,” she says, pointedly, and he doesn’t exactly argue with her. There’s precedent for Batman finding and mentoring a replacement, of course. The Dark Knight Rises ended with Christian Bale’s Batman handing off his toys to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, aka Robin. But a better example is the beloved animated series Batman Beyond, where an elder Bruce grooms young Terry McGinnis as a next-gen Dark Knight. Jake Gyllenhall looks like a Terry, right?
Thor: Ragnarok got a lot of comic mileage out of the eternal battle between Thor and the Hulk over which of them is the strongest Avenger. Over at Marvel’s distinguished competition, the debate has always been: Which is the fastest Justice Leaguer: Superman or the Flash? The comic book versions of the Man of Steel and the Scarlet Speedster have raced each other multiple times over the decades, with some of the best of those heats collected in a 2005 trade paperback. And while the early races ended in a tie, Flash has since pulled ahead in the overall rankings.
As a longtime comic book fan, Justice League co-writer (and director of the much-discussed reshoots) Joss Whedon would certainly have been well-versed in the racing rivalry between Superman and the Flash. The duo eye each other throughout the movie, with Superman (Henry Cavill) clocking the Flash’s speed — much to Barry’s surprise — right after his resurrection. And in the climactic fight with Steppenwolf, the two turn a rescue mission into a chance to gauge each other’s respective speed and strength, with the Flash racing a pickup truck full of innocents to safety, while Superman hoists an entire apartment building.
Those initial bouts pave the way for a mid-credits sequence — clearly penned by Whedon — where the heroes stand side by side at the starting line of a head-to-head race. “I’m curious, too,” Kal-El tells Barry about why he agreed to participate in this private contest. The two then discuss the terms of the competition: a good old-fashioned foot race in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. If the Flash wins, he gets to trumpet his victory to their shared superfriends. If Superman wins, Flash has to take the whole team along to confront his greatest nemesis: brunch. Sadly, we never learn whether Barry winds up with bragging or brunch rights. The sequence cuts to black just as the two start moving at faster-than-light speed. If you ask us, the Flash probably crosses the finish line first. It just seems like he wants it a little bit — make that a lot — more.
If you manage to stick it out through the full credit roll, you’ll be rewarded with a meaty stinger that points the way toward a potential sequel. The camera moves through a prison and zooms in on the bald head of a convict that is supposed to be Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). But when the prisoner turns around, it’s definitely not. Suddenly we’re following a shadowy figure on a boat heading toward a dock. That figure is Slade Wilson (Joe Manganiello), better known as Deathstroke, and he is on his way to rendezvous with the real Luthor, who wants to recruit the assassin into a league of his own. That sets up a prospective confrontation between the Justice League and the Luthor-led Legion of Doom.
The Legion of Doom originated on Hanna-Barbera’s 1970s cartoon series Challenge of the Super Friends, and comprised such supervillains as Gorilla Grodd, Black Manta, Cheetah, Scarecrow, Riddler, Bizarro, Sinestro, and Captain Cold.
The inclusion of Deathstroke is curious. Manganiello had originally been tapped to play the main villain in The Batman, while Affleck was still set to write and direct the spinoff. Affleck even tweeted out test footage of Manganiello in costume last year.
When Affleck ultimately decided to pass on writing and directing The Batman, Reeves came in and started the project over from scratch, leaving Deathstroke’s status as lead baddie in doubt. The closing Justice League sequence suggests that the sword-wielding villain still has a role to play in the DCEU.
Watch: Justice Leagues before ‘Justice League’ — four less-than-super attempts to unite the team:
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