The ghost of Superman hovers over much of Justice League. You might say Superman’s ghost has always haunted Warner Bros’ big-screen DC Extended Universe, though the haunting is more pronounced now that Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel is dead.
From the beginning, on Krypton in Man of Steel, Russell Crowe’s Jor-El predicted that his infant son Kal-El would “be a god” to the people of Earth. “Guide them, Kal,” he urges. “Give them hope. … Give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards.”
The notion of Superman as a guiding ideal haunts these films. It’s the specter of the character from the comic books I grew up with, of the character played by Christopher Reeve in the 1970s and 1980s, by George Reeves in the 1950s and by pretty much every actor to don the cape until Cavill.
It’s a vision that director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer (who wrote Man of Steel and co-wrote Batman v Superman) recognize Superman is supposed to embody, but seem incapable of or uninterested in realizing.
On the contrary, the dominant motif has been tearing Superman down at every turn: giving the people of Earth every reason to fear and resent him, denouncing him as a false god with scarcely a hint that anyone might look up to him as a hero.
Still, we keep hearing about this character we never meet who can be our “angel,” our “monument” — never more crucially than in Justice League, directed again by Snyder, but written by Chris Terrio (Argo) and Joss Whedon (who wrote and directed reshoots and oversaw postproduction).
Perhaps we glimpse this ghost in the very first shot of Justice League, in a video clip of Superman captured via smartphone, briefly chatting with young fans.
As he explains why the symbol on his chest that means “Hope” looks like an S, for a moment he sounds, well, inspiring and even a bit corny, like Superman should sound.
After deconstructing the icon for two movies, for a moment it seems the DCEU might be ready to acknowledge that there might be something special about the big guy beyond the powers. Perhaps they had to kill him before they were ready to celebrate him.
Then one of the unseen youths asks Superman what’s the best thing about Earth. He hesitates and smiles privately — but if he answers the question, we don’t see it. (Let’s not go crazy with the hopey stuff.)
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.