Rotten Tomatoes can only do so much damage. Despite a mixed critical reception, Warner Bros. mega-tentpole superhero flick Justice League is sure to attract a heaping helping of moviegoers this weekend, and you might be one of them! If so, be prepared: this is a franchise picture — you’ll be expected to know a few things when you step across the threshold into the multiplex. It’s a sequel of sorts to the four existing movies in the so-called DC Extended Universe: Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman. If you can’t quite remember what happened in the previous entries, or avoided some or all of them outright, fear not. We’ve got a breakdown of the need-to-know basics about what’s happened so far with each of the characters in the titular league.
Superman / Clark Kent / Kal-El (Henry Cavill)
In the first DCEU movie, Man of Steel, we met Superman. On the off chance that you don’t know Superman’s whole deal: he’s an alien named Kal-El, born on the planet Krypton and sent to Earth as a wee babe and raised by the kindly farmer couple of Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent, who dubbed him Clark. Earth’s yellow sun gives him various superpowers, including flight, eye-lasers, freeze-breath, and near-invulnerability. Jonathan imparted a lot of folksy wisdom to his adopted son before being killed in a tornado. After a period of wandering the Earth in search of meaning after his papa’s death, Clark’s destiny was changed when he came into contact with a Kryptonian spaceship that was under investigation by reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). The ship gave Clark a Kryptonian uniform containing a giant symbol that looks like the letter “S,” but which means “hope” in Kryptonian. A Kryptonian warlord named Zod (Michael Shannon) almost took over Earth, but Clark killed him and won the heart of Lois before vowing to do good all over our big, beautiful planet under the moniker of Superman.
Things got complicated for Supes in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which he ran afoul of two rich dudes who didn’t like the idea of a near-invincible alien zipping around and doing whatever he liked. One of these wealthy gents was Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman (we’ll get to him in a minute); the other was Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Luthor sought to take the Kryptonian off the board by scheming to pit Batman and Superman against one another, but in their big fight, the latter blinked at the last minute and failed to kill the former. Luthor enacted a backup plan: he brought Zod’s dead body (which the government had been holding onto) into Zod’s downed spaceship (more government property) and used some sci-fi mishegoss to bring Zod back to life as a giant snarling monster. Supes died while defeating the monster and the world mourned, but in the last shot of the main narrative, we saw the dirt above his coffin levitate, implying something wasn’t quite as it seemed. Luthor was arrested, but while imprisoned we saw him talk about how some kind of big evil was coming from space to our now Superman-free Earth.
Batman / Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck)
If you’re not up to speed on the gist of Batman: Gazillionaire Bruce Wayne saw his parents murdered in a random mugging on the streets of Gotham City when he was just a lad, and he subsequently made a solemn vow to fight crime wherever he found it. He does this by dressing up like a giant bat and beating up poor people and mental patients. When we met him in Batman v Superman, Bruce had been the Batman for 20-odd years, aided that whole time by his loyal and catty butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons), and was pretty tired of it. He saw the destruction wrought by Superman’s battle with Zod and grew to loathe the Kryptonian for being too powerful and holier-than-thou, and various machinations from Luthor made Supes seem even worse to him. He tried to defeat and kill Superman and intimidate him with lines like, “Tell me: do you bleed?” but couldn’t go all the way because he found out that they both had mothers named Martha. (No, seriously.) Over the course of BvS, he became aware of and somewhat smitten by a woman named Diana Prince, whom he found out was actually a powerful metahuman (more on her in a sec), and fought alongside her and Superman to take down the Zod-beast. He was inspired by Superman’s self-sacrifice — as well as by a vision in which Barry Allen (more on him in a sec, too) came back from the future and told him to find “the others” — and decided to seek out other metahumans and build a team of super-friends to protect our Superman-less orb.
Wonder Woman / Diana Prince (Gal Gadot)
The star of the only critically acclaimed DCEU movie, this year’s Wonder Woman, her basic thing is that she’s a superhumanly fast and strong immortal named Diana, born on a hidden, ancient, all-female island of brave Amazons called Themyscira. She has bulletproof bracelets and a magic lasso that forces people to tell the truth. Her parents are the Greek god Zeus and Themyscira’s benevolent ruler, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). In Batman v Superman, we met her and learned very little about her other than that she had fought in World War I and had kept her heroics under wraps since then. In Wonder Woman, she took center stage and we learned about her WWI adventures, in which she met an American soldier named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), left Themyscira (something none of her cohort had done in millennia), and did battle alongside him against the war god Ares. Steve, alas, perished nobly in the final fight, but Diana decided to honor his memory by protecting the world while also maintaining the civilian identity of Diana Prince. She, like Bruce, was awed by Superman’s death, but seemed less sanguine about starting a super-team to take his place. Nevertheless, Bruce and Diana seemed very … chummy, when we last saw them interact.
The Flash / Barry Allen (Ezra Miller)
We got our first look at nebbishy Barry Allen in a video file that Bruce pilfered from Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman. It came from a cache of data that Lex had collected about suspected metahumans, and Barry’s footage showed him in civilian garb, running really fast to avert a convenience-store robbery in the burg of Central City. In that same flick, we also experienced a weird little tidbit that’s hard to explain: an older version of Barry, decked out in a superhero costume, seemingly traveled back in time for a few precious moments to warn Bruce that he needed to find “the others.” We also briefly saw Barry in costume in Suicide Squad, catching the villainous Captain Boomerang in a flashback.
Cyborg / Victor Stone (Ray Fisher)
Another Batman v Superman video-file introductee, Victor Stone was a star college football player who was maimed in an accident. His dad, Silas (Joe Morton), works for secretive science organization S.T.A.R. Labs and kept a video diary of his efforts to restore his son to health. Salvation came in the form of a box made out of alien technology, which merged with Vic’s brutalized body parts in a way that looked less than pleasant, but which gave him a new, cybernetic body and a glowing red eye.
Aquaman / Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa)
This beefy fella also popped up in one of those video files, where we saw him swim menacingly toward a deep-sea camera. He appeared to be breathing underwater. That was it. That’s all you need to know about Aquaman.
The Suicide Squad (Various)
Despite being set in the DCEU and featuring a cameo from Bruce Wayne in a post-credits scene, you do not have to know anything about Suicide Squad in order to understand Justice League. But it can’t hurt to watch that wonderful Suicide Squad trailer one more time.