Warning: SPOILERS below for Justice League!
In Justice League, the team unites to stop Steppenwolf - but what exactly was is his plan and what were the Mother Boxes actually doing?
The World's Greatest Superheroes didn't join forces for no reason; Justice League had to provide a suitable challenge that would create a need for Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and finally Superman (Henry Cavill) himself to come together. That great enemy, as foretold by Bruce Wayne's Knightmare and the ravings of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, is the invading army from the planet Apokolips, led by a being known as the End of Worlds, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds).
STEPPENWOLF'S ORIGINAL INVASION
It turns out Steppenwolf, the giant axe-swinging general of Darkseid, the dark god of Apokolips, is no stranger to Earth. Not only has he been to our planet before, he tried to invade it and failed. Five thousand years ago, Steppenwolf traveled to Earth via Boom Tube, a portal that allows for interstellar and inter-dimensional travel. He brought with him legions of Parademons - the flying, insect-like shock troops of Apokolips that feed on the fear of their victims. Steppenwolf even transformed humans into Parademons to serve his needs.
Most importantly, Steppenwolf had with him three Mother Boxes; advanced technology used by his race of ancient powerful beings called the New Gods. When merged together in a process called 'the Unity', the Mother Boxes have the power to terraform entire planets. Steppenwolf prays to the power of the Mother Boxes, with the goal of conquering Earth and transforming it into a planet identical to the fiery hellscape of Apokolips.
However, Earth also had defenders five thousand years ago. An alliance rose up to fight Steppenwolf. The Amazons, led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and their greatest general Antiope (Robin Wright), the Atlanteans, the tribes of Man, the Greek gods led by Zeus, and even the Green Lantern assigned to protect Earth's space sector 2814 met Steppenwolf and Apokolips in the field of battle. Many died, including the Lantern, but the defenders of Earth won and beat back Steppenwolf's forces, banishing him and his Parademons.
The three Mother Boxes were left behind. Knowing they had to be separated so that the Unity could be prevented, the Mother Boxes were divided among the Amazons, the Atlanteans, and the tribes of Man. The Amazons kept their Mother Box on their hidden island of Themyscira. The Atlanteans brought theirs to Atlantis, deep in the ocean's depths. The Men buried theirs, hoping it would never be discovered and used. While the first two Mother Boxes remained safely contained in their secret locations over the Millennia, the third was unearthed by the British during World War I. By 2016, it was in the possession of Dr. Silas Stone (Joe Morton) at STAR Labs. As we saw in Batman V Superman, the Mother Box came alive and grafted itself onto the dying body of Silas' son Victor, turning him into Cyborg.
STEPPENWOLF'S PLAN IN 2017
By 2017, Parademons had begun breaching the dimensional barrier and arriving on Earth to gather intel on the whereabouts of the Mother Boxes. When Superman died at the end of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the Mother Boxes began to awaken from 5,000 years of dormancy because Superman being gone destabilized the harmony of the world and left it without a protector. Batman encountered a Parademon scout in Gotham City, which eventually exploded into green goo after a brief battle. This was the sign Batman needed that his Knightmare was about to come true and the invasion he feared was imminent. He contacted Wonder Woman and together they began recruiting the heroes who would form the Justice League.
Meanwhile, the awakened Mother Boxes called Steppenwolf back to Earth to collect the Mother Boxes and complete the conquest he began five millennia ago. His first stop was Themyscira, where he and his Parademons attacked the Amazons and acquired the first Mother Box. Steppenwolf next struck in Atlantis, taking their box despite the efforts of Aquaman and Mera (Amber Heard). The Parademons then invaded the Russian town which had an abandoned nuclear reactor. This would become Steppenwolf's base of operations for when he would attempt the Unity. The third Mother Box was harder to locate; the Parademons kidnapped nearly a dozen STAR Labs scientists for Steppenwolf to interrogate. One of the scientists was Dr. Silas Stone, which drew Cyborg and the newly-formed Justice League into direct conflict with Steppenwolf. Only Cyborg knew the last Mother Box's secret location because he had hidden it himself.
Cyborg secured the Mother Box and brought it to the League, where Batman revealed he planned to use it to bring the dead Superman back to life. After exhuming Superman's body and bringing it to the Kryptonian ship, the Flash used his speed to create lightning, which combined with the Mother Box's power, would supercharge Superman and revive him. It worked and Superman was reborn, but while the League tried to subdue the confused Man of Steel, Steppenwolf Boom Tubed into Metropolis and stole his final piece of the puzzle.
The Justice League tracked Steppenwolf to his base in Russia and attacked the Apokoliptians. With Superman joining the battle at last, the Justice League were able to save the people of the town and also defeat Steppenwolf. Cyborg and Superman together broke the Mother Boxes apart, ending the Unity. Meanwhile, Steppenwolf experienced fear for the first time when Superman's sheer power overwhelmed him and his battleaxe was destroyed. Their hunger ignited by the fear emanating from Steppenwolf, the Parademons turned on their general. As Steppenwolf fought off his own legions, they Boom Tubed away from Earth. The Justice League foiled Steppenwolf's second - and hopefully last - invasion of Earth.
Whether Steppenwolf ever returns - or worse, Darkseid himself comes to Earth to avenge his lieutenant's failure - is a question that may be answered in a future Justice League movie.
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