First, the good news: This is DC, so there’s a lot less ground to cover than with Marvel’s overstuffed superhero crossovers. There aren’t a bunch of standalone entries leading up to DC’s equivalent of The Avengers. Even so, do you really want to re-watch Batman V Superman before the weekend?
Below, we’ll get you up to date on what happened in Man Of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Wonder Woman, so you can be ready for any prior narrative arc the film may throw at you. (Suicide Squad isn’t really related to this film, so fear not if you haven’t caught that one yet.) Well, not all of them—it’s a dense comic-book movie, after all—but this should be enough to keep you from being confused as to why the guy who seems to have some robot-like powers is joining up with Wonder Woman.
Kal-El is the son of Kryptonian scientists Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, who send their only child into space when the planet is on the verge of being destroyed. Crashing on Earth, Kal-El is found by Kansas farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, who name the boy Clark and raise him as their son. As a teenager, Clark learns of his powers and extraterrestrial origins, but his father emphasizes the importance of keeping his abilities a secret. Several years later, that drive for secrecy leads to Jonathan’s death, when he refuses to allow Clark to reveal himself to save him from a tornado. Grief-stricken, Clark wanders the Earth, searching for purpose, and eventually finds a Kryptonian scout ship carrying an A.I. replica of his birth father. He is followed by reporter Lois Lane, who discovers his secret when he saves her from the ship’s security systems.
Meanwhile, renegade Kryptonian military leader General Zod, an old friend turned enemy of Kal-El’s father, arrives on Earth, seeking the Kryptonian genetic information Jor-El hid inside his son. The U.S. government forces Clark to give himself up to Zod, but he eventually escapes with Lois’ help. Now dubbed Superman for the Kryptonian “S” symbol on his chest, Clark wages a war against Zod’s followers, eventually driving them back into the Phantom Zone, leaving behind a vengeful Zod, who pledges to exterminate humanity. After a massive fight that destroys large portions of Metropolis, Superman is forced to kill the general to end his rampage. Some time later, he is hired by the Daily Planet (as Clark Kent), now working alongside Lois and under Perry White.
It’s been a year and a half since the affairs of Man of Steel, and in that time Superman has busied himself becoming the world’s greatest superhero. But the destruction at the end of the last movie—to say nothing of Superman’s potential for evil should he use his powers irresponsibly—is great enough that many people remain suspicious of the Man of Tomorrow, including billionaire businessmen Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman (Batman’s origin remains the same as in every other iteration of the character, but the Batman we meet in Batman V Superman is older, slightly more cunning, but also wearier and less patient. He has experienced great loss in his career, particularly the death of sidekick Robin—Jason Todd—at the hands of the Joker.)
Eager to get his hands on the technology hidden inside Zod’s crashed Krytponian ship, Luthor blows up Congress and kidnaps Superman’s mom, setting in motion a complex (and frankly convoluted) chain of events that lead to Batman fighting Superman. Although obviously outclassed in terms of power, Batman manages to outwit Superman with the aid of Kryptonite. Batman relents when he realizes both heroes mothers’ are named “Martha.” (Yes, really.) Wonder Woman shows up in time to help both heroes overcome their differences and fight Doomsday, a monster created by Luthor using Kryptonian technology to mutate General Zod’s corpse. Ultimately Luthor’s deception is revealed, but not before Superman “dies” saving Metropolis from Doomsday. Batman and Wonder Woman end the movie by vowing to assemble as many other super-powered individuals as they can find to help battle evil in Superman’s name.
Wonder Woman is an origin story recounted via flashback by modern-day Diana Prince, and thus begins with Princess Diana living on the hidden all-women Amazon island of Themyscira, where they have resided (according to myth) for thousands of years, waiting in case the world of mankind needs protecting from Ares, the god of war. After WWI spy Steve Trevor accidentally finds the island—followed by a German regiment who storm the island and kill numerous women, including Diana’s warrior mentor Antiope—Diana decides Ares must be behind the war, and sets out to stop him. She accompanies Trevor back to Britain, where they put together a team and set out to stop the villainous German leader General Ludendorff (along with his evil scientist Dr. Poison), whom Diana suspects of being Ares in disguise. They travel past the war front (saving a village along the way), only to be confronted by the realization that Ludendorff is just a man, and men can be pretty awful. Ares arrives to convince Diana to join him in the eternal sport of eliminating humanity by pitting them against each other, and instead she beats him down. Steve Trevor also dies saving the land from a massive explosion, though, so he’s quite the hero, too, albeit a dead one.
Batman (Ben Affleck): You know this guy. Wealthy Gotham bachelor who secretly fights crime with an array of high-powered gadgets to help him.
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot): Super-powered warrior with relative invulnerability and immortality, an indestructible shield and bracelets, and a golden lasso that forces people to tell the truth.
The Flash (Ezra Miller): Barry Allen, a metahuman whose connection to something called the Speed Force lets him move at velocities faster than the human eye can follow. He also has a speed-lightning-bolt power, and seems to be able to travel through time, as he briefly appears to Bruce Wayne in Batman V Superman, warning him to “find Lois Lane” but realizing that he’s arrived “too soon.”
Aquaman (Jason Momoa): Make all the jokes you want about chatting with fish, but Momoa looks pretty impressive as Arthur Curry, king of underwater city Atlantis. Curry has super-strength, super-swimming, and the ability to breathe underwater. He also carries a big trident—and may or may not be able to telepathically communicate with sea life.
Cyborg (Ray Fisher): Victor Stone—or rather, what’s left of his body—is seen being experimented on in Batman V Superman, where he receives a cybernetically enhanced body and a cool red eye, possibly with some basic transformation abilities based on the quick glimpses of him in that film.
Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons): Batman’s long-suffering butler. Since Batman looks to be a team leader of sorts (or at least team organizer), Alfred will likely be functioning as a central command post of sorts for the whole league while they’re out on missions.
James Gordon (J.K. Simmons): Gotham’s police commissioner. Remember Gary Oldman in Christopher Nolan’s films? That guy, only older, wiser, and with a job promotion. Oh, and a massive Bat-signal when he needs to reach out to Batman.
Lois Lane (Amy Adams): The intrepid reporter from the Daily Planet who played such a key role in both Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman. Presumably, she’ll still be mourning the loss of Superman, especially given that Martha Kent handed her Clark’s unused engagement ring at the end of BVS.
Mera (Amber Heard): In the comics, Mera is the undersea queen and wife of Aquaman. We’ll see how much the film changes up that formula, but there’s enough of her in the promotional materials to suggest she shows up to do some ass-kicking of her own.
Dr. Silas Stone (Joe Morton): The scientist father of Victor Stone, he’s the one in Batman V Superman who manages to use some sort of mysterious alien tech in order to save the life of his son.
Aside from the named villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who has been kept more or less under wraps, these are the major players. There will be many more characters in the film—probably too many, if Zack Snyder’s last DCEU offering is any indication—but these will likely be the ones getting the most screen time. Of course, if the movie comes out and Wonder Woman’s mom, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), turns out to be the primary force behind the narrative, we’re going to feel pretty silly.