In Histories, Herodotus wrote that the Persians would debate over major decisions twice: once sober, and once inebriated. Considered an important work of Western literature and in the field of history, it contains one of the first accounts of the war between the Persian Empire and the Greek city-states, during which the Battle of Thermopylae was fought. That battle saw a highly embellished, fantastical depiction in Frank Miller’s comic book 300, which Zack Snyder adapted into film. All that to say, just as the Persians whom the Greeks fought against in Histories and 300, I saw Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice twice: once sober, and once inebriated. My feelings remain mixed.
That intro is something Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor would probably say if he were writing about the movie he was in, with his love of references and tying antiquity to the present. Since I brought him up, I’ll start by discussing him and his (and by extension, the movie’s) needlessly convoluted plot that would have only worked had everyone acted in the dumbest way possible. It’s been out a month, but spoiler warning and all that.
Lex Luthor and the confused, convoluted story
Eisenberg plays Luthor like an exaggerated Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, except he doesn’t really talk business at all. You can say the same for Bruce Wayne, but his stories are more about him as Batman and less about him as entrepreneur. On the other hand, Lex Luthor the businessman and Lex Luthor the villain are one and the same. It becomes a characterization problem, because in the movie he’s this weirdo runs a company without a discernible goal, and people just sort of go along with him.
Anyway, sometimes his shtick works, and other times, you wonder why any of this is happening. He has a couple of good moments. First, putting a piece of Jolly Rancher in a senator’s mouth, while trying to negotiate access to the Kryptonian ship that Superman brought down in Man of Steel, got a chuckle out of me. Later, he gives a speech about philanthropy, where he starts by talking about the Greek roots of the word that turns into something about Prometheus and ends with him saying something about power and shouting “that is paradoxical!” It was awkward but enjoyable, especially after a drink.
Most of the time, however, his lines are rapid-fire non sequiturs, exposition, or juvenile philosophizing. You know he’s a young, hip entrepreneur because in one of his first scenes, he’s playing basketball in his corporate headquarters, and he talks like he’s taken too much Adderall. His references are haphazard; they don’t really show that he is smart, only that he knows to throw some quotes around (this article discusses this a bit more), and that he has some cursory understanding of philosophical ideas. They make about as much sense contextually as his master plan does in the context of the narrative, which is to say, not really.
There is some characterization, once near the beginning as he tells government officials about his father’s youth in East Germany, participating in parades to celebrate the socialist government. Another is his monologue to Superman, about God and power, during which he reveals that his father was abusive. I feel like these moments were aiming to replicate the Joker’s stories in The Dark Knight. The problem is that the delivery comes off almost as a self-parody, and the dialogue is unfocused. Moments that could leave a strong impression are smothered. He doesn’t really display a good, discernible motive, and his plan is nonsensical. This hurts the story as he is behind the conflicts that drive the film forward.
His plot against Superman involves taking advantage of divided public opinion and forcing him into a confrontation with Batman in a needlessly complicated way. 18 months after the events of Man of Steel, Superman is rescuing Lois Lane from militants in Africa, because her photographer Jimmy Olsen (unnamed but credited) is the worst CIA agent ever who gets his cover blown and shot in the face immediately, while Lex has private military contractors work with the same militants and kill them when Superman shows up. War crimes are committed, and Superman is held responsible, even though he didn’t kill anyone there (well, maybe the rebel leader whom he slammed through multiple walls). Lois learns the PMCs were working for Luthor while looking into the shell casings found at the scene. However, due to “classified” information regarding their weapons, the mercenaries’ presence is not discussed altogether. Blackwater didn’t avoid investigation so easily.
Meanwhile, a large chunk of Kryptonite is recovered from the terraforming machine destroyed in the previous film. Testing small samples on Zod’s body has shown that radiation from the substance harms Kryptonian cells, so Lex tries to have it imported, but it’s denied by a senator. He has his mercenaries smuggle it into the country anyway, and convinces a man who has ties to Bruce Wayne with anti-Superman sentiments to carry out a suicide bombing at a congressional hearing that Superman attends. The senator who sought to impede Lex is killed in the process.
The one time there could have been a moment for discourse where Superman gets to present his case in front of authorities, the forum is blown sky high, and it has to be a terrorist act too. Real edgy, Snyder. (Not really.) Public opinion turns further against Superman after the bombing. Bruce becomes more determined to kill him and steals Kryptonite from Lex. The filmmakers seem to believe people are easily manipulated and deceived, and while history shows they can be, it makes no sense in this context that even though another party is explicitly named, Superman’s reputation suffers.
Lex knows that Clark Kent is Superman, and when he gloats to Superman in one scene, it’s implied that he also knows Bruce Wayne is Batman. He knows about the existence of other individuals with powers and has video and photographic evidence. He manages to take control of a Kryptonian ship, even though when Lois entered the same ship in Man of Steel, the ship’s security drone attacked her. (He uses Zod’s fingerprints to get in, but that doesn’t explain how he avoids its security and takes control. If that’s all it takes, it’s a really bad security flaw). There’s no real explanation for any of this. Lex has to be smart, and everyone has to be manipulated, as necessitated to move the plot forward.
On top of all that, he has his mercenaries abduct and threaten Martha Kent to get Superman to confront Batman. He also has a contingency plan that involves using Kryptonian technology to create the monster Doomsday using his blood and Zod’s body, despite having no way of controlling it. Superman, in a rare case of actually saving a major character who isn’t Lois, stops Doomsday from pummeling its creator to death. Why did Lex think this would be a good idea? The ship’s AI definitely told him it wasn’t. Without this addition, Wonder Woman wouldn’t have joined the action, but like a lot of things related to the plot, this feels forced and nonsensical.
Nolan versus Snyder: Influence of Frank Miller and use of “realism”
For having a rather silly plot, Dawn of Justice attempts to follow in the footsteps of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films by aiming for darkness and realism. There are references to the “real world” littered throughout the film. Major characters and media personalities (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace—and more!—all make appearances as themselves) reference unilateral foreign intervention, xenophobia, police brutality, loss of civil liberties, corporate power, and occasionally philosophical questions on power and god. Snyder wants his film to appear real and serious, but the final product feels like it’s trying too hard without saying anything. There has been some backlash against Nolan but—I admit before saying this that The Dark Knight is my favorite Batman movie so far, so I have my biases—Snyder’s mistakes only highlight Nolan’s merits.
Similar to Miller’s story, Dawn of Justice has Ben Affleck playing a rougher, older Bruce Wayne, with a more jaded outlook, and his sidekick, Robin, has been killed by the Joker some time ago. Dawn of Justice is about how these heroes are really weary, Superman because he feels he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and Batman because he’s been a vigilante for 20 years, and he has seen good people in Gotham fall to corruption or perish. The film’s tone reflects this, and it’s gloomy throughout, though there is more—and better placed—humor than in Man of Steel, for what that’s worth.
There are lines and scenes that directly reference The Dark Knight Returns, sometimes in different contexts and with different participants. The main thing is that Batman puts on power armor to take on Superman, with some assistance from weaponized Kryptonite. Some other examples:
- Thomas and Martha Wayne’s death, with the gun at point-blank range, and her pearl necklace around the back of the gun.
- In a televised debate in The Dark Knight Returns, Lana Lang hits back at an accusation that Batman is psychotic, with the retort that the vigilante’s motive is “too big for your little mind.” Lex Luthor responds to Lois Lane’s accusation that he is “psychotic” by stating that it’s a word “for any thought too big for little minds.”
- There is a hostage situation where Batman takes on a heavily group (the “Mutants” in the comics, Luthor’s henchmen led by a Russian mercenary in the movie), and his exchange with the last hostage taker are almost identical in both.
- Batman delivers a brief monologue while beating a weakened Superman, saying he learned from his parents’ death that “the world only makes sense when you force it to.”
- Superman takes a nuclear blast and appears skeletal—and the effect is actually effectively creepy in the film—until he regenerates. In the comics, it’s a Soviet nuclear warhead as American and Soviet leadership escalate the Cold War; in the movie, the U.S. president orders it when Superman takes his fight with Doomsday into space.
I bring up these examples not to be a crank who wants to yell about how there is no originality in films anymore. Mad Max: Fury Road was one of my favorite movies in 2015, and I also liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens a lot (but even there I found the fan servicing to be a bit much, offset because I liked the movie). Rather, the issue is that Snyder seems almost too beholden specifically to The Dark Knight Returns as source material. In this case, the fan service feels aggressively in-your-face, becoming forced and distracting.
In The Dark Knight Returns, talking heads provide narration and provide commentary, and they also serve as the target of criticism for the author. Some of the moments are obviously exaggerated, but I’ve seen four panelists on CNN literally shout at each other simultaneously, so maybe he isn’t too far off. Nolan’s Dark Knight shows on more than one occasion that the news spread hysteria by broadcasting messages from the Joker, without resorting to the gimmick of using real media personalities.
I think Snyder wanted do something similar by portraying the way the media shape the narrative, engage in sensationalism, and might have propagated falsehoods about Superman. Perry White tells Clark to run fluff pieces and at one point suggests an article about the world falling out of love with Superman. At one point, Superman is seen rescuing people across the world while looking glum, intercut with scenes of media personalities discussing his actions on television, while a slow, dirge-like variation of the Superman theme established in Man of Steel plays in a strange, uninspiring montage. Later on, after the suicide bombing, Snyder might have intended to implicate the media in propagating anti-Superman sentiments, but all I saw was a distracting cameo from CNN’s Nancy Grace. The movie slows down for a montage of questions and talking points that feel like a bad introductory philosophy class paper with a barely coherent thesis, but later on glosses over a moment that could answer why people are so mad at Superman when someone else blew himself up. It tries to take place in the real world with all these fantastical characters, but the blurring of lines doesn’t quite work. The end result feels awkward.
In contrast to Snyder, the realism in Nolan’s trilogy and some of the outlandish elements complement each other. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight incorporate the crime drama trappings from Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween, exploring Bruce’s start as Batman, his unofficial partnership with Jim Gordon on the police force, the struggle against organized crime and corrupt police officers, the rise and fall of Harvey Dent, and the escalating threats posed by increasingly dangerous villains. (The Long Halloween and The Dark Knight also feature “I believe in Harvey Dent” as a recurring phrase, a meeting between Gordon, Dent, and Batman on a rooftop to discuss strategy, and a warehouse full of mob money set ablaze, though with responsible different parties.)
The first and last of these films, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, feel more comic book-like than The Dark Knight, the middle chapter, due to the presence of villains from a shadowy organization with plans to destroy the city with weapons of mass destruction. In a post-9/11 world, though, the threat is palpable. Begins also has the Scarecrow with his fear gas weapons, as an antagonist, in addition to a Year One-influenced set piece that involves using bats to escape from a SWAT team. Rises has Bane, who is more or less a pretty ridiculous strongman, though Tom Hardy sells the menace and physicality. The third film also shares with The Dark Knight Returns the premise of Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement as Batman to take on heavily-armed gangs led by a physically dominating leader, with a storyline inspired also by the Knightfall arc, which Bane is most known for.
Owing to Heath Ledger’s intense performance as the Joker and a number of major deaths, The Dark Knight is arguably the darkest of the trilogy, and the most realistic, as the Joker’s crimes are rarely the world-ending types seen in many action movies. Nonetheless, the social ramifications turn the struggle between both men into a battle for the city and its future, in which no one may come out the winner. The unpredictable, brutal version of the antagonist, with a philosophy that anyone can be pushed toward villainy, is inspired by The Killing Joke, but this version eschews his origins (among other things that would push the movie toward a likely R-rating), and Heath Ledger really makes the character his own. Though the conflict plays out across Gotham City and even Hong Kong, the general feel is street-level and personal. Similar to Empire Strikes Back, the film combines some impressive set pieces with heightened personal stakes.
Nolan’s movies have big action movie set pieces and chase scenes, but he is concerned with telling grounded, film noir-inspired crime stories. The films have the ability to make this one-man army in a bat outfit and his adversaries seem plausible, and to make outlandish scenarios feel grounded. They aren’t just about adding “realism” and “darkness” to the character, and he understands that the goal shouldn’t be to force the real world into the story with pundit cameos and “key words” that people hear on the news. The Dark Knight Rises almost falls into this trap, with Bane’s populist rhetoric mirroring that of the Occupy Movement, but the execution is less cringe-worthy. The terrorism and surveillance angles brought up in the films may feel heavy-handed to some, but they add a level of verisimilitude to the story.
Nolan worked with David Goyer on the stories for his films, and he drew from a lot of visual and narrative sources for scenes and characters, but what I appreciated was that they felt fresh. References don’t feel as forced as the way Snyder wants us to notice them. On other hand, although Dawn of Justice is meant to be a new story that builds on the Superman reboot to lay the foundations of a DC comic book movie franchise, it feels too attached to Miller’s works. I’m not convinced that Snyder and his team weren’t shouting “DO IT FOR FRANK!” constantly during the creative process for Dawn of Justice.
A grandiose but messy narrative (sort of) about meaning in post-9/11 U.S.
As mentioned previously, Luthor’s elaborate scheme drives and hurts the story, but even outside of that, the movie is still kind of a mess, with a disorganized narrative around the remaining characters, a desire to be taken seriously, and some arguably redeeming moments.
The movie begins and ends with funerals, and the mood is rather somber from beginning to end. The opening, narrated by Affleck, shows Bruce Wayne’s parents’ murder and funeral, his fall into a cavern, and the bats that would inspire his vigilante persona. This is revealed as a dream sequence that ends with the bats lifting him out of the cave. I’m not too crazy about seeing Bruce’s traumatic childhood (now with extra slow motion!) once again, barely a decade after Batman Begins, and Thomas Wayne escalating the situation by throwing a punch at the mugger is dumb, but it was at least well shot, and Man of Steel could have benefited from this approach instead of a long prologue with information that is repeated later anyway.
Likewise, though, Batman v Superman could have easily started with the black text on a white background that reads, “Metropolis. Mankind is introduced to the Superman,” jumped into the previous movie’s final battle seen from Bruce’s perspective on the ground, and shown the credits over that. I get why Snyder bookends the movie with funerals, one showing a hero’s “birth” and one hinting at another hero’s rebirth (plus planting the seeds of the Justice League), but skipping the first dream sequence would have been an interesting way to drop the audience right into the action. The opening foreshadows a lot of the problems the film will have: unwieldy, unnecessary expository moments; needless violence; dream sequence that stands in for characterization; style over coherence.
One of the better non-action bits takes place at the gala, where Lex delivers his strange speech, and Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are all present in their civilian identities: Bruce, Clark, and Diana Prince. Bruce despises Superman and Clark’s paper’s pro-Superman slant, and Clark despises Batman’s methods, leading to the two men to trade barbs. Bruce and Diana both seek information. He is following the tracks of Anatoli Knyazev, an arms dealer and mercenary employed by Luthor; she is after information Luthor possesses that could compromise her identity. He gets what he wants, but she steals it from him, and they meet later when she needs him to decrypt the data. Bruce Wayne as a detective/spy is more interesting than just him beating up criminals, and Gal Gadot as Diana Prince seems to be having a good time in the role. I wish she would have had more screen time with Affleck, carrying out corporate espionage escapades. We sadly don’t get more scenes like that.
After a relatively strong, propulsive opening (though your mileage may vary, depending on how you feel about heavy 9/11 imagery), the movie gets lost with jumping around characters with poor transitions, at least one teaser that could have been earlier on or used as a Marvel-style in-credit/post-credit scene, and several dream sequences. Cutting between the various characters isn’t a problem, but the narrative is unfocused and haphazard, and I don’t particularly care for any of the characters. Henry Cavill comes off pretty dull, and Affleck is dour, but he has some decent banter with Alfred (Jeremy Irons).
There is a lot of exposition and weird pacing, as the movie struggles to juggle its plotlines and characters. Right as Clark flies off to face Batman, there is a jump to Diana in a hotel room, having received an email from Bruce containing the files he stole, including a photo of her from World War I and footage of the other “metahumans” (whom Bruce later wants to seek out as allies). I don’t know how well it would have worked as a teaser shown during the credits, but it does feel oddly placed, like maybe it should have come sooner. Having it occur when it does interrupts the flow. Later on, there is a scene when Batman confronts Luthor in a jail cell near the end that really could have been an mid-credit or post-credit teaser.
Adding to the ungainly narrative are a few confusing dream sequences. In one, Jonathan Kent appears to Superman, talking about saving his family’s farm, but causing their neighbors’ horses to drown. (I don’t know.) At the very least the post-apocalyptic Mad Max-like dystopian dream-or-vision where Batman leads a resistance against Superman and his armies of winged alien creatures and paramilitary followers is kind of fun. We know Bruce fears Superman’s potential to become an all-powerful evil figure, so the dream doesn’t really add anything, but it also hints at Darkseid (the villain’s signature Omega symbol makes an appearance), whom Bruce has no knowledge of. Upon waking up, someone is shouting at him, and he wakes up again, so it’s a dream-within-a-dream. It has some cool imagery, but leaves you with more questions than answers, which I feel sums up the movie.
Despite the title of Batman v Superman, I didn’t find their confrontation to be the best action scene. It was pretty brutal, but it was repetitive and backed by an overbearing score. There is little investment in the characters, and it’s less tragic, unlike The Dark Knight Returns, where they had been longtime friends. We know that they have to team up eventually, so the fight is supposed to last until the misunderstanding is cleared up. The confrontation between the two heroes end just as Bruce is about to deliver the fatal blow with a Kryptonite-tipped spear he fashioned for this confrontation. Clark utters “save Martha” and throws Bruce off, as that is also his late mother’s name, giving Lois time to come in and explain the situation. When Bruce says, “Martha won’t die tonight” and goes on to save Clark’s adoptive mother from Luthor’s mercenaries, it could be seen as a moment of catharsis, of exorcizing his guilt over not being able to protect his parents. Bruce’s line could have worked, but the lead-up to it isn’t really executed well. The movie lacks a real sense of humanity to make it poignant, and having that moment alone shatter all of his prejudices is a strange choice. It’s such a strange moment that I almost feel like I’m describing the encounter between Milhouse and his Shelbyville counterpart.
Batman’s standalone action scenes are more or less the best ones in the movie, though he kills henchmen like in Tim Burton’s Batman movies (even Miller’s version in The Dark Knight Returns didn’t), and I liked the new designs on the vehicles. I have a soft spot for chase scenes, and seeing a more streamlined but heavily armored Batmobile drag a car full of henchmen, ram into vehicles, and blast through obstacles is pretty fun. The plane looks cool too, but it’s mostly used to shoot at armored vehicles and Doomsday. The warehouse fight is probably one of the best choreographed fights that involves the character. It’s clear, and he’s more mobile than in previous Batman films. He makes good use of his gadgets, environment, and fighting prowess, and it’s a brutal, entertaining sequence.
The Doomsday fight is a bit disappointing, however. In my 2015 films post, I mentioned that when I watched Avengers: Age of Ultron the second time, I became somewhat bored with the Iron Man/Hulk fight as well as the final battle. Watching two huge CGI things smash into each other or the protagonists fend off waves of CGI-looking drones loses some excitement after a while. The final fight here features the DC trinity facing off against a giant CGI monstrosity, and while there are some exciting images, it feels a bit monotonous. Superman and Wonder Woman carry the bulk of the hard hitting, while Batman dodges and provides some ranged support. “I’ve killed things from other worlds” is a pretty good line for Gadot, who seems to be the only one not downtrodden by the third act, and while the fight lacks variety, her character has some great moments combining her sword, shield, bracelets, and lasso in combat.
Doomsday’s presence should alert to anyone with a cursory knowledge of comic book history that Superman has a high chance of dying, and indeed they kill each other in battle. With help from Lois, Superman gets the Krytponite-tipped spear that Bruce had planned to use against him and stabs Doomsday, and in his weakened state, he is fatally stabbed in return. Both combatants perish, and a funeral is held for the fallen hero with a bit of a reversal to the ending of The Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s story has Bruce use drugs to fake his death in his confrontation with Superman, and when Clark attends Bruce’s funeral, he becomes aware of a faint heartbeat, leading to an ending where Bruce is revealed to have moved underground to train his successors. Here, Bruce attends Superman’s funeral, goes off to form the Justice League against an unknown, incoming threat, and the last shot hints at Superman’s resurrection.
There is something to be said about Snyder’s ambitions with the story, written by Goyer and Chris Terrio (who worked with Affleck on Argo and was brought on for rewrites). Snyder has a distinctive visual style, and he shows aptitude at recreating or reimagining comic book scenes. There are plenty of moments that feel lifted from The Dark Knight Returns, and they are recreated faithfully, even if they feel like distracting fan service at the same time. The final battle is not something I’d write home about, but there are some good shots, like a heat vision duel, Wonder Woman’s weapons, and the finale with all three working together and the camera pans from one combatant to the other.
At the very least, though, Snyder’s muted aesthetic where everything looks filmed through a filter feels different. The film’s score is at times overbearing, at times gives the film an operatic quality. A Wagnerian operatic approach is appropriate for a film about larger-than-life characters, some naturally godlike, others men who style themselves after gods, clash or work with one another. While it has taken maybe Marvel a dozen movies before they get into the consequences of the Avengers’ actions, it only takes Snyder two. This is not to say this movie is better, only that his interests when it comes to the genre are different, which is refreshing on paper, but as stated already, not great in execution.
There is commentary on power and policies: Batman as a one-man army with tactics that go beyond what the police can do, Superman’s potential to turn into an evil overlord, corporations flaunting the law and employing mercenaries, the ability of the masses to do harm with their fears and prejudices especially when manipulated. Snyder seems to be using these characters to represent post-9/11 United States—and this would be an America that has seen both 9/11 and then a similar and more destructive event in the battle of Metropolis.
In the movie, Bruce Wayne invokes the “one percent doctrine” (associated with former Republican Vice-President Dick Cheney). He straight up kills a bunch of henchmen, and he brands criminals who commit heinous crimes that other criminals find appalling, essentially painting a target on them to be attacked after they arrive in prison. The other multi-billionaire who shares his dislike for Superman, Lex Luthor, babbles on and possesses negative charisma, yet somehow still gets others to go along with his plans. Both men are paranoid, xenophobic, obsessive, and rich, and they have extensive resources with which to surveil others; Luthor, however, is far more of a villainous agitator. If Bruce Wayne starts out in the movie as the Punisher in a bat costume and with neoconservative worldviews, then Lex is perhaps a Trumpian figure, a logical extreme of Bruce’s worst traits, one who enjoys stirring things up, who has even more extreme rhetoric and the means to achieve those goals.
Clark Kent is a reporter seeking to expose Batman at home, much to the chagrin of his employer at the Daily Planet, and as Superman, he carries out essentially unilateral interventions around the world (referred to as such in the movie). He mostly performs rescues, but he is blamed for deaths that occur in his vicinity. As a journalist, he is criticized for pursuing stories that go beyond sensationalist clickbait, and as a hero or “soldier” (indeed he is honored as one after his death), he takes the blame for everything that goes wrong. It’s a strange mix of talking points, combining reverence for and defense of the troops out on foreign interventions (usually associated with conservatism) and concerns for civil liberties squashed in the name of fighting crime and terrorism at home (usually associated with liberalism/progressivism). Does he represent a true patriot, a newly arrived immigrant who believes in all the basic values his adoptive homeland? But then is he really a good representative of us, seeing how he violates other nations’ sovereignty to rescue his girlfriend and has acted seemingly without concern for property or collateral damage? To his credit, at least he tried to take Doomsday into space during their fight to mitigate damage. Yet for someone whose symbol stands for hope on his home planet, he’s not very good at inspiring hope, or even appearing hopeful, as he spends a lot of the movie sort of scowling.
Does Batman v Superman espouse a political philosophy? There are plenty of references to the U.S. after 9/11, and beyond, with rhetoric mirroring whenever violence, terrorism, and immigration are discussed. Characters represent different aspects of society, and there is plenty of pontification on morality, god, and power. But it also feels very muddled and uncertain when Batman battles Superman. Political discourse appears more polarized, and with the current primary season, there are visible schisms developing in both the major parties, but what is the movie suggesting when it comes to the U.S. is turning against itself?
Following that train of thought, by the end, Luthor is in prison, knowing a greater threat is out there, aware of Earth and the death of Superman, but seemingly not caring that his actions have caused the death of someone who has the power to stand up against this threat. The Trumpian figure is defeated, at least for now, but the Pandora’s Box has been opened. Bruce is no longer a brutal fascist-lite neocon—maybe he’s still brutal, but he didn’t brand Luthor—and inspired by Superman’s sacrifice, seems to renounce his more cynical views, saying that “men are still good.” Superman accepts that Earth is his home (once again) and selflessly sacrifices himself in battle. But what does it mean now that he is dead? I don’t know if there is much of a point beyond Bruce Wayne overcoming his prejudices, to seemingly embrace taking on a more heroic role, rather than limiting himself to brutalizing street-level criminals.
Kotaku released an interesting defense of Batman v Superman (they also have a piece trashing it), on the grounds that it is tonally, visually, and thematically refreshing for deviating from the standard superhero movie formula and skimping on jokes, calling into question the notion of superheroes and what they represent. I agree to an extent, and in theory. As I stated in talking about Man of Steel, I kind of respect the idea of treating the idea of having all-powerful beings present on Earth seriously, but it feels wrong-headed.
Zack Snyder is a modern-day Ed Wood given a budget, with an interest in god-like figures punching things while talking about power and morality. Though the movie has good moments, mostly with Batman and Wonder Woman, the story is not very good. The “Martha” moment is better on paper but feels unearned, as does Bruce Wayne becoming inspired to be heroic again. I understand wanting to add gravitas, and that’s why some of the action doesn’t feel as enjoyable as they do in the Marvel movies, but it’s not really adding anything to the table by being grimly serious and inventing sayings that don’t exist so your characters’ words feel like they have weight. Snyder seems to want his films to be like Watchmen (which he also adapted to film in 2009), but I don’t know that he actually critiques the genre well or has anything of substance to present. Say what you will, but at least when Batman uses high-tech surveillance to find the Joker and then has it destroyed in The Dark Knight, it’s a statement on power and potential to abuse, and that extraordinary measures should only be provisional measures. The same sentiment comes up again in The Dark Knight Rises, when Bruce rebuffs Alfred for suggesting sharing his resources and technology with the police, and eventually allows someone else to take up his mantle. Meanwhile, Batman v Superman has a Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo.
- Why did no one question how the suicide bomber got the materials to make a bomb that powerful? He was obviously destitute!
- Miller’s story is set during the Reagan administration. Sadly, there is no voice cameo by President Obama, which should have been this movie’s only real-life cameo, when the president orders a nuclear launch. Patrick Wilson provides the voice of the president.
- Headcanon: I didn’t think that Bruce Wayne had really good characterization in the movie, so my fanfic-y idea is that BvS Batman is an alternate post-Nolan Dark Knight Gotham PD has reinstalled the bat signal after he does something to redeem himself in their eyes; they know that they can’t do without him anyway. He gets a sidekick in Robin who is killed by the Joker, and having lost both Rachel Dawes and Robin, plus witnessing the battle of Metropolis, he is pushed over the edge and goes full Punisher. (Alfred’s age is inconsistent, but whatever.) There, instant better characterization. Hire me, please!