Welcome to the first “Further Thoughts” post on my blog; a distinction given to those films that I just can’t quit thinking about. This week’s entry is about the highly divisive Batman v Superman. I wrote a thorough, non-spoilery post on my thoughts on the film, praising it for the weighty philosophical questions it raised as well as the strength of the performances delivered by its actors (yes that includes Jesse Eisenberg). However, many disagree with me, and that’s okay because of opinions! However, now that the film has been out for a few weeks to an endless parade of articles either criticizing or defending it, I thought it time to explore a few of the things that people take issue with and why they worked for me. So without further ado, here are my further thoughts.
WARNING: FULL SPOILERS to follow.
The Martha Moment –
Batman stands above Superman victorious, hefting the kryptonite spear. “You’re letting them kill Martha,” Superman groans. Batman frowns, confused. “Why did you say that name?” he screams. Many have found humor in this exchange, because not only does it give Batman a change of heart, but also sways him to immediately join Superman’s cause. Many think it abrupt and uncharacteristic of the Bruce Wayne that we’ve been following for the last two hours. Others likened it to the sudden friendship between the characters played by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step Brothers, a view which I find wildly reductive.
The reason why the scene worked for me was because Bruce had spent the whole film dehumanizing Superman. He never knew him as Clark Kent, only as the Kryptonian alien whose fight with members of his own race had levelled a quarter of Metropolis and killed thousands of people. This godlike being operated by his own rules, intervening in conflicts without much thought to the consequences of his actions. The absolutism of this version of Bruce Wayne (more on this in the Killer Batman segment) is startling and at the same time effective for that very reason; this is a brilliant man with seemingly endless resources, now all dedicated to the cause of taking Superman down. Until the Martha Moment, Superman had remained an alien, detached and unknowable.
Then, suddenly, Superman is a man with a mother. The significance of the Martha Moment is not merely the coincidence that both Bruce and Clark’s mothers have the same name (as many articles and memes have argued), but rather that it serves as an example of their shared humanity. Bruce, whose entire life has been fashioned by the tragedy of his parent’s murder, is suddenly reminded of that horrific moment when he is about to enact that very same violence against another. The alien that he so hated is suddenly a man who, facing death, is not worried about himself, but rather the one person that matters most to him in his life: Marth Kent.
The anger and frustration that follows this revelation as Bruce steps back and yells, casting the Kryptonite spear aside, is him realizing that he was wrong. That he, blinded by his anger, had nearly damned another Martha to death. Yet, unlike his mother, now he had a chance to save this Martha.
Armored Batman –
A short thought: many have complained about the slowness of the Armored Batman in the film. I feel like this is a misconception of the armor’s true purpose. Batman did not need speed so much as he needed protection and I appreciated the lengths to which the film went to illustrate how every punch that Superman inflicted upon Batman really hurt him, drove the breath from his lungs, and made it a struggle for him to recover. Without adequate protection and Superman holding back, Batman could have been dead from a single strike.
Killer Batman –
Yes, in this film, Batman kills, or at least he doesn’t mind collateral damage. What does this mean? It would seem that Batman’s “No Killing” rule has slackened to a “No Murder” rule after he experiences Superman and General Zod’s battle in Metropolis from the ground level. When he brands a criminal, Alfred calls him out on his growing bitterness and removal, saying, “New rules?” When Bruce glibly responds that they’ve been criminals from the start, Alfred warns him that the path to the point of no return starts with the type of rage he’s been harboring since witnessing the destruction of Metropolis caused in part by Superman. This is clearly a reference to Bruce only recently becoming more violent and perhaps more open to criminals dying during his outings as a vigilante. His startling absolutism (“If there is even a one percent chance, we have to take it as an absolute certainty”) is very unlike the Bruce Wayne that we know and representative of his disillusionment with fighting crime in a world gone crazy, where men fly and people die in the thousands. However, Bruce allowing deaths is not to say that he’s actively snapping necks (the only time that he directly kills anyone is in the Flash-induced vision called the “Knightmare Sequence,” which only represents a possible future, rather than a certainty); however he does allow criminals to die rather than going out of his way to save them.
This is contrary to most iterations of Batman in the comics, but not unheard of, especially within the cinematic versions of his character. People seem to forget the glee Michael Keaton’s Batman took in obliterating thugs with grenades, cannons, and fire, among other instruments in Tim Burton’s films. Even the Batman of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is not completely innocent of lethal behavior, lest we forget the famous, “I’m not going to kill you, but I don’t have to save you,” line.
Overall, does Batman killing anger me as a Batman fan? No, because I don’t believe Bruce was like this for a long time given the contextual clues in the dialogue and also because Bruce’s whole arc in the film is about him regaining touch with his lost humanity. By immersing himself within the hatred he’d developed for an alien, he’d alienated himself from the very ideals that spurred him to take the mantle of the Bat in the first place. The Martha Moment was the defining moment in which he’d either retreat from murder or embrace it, and luckily for him and for us, he retreated, coming back to the Bruce Wayne that we know and love. His change of heart and admission of fault is clearly stated when he speaks to Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) at Superman’s funeral, when he says, “Men are still good.”
He’d forgotten that and it took an alien from Krypton to remind him.
Most of the criticism levelled at the character of Doomsday has been directed at how he looks. Likened to a mutated troll from The Lord of the Rings films or a gray analogue to the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Doomsday joins the ever-growing pantheon of CG characters that people hate due to their appearance. I think the negative reactions to Doomsday’s appearance are indicative of the problem people have with the Uncanny Valley as it pertains to nonhuman characters. The Uncanny Valley as you most likely know is the feeling of wrongness or revulsion one gets when something looks natural, but is slightly “off.” In human CG creations this is apparent, however I feel that a problem many people have with CG monsters is that they simply cannot accept the reality being presented to them.
This is not to say that their opinion is wrong, but where I disagree with them spawns solely from what they’re choosing to judge in the first place. Yes, there is some questionable CG out there; in my opinion Doomsday is not in this category. I think he looks fantastic; the subtle folds and marking of his skin; the way he seems to erupt with energy, his signature crystal shards tearing out of his flesh as he becomes more powerful; all of it impressed me and made me excited to view more of the sequences involving him. Many people seem to dislike CG because it takes them out of the film, because it doesn’t look “real,” but to my thinking, of course that is the case. There isn’t a real world analogue for Doomsday the same way there wasn’t an orc we could look at to measure the “realness” of Azog the Defiler from the Hobbit Trilogy, a robot to measure Ultron from The Avengers: Age of Ultron, or the orcs from the upcoming Warcraft film. They are inherently unrealistic characters for which there is no obvious real life comparison.
Accepting their otherness is the key to enjoying them, because we know they are not real. The reactions to the CG creations stated above are a far cry from how people (on the whole) felt about Caesar and his ape brethren in the Planet of the Apes reboot and its sequel. I believe this is because we know how apes and monkeys are supposed to look and it is truly incredible that any technology and performance could get close to mimicking those qualities. Other exceptions seem to come from critically acclaimed films where people are more likely to ignore even apparent CG due to the depth of the escapism provided, such as many parts of The Lord of the Rings and the reigning, number one grossing film of all time, Avatar.
As far as how effective Doomsday was as an adversary and plot device, I think that he was a positive, unexpected inclusion. Exploring the Death of Superman arc this early in the DC universe surprised and excited me; I didn’t know it was going to go there, but it did, and now it’s a brave new world, one full of possibilities as far as adaptations go, with the freedom to make certain changes that could prove both satisfying and original. That being said, I also thought Doomsday was a suitably brawny antagonistic counterpart to the intellect represented by Lex Luthor’s character.
The Death of Superman –
The big one. At the end of the film, Superman dies as he kills Doomsday, sacrificing himself to save humanity. I knew that the Death of Superman arc from the late eighties featured Doomsday as the primary antagonist, but I did not expect for BvS to borrow from that source so heavily and literally end with the death of Superman.
Why it worked for me: Man of Steel was largely about Clark Kent struggling with his feelings of alienation and searching for his place in the world. His parents didn’t know if the world was ready for the philosophical, religious, and moral implications of his reveal, but in the end, Clark was forced to embrace the title of the Superman in order to defend Earth from General Zod, a dark mirror of himself.
What I like about BvS is that it continues this thematic exploration. Though Superman has now became a savior to many, he is still an outsider, a god apart from the humanity around him. Being that other metahumans (Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, etc.) have not yet seen fit to reveal themselves, the onus of representing the super-powered falls squarely upon Superman. Everything he does, everything he says is representative of this immense power and no matter his actions, they will be dissected and interpreted in various ways just as if major religious deities/figures were alive today. As with most messianic figures, sacrifice is a main part of his story. In the story of the biblical Jesus, he had to become a man to sacrifice himself on behalf of humanity. Clark became Superman in Man of Steel by embracing his powers and using them for good, but he still struggled with these feelings of removal, of otherness. BvS is a story that continues this theme and culminates with Superman’s refutation of otherness.
The finale is as dire as it gets: Doomsday grows more powerful by the moment while Batman and Wonder Woman struggle to take him down. Lois kneels beside a weakened Superman who looks at the kryptonite spear and realizes that only through sacrifice can he defeat Doomsday. In the acceptance of this sacrifice, he also accepts his place on Earth, not as Kryptonian, but as a citizen of the planet. “This is my world,” he says to Lois, “You are my world.” Besides his mother, Lois is the only other human that understands him; she grounds him, provides him with a view of the best of us. She and people like her are the reason he fights and the reason he is willing to die.
This moment was extremely impactful and it really resonated with me. It also excited me for the future potential of the DC universe. Now that the Death of Superman is out of the way, the metahumans are going to be rounded up by Batman (director Zack Snyder said he’s going to do a sort of Seven Samurai inspired wandering of the world in order to find them), paving the way for Superman’s return to a world where his godlike abilities will be less out-of-the-norm, allowing him to rest a little easier and be the boy-scout that many fans desire.
So that’s that for my thoughts on Batman v Superman. If I think of anything else, I’ll add to this post, but for now, I eagerly await the August release of Suicide Squad.