“Batman v Superman”:
He Died For Our Sins
– A review and commentary by David 2
Let’s start with a warning: This review includes spoilers about the movie that DC got all up in arms about when it was first released. If, by some chance, you have not seen “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” yet and you don’t want to be spoiled by how it turned out, then stop reading now. But… it would be too late since one of the key spoilers is in the very title of this review.
Oh well. Now you know how some of us feel.
When “Man of Steel” came out, fans of Superman (and I am among them) had superhuman expectations. We expected Zach Snyder’s Superman to completely destroy Marvel’s cinematic success story. We expected an awe-inspiring epic blockbuster movie that would make “Marvel’s The Avengers” look like Roger Corman’s “Fantastic Four”. (Go ahead and look that up. It’s out there.)
We didn’t get that. What we got instead was a good movie. Not great. Not awe-inspiring. Not epic. Just… good. Read my review of it if you don’t believe me.
We forgot that Zach Snyder had already taken one of the best DC mini-series ever – “Watchmen” – and turned that into a modestly good movie. Not great. Just good. We also remember that he did a movie called “300”, and we forgot that it didn’t end well for our hero. But that wasn’t his fault. That was just how the original story turned out.
And after that modestly good movie named “Watchmen” (which I’ll get to reviewing at some point) and the good “Man of Steel”, we waited to see what Snyder would have for us to make up for failing to meet our superhuman expectations. We wanted him to top MoS with something bigger and better. We still needed our “win” to show the almighty Disney-owned Marvel that DC can match them, if not beat them.
We should have known where Snyder was going when he first teased convention-goers at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2013 with the Super-Bat logo and the memorable line from Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns”:
“I want you to remember, Clark…in all the years to come…in your most private moments…I want you to remember my hand at your throat…I want you to remember…the one man who beat you.”
We should have known at that moment what Zach Snyder had in mind for us.
He was not going to give us “Man of Steel 2”. He was not going to give us another Superman movie.
Zach Snyder was going to give us a Batman movie.
But in order to do that, Snyder had to take his second DC creation – the Superman that we were led to accept and embrace in “Man of Steel” – and kill him.
We start with yet another re-telling of the infamous night in Crime Alley, when Bruce Wayne became an orphan and the Batman was born. You have to wonder why Snyder would follow the abhorrent movie pattern of re-inventing the origin wheel until you realize that there is a moment in that highly-over-reenacted scene that is essential for the film’s climax.
Then we see Snyder re-invent the wheel again, this time with the climactic events in “Man of Steel” as seen from grown-up Bruce Wayne’s perspective as he rushes to his Wayne Financial building in Metropolis…. which apparently is right across the river from Gotham City. What the hell, Snyder?
I do have to say that this was actually a very creative way to see things from Bruce Wayne’s view, as you recognize the battle between Superman and Zod from MoS, but now it’s being seen from the angle of the ordinary person. You don’t see a hero fighting a villain on behalf of humanity. You just see two aliens fighting, and Metropolis being caught in the crossfire.
This is all part of Snyder’s need to destroy the MoS Superman to make way for the BvS Batman. Even the introduction of the scene shows the complete alienation of our hero. We are told by text that this was when the world was introduced to “the Superman”. Not “Superman”, as in the superhero and Earth’s greatest champion; but “the Superman”, as in the superior being. The alien. And, yes, that word will be used a lot.
From that point on, we see an ongoing crusade to condemn Superman at every opportunity. When he steps in to save Lois from an African warlord, we hear a Senate committee hold him responsible for the deaths that follow. Never mind that they all died from bullets and Superman doesn’t have a gun. The media and the politicians focus on the endless debate over whether or not Superman *should* save the day, not that he is doing it.
In fact, we don’t see him actually saving the day in any of these instances. We either see him before doing it or we see him after he does it. And even amidst scenes of people in awe of what he can do, there is still that ever-present message questioning *why* he is doing it. Even the Daily Planet joins in on the Superman-hate, and it is the one publication that you would think would stand up for him.
Of course there are plans in motion by our main villain, Lex Luthor. But it is almost as if Director Snyder is working alongside Lex as a secret accomplice to demonize Superman and to kill everything that Superman is and everything that Superman represents.
Even Superman’s civilian guise as Clark Kent can’t get a break. His boss, Perry White, decides Clark would be better doing sports than in looking into the recent brutal streak of Gotham City’s hero, the Batman. Clark has a story to look into, the essence of journalism, and Perry keeps on saying “Where’s my sports article, Kent?”
Speaking of Batman, this is clearly not the Dark Knight from the previous blockbuster movies. He’s older and more brutal, and we really don’t know why other than to speculate that it had to do with what happened in MoS. This Batman brands villains like The Phantom, and his brand is considered a death sentence in prison. He has no qualms shooting people, which is very un-Batman. He’s also not above stealing, which he does like a bull in a china shop. He even leaves a heavy Bat-shuriken as his calling card so there’s no mistaking who did it. Again, that’s very un-Batman.
And I’m not even getting into the whole “nightmare-within-a-nightmare” scene. This is Snyder’s way to introduce us to the Justice League, by showing us that there is an even greater threat looming. There are subtle hints as to who this “greater threat” is, but they’re all completely lost to anyone who has never picked up a comic book and only got their comic book knowledge from the movies. Then there’s the strange visit from the man from the future (the Flash), warning Batman to “fear him” and to listen to Lois. Fear “who”? Again we are led to believe that it is Superman, when the comic book fan knows that it is really someone else. Someone… let’s just say someone with a really “dark side”.
That brings us to the scene in the United States Capitol Building. A very iconic moment; Superman walking into the Senate Committee chambers to give testimony and to answer questions from the very career politicians that have been criticizing him all this time. You have this feeling like he’s a lamb being led to slaughter, which really isn’t too far from the truth.
Of all of the moments in the movie, this is the one that hurt me the most as a longtime fan of Superman. You have that moment when Senator Finch, Superman’s biggest public critic, is knocked from her opening bluster as she realizes that the mechanizations of Lex Luthor are about to literally blow up in her face. Moments of awkward silence, of looking around and seeing Lex’s empty chair in the audience, of seeing jars of “Granny’s Peach Tea” in front of her, of knowing what is about to happen…
… and Superman, our hero, is oblivious to all of this!
In Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns”, our hero is able to outrun a heavy-duty autogun from high Earth orbit. In Richard Lester’s “Superman II”, our hero is able to move so fast, he can appear to be in several places all at once and fool three Kryptonians. Even in “Man of Steel”, our hero is able to eventually match a seasoned soldier like Zod blow-for-blow even without formal military training, overpower the Kryptonian World Engine, and to out-fly a singularity event – a miniature black hole – to carry Lois to safety. Oh and let’s not forget he was able to fly halfway around the world in a matter of minutes.
And yet, here, this Superman makes no effort to move from his spot to stop the explosion that follows or to even try to save one single person. There is barely a hint of emotion. He who cried after snapping Zod’s neck, who cried after seeing his adopted father get swept away by a tornado, suddenly was cold and unemotional as he stood there in the fiery conflagration of what used to be the Capitol Building.
Even his remorse afterward with Lois is so uncharacteristic of everything that we’ve accepted about Superman. The man whose chest symbol represents “Hope”, the man who took pride in telling Lois what that symbol means, is now saying that it was all just a delusion of a Kansas farmer. Excuse me, but which “Kansas farmer” are you talking about? Jonathan Kent sure as hell did not want to see Clark be Superman. He made that point clear in MoS and why he was the real antagonist of that movie! And now you’re inferring this was “his” delusion? No. Wrong. This is not my Superman. This isn’t even the “Man of Steel” Superman! This is Zach Snyder’s “villain” Superman!
Yes, you heard me right. Everything you see here is part of Director Snyder’s plan to paint Superman as the “villain” of the story. The “enemy” for Snyder’s Batman to hate and target. The whole justification for him to break into LexCorp and steal the kryptonite, to weaponize it, and have that climactic confrontation that Snyder has led us to. Zach Snyder has painted Superman as the antagonist!
And that brings us to the climactic confrontations, plural. Lex versus Superman, Superman versus Batman, Batman versus Lex’s goons, Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman versus Doomsday, a roller coaster of confrontation and violence.
And during that time, I thought, for a moment, that my faith in Director Snyder’s interpretations of my favorite characters would finally be rewarded. For a moment, we actually had Superman being Superman, Batman being Batman, and, of course, Wonder Woman being Wonder Woman.
And… then not long after that, I realized what Snyder was leading us towards, and I realized what was about to happen.
This was Superman about to die.
Director Snyder led us to Superman sacrificing his life to stop the monster.
It’s one thing to give us the monster so early in the current DC Cinematic Universe. To give us a taste of what it can do, knowing what Doomsday’s ultimate destiny is. It is another thing entirely to have Doomsday fulfil its destiny so soon and to kill Superman now rather than later on, when he is cherished and respected around the world.
The end result is a completely disbelieveable “World Without Superman”. In the original comic story and even in the DC Animated movie “Superman: Doomsday”, Superman battles Doomsday and dies in the middle of Metropolis, saving the lives of everyone threatened by Doomsday’s killing spree. Here, Superman dies far away from people, using a pig-sticker tipped with the one substance that can kill both of them. Aside from two heroes and one reporter, there’s nobody around to witness this sacrifice. It’s not broadcast around the world. Jimmy Olson isn’t around to photograph it. Hell, Jimmy Olson was killed in the beginning of the whole movie! (Assuming, of course, that really is Jimmy and not a CIA cover name.)
And let’s not forget that Superman’s reputation at this point is pretty much non-existent thanks to Lex Luthor’s games. He’s already been branded a villain. Even the Daily Planet doesn’t defend Superman anymore, never mind write what Batman calls a “puff-piece editorial”.
So where is all this global remorse coming from? As far as the world is concerned at this point, Superman is an alien, aliens are evil, so Superman is evil. That is the message that Director Snyder and Lex Luthor and their cohorts have successfully crafted all through this movie. So if Superman dies, then the masses should be saying “Good riddance”, not “O-M-G this is horrible!”
The actual remorse, of course, is coming from us, the real fans of Superman. The ones that feel cheated out of the movie that they expected.
Much like “Man of Steel”, Snyder snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and managed to give us only a good movie. Make that a good Batman movie. It is certainly a horrible Superman movie, given how little screen time he’s actually given and how he’s treated by both the other characters and by Director Snyder.
The movie is riddled with holes, such as what happened to Robin, whose defaced outfit we see displayed in the Batcave. What happened to Wayne Manor? Why is it in shambles? Where is “Bruce Wayne” living now? Wouldn’t it seem strange that this successful billionaire businessman would suddenly be “homeless”? Why is Superman hauling an old capsized ocean-liner across the ice? Why didn’t he recover the crashed Kryptonian ship? Why is it still in disarray? If the government has the ship with Superman’s permission, wouldn’t they know that Kryptonians would not normally be working in a ship while waist-deep in prenatal goo from the birthing chamber? After all, that ship was his for a while in MoS. You would think that they would at least consult him as to how it should normally look.
There is supposedly a whole hour of deleted scenes that Snyder would like included in a special “director’s cut” version that is supposed to fill in some of those holes. I’ll get to that in a minute.
It appears that Team Snyder tried to grab a whole dozen comic storylines and then shoved them all together. Clearly we can see both Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” and Dan Jurgen’s “Death of Superman” stories in this movie. But then there are other comic storylines snuck in, including parts of New 52 “Justice League” and “Superman: Birthright”, not to mention a dystopian future right out of the pages Grant Morrison’s “Rock Of Ages” storyline in “JLA”.
Unfortunately, all of those different storylines and ideas helped to turn this movie into a mess. Snyder should have just borrowed from one storyline and left it at that.
The rampant xenophobic bigotry is also something that was pretty blatant, especially coming from Snyder’s “hero”, Batman. And this is a problem that I see not only in this movie, but in Warner Brother’s TV ventures with the CW network, most notably “Supergirl”. Oh, Superman can save the world, but he’s still an alien, so let’s just nuke him for good measure. The only good alien is a dead alien, right Bruce?
In terms of casting, most of the cast did admirably well given the tasks provided. Ben Affleck did pull off a great Bruce Wayne and Batman, putting him in the same Bat-league as Michael Keaton. I felt sorry for how Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman was abused and wasted in this movie. It wasn’t his fault, though. We deserved better, and he certainly deserved better. Amy Adams continued to do great as Lois Lane. While her boyfriend was being smeared by her own employer, she was busy uncovering the real villain behind it all. Well… only one of the real villains, since the other one was Director Snyder himself.
Jeremy Irons did a rather competent Alfred. His cool demeanor was more along the lines of the comics instead of Michael Caine’s witty version in the “Dark Knight” trilogy. Lawrence Fishburn’s Perry White was lacking somewhat, but, again, it wasn’t really his fault. Bringing back Harry Lennix and Christina Wren from MoS felt somewhat forced. Ditto for Kevin Costner’s brief appearance as Ghost-of-Jonathan. What he said could’ve easily been spoken by Martha Kent, who was played quite well by Diane Lane. (Disclosure: she’s been one of my favorite actresses, so it’s hard to speak ill of her work.) Holly Hunter’s role as Senator Finch was rather confusing. Was she a Luthor stooge or simply skeptical of aliens? It was hard to tell, and, of course, that final scene that she was in was very painful to watch. It felt like nails across a chalkboard. But, again, it wasn’t really the actress’s fault that it turned out that way.
Oh, and Snyder certainly had no problem finding work for his “Watchmen” alumni. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who played the brutal Comedian in “Watchmen”, played the overplayed Thomas Wayne. Patrick Wilson, who played the Batman-like Nite Owl in “Watchmen”, did the telephone voice of the President. And Carla Gugino, who played the original Silk Spectre in “Watchmen”, did the voice of the Kryptonian artificial intelligence (reprising her role from MoS). It was a nice touch, but, again, Snyder should have spent a little more effort into the story than on who was in it.
That brings me to the best and the worst of the castings. The best, by far, was Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. I’ll admit that I had my doubts about her filling in that role, mostly because it was best played on TV by the curvaceous Lynda Carter. I remember Gadot’s appearances in the “Fast and Furious” series and saying to myself “*She* will be wearing Wonder Woman’s outfit?!?”
But, to her credit, Gadot pulled it off. She captured the essence of the Amazon warrior princess and made it believable. When she first appeared in her Wonder Woman outfit, the theater audience exploded in applause, and rightly so.
Sadly, the worst casting was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. As a comic writer and fan, I knew where Snyder was heading with Luthor. He wanted us to see Lex’s ascension into a supervillain, like Lex was in “Superman: Birthright”. Except that, in the end, we find that he’s not a supervillain… just a super-stooge. Not to mention a super-stooge with a gradually-unravelling mind. What is it with filmmakers and their fixation on having super-geniuses with fatal neurotic flaws? The essence of Lex Luthor is that he is a shrewd, narcissistic, Machiavellian shark, whether as a scientific genius or as a “master of the universe” in the business world. Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is seemingly none of these. He’s just a spoiled brat with too much money for his own good.
“Ultimate Edition Update”: Having seen the “Ultimate Edition” with the additional footage, I have to say that my opinion of the movie hasn’t changed too much. The extra footage does flesh things out a little bit, such as having Superman actually try to save lives after the Capitol Building explosion, and how Batman’s branded criminals are being killed by Lex Luthor’s goons, and how the African warlord massacre was staged by Luthor’s goons, using flamethrowers to make it look like Superman fried them with his heat vision. You also see Clark Kent be gradually guided to consider Batman a threat instead of actually doing the sports article that his boss told him to cover. You also get to see the football game that was the subject of Perry’s sports obsession. This is stuff that Warner Brothers should have included in the theatrical release from day one, but didn’t because they were being stupid. But, hey, what do you expect from time-obsessive execs?
I’ll remind you of something that I said in my review of “Man of Steel”: if the viewer has to figure these little things out on their own, then you have failed as a storyteller.
Director Snyder loved to paint Superman in Christ-like analogies, so it’s only right for me to say that ultimately the “Man of Steel” Superman died more for our sins than those of Director Snyder’s. It was our sin of greed, of wanting a movie to instantly make up and surpass what a decade of Marvel productions built up, that led us to Snyder’s sin of overkill, and to him killing the MoS Superman. We know Director Snyder will bring Superman back to life, probably at some point in the upcoming “Justice League” movie. The only things that we don’t know are how he returns, and what kind of Superman we will get back.
Will we get the kind of Superman that we want? Or will we get the kind of Superman that Director Snyder thinks we “deserve”?