Superhero epic as war movie.
A few of my readers have expressed enthusiasm over hearing my thoughts on Batman vs. Superman. I suppose they think that, being a successful writer of superhero fiction myself, I am uniquely qualified to pass judgement on the movie. So here goes.
But first, go see it.
You think I’m joking? Nope. It’s worth the ticket price, whatever you think afterward. And since my expressing my opinion involves all sorts of spoilery stuff, you should see it first so you can give me your opinion.
So go see it. Come back. I’ll wait.
Back now? Okay then. First, and to leave no doubt, I liked it. A lot. I’ve read reviewers who dismissed it as tendentious moralizing buried under hours of CGI fighting, so I went to see BvS prepared to be disappointed. I will grant that, if you didn’t like 2013’s Man of Steel, then you won’t like Superman v Batman. After all, it’s the next stone in the new movie-mythology being made here.
The movie wasn’t perfect. I thought that director Zack Snyder overdid the religious iconography just a bit (movie watchers are pretty smart, Zack–one or two theologically resonant images is good, a bucket of over-the-top imagery is gratuitous). I wasn’t fond of the shaky-cam work. But I’m going to write about what I liked.
Titans at war. That was the impression I came away with. The battle scenes (just calling them fight-scenes is selling them short), were pushed with driving orchestration that brutalized your ears as much as the scale of force hit your eyes. The message in the images and sound was that this was a battlefield no mortal could survive upon; Batman survived first because Superman wasn’t trying to kill him, and later because he could react faster than Doomsday—like a fly ducking the flyswatter. Just watching it leaves you disoriented and a bit shell-shocked.
This is the power of Superman taken to its “real-world” conclusion. Just as the battle with the Kryptonians in Man of Steel laid waste to the center of Metropolis (which, a year and a half later, is marked by a huge open Ground Zero and the contained Kryptonian wreck), the last battle in BvS lays waste to Gotham Harbor.
And BvS drives home a theme begun in Man of Steel: we would not trust gods among us. There are several characters representing this distrust, including a senator, who is principled, and Lex Luthor, who is not. The senator is motivated by the very real concern that if Superman is not held accountable then he will abuse the privilege. Luthor, on the other hand, see’s Superman through his own eyes. Of course he doesn’t consciously think of it this way, but, as a corrupt man seeking power, he cannot believe that power does not always corrupt.
Luthor knows what he would be if he had the power of Superman; a false but nonetheless unopposable god-king. He would rule, he thinks that sooner or later Superman would do the same, and the thought of Superman ruling him, corrupt or not, is intolerable. The extent of his pathology is evident in the fact that he created Doomsday as a last resort should Batman fail; the world could burn—he could die—but so long as Superman fell he simply didn’t care.
Personally, I found Luthor’s nihilist stance a little underdeveloped. “If God is all powerful, he cannot be all good. If God is all good, he cannot be all powerful.” This is a criticism of divinity reasoned through and dismissed in the first few lectures of any serious theology course; while it sounds profound and even unanswerable, it is only unanswerable for those who have no interest in answering it. Luthor dismisses God, and Truth and Goodness, because recognizing anything higher than himself is impossible. He’s forced to recognize Superman, whom he tries to pull down as his nemesis because he cannot tolerate that. It makes a decent motivation, because while it’s a flawed one it is a very human one.
Batman, like Luthor, does not trust Superman although for different reasons. In Batman’s case, he has stared into the abyss too long (twenty years wearing the cape to clean up Gotham). “How many people stay good?” Unlike Luthor, his motivation for fighting Superman is mostly altruistic; he wants to save humanity, not himself. It’s also personal for Bruce, in that as an observer on Ground Zero for the Battle of Metropolis, where he lost dozens of friends and members of his “corporate” family, he has internalized the event with his own parent’s deaths. There’s a lot of anger there, and it pushes his whole story.
A last note on Bruce Wayne/Batman. In the end, what stops him from killing Superman is an interesting fact that I’d never thought about; his slain mother, and Clark’s living one, are both named Martha.
I mentioned religious imagery, and Luthor’s almost existential rebellion against the mere fact of Superman. Yes, Superman is a Christ-figure. Some might find this objectionable. I don’t; divine or not, real or not, Christ is a type. There have been many Christ-figures in history, men and women willing to use their lives and even lay them down in the service of others. With great power comes great opportunity for service. In BvS, Clark’s existential crisis comes because while he wants to serve, the reaction of a significant portion of the public to his service is…mixed.
Of course Luthor is manipulating events, but the underlying distrust had to be there to begin with.
Interestingly, one thing that BvS seems to conclude is that, as idealistic as Clark is, Louis is both more of a realist and at the same time more committed. She is certain where he is not. She is his heart, the one who makes him finally and unreservedly claim Earth as his home.
Which brings us to the end of the movie, and Doomsday.
You see this coming, at least if you are reasonably steeped in Superman lore. I thought it was done superbly, tied in seamlessly to the elements from The Dark Knight Returns. And really, it had to be something like this. After all, you need a threat to match the heroes; that’s one problem with superheroes as strong as Superman (and one reason why I made even A Class Atlas-Types in the Post-Event World much less powerful). And Superman’s self-sacrificing death certainly buried the anti-Superman movement—as well as launching the assembling of the metahumans who will now form the Justice League.
I look forward to it, the next step being next year’s Wonder Woman.
18 thoughts on “Movie Review: Batman v Superman.”
Also I have to say the origin story for Doomsday in BvS made a lot more sense to me than the origin story for Doomsday on Earth-1.
I seem to not be the only one. I mean Doomsday just seemed to have had some daddy issues.
Agreed. I thought this take on the whole Doomsday story worked very well.
The way you have developed your A-1 class types in the Post-Event world is much more socially realistic compared to two titans who literally trash each other’s cities.
I like to think so. Superman himself was originally much less powerful than he is now; in his old Action Comics adventures, he could toss cars, tip tanks, and shrug off damage from anything less than an artillery shell. Sounds a lot like an Atlas-Type, doesn’t he?
The two things I thought didn’t work about this movie was 1) Superman started off angry at the way the world sees him, and never quite recovered from it. and, 2) The stammering, disorganized thought performance of Lex by Jesse Eisenberg was off feeling. I really like Jesse, and was looking forward to his take, so maybe I was hoping for too much. Otherwise, it was fantastic – I wish it was about a half-hour longer!
Valid points, both. Luthor was a different take, certainly. I did like the way Clark was portrayed, and it’s obvious from the news clips that anti-Superman sentiment had been building for awhile before the “beginning” of the show, but you’re right; while Clark’s character was in line with what we saw in Man of Steel, he wasn’t exactly a cheerful Boy Scout, was he?
I actually found Superman’s arc really moving. If you’ve ever been in a job where you’re committed to doing good work but the environment is inexplicably hostile, you’ll recognize the expression on Cavill’s face for most of the movie. I didn’t see it as angry, I saw it as… forcing yourself to go through the motions and slog through the unpleasantness, and dwelling on the unpleasantness even during the good parts. A certain lack of joy of doing your job because you know it’s going to get trashed eventually anyway.
And there is a moment at the end when all of that melts away–Cavill gets the credit for that–when he comes to an acceptance of what it actually means to do the job and why it matters. You see all that tension just melt away and he smiles. Was an amazing character moment.
Strangely on of the things that touched me was the Alfred Bruce Wayne relationship. Alfred is no more a Butler than Bruce is a playboy millionaire. The scene where Bruce brings Alfred the cup of tea or coffee while he’s working was very cool and I almost missed the significance. Alfred is the father confessor the voice of reason. He was by far my favorite character.
I loved the actor who was casted as Alfred. Did you know he was Scar from The Lion KIng?
Agreed. Both Alfred and Louis were great characters in BvS.
Well said Mr. Harmon. I agree with most of your points. I too enjoyed the movie. My only complaint were the dream sequences were a little too drawn out, and I wasn’t overly fond of the Jokeresque version of Lex (I’m more partial to the comic book version of him being smart, calculating an manipulative. Or like Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex from Smallville.) But on the whole it was a good movie. I was surprised they decided to include the Death of Superman in it, but they did a great job with it as I found the scene very powerful. Of course the people involved made the same mistake with him as they did in the comics…they bury him, instead of just leaving him out in the sun. Of course this will probably lead to another bit of Christ imagery, ie rising from the dead.
The biggest “dream sequence” wasn’t a dream sequence: it was a metahuman-created warning of a potential future. And it involved Darkseid; you could tell by the Apokolips parademons fighting alongside Dark Superman’s shocktroops in the ambush of Batman’s forces.
Given that it looks like the DC movieverse is also following the new Apokolips-tech origin of Cyborg in the setup for the movie Justice League, I’d say that it’s a given that the Big Bad the Justice League winds up fighting will be Darkseid.
Follow-up note: the “metahuman” that gave Batman that future vision (you see him the first time Bruce “woke up”) may have been Orion riding the interdimensional wave of a Boom Tube. At first I thought it was the Flash, doing his time-travel thing, but now I’m not certain. I’d need to see it again to be sure.
My first thought was that it was a boom tube but I had no idea who was shouting at him.
While I understand that it was done as a foreshadowing of Greater Portentous Things, I think overall it would have made more sense if it had just been Batman having a dream hallucination, he wakes up, and the story moves on. I think that would have added more power to the “Martha” scene at the end, too, because it would have made the connection much more clearly personal to Batman (Affleck played it like the reaction was completely personal, which I think was the right choice, but during it I had a brief flash back to the dream sequence, wondering if this was what the shouting guy was shouting about, and I think that dulled the edge of it a little).
In this case I am sorry to say I have to strongly disagree.
My thoughts regarding the movie are closer to io9’s, here:
No worries; if we all liked the same thing it would be boring.
You’re right, it wasn’t as bad as the critics said, but it was very dark. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are dark too, but they were fun. Superman v Batman wasn’t fun.