Read part one of this series from Jacob Davis by clicking here.
“Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.”
I couldn’t have put it more succinctly than Clark’s editor, Perry White.
Hot off the heels of Man of Steel, Zack Snyder jumped right back in to develop the disasterpiece that is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice without even bothering to establish the aforementioned Bat. You’ll hear the typical moans and groans from people, but my loathing for Batman and Superman in this film is so much deeper. What do these heroes stand for? What is their motivation? Does anyone care?
I don’t care about this Superman, that’s for sure. When I think of Superman, my thoughts go immediately to Superman 2 (the Donner Cut, ironically). There should be a cheese factor to Superman. He stands for truth, justice and the American way! He’s the consummate good guy. What is he in this film? He’s dour and moody; the love child of Dr. Manhattan and Edward Cullen. When he flies off to save a girl during a Dia de los Muertos celebration, his face looks as if someone just pulled into the parking spot he was angling for.
At the core of this Superman is the heavy-handed Christ metaphor. In the biblical narrative, we really only see Jesus struggle when he’s in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asks God to let this cup (his crucifixion) pass from him if it’s the Father’s will. After the intense prayer, Jesus goes on and does his duty without complaint or divine intervention. Snyder’s Superman is perpetually in the garden whining and moaning about Batman to his editor; and despite having all of his power he seems almost impotent. What were the writers shooting for? Does Superman all of a sudden have an aversion to stopping bad guys after he snapped Zod’s neck?
The worst thing about this Superman is the weird libertarian undercurrent. From Ma Kent’s downhome wisdom (“You don’t owe the world a thing, Clark”) to Superman’s lack of respect for government institutions, it’s easy to pick up on where the worldview of our late Superman comes from. There’s an entire scene about it in Man of Steel, where Clark’s dad refuses to let Clark rescue him from a tornado because the free market decided to kill him or something. Superman’s defiant stroll into a hearing in Batman v Superman is only missing a line where he mentions how the gold fringe on the flag makes it an admiralty court while yelling about whether or not he’s being detained. Why is there even a political bent to Superman? Look, it’s clear Superman is supposed to be a good guy, but he also isn’t the protagonist and doesn’t even do that much good.
His motivation throughout the film is solely a dislike for Batman. That’s literally all. It’s because Batman is a vigilante (ironic) and targets the poor, I think. It isn’t very nuanced, and there’s nothing exciting or tense about the multiple scenes with Clark in the newsroom complaining that he can’t start his written crusade against the Dark Knight. I dream of the day I rewatch the film and he just gets stabbed with the kryptonite spear.
Speaking of kryptonitic tools, Ben Affleck is one of the few things I don’t hate in this film. Despite Batman’s shoddy establishment and questionable characterization, I want to praise Affleck. He brought some level of likability to this film. He’s very charismatic as Bruce Wayne, while also having the frame and chin to be a believable Batman. I feel his hatred and rage towards Superman. There’s life in this character, as opposed to Henry Cavill’s wooden performance.
In an odd shift from Man of Steel, Batman becomes the primary protagonist. We watch his origin (what a waste of Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and then we watch him drive around in the Man of Steel climax. These are the first two scenes of the film. The latter arguably establishes Superman as the antagonist. However, Batman proceeds to be the bad guy of the film for almost the entirety, and nobody talks about that.
Everyone talks about Batman’s murderous streak. Batman’s kill count ends up at twenty-one by the end of the film. That’s a little jarring after Nolan made Batman’s no-kill policy such a big thing in his films. He also begins branding people and stealing from people. There’s very little establishing of the “why,” though. He’ll make allusions to the Joker or films that happened in the past twenty years we didn’t get to see, but those are patches on a hull of a sinking ship. You can give throwaway lines in throwaway films, or show a Robin suit covered in laughter after we’ve seen that movie. Otherwise, it’s laziness. Why didn’t we get a full Batman film? Why don’t I really get to understand what this Batman has been through? He spends this entire film trying to kill someone we know isn’t a bad guy. All they needed was a little communication and the whole conflict would be avoided.
What I love about Batman, and it’s something that carries over into this film somehow, is that he is the most identifiable superhero in existence. He’s the perfect representation of man who also happens to fight literal gods using his ingenuity, prep-time and perseverance. Batman maintains a semblance of a moral code, but also fills our lust for vengeance and justice. It’s also incredible how so many can identify with him despite his wealth. Batman transcends class because his goal is utterly human; protecting his city.
No matter how decent Affleck was or how much I root for Batman, I ultimately don’t care because the conflict feels forced (and before you say it’s supposed to be because Lex orchestrated it, don’t). Batman and Superman are the pinnacle of superhero myth (if Marvel’s Iron Man and Captain America haven’t displaced them), so watching them seething, and listening to their whining, gets old. There isn’t a contrast between them because they’re both darker versions of themselves existing in a darker world. When they fight in The Dark Knight Returns, it’s a battle of freedom vs fascism. What do they represent here? A Nietzschean view of man’s relationship to god? That doesn’t really work since it turns out we do need Superman. Are they merely marketing objects used to get butts in seats? I’d opt for that explanation. Nobody should care about Clark Kent taking on the Batman, because Clark is Ayn Rand in a onesie and Batman is a character wholly reliant on meta knowledge to understand how he isn’t the bad guy. Their conflict is that Zack Snyder and company needed a plot.
Part three is where the real fun begins. I will be breaking down the first half of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice scene-by-scene, dissecting everything that I dislike about this film.