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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

BatmanSuperman1,416 words

In any matchup between Batman and Superman, I side with Batman. I’ve never liked the character of Superman, because he is not a man at all. He’s basically a god. He’s not a human being who has raised himself to the pinnacles of human excellence. He’s an alien who is simply endowed with superior abilities. There is nothing heroic about Superman, because he is almost invulnerable. He faces no risks. There’s nothing he must struggle to overcome.

Batman, however, is a true Nietzschean superman, a man who has made himself more than a man, a man who faces injury, death, and imprisonment night after night in order to fight evil. I don’t want to live in a godless universe, but frankly I would prefer that we make ourselves into gods rather than find them readymade.

I didn’t like Zack Synder’s first Superman movie, Man of Steel, so I had very low expectations for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That said, for the first 80% of Batman v Superman, I found myself thinking this is a pretty good movie. Zack Snyder would be a great silent movie director, and the opening credit sequence (based on Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight graphic novel) is pure poetry. The first appearance of the Batman is genuinely terrifying. There is a great nightmare sequence in which Batman fights against Superman’s henchmen who are dressed as Nazi soldiers while giant cockroach-Valkyries whisk the fallen to some sort of hellish Valhalla. The directing, editing, and special effects throughout are superb. Hans Zimmer’s score, moreover, is one of his better efforts. But for all that, at about the 2-hour mark, the movie became ludicrous, unintelligible, and uninvolving.

The movie is set about two years after Man of Steel. The public is souring on Superman. Sure, he saved the earth from the Kryptonians, but a lot was destroyed in the process. And maybe the Kryptonians came here because of him. And he is one of them too. How can we trust him? How do we know he will always be benevolently disposed to us? Is Superman outside the law? Shouldn’t he have to follow the same laws as the rest of us? Superman may look human, but he is not. Shouldn’t we fear a god who has no real attachment humanity?

Three of Superman’s critics are Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter), billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, whose characterization is a cross between Zorg from The Fifth Element and the Joker from The Dark Knight), and billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who moonlights as Batman. For his part, Superman’s alter-ego, Clark Kent, sees Batman as a dangerous vigilante. There are also conflicts between Luthor and Senator Finch, who refuses to allow him to import kryptonite, and between Luthor and Batman, who steals the kryptonite after it is smuggled in.

Conflict, of course, is the stuff of good plots. But characterization is essential too. Unfortunately, Luthor’s motives are the murkiest, which is unfortunate, because he drives the entire plot. Luthor gets Lois Lane taken hostage by African revolutionaries, knowing Superman will come to her rescue. Then he has mercenaries massacre the guerrillas, and Superman is blamed. Luthor tries to acquire kryptonite to use against Superman, but it is blocked by Finch then stolen by Batman. Luthor bombs a Senate hearing at which Superman is testifying. Superman, of course, survives but is humiliated and disappears for a while.

When Superman returns, Luthor gets Batman and Superman to fight one another. Batman, however, is prepared for the fight with new armor and kryptonite weapons, which significantly weaken Superman. However, when Batman is poised to kill Superman with a kryptonite spear, he pauses at the last minute when Superman says “Martha,” his mother’s name—which, coincidentally, is the name of Bruce Wayne’s mother as well. Then Lois Lane arrives to explain that Superman has been blackmailed into fighting Batman by Luthor, who has kidnapped Martha Kent. Then the two superheroes unite to fight Luthor and rescue Martha.

Now, this sort of peripety is the stuff of classic drama and grand opera and Bollywood. Yes, it is ludicrous when stated baldly, but it doesn’t have to seem that way. It could have been handled well. It almost works as it is. But it also marks the point when the movie stopped working.

After Superman and Batman team up to fight Luthor, he unleashes his final assault. Using technology from a crashed Kryptonian vessel, Luthor has created a monster (basically an electrified version of Peter Jackson’s cave trolls) that is capable of destroying Superman.

Batman and Superman are then joined in their epic battle by Wonder Woman, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot. Although I admit that my reaction is not entirely rational, given the amount of disbelief I had already suspended, I found the addition of another superhero intensely annoying. I had the same reaction to Twilight. I was fine with the vampires but thought the whole thing was ruined by adding werewolves.

Superman realizes that the troll, like him, is vulnerable only to kryptonite, so he uses Batman’s kryptonite spear to kill it. Unfortunately, using the spear also weakens Superman, whom the beast kills in its death throes.

To my great surprise, when Batman began to deploy his kryptonite weapons against Superman, weakening him to the point that he could have been killed, I found myself liking Superman more. It makes sense, though, because to be vulnerable is to be human. But to fight on in spite of vulnerability is true heroism. Before this, Superman may have been super, but he was no hero, because he was invulnerable. Invulnerable men, however, do not face risks, require virtues, or make sacrifices. And when at the movie’s climax Superman risks death and then actually dies to save us, it had a real emotional punch. And when all the whooshing and zapping dies down and the movie shifts into dénouement mode, it somewhat recovers.

Lex Luthor is imprisoned (and when his head is shaved looks like a rat), Superman is memorialized, Clark Kent is buried back in Kansas, and Batman joins Wonder Woman to search for other “metahumans” like herself, since after Superman’s death the earth is vulnerable to other threats that lie beyond. I smell francise.

But it appears that they will have some help after all, for in the last shot of the film, a few particles of earth thrown on the lid of Clark Kent’s coffin begin to levitate. Yes, that’s right, Superman did not just die to save mankind, he will rise from the dead to continue the fight. This confirms Gregory Hood’s reading of Man of Steel as offering Superman as an Aryan warrior Christ.

Superman’s experience of vulnerability to kryptonite was, in effect, his incarnation—his descent from being an immortal god to being a mortal man—in order that he could die for our salvation. And his impending resurrection is a return to divine status, although this time he will also have a connection to humanity, because he lived and died as one of us, which makes him far less threatening.

Zack Snyder is an extraordinarily talented director. Watchmen remains the greatest superhero movie ever made. But it had an excellent script, a script that even improved upon the original graphic novel. The best director in the world can’t overcome a bad script though, and Snyder’s recent works, from Sucker Punch to the Superman movies, suffer from bad scripts.

In terms of performances, Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor was more a collection of quirks than a character. Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck look better than they act. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman isn’t even good-looking.

The Christian allegory in Snyder’s Superman films is an interesting dimension. Batman v Superman is relatively free of political correctness. But it is also free of the philosophical depth and Rightist political themes of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Although the portrayal of Luthor as a shrimpy, neurotic, fast-talking Jewboy who manipulates two hulking white superheroes into trying to kill each other does have an archetypal quality that gives one pause.

After a strong opening week, Batman v Superman sank like kryptonite. Let’s hope it is the end of the franchise and Zack Snyder finds a better outlet for his considerable talent. He’s actually talking about remaking The Fountainhead, for instance. (Snyder and Christopher Nolan would be among my top picks for a proper Atlas Shrugged adaptation as well.) Until then, he remains on artistic probation.

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  1. Ulric
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 5:49 pm | Permalink
  2. Posted May 25, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I thought the film was unintelligible from the beginning.

  3. Posted May 25, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Esoterically, the spear has a very important connotation. Superman is a solar Messiah, son of heaven, nurtured by a yellow sun. When Christ, the solar messiah, was crucified, his body was pierced by the spear of Longinus. Batman designed a spear to pierce the body of the aforementioned solar god, but not before fighting him at night, in the darkness, a hostile environment for this God who receives his energy from the Yellow Sun. Paradoxically, the spear is, par excellence, the predilected weapon of the solar warrior-god: Odin carrying Gungnir, St. George slaying the Lunar Dragon with his spear, Perun killing Veles to send him back to the Sea (chaos). The best choice to kill a God is the weapon of a God.

    The Gods also bleed.

    • Peter Quint
      Posted May 26, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I want to add Hagen who kills the hero Siegfried in “The Ring Of The Nibelungenlied,” with a spear.

  4. Nestor
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Great observations. I enjoyed this film far more than you did. Actually, I rank it only below TDKR among Batman movies — better than Nolan’s previous installments, with the overrated Joker of TDK and with the at-times clumsy Batman Begins.

    I find the BvS depiction of Wayne/Batman in particular to improve on the Nolan films, in which Bale played Wayne/Batman far too “normal,” especially with his weird fixation on the useless Rachel Dawes character. Affleck’s Wayne/Batman is darker and more obsessed, which better suits the character.

    Mind you, I enjoyed MOS. I generally dislike Superman, but Snyder’s interpretation is a good one — the only good one. Certainly thoughI side with Batman over Superman, for the very reasons that you identify.

    The only things that I dislike in this movie are the monster-battle ending (so they wind up fighting the Electro-Hulk? It’s a very Marvel kind of finale, which is not a good thing), and the Jim-Carrey-ish performance that Eisenberg used as Luthor.

    But in all, a better BvS movie could hardly have been made. Consider all the rubbish that this movie avoided:

    -no Robin (thank god)
    -minimal political correctness (astonishing, in this day and age)
    -no pseudo-Nazis-as-bad-guys, which is the case in almost every single Marvel movie
    -no camp (a Marvel staple)
    -no feminist anti-male speechifying from Wonder Woman

    And the Batman-vs-goons fights, which were clearly visible, were far superior to Nolan’s jerky muddles of quick cuts and close-ups.

    Oh, and as an aide, while the Watchmen movie made some improvements on the source material, it also botched other elements. Rorschach decrying “tricky Dick” is leftist pandering (the real Rorschach would have admired Nixon); Rorschach at times behaved like an unhinged madman, whereas in the source material he was a bit grimmer and lethal in a quieter way; and the entire talky reveal of Ozymandias’s origins was dismal, compared to the far superior Ozy origin sequence of the comic book.

    Wishing Snyder away from this franchise would only guarantee that the next JL films will be Marvel-level awful, as the franchise would (or will) go to Geoff Johns — the man responsible for the execrable Green Lantern movie. Try watching some of the recent animated DC films based on Geoff Johns’s material. We’re talking near-Superfriends levels of stupidity.

    Prediction: opinions of BvS will greatly rise over time, as they have for John Carpenter’s THE THING.

  5. Peter Quint
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    “After a strong opening week, Batman v Superman sank like kryptonite.”

    The recent “Fantastic Four” is another example. The jews are so stupid sometimes, casting a black as Johnny Storm. I didn’t even rent it from RedBox, I was so disgusted. The recent “Star Wars” movie is another example, Wagner was right about the jews, they cannot create original art. A gender shift on the protagonist; the dark lord is larger, not more menacing, or original in any way; the death star is simply bigger, and more powerful. The worst character was Kylo Ren an effete, slouching, gawky Darth Vader wannabe. Kylo Ren walks with a rounded shoulder, slightly forward doofis manner. The original Darth Vader had bearing, presence, gravitas, and a certain nobility, he strode into the scenes. Kylo Ren makes you want to slap him, and laugh.

    • Nestor
      Posted May 25, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Agreed on the unimaginable awfulness of The Mary Sue Awakens (sorry, The Force Awakens), which was terribly beyond all belief.

      BvS is a masterpiece by comparison. It is at the opposite end, politically — basically as close to a non-Leftist, near-national-socialist film as can be made in Hollywood. Truth.

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