Naturally, this contains gigantic spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. If you haven’t seen the movie already and don’t want the story (such as it is) spoiled for you, you should go away immediately.
To put it simply, Batman v Superman could have been great.
It started out that way. Despite being profoundly aware of the terrible reviews it had received, despite having been told by a couple of friends whose opinions I trust and value highly that it was terrible, I was actually hopeful when it started.
The setup was incredibly powerful
What little I remember of Man of Steel from when I managed to stay awake long enough to watch the whole bloody thing was how abstract the destruction of a good chunk of Metropolis felt. Superman was flying around, Zod was flying with him, stuff was blowing up. But the opening moments of BvS show what that fight was like on the ground.
Watching it play out through Bruce’s eyes brought a sense of tension and fear to the sequence that Man of Steel didn’t have. In the previous movie, the fight was a spectacle. Here, it was a terrible, terrible thing. And when whatsisname from Wayne Enterprises starts to pray as heat vision is melting the world around him … well, I actually thought – despite everything – that the movie was going to be good.
Because Luthor was one of the movie’s biggest mistakes
Jesse Eisenberg was a terrible Lex Luthor. Terrible. There was moments in which I was genuinely impressed with him, mostly in the first five or ten minutes of his appearance. After that, he just got annoying.
There was no real reason for him to want either Superman or Batman dead, that he was manipulating them both into fighting each other was thoroughly pointless, and he served only to waste time in a movie that felt much too long to begin with.
I didn’t mind his lack of seriousness, the overall goofiness; I thought it was a novel idea, if ridiculous in execution. When a friend and I discussed the earlier trailers, I was of the opinion that Luthor had a public face, his equivalent of a Bruce Wayne that made him come across as eccentric and absurd to hide the frighteningly intelligent villain that he really was.
The truth is tragically that he is absurd all the time and, as a villain, he’s impossible to take seriously. The movie would have better served without him and, if they had drawn from the right material, this would have been a movie that comic book fans in particular would never have forgotten.
Who approves this stuff?
What scares me now about DC’s other movies is that there are people, somewhere in Warner Bros., who are approving these scripts. Who are reading these things and watching first cuts and saying, “Hey, this is good stuff.” When it really, really is not.
And it isn’t like the material for a good movie wasn’t in there. There are moments when, if the dots had been connected right, Batman v Superman could have been pretty damn extraordinary. Snyder and crew wouldn’t have needed to come up with an original script because they could simply have drawn from The Tower of Babel.
The Tower of Babel
This is a JLA story and would have been flat out perfect if this movie was meant to set up the Justice League. The comic deals with supervillains getting their hands on Batman’s files on how to take out the other members of the JLA (if he ever needed to stop them) and then actually using the information to take out the Justice League.
To adapt this to the movie would have required the scriptwriters to give Batman credit for being able to do more than punch things. I mean, seriously – there are other metahumans on Earth besides Superman and Batman doesn’t know? Batman? Do these people even know Batman?
But I digress.
So, to return to the matter at hand
Here’s what Batman v Superman could have been.
Batman’s known about the other metahumans. He’s known for years. And he monitors them regularly. He has his plans, his failsafes, his backups. If he needs to take one of them down, he can. He will.
Then a god falls from the sky. And suddenly, Batman realises that he’s never faced anything quite like this before. The destruction in Metropolis shakes him up. Badly. PTSD? Possibly. He starts to have nightmares. Repeated, terrible nightmares. Not weird, stupidly prophetic ones. Just good old scary-as-all-hell nighmares. Of the fate that has already befallen Metropolis, and of what could happen to the rest of the world.
In Gotham, he gets angrier and angrier. More and more violent. And that brings him to Superman’s attention. During one of his nightly romps, they meet – in much the same way as they did in the movie. Superman delivers his threat, flies away. But all he’s done is make the Batman angrier. And there is very little more dangerous than the Batman with his back to the wall.
He doesn’t know how to bring down a god. But he is the world’s greatest goddamn detective. So he does his digging. He follows the trail that Clark left over the years just as Lois did in Man of Steel. Not as himself, of course, because Bruce Wayne is much too recognisable. He pokes around as Matches Malone, maybe, or one of the other identities he’s set up over the years.
He figures out that Clark Kent is Superman. He learns what he can of the Last Son of Krypton. He visits the remains of Zod’s ship, he learns of Krypton’s fate, finds kryptonite.
And all the while, he gets angrier and nastier and more and more brutal until Superman realises he has no choice but to stop Batman. Superman lights the bat-signal. Batman has been expecting it. Just like in The Dark Knight Returns, he has everything he needs to break the Man of Steel down piece by piece.
So they fight and Batman gets the upper hand. The last card he has left to play is a kryptonite bullet. Straight to the head, delivered to a Superman so weak that even he wouldn’t be able to dodge it in time. He prepares himself to fire.
And then – and this is honestly where I got stuck – something happens. I just don’t know what that something is. But something has to happen to make him see that his entire crusade began because of a man with a gun. And now, he finds himself become the very thing that he set out to destroy.
So he stops. Realising how far he has already gone, and how much further he nearly went, he stops.
He does not stop because his mother and Superman’s mother have the same goddamn name. He stops because he remembers what it means to be the Batman. He remembers that the Batman stands for something. And that he forgot it along the way. And that perhaps, just perhaps, Superman was never his enemy to begin with.
There needs to be an ideological difference
That’s the only reason that’s good enough to put these two heroes – genuine goddamn heroes – into an arena and make them battle it out. And it boggles the mind that the scriptwriters behind Batman v Superman could not recognise something as profoundly simple and as straightforward as this.
They didn’t need Doomsday. God, they didn’t need Doomsday at all.
They didn’t need Luthor. Bruce Wayne could have served a very similar role – minus the kidnapping of mothers and general insanity – and it would have been much more powerful because we would have been watching the Batman fall.
They didn’t need Lois Lane. She does very little besides be kidnapped so that Superman can rescue her. She tosses away the kryptonite spear only to try to retrieve it later – and why did she think to get it, by the way? How in the world did it make sense for her to realise that the spear was needed?
They didn’t need to kidnap Ma Kent. That made such little sense. Superman can hear Lois thumping against debris underwater and he knows it’s her but he can’t hear his mother scream as he’s begin kidnapped? He deserved to die at the end of Batman v Superman for being such an enormous dick of a son.
They didn’t need to complicate what could have been a genuinely good movie. Because, like I said, the elements were all there. Combine the right bits of The Dark Knight Returns with an intelligent adaptation of The Tower of Babel, focusing on Batman’s paranoia and how increasingly on the edge his solitary crusade has made him over the years, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a story.
Whew, I’m done. More or less.
I feel like I might write again about everything that this movie got right and wrong. Some things were praiseworthy, like Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Some things were worse than I could have ever imagined, like Henry Cavill’s three facial expressions – grumpy, scowling, and dead. But for the moment, I’m done.
And I feel the need to say only one thing in conclusion – DC, if your scriptwriters can’t come up with a half-decent screenplay, tell them to shove off. You have decades – decades! – of genuinely incredible material. All you need to do is tell the right goddamn stories.