Batman v Superman: Thoughts on our newest caped crusader

First off, I don’t think Batman v Superman was a terrible movie. There were moments in there that genuinely set my heart a-singing. Things that felt like they were true to the characters I’ve known and loved for years. There were also things that deviated from the comics considerably, some of which I was willing to accept – albeit with a fair bit of cringing.

But I also think the film’s biggest failing was communicated best by the people who were sitting behind me in the theatre. A large group of friends who had booked an entire row for themselves, were frantically trying to figure out what was going on during the film’s intermission. They spent all fifteen minutes attempting to string together a relatively coherent sequence of events and failed miserably at it.

At the end of the movie, while they were walking out, one of them said, “Batman was good.” Then he paused and added, “Lots of explosions too.” Everyone nodded at the first and laughed at the second. I think he was absolutely right, though.

That sums it up best, I think. Batman was good; there was much kaboomery. There were other good things too – but let’s talk about Batman first.

Ben Affleck made a great Batman, I thought

And above all other things in the DCEU I’m now looking forward to the solo Batman movie. (Snyder’s association with the Justice League film has robbed me of all my hope for it.)

Ben Affleck brought a weariness and rage to the Batman that I would actually expect from one who doesn’t have a Robin. In one of the comics – I think it was A Death in the Family – when Tim Drake sees Batman getting angrier and nastier after Robin disappears, he realises that Batman needs Robin as a sort of counterbalance to the rage.

Update: Yep, it was A Death in the Family; here’s a reference pic.

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It makes sense to me that Batman would go off the deep end if he never replaced the Robin he lost; I simply didn’t expect the movie to use Batman in such a mass-murdery sort of way.

And Batman’s murderous tendencies and blatant disregard for human life has been brought up so many times by many other people after the movie’s release that I find it especially strange that Warner Bros. and DC didn’t see it coming.

The thing that has always drawn Batman and Superman together is the fact that, at their core, they share the same set of values. Both grew up with a profound respect for the sanctity of all life and, when you take that away, what makes them heroes? What gives them common ground for respect and, over time, a genuine friendship?

Their mother’s goddamn names? Really? One of the most enduring friendships in the DC universe is based on the fact that their mothers had the same name? Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh ugh guh.

What’s funny, though, is that I feel like I should have seen this coming. In Man of Steel, rather than helping Clark understand how much good he was capable of, Pa Kent’s thread of thought was, “Eh, let busloads of kids die ’cause the world isn’t ready for you.” And if they managed to get the world’s biggest boy scout wrong, it shouldn’t be surprising that they decided to leave all of Batman’s morals by the wayside as well.

Wouldn’t want silly things like heroism to get in the way of punching stuff, would we? No sir, not at all.

Has Zach Snyder even read the comics? Sometimes I wonder.

I chalk the Batman’s murderous tendencies up to Znyder not really reading the comics he professes to be staying true to, the scriptwriters’ inability to distinguish between ‘edgy’ and ‘bloody’, and the fact that whoever approved the script at either DC or Warner Bros. or both was probably magnificently drunk on that day.

Proof to me that Snyder either hasn’t read or doesn’t understand the comics at all, is a scene near the end when Batman rescues Ma Kent. There’s a clear attempt to replicate a couple of panels from The Dark Knight Returns – below, for reference. But there’s never a clear indication in the comic that it was a killing shot and from all of the reading I’ve done over the years, the general consensus is that it was meant to wound, and was probably a bullet to the shoulder. I think Miller left the sequence deliberately ambiguous, perhaps to provoke discussion?

Here’s Frank Miller’s version of the sequence.

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Snyder’s version leaves no question about the fate of the person shot, which makes no sense at all. In Milller’s comic, the bullet seems as though it was never meant to kill. It was a simply, albeit eloquently-made argument delivered via high-speed lead. And if it had been executed as it was shown in the comics, it would have been a fascinating talking point rather than just another disappointment.

Contrary to what Snyder said throughout the development process, he didn’t give us Frank Miller’s Batman from The Dark Knight Returns. Slapping a similar suit on him and stealing a couple of lines of dialogue wholesale does little to realise the character on screen. What we actually got was an even more insane, bat-shit crazier version of the Dark Knight from All Star Batman and Robin. And I don’t think Snyder even realises how badly he messed that up.

His idea of ‘Batman v Superman’ was about choreography, not motivation

I’ll talk about this in another article, but Batman v Superman had a very ‘by the numbers’ feel. A certain number of things had to be stuffed into the movie in order to set up the Justice League and the only real criteria for the movie’s release was that each item on the list be ticked off.

The thinnest, weakest possible reasons for the fight were shoehorned into the movie, as if audiences would somehow fail to notice as long as the fight was a big enough spectacle. But good reasons wouldn’t have been hard to find even if the scriptwriters and Snyder weren’t feeling up to coming up with something original.

I wrote here that they could have drawn from The Tower of Babel but, failing that, there was always All Star Batman and Robin, which already feels as though it influenced Batman’s character much more than The Dark Knight Returns. If you’ve read it, think of the Batman and Green Lantern sequence and then tweak it to fit Superman there instead. That works too.

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There are plenty of reasons for Batman and Superman to get into a fight, especially in the early days of their careers. Hell, even the World’s Finest episodes of the Superman animated series could have been used as reference points because they did an excellent job of introducing the two heroes to each other.

The movie’s stories just haven’t been working so far – not because they deviate too far from the spirit of the characters, which may actually be okay, but because they simply don’t make sense.

Will Ben Affleck’s solo movie do better?

God, I hope so. I’m tempted to say that it couldn’t get any worse. But then I remember I said the same thing to myself about George Lucas when he gave us “I hate sand” in Attack of the Clones, and he followed that up with “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.” So I’ve clearly been wrong before.

But hey, Affleck was a good Batman. So maybe, just maybe, he’ll dig up some of the better Batman comics out there that will help with the foreshadowing of a crisis event – I’m expecting a Crisis on Infinite Earths + Final Crisis mashup – and use material that’s been well-received as a reference.

I used to hope that DC movies would be able to offer something genuinely different from but no less engaging than everything Marvel’s put on the big screen till date. After Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, that hope is getting an awful lot harder to hold on to.

Trevor Coelho

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