In part 1 E. Stephen Burnett, Austin Gunderson, and Kerry Nietz explored the first five myths about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now for the conclusion.
Caution: Heavy spoilers ensue.
6. Lois Lane and other supporting heroes make stupid and senseless choices.
This complaint isn’t without merit, as Lois Lane repeatedly demonstrates an astonishing disregard for her own safety. However, when you factor in her seemingly boundless and fully-justified faith in the search-and-rescue capabilities of her superpowered boyfriend, the intrepid-reporter schtick makes a whole lot more sense.
I’ve seen some people criticize the blow-by-blow sequence of events at the film’s climax as a cluster of plot devices. But this is largely unfair, and, as with much of the MoS criticism, revelatory of a lazily privileged perspective that doesn’t account for the realities of actual combat. Actual combat is messy, desperate, uncontrolled, terrifying, and confusing. It takes years of training or experience to be able to keep your cool and think logically under circumstances in which someone else is trying to kill you. Decisions made in the moment and under great duress shouldn’t be nitpicked by comfortable armchair quarterbacks who know all the facts and have the advantage of hindsight.
That said, it was a genuinely stupid move for Batman to cast aside his Kryptonite spear and then leave it lying there to be disposed of by Lois Lane. Yes, he was emotionally distraught. Yes, he was likely concerned that his continued possession thereof would be taken as an act of bad faith by the god he’d just decided to spare. Yes, he didn’t know that he’d need it again in a few minutes. Those justifications don’t outweigh the fact that tossing it aside would allow Luthor to reacquire it, which would be bad news.
So yes, in that moment, Batman made a mistake. Inconceivable! (Actually, totally conceivable.)
Moving on from that point, the rest of it makes perfect sense. Bats & Supes first attempt to take down Doomsday by conventional means, which fail. Then the best that human technology has to offer also fails. (Let us not forget that when Supes sees the missile gaining on him, and then keeps punching Doomsday, he’s demonstrating the same self-sacrificial inclination that’ll get consummated just a little later on.) Only then does Batman realize that the spear might have a chance.
Batman’s decision to lure Doomsday back to the spear instead of taking the spear to Doomsday has also fallen under criticism. But this is stupid. Look at the situation: you’ve got a situation that’s totally out of control, and an adversary of great speed whose motives are unknown. You can either control the adversary’s movements by getting it to chase you, or you can just leave the battlefield and hope it’s still there when you get back. So Batman makes the prudent tactical decision. If Batman had just left and then Doomsday had plunged into the ocean and vanished, all the critics would’ve got on Batman’s case for letting Doomsday get away to fight another day. There’s just no winning with some people.
Back to Lois Lane. Why does she dispose of the Kryptonite spear? Because she’s smart. Why does she go back for it later? Because she’s smart. When a bunch of smart people tackle the same problem without communicating with each other, they’re gonna run into a lot of problems. And that’s exactly what happened during the climax of “BvS.”
Which is probably why Batman wants to organize a Justice League. So the outfielders don’t smack into each other when going after the same fly ball.
E. Stephen Burnett
I would agree with all that, with the caveat that some of these apparent gaps may get filled in with the film’s Ultimate Edition, releasing this summer. Zack Snyder recently said the original film was 3 hours long, with postproduction and effects finished. The edits came much later in production (as we saw with the deleted scene released literally the Monday after opening weekend).
But yes, all those choices do seem to make a lot more sense than nitpickers might originally suspect. How did Lois know to try the spear? Duh, because she rushed into that building and saw her invulnerable hero about to be slain by it. She knew Superman has weaknesses, given their mutual encounter with Kryptonian atmosphere in Man of Steel. The deduction is easy to make. Or there’s a deleted scene that spells it out even more.
Anyway, it’s ultimately a silly example, given the many plot holes that occur in similar films. Batman v Superman just happens to catch it because a whole lot of people seem eager (not by conspiracy but humanity) simply want to pile on.1
I would also point out that many problems like this get sharpened when people see the film a second time. How many of us have been browsing an IMDB page and seen the section marked “incorrectly regarded as goofs”? Every movie has editing, effects, and continuity errors. But sometimes people think they’ve found the Ultimate Mistake that turns out to be their mistake. As to whether people felt the choices were reasonable, especially during combat — yes, that’s armchair-quarterbacking in the extreme.
I’m especially persuaded by Austin’s explanation of Batman’s tactical decision. When you’re fighting an enemy you must determine the enemy’s motivation! If Batman had tried to leave, the creature would have simply followed him, or gone off somewhere to wreak mindless destruction.
Honestly, I think a lot of this is like the complaining about Peter Jackson’s infamous “high frame rate” experiments. HFR is not everyone’s cup of tea. But the only reason people say it’s “unrealistic” is because it was “different.” In fact real life has a far higher “frame rate” than 24 FPS. We’re simply not used to seeing this in movies. So, complaining about it as “unrealistic” makes about as much sense as complaining about sweeping helicopter shots because wide scene backgrounds are supposed to stay put like matte paintings.
I think I have to give Batman more leeway on the spear thing. If you remember, at the moment he abandoned it, time was of the essence. He had a very specific mission, and there were literally minutes to spare. He doubtless assumed he could come clean up later … and then Doomsday.
E. Stephen Burnett
P.S.: Also, why haven’t we been complaining all along about all the Batarangs, Bat-grapples, Batcape pieces, Bat-blades, and even Bat-blood he leaves around? I mean, as Amanda Waller once said, his DNA ends up all over town …
E. Stephen Burnett
See also: Spider-Man’s web. All right, I’m done …
7. Lex Luthor was ridiculous, over-acted, and had no motivation for his villainy.
Lex Luthor was perfect. Next!
Okay, okay, I’ll address this. First of all, yeah, those hoping for a bald old fuddy-duddy were disappointed. Instead, we get Young Lex, son of the fuddy-duddy and a villain for our time. This is his origin story; remember, he’s bald by the end. And for what he’s supposed to be and to represent, Jesse Eisenberg plays him perfectly.
Who are the billionaire CEOs of this age, the modern analogs of the Carnegies or Rockefellers? Why, those would be the Zuckerbegs, the Jobses, and the Bezoses. The young, hip titans of the Internet, with their secular chic, technocratic flair, and dreams of automating everything. These are the scary people, the people with the power. Aren’t we all sick of stuffy, suited industrialists and their glossy-boardroom scheming? Hasn’t that been done to death already?
Young Lex represents a compromise between the old and new: he inherited a fortune and then made the transition to an open-air collaborative studio with candy-bowls strewn about and basketball courts down the hall. He gets to simultaneously enjoy personal prestige and pedigree, and retire to a lavish gothic crypt whenever his vaguely spiritual threats require Victorian visual aids. It’s the best (worst?) of both worlds.
As for his villainous motivation, that’s even better. Unlike the dime-a-dozen corporatist baddies proliferating Hollywood, Lex anchors his angst in a coherent worldview. If God can’t be all-powerful and all-good, as the amateur philosophers so often tell us, then it stands to reason that the apparently all-powerful Superman, who in this film stands in for God, cannot be trusted. In humiliating Supes, Lex is striking back at the sovereign God who allowed him to be humiliated, once. And in gaining leverage over the Kryptonian, Lex is asserting his own place upon God’s throne. No self-serving deity will lord it over Luthor, oh no! Lex is in control, now. Lex is his own god.
And if you think that sounds outlandish, you should read what atheists write. I applaud Zack Snyder for taking their pronouncements at face value in such dramatic fashion.
Yes, it is interesting here that much of Lex’s power comes from the information he has collected. This is a first for the movie Lex’s, I think. He is dangerous first because of what he knows about he heroes, not because of what he does. (The doing comes later.) This makes him a perfect villain for our times, I think, when we suspect (know) that governments and corporations are always gathering information on us, and that people and companies can be destroyed only through the wrong use of information. I also think it is interesting that this Lex makes the common argument that God cannot be all powerful and yet all good. This discounts any allowance for the free will of humans, of course. Plus, there’s the issue of where a good God, with infinite power, should stop were He to decide to stop all evil.
Yes, yes, the information element is key. Why does Luthor become part of the action? Because he uses the resources at his disposal to unlock the secrets of the Kryptonians. And the very first thing he does when at last he gains access is to learn everything he can about Krypton. In the end, every advantage the heroes have is something they’ve stolen from Luthor: the Kryptonite, of course, and even the knowledge of each other’s existence, which Luthor had been collecting on his own. This reflects the strength of a Google or Facebook: gather and organize enough data and eventually you’ll rule the world.
Yes, and wouldn’t it be something if it turns out that his quest for information is what unleashes an even greater evil in the movies to come?
The conclusion seems to hint at that, what with “the bell” having been rung, and that delightful quip about the dark between the stars. The whole thing reminds me of the villains of That Hideous Strength and their self-deluding enthrallment to The Head. They think they’re just manipulating nature, but in reality they’re prostrating themselves before demonic powers.
Kinda like that one time in the Garden of Eden. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
No, I did not!
Christian Bale Batman voice:
WHEEERE IS IT?!?
E. Stephen Burnett
Wow, how did you miss that?
I dunno … is it online?
E. Stephen Burnett
Note: This is clearly set after the climactic battle, but before Lex’s imprisonment (and perhaps before Superman’s funerals).
Oh yes, this one is brimming with spiritual parallels. Just look at it.
E. Stephen Burnett
That’s actually very apt. Very apt indeed.
We’ve lost our discussion format here, temporarily, but no, keep rolling.
Fans did the research. The devil-like creature is either a general of Darkseid or else Darkseid’s father. This gets into territory I do not know, though I’m familiar with Darkseid from the “Justice League” series (and the very end of the sadly not-renewed “Young Justice” season 2!).
Also made an appearance in the last season of “Smallville.”
E. Stephen Burnett
More about Lex: I have a new habit of arguing with people on the internet who are wrong about this movie and “Man of Steel.” In particular, they do not (or cannot) understand this sort of villainy, either for General Zod or now Lex Luthor. I dislike story snobbery of all sorts. Yet I can’t help but think these evil motives simply fly over people’s heads—as opposed to, say, “spoiled younger brother” a la Loki.
For instance, one internet chap said Luthor had no motivation and made no sense. I asked if he heard Luthor’s monologue on the roof. (Superman is a sly dog who can get villains monologuing!) This critical viewer’s reply? Well, he had stopped listening at that point because the dialogue was so “over the top.” Fine, that’s a valid (yet subjective) opinion, but it doesn’t justify any objective judgment of “Luthor’s motivations made no sense!” They make perfect sense. But you can’t expect the story to spoon-feed it to you, especially if you close your mouth.
All three of us seem to recognize: Luthor’s motives made perfect sense. But maybe it’s because of bad doctrine — humans aren’t that bad? — that we are not willing to accept that kind of villainy. People had trouble with The Joker too. I recall even Christian writers saying The Joker’s motives made no sense. They did not seem to believe what the film dared to say: “some men just want to watch the world burn.” Yet Luthor, with his half-formed new “religion,” makes even more sense.
By the way, here is at least one interview with Lex Luthor that I believe is canon.
Well, it makes sense. After all, the postmodern secular deconstructionist can’t even make sense of the motives driving those who’re trying to blow him up in real life. After all, there’s no way that real-world conflict could possibly be driven by something as black-and-white as a religious difference … it’s gotta be something more nuanced … like sociopolitical unrest due to lack of education … or climate change … or … or …
E. Stephen Burnett
Or an otherworldly-alien-god younger brother complex, e.g. just kids fighting in the back seat. That’s understandable. That’s accessible. Aw, but look, Loki died, and that makes him tragic and empathetic and not wholly evil, right? …
I snark. I actually enjoy the Marvel films a lot. (Austin is rubbing off on me.) But we ought to make room for stories with broader, more challenging, more realistic themes.
8. BvS jumps around, is too serious, doesn’t follow Superhero Movie Rules, isn’t predictable(?).
I didn’t feel that the story jumped around at all, with the exception of the Justice League setup scenes, which were a necessary annoyance. Other than that, it unfolded with a dark and considered grace from one movement to the next.
We begin with Batman, which is right because it’s the first time we’ve seen him in the DCEU. We relive his past, and the events of MoS from his point of view. We establish Supes’ relationship with Lois and the fact that he’s being framed as a loose cannon all in one fell swoop. Then we go deeper into Bruce Wayne’s head, follow him in his pursuit of the mysterious crime syndicate that is Lexcorp, follow Lois in her pursuit of the same object from a different angle, introduce Luthor and follow him as he plays everyone like a string section, run Batman smack into Supes’ brick wall, frame Supes for the attack on the capital and out Luthor as the mastermind, deftly weave Diana Prince into the mix, convince Supes that it’s just not worth it anymore, ramp up Batman’s paranoia, crystalize the ideological conflict between Luthor and Superman, bring Batman’s coopted conflict with Supes to a head and then diffuse it, and then let loose with lots and lots of fighting: Bats vs goons; Supes vs Dooms; Bats vs Dooms; Wonders vs Dooms; Lois and Supes vs water; Supes, Bats, and Wonders vs Dooms; climax; denouement.
Not for one moment did I feel lost within the story, because there wasn’t a moment in which the plot wasn’t being driven by the characters involved. If that violates Superhero Movie Rules, then I hope those “rules” get tossed out on their ear. This genre is stagnant; it needs innovation and authenticity
E. Stephen Burnett
I spent a lot of time on this in my review at Christ and Pop Culture, so I’ll e-cycle:
Some viewers charge BvS with violations of superhero movie “law”: over-seriousness, failure to be “fun,” pretentiousness, bad religion, and the highest crime of being “dark.”
I want to appreciate these assumptions and respond with Nuance. But given the nature of disproportionate accusations against BvS, I also want to jab fingers and shout trap questions at prosecutors. I would start by demanding proof for our possible assumptions:
- Why may we assume a pretentious notion like “superhero stories are for children”?
- Why may we assume an artificial sacred-vs.-secular sort of divide between superhero fantasy and serious things such as culture, literature, philosophy, politics, and theology?
- Why may we assume a barrier of laws between “deep artistic films that wrestle with complex themes and unanswered questions” and “superhero movies that can be well-made, but must begin and end with Fun and never take anything too seriously”?
These are discussions we must have and are having, in-depth and seriously, thanks to these DC stories. This alone ought to give some critics pause and ask if these stories have value.
[…] Its storytellers ask us to try a new way. They propose a long-term investment in “metahuman” individuals who fight in a world that closely (perhaps uncomfortably so) resembles our own. Fun fantasy? Yes, but BvS aspires for greater intricacy. It pauses to explain. It delays action scenes for quiet character moments. It cares about slow buildup to awesome.
9. Personalized attack: Director Zack Snyder sucks, hates Superman, makes pretty images with no weight.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical of Zack Snyder following MoS. There were portions of that movie I loved, portions I thought strange (“What? Pa Kent got killed by a random tornado?”), and portions that I initially didn’t care for. The resolution of Zod, for instance. I thought that thread could’ve been as easily sewn up if they’d all disappeared into the Phantom Zone again. (a la Superman II).
But, upon a second watching I realized there needed to be some climatic battle between Zod and Supes. Which means you have to have a winner, and if there’s a winner, what happens to the loser? (Stephen and Austin have already discussed this at length.)
But I never thought the movie didn’t have weight. In fact, unlike most superhero endeavors—comic books, especially—it was clear that someone put quite a bit of thought into theme and message. One may not agree with the theme, or how it was portrayed. But there is no arguing the movie has weight. Same goes for BvS. There are messages throughout. I’m not sure the same could be said for all Marvel movies. What is the theme of Thor: The Dark World, for instance? Anyone? I’m not even sure what the theme of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is. Second time’s a charm?
I see no indication here that Zack hates Superman. I think he wants to make him as believable and relatable as possible. No easy feat. We could argue about the results, but the intent seems clear. Remember, this was David Goyer’s (Chris Nolan approved) direction for the Man of Steel before Zack became the director. If you want to blame someone, blame the writer.
I’d never seen a Snyder film before MoS — no, not even 300 — which gave me the advantage of going in without negative preconceptions. If anything, I was predisposed to dislike the film, not being a Superman fan myself. So I like to think I appraised it with a fairly open mind.
What I experienced in that theater — and what was then confirmed over the next several viewings — was what I’d always wished a Superman film to be: high fantasy that treated its characters with deep respect and took their beliefs seriously. A beautiful work of art that poured out its heart to the viewer without resorting to sentimentality. A story with weight, with moral heft. A true epic.
I literally wept when Pa Kent held up his hand and was sucked away. I wept because I was there with the characters, fully inside their heads, and I’d accepted that they really believed what they said they believed: that Superman’s powers were real, and that the terrible consequences of their public display outweighed the life of one man. I didn’t start ranting about how the characters could’ve just done something inconsistent with their beliefs in order to make their problems go away, because I knew that’d have turned them into flakes and phonies, and I didn’t want that. I wanted a story I could take seriously, and no story deserves to be taken seriously when it’s own characters reject its seriousness. MoS was the first superhero film I’d seen with that level of emotional realism. And it ended up being a rather emotional experience for me.
So with that in mind, I honestly don’t know what people are talking about when they write Snyder off as someone who makes films without weight. I’ve experienced the opposite: his films are much weightier than any of Marvel’s competition.
E. Stephen Burnett
I’ve also never seen any other Snyder films. I don’t really care what previous movies this director made or whether they are favored by critics. And while every director has flaws, I frankly tire of critics or would-be critics who over-personalize their dislike for stories.
Movies in particular are made by thousands of people, and dozens (if not more) have input into a film’s tone, themes, and story direction. Snyder seems a polarizing figure already, for reasons that don’t even relate to MoS and BvS. People either rave about him or condemn him, and I’m back here saying: This can become such a shallow way to condemn a story.
Yes, directors matter. At the same time: Are we certain the “cool factor” is not in play here? I have in my mind Lewis’s warning about the kind of story criticism demons prefer:
And now for your blunders. On your own showing, you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends.2
Humans are frequently tempted not to enjoy stories for “pure” enjoyment but because we want to “make clever remarks” about it to friends. This is not some conspiracy or motive-judgment. It is simply a recognition that people are people, and “pure” enjoyment is hard.
Lewis also warns against criticism based on whether a work aligns with “progress” or the spirit of the age. Instead we ought to ask of a book (or movie): Does it show truth?
10. BvS has a stupid ending: bad resolution to the heroes’ fight, no fulfillment of themes, and doesn’t finish the story.
I don’t think they intended to finish the story. In fact, there were tons of hints in the move to show the story wasn’t finished: Lex’s raving statements at the end, the Flash’s visit from the future (Did you catch that one?), the Omega symbol in the desert—the calling card of Darkseid. Yeah, there’s plenty of story left here.
As to the ending, what could be more Hero’s Journey than that? Take a look at this list from the Hero’s Journey. How many of those steps did we see played out in Superman’s narrative? Quite a few. Superman’s journey in BvS is similar to that of Beowulf’s. Doomsday was his dragon. What remains to be seen—and possibly the reason some didn’t find the ending satisfying—is if we’re still hovering around step 11 in the Hero’s journey list. I’m guessing we are.
BvS ends as a good middle-installment should: with open-ended resolution. Doomsday is defeated, Luthor is imprisoned, Batman’s faith in humanity has been restored, he’s teamed up with Wonder Woman to contact the other metahumans, Superman has finally, definitively, and tragically redeemed himself in the eyes of all humanity, and now there’s something horrific on its way from the dark between the stars. Compare the ending of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, at which point Saruman is defeated and Sauron’s just getting started. This is called “parceling out a series’ tension,” and it’s a mark of good storytelling. It simultaneously satisfies and draws you back for more. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was much less generous than BvS in that regard.
There are numerous themes that are fulfilled and arcs that are completed by the end of BvS:
- Batman, realizing that Superman is in essence a man like him and not an alien god, resists the urge to perform a preemptive execution. In so choosing, he redeems himself both from Luthor’s manipulation and from the fatalistic cynicism that’d threatened to consume him. He emerges a changed man, one for whom the future isn’t devoid of hope.
- Superman, realizing thanks to the words of Pa Kent that human relationships are what tie us to this world more than anything else, rebounds from his bout with despair by choosing once for all to adopt Earth as his homeworld, and to hold nothing back in its defense. He admits his love for Lois, and, through her, for the rest of humanity, whether they appreciate it or not. And then he puts his body where his words are. He dives into danger knowing he could die, and then keeps pressing forward even when death is certain. He is brave as a man is brave. There, in that terrible moment, he earns the world’s trust by the only means possible: his own death.
- Lex Luthor, in rejecting the possibility of good power, is left with nothing but power. And in seeking to acquire it for himself, he becomes the thrall of an evil far more powerful than he. Luthor begins the film as a rational, libertarian-minded steward of the public good, and he ends it a raving Lovecraftian cultist, having upended his father’s mural of angelic triumph. If this isn’t an indictment of the spirit of our age, I don’t know what is.
So yes, I’d say that Batman v Superman is both deeply thematic and deeply moving. In fact, it’s kind of masterful in that regard.
E. Stephen Burnett
Great discussion. I’ll only say in closing that I am anticipating my second viewing of the film tomorrow, this time without the 3D (which ghosted a bit on our screen last Saturday).
Then I shall memorize the release dates for the next upcoming DCEU (DC Extended Universe) films, such as Suicide Squad (Aug. 5, 2016), Wonder Woman (June 23, 2017), and Justice League, part 1 (Nov. 17, 2017). Let us hope these films don’t require “apologetics” roundtables! Yet I would enjoy discussing them again with you both and other fans.
Further up and further in …
- The Scapegoating of Batman v. Superman: A Theory of Criticism, March 28, 2016, DerekRishmawy.com. ↩
- The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis. ↩