Noodling about Batman Versus Superman (2016)

 

Okay, here is what I liked about Batman v Superman. I am going to talk about things I liked, and things I would have done differently.

It took two viewings for me to “get” this film. The theatrical release was a mess. When I saw the extended version later, in a home viewing, then the point was more clear to me.

First of all, This was a Batman Film. In the first viewing, I was rolling my eyes at the Batman origin story… AGAIN.

BUT … it sets up a thread in this film, which holds the whole film together, and it’s necessary.

Bruce Wayne as a small person, his family goes into a dark place and encounters a Monster. The Monster takes Bruce’s parents away.

This is a part they never actually put in the movie – they sort of expected us to carry it in from previous Batman Films.

Bruce feels small. He feels powerless. In that time of feeling small and powerless, He gets *angry*. He will muscle up and attack the monster that made him feel that way. That’s how he copes with that feeling.

Cut to Metropolis. During the Zod v Superman battle that ruined the city. Bruce Wayne is in the middle of it. He’s a man of action and he actions…. and it’s not that helpful. His business and people are mangled and he can’t stop it or even ameliorate it much at all.

Bruce feels small. He feels powerless. This makes him crazy.

Cut to a few years later. Bruce Wayne is still doing the Batman thing, but this point is subtle. He’s lost his mojo. he’s getting more violent. He’s tracking down a mysterious plot. But his heart isn’t in that. He’s chasing kryptonite. He’s focused on a goal. Muscling up and beating up Superman. Not for anything Superman DID, but because Superman is so much bigger than he is. Bruce must overcome that. That’s how he copes with being scared.

As we go along through this thread, we see things that Bruce notes, but that he doesn’t process. He’s so focused on beating Superman, he’s telling himself that Superman is a threat. But he’s seeing Superman flail with the big blue boy scout thing. But he’s not really processing this yet.

Superman, trying to be a big blue boy scout, looks at Batman. A man who dresses up like a bat and beats the crap out of people before they’ve been found guilty of a crime. He approaches this as Clark Kent and gets told no by Perry White who dresses him down for trying to be a social activist.

So, as Clark Kent, he pokes into it anyway. And as Superman, the Big Blue Boy Scout, he approaches Batman and says “This is not right. Stop it.”

Of course, that just fits right into Bruce Wayne’s form of crazy.

-*-

There’s another thread in here, that I sort of liked, but I would have changed some.

Their Lex Luthor in this film is having a parallel reaction to Bruce Wayne, but it much sicker. This version of Lex Luther is one part Mark Zuckerberg and one part The Joker.

He has a hard on against God. He’s as mad as hell. He was abused and God never helped him. So when Superman and Zod show up and express such terrible power, unknowingly Superman volunteered for the role of God in this lunatic’s revenge Fantasy.

I’d have changed this, some. Some writings of Luthor (I am thinking Mainly of Elliot S Maggins) Paint Luthor as a sort of semi-anti-hero. He’s just too smart for the world. His mad schemes are not aimed at hurting people, he just finds the bounds of normal behavior too restrictive. He transgresses these because he finds normal rules too small to worry about. Things like traffic rules, the FAA or rules against building Godzilla size robots.

This version of Luthor attacks Superman not out of any direct malice, but because Superman is an interesting and difficult problem. Beating Superman is the last mountain to climb.

Other writings (John Byrne) have Luthor as a power-mad sociopath. He fights Superman because Superman is the only power he can’t control. He resents Superman because Superman can tell him “No” and make it stick. And there’s nothing a power mad sociopath hates worse than that. He’s killed everyone who’s opposed him before and now, come hell or high water, Superman’s next.

This is a much darker, and more evil form of Lex Luthor, but more suited to being the villain.

Anyway – in this version, Luthor is a psychopath who’s trying to murder God. he, too, is after the kryptonite.

This is the dark plot Bruce Wayne is stumbling over and not really seeing well, because his heart isn’t in it.

He’s still pulling at threads and gathering clues, because that’s what Bruce Wayne DOES, but he’s not seeing the big picture.

-*-

This Culminates in Luthor playing the Hostage game to force Superman to fight Batman.

This part is very important, too. The fight is big and epic.  In the end Batman wins.

At the very bottom of the fight, when all looks lost for Superman – He yells “You’re letting kill then Martha!” and this short circuits Bruce. “Who told you to say that!?” he rages.

Then Lois rescues Superman (Nice subversion, there) and tells Bruce “Martha’s his Mother.”

Bruce is rocked.

This part is terribly difficult to cram into one scene in a movie and that’s why most people missed it.

In that Moment, Bruce realizes where he is, and where he’s standing.

He has become the monster he was fighting all along. He’s the big scary thing in the dark, hurting someone powerless and fixing to take their mom away.

At this moment, he loses his focus on beating Superman – this obsession that’s been blinding him for the whole movie. He gets his Batman mojo back.

That’s Batman’s arc. That’s his travel though the movie.

-*-

A short aside here. I would not have used Doomsday as the Big Monster. The whole battle with him was … Big, Epic and Destructive, but in a narrative sense it was anti-climactic. It was included in the movie to ramp up the Fan-Boy Kewl factor.

Instead, I’d have used Metallo.

I’d have had two Metallos. John Corbin the canonical Metallo was a criminal. Professor Vale used him as the basis for Metallo, a full-body cyborg, powered by Kryptonite.

I’d have added a second Metallo. A solider, maimed in Battle who is a patriot. Or maybe, to close the circle, one of the guys wiped out in Smallville in Man of Steel.

I’d have had these two guys created by the US Government in an attempt to counter Superman.

The Batman and Lex Luthor arcs are about power and response to power.

So having the US Government create Kryptonite powered cyborgs to try and counter Superman and other Kryptonians makes sense and also adds motivation and goals to them.

But visually, they’d have been too close to Ultron… which would have made it a fight.

I enjoyed Ben Affleck as Batman and I’d cheerfully go watch another Batman film with him in it.

-*-

Superman’s arc in B v S

Okay, this arc brings up one of the serious problems with this movie. A lot of critical parts in this movie weren’t in this movie, or they were happening in the background of the movie.

For the whole Movie, Superman is playing Checkers while Lex Luthor is playing Chess. It’s kind of a stereotype of the Superman is a big dumb brick.

A lot of people had trouble with this groove. In older comics, Superman always wins and he always gets a good result. You never see a car bomb in Metropolis killing piles of people and then Superman finds who did it and brings them to justice. That’s Batman. Superman finds the Car bomb and hurls it into space before it can hurt anyone.

That’s not this movie. That annoys some people, and I get that. Maybe I am weird. I can see that Zach Snyder’s game-world is running by different rules. In Snyders world, sometimes, there’s a “good shoot”. A bad guy will hurt someone and killing him is the only way to prevent this. In Snyder’s game world, it is regrettable, even tragic, but it’s not the end of the world.

Superman enters this movie in a stereotypical rescue of Lois Lane. Lois Lane has taken an extreme risk to interview a brutal African Warlord.

This goes south and there’s a lot of violence.

WHY it goes south is not clearly explained in the theatrical release – that leaves Lois’ arc muddled, muted and unclear.

In the Blu-Ray release, it’s slightly more clear.

There are two factions present when Lois and James Olsen arrive to interview.

Side note. In both releases it’s not made clear who the guy with Lois is. Snyder had him being a CIA officer posing as Lois’ photographer, James Olsen, and he gets killed as soon as things begin to go south. More of the Gritty world view. Again, some folks find this distasteful, and I would not gainsay them.

I am not here to argue with people who don’t like Snyder’s outlook or his story-telling choices. I am just noodling about the movie we got.

So there are actually two factions present when Lois and Olsen arrive to interview the African Warlord, but this is not clear to Lois, or the audience.

One faction is the Warlord’s guys. The other faction are mercenaries who have joined in the Warlord’s fight.

It looks like a CIA Dirty war.

But the reason things go south is that the mercs turn on their African comrades, and massacre them, in such a way as to frame Superman.

They come from the world of CIA dirty wars, but they are actually working for Lex Luthor.

This becomes a public scandal and people are divided. Did Superman massacre the Warlord and his troops?

After Lois comes close to dying and gets rescued, She starts pulling on threads of this incident. she Starts pulling on threads of Luthor’s schemes. It’s watching over her shoulder that we begin to see more of Luthor’s plot.

So Luther’s plot to gather Kryptonite and find a way to destroy Superman forms the narrative Spine of the Movie – Batman’s arc happens in relation to this plot. So Does Supermans.

As we go through the movie, Superman is trying to be the Big Blue Boy Scout. He rescues people. He helps out. And the world isn’t having it. Although his actions are pretty classic Superman (Rescuing cosmonauts from an exploding launch vehicle, and rescuing people from a fire) The world is reacting too hard. He finds himself being an angel or the devil and this bothers him badly. He’s fundamentally a humble person so being regarded in such an extreme fashion is not something he’s really good at coping with.

This culminates in the Congressional scene. The Congress wants to hold an inquiry about the African Incident. Superman shows up. He wants to be the boy scout and that means showing up, respecting the process and testifying under oath.

But Luthor car bombs the congressional session, killing a pile of people.

This really counter sinks the point. Superman is trying to be the Big Blue Boy Scout and it’s NOT working out.

Lois is pretty sure this is Luthor’s doing. Bruce Wayne is really conflicted. He knows something is hinky here, he just can’t put his finger on it. He’s getting ever closer to unravelling Luthor’s plot, even though his heart isn’t in it.

So Superman flies to a remote place and has a crisis of conscience. He tried to do the right thing. He tried to be the Big Blue Boy Scout and a pile of people got killed. He blames himself and worse, he can’t figure out what he’s doing wrong so everything keeps sucking.

That’s when we see Johnathan Kent. This is a great scene.

Johnathan tells Clark a story. When Johnathan was young, he saved his farm. He thought he was a hero. He was lauded. But his attempted heroics had an unintended side effect. Johnathan recounts bitterly that at the moment he thought he was a hero and was being lauded, someone else was getting hurt.

Being a hero was worse than useless.

But then Johnathan met Martha, and he says “The world began to make sense again”

And Clark has an epiphany.

Being a Big Blue Boy Scout wasn’t working, because even though he is a fundamentally humble person, some ego slipped in. He was “I am the boyscout”

That contained enough being about himself, that contained the barest hint of “Look at ME, I am the BOY SCOUT” to sabotage him.

But if he frames himself differently. “I am just the guy who loves Lois.” then he can put aside the self-image that’s been clouding his true self. By not taking the Big Blue Boy Scout as seriously, he can re-connect with his true self.

He gets his Superman Mojo back.

We don’t get to see this play out. We don’t see him get to inject a sense of humor and of not really taking the image of Superman all that seriously, because that arc gets truncated into the hostage scene/Batman fight/Doomsday fight.

But I think that after this epiphany, This Superman would have started to look much more like Chris Reeves Superman, because Clark has learned a big lesson there.

We sort of see this when Clark grabs the Kryptonite Spear and charges Doomsday with it. He’s fighting to defend Lois. He’s doing this to make a better world for Lois. That clarifies what he’s doing.

-*-

Batman’s Dream

Right in the Middle of the film Batman has a nightmare. An apocalyptic dream. He lives in a mad max wasteland. He leads a resistance. His resistance cell gets attacked by flying men. They are defeated and captured.

As a prisoner, Bruce is Confronted by a very angry Superman. Superman seems to be what Bruce is resisting.

As the dream ends, we see The Flash appear in a burst of light. “Bruce! Protect Lois! Lois is the key!” he shouts.

Now, I got what was going on there, because I am steeped in the mythology of Superman and the DC world.

But again, important parts of the Movie are not IN the movie! And this sequence really depends on future movies in the DCEU working out according to the plan in place when they filmed B-v-S

This is an image of an alternate future. In that world, Superman signed on with Darkseid to conquer Earth. Batman and others resisted, but it was pretty hopeless.

Flash’s warning indicates that at some point they lose Lois Lane. Without Lois as a moral and emotional North Star, Superman loses his way.

-*-

Wonder Woman

While investigating Luthor’s scheme Bruce Wayne goes to Lex’s event. I don’t recall why Clark Kent went there.

While trying to sneak around and do sneaky investigative stuff, Bruce runs across a mysterious, beautiful woman in red.

They interact.

It turns out that Bruce has stumbled into another Luthor scheme/Chess-match in progress. It doesn’t seem to relate directly to his anti-Superman campaign directly.

By pulling the thread on this, Bruce discovers that there are meta-humans running loose, and for some reason, Lex Luthor has been gathering evidence on them and has given them code names and branding symbols.

This and Bruce’s Dream foreshadows The Justice League.

-*-

This adds to the clutter of the movie and adds to making the through lines unclear.

Joss Whedon complained about this when making Avengers 2. He was given so many key holes and required scenes foreshadowing or hinting at subsequent movies, that it actually interfered with his ability to tell the story.

I think foreshadowing the Justice League movies, adding in Wonder Woman and having the Climactic Battle be with Doomsday were all pre-mandated by Warner Bros and I think this added up to making a weaker movie.

I enjoyed Wonder Woman’s role in B-v-S, but she wasn’t given enough time or enough to do in the story, so she looks tacked on.

-*-

Doomsday

The scene where Luthor creates Doomsday looks like a mix of the director being forced to A) Find a reason for Doomsday to exist and B) add more foreshadowing about the upcoming JL Arc.

Up until this point, we see Luthor as a chess player. He’s three steps ahead of everyone else and accurately predicts reactions and steers events.

This depicts a very smart guy who enjoys control and predictability. So interacting with a Mother Box, and randomly playing with Kryptonian cloning technology seems… out of character.

I have never liked Doomsday.

In early writings, he was a generic Hulk stand in. The Brickiest brick that could ever be.

Later on, they added things trying to make the character more scary, competent and more filled with story.

All of this, I found to be dumb. A Waste of Time.

“The Death of Superman” was a big event for DC and they reefed on it hard. It created a lot of buzz and talk.

I think it had a similarly destructive effect on the DC universes as STII had on Star Trek.

After the Success of The Wrath of Khan (TWOK) Now Paramount demands that every Star Trek Film be the same Star Trek Film. The Enterprise encounters an over-the-top master villain who will destroy innocent folks. Although all looks bleak, the Enterprise crew rallies, and in a climactic battle The Captain Punches the Big Bad in the Mouth.

Although Nemesis subverted this. Data Sacrificed himself to explode the Big Bads super weapon in his face.

I always found Darksied to be…. Well, mediocre at best.

Although I expect that Kirby’s original story elling was better. And some writers have done interesting things with Darkseid. In many other cases, he’s Psychedelic Space Satan and has little depth.

He has the raw power to go toe-to-toe with Superman, and that’s a thing.

But sometimes that robs Darkseid of the depths of other characters. Like the telling of Lex Luthor that has Lex Luthor trying to defeat Superman, just because that’s the biggest challenge around.

Or Batman being driven to defeat Superman, because of his own broken methods of dealing with trauma and fear.

These are good stories.

The best stories involving Darkseid come when he’s not Space Satan, but when his motivations become, for lack of a better term, human.

Darkseid’s world “Apokalips” is best when it’s not “Generic Space Hell” but when it shows maybe a side with more depth to it.

The canonical Darkseid story is that, for whatever reason, he sets his sights on Earth. Earth is just one of many worlds he’s conquered. All others have fallen hopelessly. But on Earth, costumed heroes, lead by Superman, rise and confront Darkseid.

It seems as though the current arc of the DCEU is adding Mother Boxes on Earth, sort of like the Infinity Stones in the Marvel CU, to prefigure and foreshadow the confrontation with Darkseid.

The Timmverse Animated DC Universe had numerous conflicts with Darkseid and it did Okay with them. It said interesting things about the characters using the fight against Darkseid as the backdrop.

But there’s other things in Play in the DCEU that I think could make for much better stories. I’ll discuss them next time in my review of Suicide Squad.

-*-

One more note about B-v-S

Zack Snyder likes to do Scene pastiches. He likes to borrow scenes from comics and recreate them in his movies.

This served him well with “Watchmen”. “Watchmen” was almost a direct transliteration of the graphic novel onto the big screen. As a fan of the Graphic Novel, I enjoyed the movie. Even though Snyder twisted up the ending some, and I get why, I liked Watchmen.

This urge did not serve him well in B-v-S. He borrowed a LOT from DC comics, especially Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

But the effect was to make a sort of Frankenstein effect, where the movie seems, in some ways, like a quilt of scenes from various comics, stitched together and not all fitting together well.

This, combined with elements inferred but not seen, things that happen but are not clear and really muddled editing made B-v-S not a terribly successful movie, IMHO.

Man of Steel was more clear.

One thing the next movie needs to do it allow Clark Kent’s sense of humor to come out.

People complained about the dark gritty tone of Snyder’s movies here and in some ways they are correct. They take themselves very seriously and the characters are not having a very good time.

A story happens when a Character has a very bad time. But sometimes showing a character enjoying himself, especially when he is being true to his higher self, that can be a thing.

Sometimes Snyder slips that in. he really does. But not brightly enough to overcome the dark and sonorous tone his movies often labor under.

Coming up, we’ll have Wonder Woman, with a different Director and we’ll see if she can add some joy to the tone of the DCEU.  I really look forward to that.

 

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