The Greatest Conservative Films: Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice—Ultimate Edition (2016)
“Be their hero, Clark. Be their monument—be their angel—be anything they need you to be! Or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”
(Bear with me for a bit, folks—this prologue’s a bit long. Believe me, it’s important.)
Well, dear readers, I knew I was going to tackle this baby sooner or later. Basically, I only put it off because I’d already watched it twice, this year. And let me tell you, folks, it’s a “heavy” sort of film. Rather like Jackie Brown or Rio Bravo, I consider Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice a “steak dinner” kind of movie, rather than a “cheeseburger meal”—that is, a film you’d watch less often, so you can “savor” its full impact.
Captain America: Civil War is a “cheeseburger meal” film. It’s entertaining. It’s “fun”. But then, as I sort of noted, I wasn’t in the mood for burgers when I saw it. Besides, it didn’t look like a burger when I saw it on the menu. But I digress.
It’s practically impossible to talk about Civil War’s qualities—good and bad—in detail without comparing it to BvS. Recall, both Ron and I couldn’t help bringing it up constantly to underline our points, there. Therefore, dear readers…I suppose now’s as good a time as any. Besides—I want my steak NOW, dagnabbit!
Ron’s already given his basic critique of BvS in the Civil War article…so, I’m tackling this one on my own. Besides, BvS is underrated—not overrated. Most of you have probably heard people’s problems with it a million times, already. I’ll quote Ron’s points as a recap, in my defense of this masterpiece from his flaming arrows.
One important thing, by the way—and I can’t emphasize this enough: There’s a reason I made it a point to specify “Ultimate Edition” in the title.
Why The Ultimate Edition:
Full disclosure: I’ve only watched the 3-hour cut of this film—the cut director Zack Snyder presented to the Warner Brothers execs, who gave it a standing ovation. Then—because studios are apparently still afraid of “limiting” the number of screenings, despite the success of Lord of the Rings—WB had Snyder cut out roughly half an hour from the film. (Meanwhile, Paramount gives Michael Bay carte blanche for the runtime of those robot flicks. But whatever.)
The result reminds one of Oliver Stone’s Alexander and Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. The movie needed that half hour, to explain things and basically make sense. The result was a disaster. And then, to add insult to injury, WB initially “learned” the wrong lesson (“It was too dark!”)—reshooting and re-cutting Suicide Squad into yet another mess.
But then wiser heads sent out the Ultimate Cut of BvS on Blu-Ray. And the fan rage cooled…for the most part. (Suicide Squad, alas, wasn’t fixed by the extra minutes. But hey—it’s…“fun”.)
Some have said that the longer version of BvS, ironically, feels shorter—because everything flows; everything rolls, logically and clearly. The theatrical cut is convoluted. The Ultimate Cut is complex.
I’ve never seen the theatrical cut. And I never intend to. I only have it because it came with the Ultimate Edition Blu-Ray. Knowing exactly what the “additions” are, I know for a fact that I’m not missing much.
I cannot emphasize this enough: Spare yourself the pain—for your sake, and mine. This isn’t like Apocalypse Now. And it isn’t like Blade Runner, where you can decide for yourself whether the “sunshine” epilogue and Harrison Ford’s bored-out-of-my-mind narration “works” or not. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one true version of this movie.
With That Out Of The Way…
MAJOR “Spoilers” for this movie. You’ve probably heard of the big ones by now, but I don’t want to take a chance. If you haven’t seen this movie, yet—watch it. (Assuming you’ve already seen Man of Steel. If you haven’t, watch that—then read my article on that one, here. Then watch BvS.)
But only the Ultimate Cut.
Finally, this is a long one—the longest article I’ve ever written. Perhaps the longest I will ever write. In my defense, there’s a lot of material to cover. So then, apologies to my readers: You may have to take a break or two, reading this….
WHY IT’S A CONSERVATIVE FILM:
When Ron and I covered Civil War, I kicked off the political section by pointing out just how appropriate it was for BvS and Civil War to come out during the 2016 Primary Season. Even Amy Adams (who vehemently makes it a point to shy away from getting political) noted how today’s politics seem to parallel those kinds of fights. (That’s all she said, of course—she quickly pled for the interviewer to not push her any further on it.)
Again, the only real clashes at the time happened on the Republican side—particularly between Trump and Cruz. And while Civil War orients more around the “classic” clash between the “Security” Conservatives (or Neoconservatives) and the more Libertarian-minded folks…BvS was actually more relevant to the then-current situation, precisely because the clash between Batman and Superman is less “specific” on its issues.
At the same time…perhaps more specific.
Batman—“Getting Things Done”:
“There’s a new kind of mean in him,” a man notes to Clark Kent, amid the latter pursuing a story in Gotham. “Him”, of course, being Batman. A woman nearby insists that only criminals need to fear “him”. But for Clark, that’s not the point.
We first see Batman saving a group of sex slaves, branding the slaver with a heated batarang after interrogating him (off-screen). And while the slaves noted that “it saved us”…they’re still terrified of him, refusing to leave their cell until “it’s” gone.
A rookie Gotham cop panics and takes a few shots at him (missing)—rebuked by his partner (who also nearly gets his head blown off), “How about you don’t shoot the good guys, huh?”
As for the branding…it’s complicated. Apparently prison gangs make a point to kill any inmate with the brand. The Ultimate Edition reveals Bruce didn’t necessarily “plan” for that to happen—it’s Russian mercenary Anatoli Knyazev, aka “KGBeast”, employed by Lex Luthor, paying off inmates to kill the “recipients”. And that’s so Luthor can goad Superman into hating Batman—making the latter out to be “judge…jury…executioner.”
For his part, Bruce doesn’t seem to give a crap what happens to the inmates he brands. It seems it’s just him letting the cops know the crooks are a gift from him. Whatever happens afterwards is no skin off his back.
The point is: Batman fights dirty, in his War on Crime. As far as he’s concerned, he has to. To him, looking like “the good guy” matter far less than getting things done. Especially when he’s investigating an alleged dirty bomb being smuggled into Gotham (which turns out to be Luthor’s Kryptonite shipment). Besides, he’s in no mood to worry about “muh principles”.
Meanwhile, Superman doesn’t like those methods—at all. Even without Luthor’s manipulations, he’s still deeply disturbed by Batman’s actions. There are rules to this—principles! And we have to stand by them, if we’re on the side of good….
When Clark meets Bruce for the first time, Clark challenges him to this effect:
Bruce’s at once amused at the “Boy Scout” ideas of this reporter “son”…and miffed at what he sees as hypocrisy. After all, doesn’t The Daily Planet glorify an alien who could take over or even destroy the world, with no one able to stop him?
Well, Clark finds that insulting, as he’d never do something like that. And why not? Well, because of “muh principles”. Because he’s devoted himself to be the good guy—to help others, and save the innocent.
Alas…the world doesn’t seem to realize that, throughout the film. True, Luthor’s behind much of it—smearing Superman to no end with his manipulations. But surely the world wouldn’t fall for all that—don’t they realize that Superman’s better than all that?
Well, the world has loved him, for a while—certainly enough for Metropolis to set up a monument for him. But the fact that everyone starts wrestling with the “controversy” so quickly…well, it’s very frustrating for those in the know, like Lois—and Clark himself.
But he can’t give in—he’d rather hang up the cape than compromise. But Luthor intends to force him into it, so he has no other choice.
Meanwhile, it’s indicated that Clark’s growing obsession with “exposing” Batman indicates he really has “something to prove”—especially to himself. He believes that a hero doesn’t have to go one step away from becoming “like them”, to be effective. And Batman behaving otherwise enrages him, inside.
Trump v. Cruz—Dawn Of Justice:
Is it that simple? Could we so easily draw a parallel of the pragmatic, get-things-done, down-and-dirty Donald Trump as Batman—and the idealistic, ever-principled “Boy Scout” Ted Cruz as Superman? Or is that just a stretch?
Well…that’s up to you all, I suppose. But the issues raised by their respective approaches—and people’s reactions to both, in the film—are too much for me to miss. And the hints of further parallels are enough for me to extrapolate.
In the end, they’re both dead wrong, in fighting each other. They both work better on the same side—united against a common enemy.
If only they could have realized that sooner.
Terrorism And The CIA:
Lois enters the film on a joint assignment with CIA operative “Jimmy Olsen” (more on that later) to interview/investigate a terrorist general, in the (fictional) Saharan nation of Nairomi, who’s supported by a mysterious benefactor (later revealed to be Luthor) supplying him with “security contractors”. The general styles himself as a man of the people—and a victim of American imperialism. It’s all nonsense, of course—he’s a villain, gunning down “Olsen” and using Lois as a human shield against Superman…unsuccessfully, of course.
There’s no moral equivalency, here. The general’s a bad guy. His crew’s merely gunned down and burned up by worse guys, to frame Superman.
Meanwhile, there’s also Agent “Python”. From what little we see of him, he’s a bit of a heroic maverick, defying orders from his CIA superiors to stay back while they send a drone to take out the general’s compound—with Lois still there. One wonders if we’ll see more of him, in the future. (Perhaps he’ll turn out to be someone comic fans know…?)
The point is, while the CIA at times seems another unwitting pawn in Luthor’s plans, the rank-and-file are still heroic, and noble. And as General-turned-Defense-Secretary Swanwick notes to Lois, the CIA has come to view Luthor with deep suspicion. They just don’t have full, ironclad proof, just yet—and they’d need it, with his connections in Washington.
It’s ultimately up to Lois to get that final proof.
For her part, while Lois initially suspects that it’s the government who’s responsible for framing Superman, perhaps to cover up a shady deal with terrorists in the desert…it turns out that’s not the case after all. Obama’s “Deep State” aside…our security agencies as institutions are on the side of the angels. And the film knows it.
Yes, dear readers. Usually, when a quick shot reveals the party affiliation of “problematic” politicians in an otherwise apolitical film, you can be sure it’s an “R”.
Well…not this time. The Senate committee blaming Superman for the events in Nairomi—without really questioning the source, instead taking the witness’s story at face value—is run by Senator June Finch, specified in her Charlie Rose interview as…a Democrat. A Senate committee run by a Democrat probably wouldn’t happen if the Senate itself wasn’t run by Democrats.
Finch constantly promotes the notion that Superman should be reined in, Civil-War-style:
“The world has been so caught up with what Superman can do—that no one has asked what he should do.”
Now, to be fair to Sen. Finch (who represents Kentucky, and therefore may be a now-all-too-rare “Blue Dog”), she does come to realize that Luthor’s intentions aren’t so noble—and when the witness reveals she’d been pressured into lying to the committee, Finch seems willing to apologize to Superman and reveal the truth. Alas, by then it’s too late—Luthor blows up Congress before she gets to the point.
Speaking of which—that final statement has her running on a bit, verbally painting herself as the good guy, here. Finch apparently loves performing for the cameras. It would seem she’d been in office too long.
Also worth noting: seated stage-left of Finch in the committee is real-life Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). You may remember his cameos in the Dark Knight Trilogy. At any rate, it’s confirmation that the committee—and therefore the Senate—is run by Democrats in this movie.
Superman And “Interventionism”:
Following the hearing, controversy erupts over the role of Superman in the world. And the nature of it—particularly the political takes—are quite…telling:
Ever the Democrat, Sen. Finch notes to Charlie Rose that “To have an individual engaging in these state-level interventions should give us all pause.”
Andrew Sullivan—the real-life Obama-loving quintessential pseudo-conservative, who seemingly only identifies with the Right so he can trash it with “credibility”—demands that Superman be reined in by international law. (Interesting how he agreed to appear in the film for a role like that.)
Just as with the Avengers in Civil War, the suspicions towards Superman parallel those espoused by the American and international Left towards America. To paraphrase Jean Kirkpatrick, they always blame Superman first.
In short, dear readers, we have a blockbuster film unapologetically making clear that it’s the Left playing ball in Luthor’s scheme to smear an all-American icon. Whether the Left realizes it or not—in-universe and out.
To his credit, Charlie Rose sticks up for Superman, confronting Sen. Finch on her seeming willingness to rein in the hero even though that might mean keeping him from saving as many lives as he could. And again, the parallels to America arise:
“Are you—as a United States senator—personally comfortable saying to a grieving parent, ‘Superman could have saved your child—but on principle, we did not want him to act’?”
“I’m not saying he shouldn’t act. I’m saying he shouldn’t act unilaterally.”
“What are we talking about here, then? Must there be a Superman?”
The ultimate politician’s answer. A non-answer.
Of course, Charlie’s famously fairer, and tougher, than most in the “mainstream” media—even famously pointing out how we basically knew nothing about a certain president we elected in 2008. Which brings me to…
The Media Machine:
Buried amid the more blatant arcs of Clark, Bruce, and Lois, is the subtle arc of Perry White, editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet and Clark’s and Lois’s boss. As the film starts, he’s purely business-as-usual, casually dishing out assignments and headlines. When Keefe vandalizes the Superman statue, Perry coldly announces a headline about an “End Of Love Affair” on the story.
Later, he repeatedly dismisses Clark’s insistence to cover the crime in Gotham, including Batman. Naturally, Clark’s flabbergasted:
“Perry, when you assign a story, you’re making a choice about who matters. And who’s worth it.”
“Good morning, Smallville! The American conscience died with Robert, Martin, and John.”
As if on cue, Lois pops in to contradict Perry’s point, with the first lead in her crusade to clear Superman’s name. Easier said than done, as we see pretty much the entire “mainstream” media apparatus—particularly, lo and behold, none other than CNN—working against her efforts by stoking the fires of the “controversy” of Superman. We see a massive conglomerate of journalistic saps, blinded by their assumptions—abandoning a focus on actual facts, in favor of “speculation”.
All this plays in to Luthor’s plans—and Lois has to fight an uphill battle to defeat a monster of her own.
The monster of media malpractice.
Meanwhile, Perry still won’t budge when Clark keeps wondering why the Planet won’t stand for anything like it used to. To Perry, that all belongs in the past.
Perry is not a bad man—at all. His problem is that he just wants to play things safe—go along with the machine, because that’s just How Things Are Done. He won’t take any risks and go after Luthor, despite Lois’s word of honor that her sources are solid. And the results are tragic, and disastrous.
Watergate vs. Litigate:
That moment needs emphasis. As I noted in an article a while ago, Lois only has an anonymous source—because Swanwick won’t go on record with his identity. Perry refuses to print the story, lest they risk a lawsuit from Luthor.
On the one hand, he does have a point—far too often we’ve seen false stories printed by once-credible news outlets, filled with Unnamed Reliable Sources and no proof. And Lois almost certainly knows this.
However, Lois has proven her credibility constantly with Perry—and thus, he should know better than to dismiss it out of hand. He doesn’t even hear her out enough to let her give her full case for why it can be trusted. Instead, he accuses her of letting her professionalism slide just because Superman saved her.
Ultimately, he cares more about the risk of getting sued than about standing by his best reporter, whom he should know is better than that, and would never dabble in fake news.
In the end, Perry wises up—doubtless because his stubbornness may have been partially responsible for the disaster at Capitol Hill. And so, when Lois pleads for a helicopter, but “not for a story” (it’s to reach the Batman-Superman fight, and try and stop it)…Perry stares at her for a moment in sadness—as if silently acknowledging all he’s done wrong, with these events—and consents.
Later, he’s the one who writes the obituary for Clark Kent—making a point to attend his employee’s funeral.
He knows the mistakes he made…and now he’ll do what he can to atone.
Lex Luthor Of AntiFa:
In a way, it’s a shame they went with a younger Lex Luthor—an older Lex would’ve more clearly set in stone his parallels to George Soros, puppet-master of the American Left and manipulator of powers. As it stands, though, his monologues in his introduction indicates how he styles himself as a fighter of tyrants:
“You know, Dad was born in East Germany. He grew up eating, uh, stale crackers. And every other Saturday, he had to march in a parade, and wave flowers at tyrants. So—I think it was providence that his son—me—would end up with this [Kryptonite].”
“…And why would we want to weaponize this material?”
“As a deterrent. A silver bullet to keep in reserve to use against the Kryptonians, so the day does not come, madam, when your children are waving daisies at a reviewing stand!”
And with all this—aiming suspicions of tyranny at the wrong targets, AntiFa-style—he plays the Democrat senators and politicians like a fiddle…and one in particular, Sen. Barrows, who gives Luthor access to the crashed Kryptonian ship and General Zod’s body.
Luthor gleefully sticks a Jolly Rancher in Barrow’s mouth for good measure, as if to rub his dominance in the guy’s face. Paging Dr. Freud.
Luthor, Wayne, and Ayn Rand:
Early reports indicated that this version of Luthor would have an Objectivist bent. I admit, I braced myself upon reading those stories—fearing it was true, that the film would go one step beyond typical Evil Greedy Businessman, to actually smear Capitalism as a philosophy.
As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. If anything, this Luthor has far more in common with James Taggart than Howard Roark. (Frankly, I’d say Jesse Eisenberg fits the description of the slimy, whiny, shifty, manipulative James perfectly.) A philanthropist and “humanitarian” who used his clean-up efforts of Metropolis to gain political power—insisting to everyone that everything he’s doing is for the collective good. He even corrects Sen. Finch that the Kryptonite isn’t for Homeland Security, but planetary security. He’s a citizen of the world, don’t you see….
It’s all a cover, of course—and it’s straight out of Ayn Rand’s warning to beware and view with suspicion anyone who loudly proclaims he doesn’t care about money. In a manner that would please Rand herself, Luthor the “humanitarian” is a monstrous destroyer, not above maximizing the suffering of Wallace Keefe, Martha Kent, and of course Clark and Bruce.
Meanwhile, while Bruce certainly cares about his employees deeply, there isn’t anything in the film indicating he’s much of a “selfless” philanthropist. He goes to Luthor’s charity event only to gain intelligence—and maybe pick up a pretty girl or two.
His playboy persona, as always, seems straight out of Francisco D’Anconia’s handbook. His brooding, nearly-crushed, driven-to-anger “real” personality, in the meantime, comes off rather like Hank Rearden.
And like Rearden, he finds himself hating a man whom he should call a friend. But as in Atlas Shrugged, “Within the extent of your knowledge…you are right.”
For Bonus Points:
Amid all the media montages of the “controversies” over Superman, who do we see but Jon Stewart, apparently still on The Daily Show? True to form, he bases his snark on a false narrative—this time, concerning Superman allegedly not wanting to be considered specifically “American”. There’s literally nothing in the film to support Stewart’s claim—and it flies in the face of that perfect moment in Man Of Steel: “I’m about as American as it gets!”
Honestly, the real punchline is that Stewart agreed to do that scene. It kinda paints him in a negative light…doesn’t it? Maybe he missed that fact, as Lefties so often do….
Perhaps we can say the same for Andrew Sullivan.
By the way, Bruce’s “1% chance” speech is supposedly meant to parallel Neoconservative notions concerning the War on Terror. All I can say is, I’ve yet to see any evidence that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. ever acted on a notion like that.
DEFENDING BATMAN V. SUPERMAN:
All right, folks—before I get to the full-on greatness of the film, it’s best that I deal with the elephants in the room. These are the major problems people have—the reasons a lot of folks would’ve added a “What Holds The Movie Back”, like I did for Civil War.
And I understand why people have these issues—and frankly, for some of them, I probably would’ve done things differently. Still, we have the movie we have…and personally, I have less of a beef with these things than most.
So let’s do this—in increasing order of “bigness”:
The Long Pre-Fight “Wait”:
I’m truly astonished by how many people have complained about this: “It takes forever for Batman and Superman to fight!”
Mind you, I don’t understand the complaints about the entire first act of Peter Jackson’s King Kong happening before we finally meet Kong, either—so take this with whatever salt you need. But for me, as long as the payoff I’m promised eventually does come…I’m willing to wait. Provided, of course, the stuff “in the meantime” is great in itself.
Besides, if you want to get technical, it’s Batman v. Superman, not Batman VS. Superman. For those who don’t know, the “v.” is the “legal” spelling—the spelling we see in a court case. Think Marbury v. Madison, or Brown v. Board of Education, or (cough) Roe v. Wade (cough).
It’s a subtle signal that the “clash” between these two heroes should be seen as more psychological than physical. And we see that clash throughout the film, as Clark and Bruce encounter each other twice before the big brawl.
This one I don’t understand at all—and yet people complained about this with Man of Steel, too. “Why doesn’t Superman smile?” Uh…he does. A lot. “Why doesn’t he have fun?” He…does. A lot. “Why is he such an emo?” He isn’t. At all.
As I argued before, Henry Cavill’s Superman essentially is Christopher Reeve’s Superman—in a “darker”, more realistic world. In a lighter, “easier” world—like the world of the old Superman films—we’d have seen him dropping quips left and right, just like Reeve. For proof, recall that classic moment in Man of Steel:
“That’s a twelve-million-dollar piece of hardware!”
But this Supes lives in a world of murky ambiguities—where the authorities aren’t so eager to trust him, where Lex Luthor has much more power and influence, and where our hero may have to come to terms with the fact that maybe—just maybe…the world may not accept him, after all.
If that wouldn’t make our “Boy Scout” hero “moody”…well, there’d be something seriously wrong with him, emotionally.
And really—the sort of garbage Clark goes through, in BvS, absolutely would put him through the emotional wringer. The tragedy of the Congress bombing—and his being led to believe that he failed to see it, and stop it—would drive him to a near breaking point, where he has to go off alone and clear his head.
It’s what makes it so much more inspiring, when he picks himself up from all that.
Or…am I getting ahead of myself, with Justice League?
Well, as Lois notes even here, in joyous relief, “You came back.”
It Isn’t Man Of Steel 2:
Ron brought up this one, in his part of the Civil War article:
It doesn’t matter how many other characters you throw into a Captain America story, he will (or at least should) stand apart and above. This is a lesson that Marvel’s esteemed cross-town rivals lost when adding Batman and Wonder Woman into a Superman film. It became a pale image of Nolan’s beautiful Dark Knight trilogy with Superman thrown in.
Well…to be fair, BvS is not “a Superman film”—just as Civil War wasn’t an Avengers film (thought it should’ve been). It isn’t Man of Steel: Dawn of Justice. It’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. There are two central characters—Batman and Superman. Clearly, Supes would be sharing the spotlight with Bats.
Now…would a direct Man of Steel 2 (or Man of Tomorrow, or what-have-you) have been better? Maybe. Maybe not. But the film project ceased to be Man of Steel 2 the moment Christian Bale (if rumors are to be believed) turned down the opportunity to return as Bruce Wayne, and Warner Brothers resolved to introduce a “new” Batman, instead.
A proper intro requires a lot of screen time…and as such, the film had to become a Batman and Superman film. And with the High Concept of the two duking it out, both required an arc leading to that. We needed to see both “sides”—and understand them as either “both right” or “both wrong”.
You can’t really do that with the film’s title effectively taking a side. In other words…you can’t do that with Man of Steel 2.
Or Captain America 3.
Lois And The Spear:
Ron didn’t bring this one up, but I’ve read it a lot: Why does Lois toss the Kryptonite spear into the water? And later on, having heard none of the conversation about Doomsday being Kryptonian, how does she know to try and get it back?
Well…to the first question, it wouldn’t take much for her to deduce that the spear was capable of killing Clark—even leaving aside the idea that the nature of Kryptonite wasn’t exactly classified material. The fact that 1) Batman was about to impale a defeated Superman with it, and 2) Superman had a cut on his cheek, would both lead a highly observant gal like Lois to figure out what the deal is with the spear. And with the glow implying radioactivity, a sensible thing to do would be to drop it in water—much like flooding a nuclear reactor.
As to the other question—she already knew something was going down at the Kryptonian ship, and that Luthor was probably there. Thus, it wasn’t a stretch to conclude that Doomsday came from that location. Kryptonian ship implies Kryptonian creation. Therefore, if the spear could harm Superman, it could harm Doomsday.
If Bruce could deduce all that…so could Lois.
The Motivations For The Fight:
[In Batman v Superman], one character was motivated by an innate desire to do good and a desperate need to save his mother while the other “good guy” was motivated by fear, pettiness, and envy.
Easy as it may be to frown on Bruce for his “paranoia” regarding Superman…it’s worth noting that, initially, Bruce seems a bit willing to live and let live, pointing out to Clark at the charity event that, in their own way, both Batman and Superman are vigilantes working “above the law”. But two things happen, afterwards.
First, he has a shocking vision, too specific in details to just be his imagination, involving an enraged Superman (more on that later). Almost immediately after, he tells Alfred his intentions.
Second, when you really get down to it, it’s actually Superman that makes the first move, with his warning to “bury” the cowl:
The conflict throughout the film’s a clear case of both heroes being wrong—as I noted back in the Civil War article. They’re wrong in their mutual suspicion—and they’re wrong in taking at face value what’s being said about the other.
“Why didn’t they just talk to each other?” some have asked.
Well…A, they did talk—at the charity event—and it did nothing but underline their mutual pride and prejudice (apologies to Jane Austen). B, their already-established mistrust clouded both heroes’ assumptions from the beginning.
Luthor, meanwhile, stoked those flames—flames that already existed. He fueled this mutual misunderstanding—and as such, his role is highly believable, and justified. Compare this to a certain other film, where Baron “Just Some Guy” Zemo delegitimizes what would’ve otherwise been a “both sides are right” conflict.
Here, both sides are wrong. Superman only realizes that because Luthor tells him—blackmailing him to fight Batman anyway.
And let’s not even get started on Batman’s wanton murder spree early on in the film.
Here’s where it gets murky; it depends on just how “black-and-white” you want Batman’s One Rule to actually be.
I mean…let’s face it: Michael Keaton’s Batman kills the bad guy, both times. Even Batman Begins has Batman indirectly causing Ra’s Al-Ghul’s death, noting, “I’m not going to kill you…but I don’t have to save you.”
He arranges events so that his enemy dies. He just doesn’t deal the killing blow, himself.
The point is, Batman often has looked for loopholes to bend his One Rule. BvS is no different. He brands villains, and those villains end up dead in prison fights…but he’s not the killer. (And again, as the Ultimate Edition clarifies, he’s not even responsible for that—it’s Luthor, with KGBeast’s assistance, paying up criminals so as to frame Batman for indirect murder….)
Attacking Luthor’s shipments, Batman fires the Batmobile’s armaments in order to complete his mission, and then to escape. We saw that in The Dark Knight, too.
Attacking the warehouse to save Martha Kent, Batman gets into a brawl with a host of goons. Most of them are KO’d. Some of them get thrown against the wall with a CRACK and some blood. Accidental death in the heat of battle. Battle, mind you.
None of this directly violates his One Rule. As far as this older, wearier Bruce Wayne’s concerned…if a bad guy unintentionally dies, it is what it is. Even if Alfred doesn’t care for it:
“We’re criminals, Alfred. We’ve always been criminals. Nothing’s changed.”
Eventually, yes, he does break the Rule. Besides him having no choice, it’s straight out of the comics:
“I’ll kill her! Believe me—I’ll DO IT!”
“I believe you.”
Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor:
Jesse Eisenberg’s characterization of Lex Luthor was laughable (and not in a good way).
I admit: I’m kinda willing to concede this one…somewhat.
Honestly, I’ve long been irritated by every live-action Superman movie making Superman’s arch-nemesis…a goofball. Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey are powerful actors. Both could’ve easily made their takes on Luthor legitimately menacing—just look at Hackman in Unforgiven, or Spacey in House of Cards!
Alas…they both played him for comedy.
Really, folks: Whatever faults exist in Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal…it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Hammy, excitable, ranting…he’s essentially Hackman’s Luthor, just younger.
Albeit much more capable. “Eisen-Lex” doesn’t limit his organization to a bumbling goon and a ditzy moll with a heart of gold. And he doesn’t somehow steal a couple of nukes from the U.S. military, for a bizarre sort of real estate scheme!
Something else to keep in mind, though—further demonstrating the Ultimate Cut’s “additions” being necessary. Namely, in the full verbal spar with Batman near the end, Lex gloats that his “insanity” ensures that “I’m not even fit to stand trial!”
In short, the “goofball” act is just that: an act. He puts on a performance as a “harmless”, excitable weirdo, because no one would suspect that a guy like that’s pulling everyone’s strings. (Notably, many of the “additions” show Luthor in more serious moments—underlining the truth behind the act.)
Would I have preferred a more “straight” Luthor?—perhaps played by rumored early choice Brian Cranston? Absolutely. But in the absence of that…well, I suppose this is the next best thing.
Besides…as a certain other superhero flick made clear:
“In a comic, you know how you can tell who the archvillain’s going to be? He’s the exact opposite of the hero!”
And the exact opposite of a composed, personable Superman?
The “Martha” Thing—General Defense & Precedent:
To my eyes and ears, the infamous “Martha Scene” that my esteemed college defends so assiduously was a crime against cinema.
To be fair, I’ve only hinted at my defense of this. But I’ve talked with Ron about it long before we co-wrote the Civil War piece, so he’s known my thoughts for a while. And now, folks, so will you.
First, let’s recap the whole sequence:
Alright. Now let’s get this out of the way, first:
Whatever people keep saying, this sequence has nothing—absolutely NOTHING—to do with, “Oh, our mothers’ names are the same, so let’s be friends!”
They’re not necessarily “fast friends”, after this. They’re allies against Luthor and Doomsday. That’s not the same thing.
Second…deriders tend to forget that it’s far from the only time Batman’s gotten triggered into “giving in” specifically by the memory of his parents. In the premier storyline of Batman Beyond, Terry McGuinness gets Bruce to let him use the Batsuit…like so:
And in the “Justice Lords” episode of the Justice League series, we got this:
(To those unfamiliar with the episode: Don’t worry—our Bats snaps out of it, and even turns Lord Bats…lo and behold, by bringing up “Mom and Dad”.)
Batman himself knows darn well that the memory of his parents is perhaps his greatest weakness—making a recording to this effect, when famously discussing how to beat any superhero gone rogue (the part about himself is at 4:45):
So, why is it such a trigger? Well…think about it.
Bruce Wayne has always waged his epic war on crime specifically in honor of his parents—dedicating himself to making sure they didn’t die in vain. Invoking them forces him to confront whether he’s really doing that, in this moment.
I strongly suspect Superman realizes that. Hence…
The “Martha” Thing—Why It Works:
Remember, by now Supes knows Batman’s identity—calling him “Bruce” as the fight begins. It’s implied Clark’s suspected it since their charity-event confrontation. Later we see Clark researching the Dark Knight, twice. It isn’t much of a stretch to assume he also looked up Bruce…and found news stories about the Wayne family murder. (To me, that’s perhaps the one thing the Ultimate Cut’s still missing—Clark discovering such an article. But I digress.)
At fight’s end, Bruce verbally reflects on his parents’ pointless death…and Clark’s shaken off unconsciousness in time to hear it. I firmly believe, then, that when Superman grunts out “You’re letting him kill Martha!”—he meant to trigger Bruce.
Of course, Bruce isn’t stupid—pausing, then calmly asking “What does that mean?” in a tone more of curiosity than anything else.
Superman goes on, “Find them! Save…Martha…!”
The flashbacks that follow indicate it does shake Bruce—forcing him to reconsider his vendetta. He struggles against it, though—causing the notorious outburst, demanding to know what Superman means.
And Lois explaining that “Martha” is the name of Clark’s mother brings Batman from the brink. Here, Bruce has to acknowledge he has no excuses left. He’s forced to think: “If I kill this man—and his mother dies…then I will be no better than the man who killed Martha Wayne.”
That was the point—that he’s left with the realization that he’s one step away from becoming what he’s always fought against.
Respected film critic John Campea brings up some other points about this scene that are really worth considering (brief language, but in his defense he’s quoting the film):
Now…all that being said—I freely admit, the “Martha” thing probably isn’t what I would’ve done as the screenwriter.
(Ron already knows this—this isn’t me “backing down”.)
The “Martha” Thing—My Alternatives:
Assuming the rest of the screenplay’s essentially the same, I might’ve taken advantage of future-Flash’s warning about Lois Lane being “the key”. Perhaps something invoking the end of Howard Hawks’s Red River—Lois reaching the battlefield in time, maybe firing her gun to catch Bruce’s attention. She confronts him—Bruce hears her name…and that makes him back down.
I know. In my defense, I haven’t written it out fully, or anything.
The “stronger” alternative, Ron really liked. It invokes the classic Frank Miller comic The Dark Knight Returns, which Zack Snyder himself referenced when crafting this “new” Batman.
Basically, I would’ve had the BvS fight proceed as it did, up to and including Batman cutting Superman’s cheek. Then he pauses—perhaps remembering Alfred’s rebuke about good men turning cruel…and stays his hand. Lois runs in—stopping short to hear:
Superman: “…You’re not—?”
Batman: “No. I’m not. …Maybe you’re right, Kent. Maybe you’re here to do good. And I won’t put an end to that.”
He takes the boot off—pulling Superman to him.
Batman: “But don’t think for a moment I’ve changed my mind about you. If you ever do turn against us, I’ll be ready for it. I want you to remember that. I want you to remember that I’ll be watching you. In the all the years to come—in your most private moments…I want you to remember my hand—at your throat. I want you to remember…the one man who beat you.”
Superman: “…Fair enough.”
Batman releases him—tossing the spear. Lois sighs with relief, running to Clark. Batman extends his hand.
Batman: “Now…what did you want to tell me?”
Still, we got what we got. I myself have no complaints…aside from the widespread derision “Martha” got.
More On The “Wish List”:
As I mentioned, I’d have liked a moment where Clark specifically reads an article on the Wayne family murder—perhaps reacting to something he reads with bitter amusement (which we later “get”, on re-watching, was the fact that Mrs. Wayne was named “Martha”.)
I’d also have loved a longer confrontation between Lois and Luthor—more payoff for her investigation, where she has one simple question: Why?
Lastly, I myself would’ve loved more verbal interaction between Batman and Superman in the fight. Had I written—or at least polished—the screenplay, I would’ve had the fight partly be about the two coming to an understanding of each other…in a sense. We do have some of that, with Batman going on at the end about his parents. But I’d have loved more.
Perhaps have Clark, as the first batch of Kryptonite gas wears off, give Bruce a version of the famous “World Of Cardboard” speech from the finale of Justice League Unlimited. (The bad guy in the clip’s Darkseid, by the way—more on him later.)
Perhaps as a response to Batman’s line “You’re not brave. Men are brave.” To wit—amid Supes landing some blows:
“You’re right about one thing, Bruce. I’m not brave. I am afraid. But I’m not afraid of you. I’m afraid of myself. Because you’re right, Bruce—I have the power to destroy everything around me. If I were to lose control for a moment, someone could die! It’s like the world’s made of cardboard. But you can take it. Can’t you? As long as you’re wearing that, you can take whatever I throw at you. So what do you say, Bruce? Let’s both find out—just how much of a ‘threat’ I really am…!”
Something like that.
In The End:
BvS isn’t perfect. Neither is Civil War, as Ron admitted. Ultimately, the issue is whether the flaws outweigh the qualities, or vice versa.
For Ron, Civil War worked and BvS didn’t. As he put it, regarding the airport fight:
In one scene Civil War delivered more fun than the entire bloated 182 minute extended edition of a certain other superhero movie could muster.
For me…I didn’t watch these two films to “have fun”. I watched them to feel the drama—to watch the characters reach the depths and heights of human emotion.
Ultimately, I feel more watching BvS than I do watching Civil War. BvS knew it was a full-blown drama—and embraced it. Civil War put in “fun”—and again, that frankly “numbed” the emotion, for me.
I’ve blinked back tears for more than one moment in BvS. For Civil War, my ducts are totally dry.
BvS did have moments of levity—like the notorious “She with you?” “…I thought she was with you.” But never once did I feel it conflict with anything. That joke, after all, happens long enough after Clark and Bruce have cleared their misunderstanding.
No one’s cracking jokes while the titular fight’s going down. No one jokes in the aftermath of the Congress bombing. And no one jokes in the aftermath of Superman’s powerful sacrifice. When tragedy strikes, we feel it—in full.
And that makes a world of difference.
Which leads me, dear readers, to…
WHY IT’S A GREAT FILM:
Some have predicted that BvS will become the Blade Runner of our time. Those old enough may remember how Ridley Scott’s monumental sci-fi Film Noir…wasn’t exactly a success, in its theatrical release. It’s not hard to see why, considering the “original” cut’s “bored Ford” narration and sappy epilogue. But it became a cult classic, defenders seeing past those things, viewing the masterpiece underneath. And eventually, Ridley cleared the weeds away with a “Director’s Cut”—and later, a “Final Cut”.
(If you’re wondering, I like the Final Cut the best: It fixes an audio issue in one scene that’s always bugged me in the other versions. Aside from that, and a dubbing of “Father” over an F-bomb, I’m pretty sure it’s exactly the same as the Director’s Cut. But I digress….)
In this case, while BvS didn’t bomb—in the slightest—the theatrical cut still got a very divisive reaction. One of the biggest complaints involved just how confusing so much of it was. So many things just didn’t seem to make sense.
Well…cue the Ultimate Edition—where most if not all of that confusion got cleared up. And the response of many was clear: “This should have been the only version released.”
Is this film an Empire Strikes Back? Now, bear with me: Many tend to forget that when the near-undisputed masterpiece of the Star Wars canon first came out, a lot of people didn’t care for it. “Too dark!” and so forth. But once Return of the Jedi came out, the trilogy complete…people looked back at Empire and realized it was awesome, after all.
Could that happen to BvS—a combo of Blade Runner and Empire?
I don’t know. I’d certainly like to hope so.
Perhaps the biggest example of just how unfair the theatrical cut really was: Apparently, we were asked to believe that Superman was framed for gunning down the terrorist general’s men—and civilians in the surrounding village. Well…who in their right mind would think Superman would need a gun, let alone use one?
But a couple of mere moments in the Ultimate Edition make it clear: KGBeast’s crew used the bullets to ensure everyone was dead…and then burned the bodies, to simulate Superman’s heat vision. That was the frame-up. No one was supposed to find any bullets—and for Lois, the one she finds (later implied to be a special bullet that’s easily melted down) is her first clue, by virtue of its existence.
It’s funny, isn’t it—how often do we see an otherwise-enjoyable film, only to see it marred by a vital flaw. And more often than not, we think, “One line could’ve explained that!”
The UE has a lot of those “lines”—little moments that, in hindsight, turned out to be all too necessary, after all.
Most of the additions, ironically enough, revolve around Clark Kent and Lois Lane—their respective investigations throughout the film. It’s been said that the theatrical cut is technically more of a Batman film, with Superman as a major character—while the Ultimate Edition is the other way around.
At any rate, we see Clark in Gotham for another story, gradually uncovering stuff about Batman, and his apparent methods. Meaningfully, an addition where the wife of a “victim” tells him that the only thing Batman understands is a fist—a clear explanation why Superman gives up trying to talk to Batman so soon, in their fight.
We also see more of his struggle to come to terms with himself, and the world.
Henry Cavill as Clark Kent aka Superman:
Clark’s going through a lot, in this film. By the end of Man Of Steel, he’d just saved the world, and discovered his place in it. He’s content. He’s happy. And the world’s happy to accept him.
Cut to BvS…where suddenly the world’s not so sure. Luthor’s frame-up in the desert sparks a worldwide controversy, fueled by the media, on whether Superman’s “worth it”, after all. And it shakes poor Clark to the core—saddened once again. Is it possible, perhaps…that they’re right?
“I just wish it was more simple….”
“My baby boy. Nothing was ever simple.”
Again, this is fully within the character of Superman. He is a “Boy Scout”, centered on doing the right thing. But coming up against the murkiness of the world around him—well, it absolutely would take an emotional toll. What’s a “black-and-white” hero to do, in a “shades-of-grey” sort of world?
Cavill shows the pain—and the struggle to keep it from getting to him. The sadness at what he feels forced to do—and not do. And he shows Clark brought to the brink of giving up—only the encouragements of Martha and Lois keeping him going…for a time.
With Luthor’s blackmail, he’s all but broken, telling Lois, “No one stays good in this world.” But that’s proven wrong, with Bruce stepping back from the brink, the World’s Finest coming to an understanding. As they go off to foil Luthor’s plans, Lois gives Clark a reassuring smile, as if to say, “You did, Clark.”
And he does stay good—to the point of making the ultimate gesture to save those he loves…and the entire world.
Amy Adams as Lois Lane:
Amy’s Lois is highly, delightfully complex. From a five-time Oscar-nominated actress, we expect nothing less.
On assignment, Lo’s professional to a fault—notably frustrated when CIA operative “Talon” (aka “Jimmy Olsen”—it’s implied that might be the go-to cover name for whoever’s serving as Lois’s “photographer” at the moment) seems less willing than her to take their assignment seriously:
“I like Heron.”
There’s still that aura of innocence, proving the lie to “I’m not a lady—I’m a journalist” (a line she drops to quell the “concerns” of the terrorist general). There’s the pain and sadness in her eyes, as she hears the carnage outside, KGBeast and crew massacring everyone. And there’s her face lighting up with joy as Superman arrives…then her non-verbal forming of a plan with him, to break the general’s use of her as a human shield—followed by her bracing herself with worry…as if afraid for a moment that Clark’s killed the man.
There’s the enthusiastic passion for her work. There’s that touch of “class”, reaching for a wine glass while sitting on the floor of her apartment. And there’s her intense vulnerability (underlined by the bathtub), torn over whether Clark’s love for her may have a tragic cost…all changing to happy acceptance of his gestures of comfort and reassurance.
She’s still Clark’s emotional center—seeking to encourage him, and help him remain strong, no matter what happens. And yet, when all is said and done…Clark brings comfort to her, just as she does to him. And when he loses hope…it’s too much for Lois to bear, tears reaching her eyes and voice as she implores him to never give up:
She’s put through the wringer in this film, just like Clark. They’re fighting the darkness of the world, together.
Down These Mean Streets A Girl Must Go:
Lois’s full arc in the Ultimate Edition comes across as a Film Noir. Lo’s a detective heroine who’s not herself mean, who’s neither tarnished nor afraid (earning her a crude joke from Swanwick—though to be fair, she did pop into the men’s room to confront him…).
Well…perhaps afraid that the world will fail to listen—but that just motivates her to fight ever harder, to clear the name of the man she loves.
In a beautifully Noir-ish scene in the nighttime rain, she confesses to Swanwick that she does feel guilt over what happened in the desert. But that moves her all the more to find out just what happened—so she can bring some good out of all of this. And if Swanwick’s half the man of honor she knows him to be, he’ll understand that.
(Incidentally, the next scene between the two of them, where Swanwick gives her the lowdown on what the CIA knows so far, frankly invokes a certain sequence from JFK….)
After the bombing of Congress, Lois investigates Keefe’s apartment—thanks to help from a friend on the force who wants her to hurry up. Here we see her skills as a detective in full force—with the help of a forensics expert, uncovering bit-by-bit all the proof she needs to take Luthor down.
Now the last question is…is it too late?
Detractors sometimes say that her actions are ultimately “pointless”. Well, leaving aside that Lois gathers the information needed to take Luthor down, her being “too late” to stop, say, Doomsday is part of the tragedy of the film. If her arc in BvS is pointless, than so is Watchmen…or Chinatown…or Romeo & Juliet.
Lois did all she could. Not that that makes it any easier for her, in the end….
A New Batman:
As I noted way back, in my Dark Knight Rises article, the big “story” along the rumor mill goes that the original plan was for Christian Bale to show up in the Man Of Steel sequel as Bruce Wayne—not necessarily as Batman; probably long past his retirement in Rises. (The story goes on that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake would serve as Batman for Justice League.)
But when Bale made it clear that he would hang up the cowl with Rises, Warner Brothers set out to go another direction—with a new, different take on the Dark Knight. To that end, they had Snyder, with screenwriters David Goyer and Chris Terrio, expand Bruce’s role in the story—turning Man Of Steel 2 into Batman v Superman. They had to, if they were going to introduce a new guy, while at the same time setting up the DC Extended Universe.
(Trivia note: a “Batman vs. Superman” film was “predicted” by the Will Smith film I Am Legend. Sort of.)
When Ben Affleck got cast, fan reaction en masse went: “EXCUSE me?!?”
Recall, the exact same thing happened way back…with Michael Keaton. And just like then, the new guy killed it.
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne aka Batman:
This Bruce Wayne is shown from the beginning as a good man—caring deeply about his employees, shaken and traumatized by the destruction of the Metropolis Wayne Tower, and all in it. He’s shown to be a hero—running towards the crumbling buildings to save a little girl.
And yet, at the same time, he’s shown developing a grudge against Superman, for the collateral damage of his fight with Zod.
Does he directly blame him? Not necessarily…but as he notes to Alfred, he does blame Supes for bringing “the war to us.” And as we remember from Man Of Steel, Zod himself noted, “You brought us here, Kal”—courtesy of the signal from the old Kryptonian ship, once Clark turned it on.
This Bruce Wayne is emotionally crushed…depressed…alone. We briefly see a girl sharing his bed at one point—but as he gets up, he barely gives her a look. His only personal connection seems to be his friendship with Alfred. Meanwhile, his anger at what happened in Metropolis fuels a thought in his mind—a simmering mistrust at this alleged savior of Earth. For a time, he begrudgingly tolerates Superman’s presence…but Luthor’s goading, particularly involving Wallace, pushes Bruce over the brink, turning that suspicion-tempered tolerance into a certainty in his mind that this super-powerful alien is a threat, and must be dealt with.
Amid all this, we do see a wry sense of humor—and an easy charm he eagerly channels in his “playboy” cover. There’s actually a lot of Kevin Conroy’s “Animated Series” Batman in Affleck’s performance—somber and serious as Batman, suave and flippantly boyish as Bruce.
For good measure, his Batmobile looks like a clever cross between the Tim-Burton/Michael-Keaton version and the Christopher-Nolan/Christian-Bale “Tumbler”.
An Old Heritage:
As I noted in my Dark Knight article, Christian Bale was the perfect young Batman—a Bruce Wayne who’s “trying to hold onto his ideals, amid all the darkness life throws at him and those he loves.” Batman’s essentially a job for him…and he’s looking forward to the day when Gotham’s been cleaned up, and he can retire in peace…maybe with Rachel. Alas, it isn’t with her—but then, Selina Kyle comes along.
Ben Affleck is an older Bruce Wayne—one who’s fought his War on Crime for twenty years…and as he notes to Alfred, it’s led him to wonder whether there really is a point to it all. He’s become more cynical and brooding over the years—especially after the apparent death of Robin at The Joker’s hands. He’s angrier…and he’s sadder. He’s crushed beyond belief.
And he’s deeply suspicious of any idealistic White Knights coming along to “save the world”.
Still, one can’t help seeing a few dramatic links to the Dark Knight Trilogy. Most apparently, there’s the ruin of Wayne Manor—burned to a wreck, as if to invoke Batman Begins. Further, when Bruce asks Alfred “How many good guys are left?—How many stayed that way?”…it almost certainly invokes the tragedy of Harvey Dent, powerfully seen in The Dark Knight.
It’s not too far-fetched to imagine this Batman’s arc running parallel to the Nolan films—as though “Batfleck” almost is Christian Bale’s Batman, fifteen or so years later…albeit with some vital differences—some big, some “small”. Most blatantly, The Dark Knight Rises never happened: Bruce didn’t seclude himself after The Dark Knight, and instead recruited at least one Robin…he didn’t rebuild Wayne Manor…and he didn’t heroically “die”, retiring to Italy with Selina.
But more subtly…
The Wayne Family Murder:
The question arises: “Why do we need to see this again? We know what happened!—everyone knows it by heart, already! So why do it again?”
Well…it’s the little things.
There’s something very important in this version of the murder—something that holds a lot of meaning for fans of the Nolan trilogy. Remember in Batman Begins, when Ra’s Al-Ghul trains Bruce on the ice field?
“Your parents’ death what not your fault. It was your father’s. …Anger does not change the fact that your father failed to act!”
It’s implied to be a vital lesson for Bale’s Batman—that the only reason Evil triumphs is that Good fails to act. And that becomes a driving force for him—a fuel for his hope, that he can inspire Gotham to save itself.
But in this version…
In this version, Thomas and Martha did try and act. And lo and behold…they were gunned down anyway.
In this version, alas, Bruce doesn’t even have that sense of hope to cling to, that “the will to act” is all Good needs to triumph.
And so, here he still fights…but with a far different “lesson” in mind. As he notes to Superman, at the end of their fight, his parents’ death “taught me that the world only makes sense when you force it to.”
One gets the idea, from the prologue—and Bruce’s narration—that in the absence of “the will to act,” being Batman is about the only thing giving his life any meaning.
“In the dream—they took me into the light. A beautiful lie.”
Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth:
Michael Cain gave us a magnificent, quintessential Alfred—wise and insightful, with a jovial side. Irons’s Alfred isn’t quite as talkative…but there’s something “tough-guy” about him. Cain’s Alfred gave Bruce stories about his past as a British Intelligence operative—implying he still has connections, with his information about Bane and so on. But Irons’s Alfred doesn’t need to “tell” us anything. The steel in his bearing—the aura of strength and resolve—is enough to let us in on it.
Not that it cuts back on his wit—a bit darker than Cain’s:
“You’re getting slow in your old age, Alfred.”
“Happens to us all, Master Wayne. Even you’ve got too old to die young. And not for lack of trying.”
And he still has his valuable insight. He’s not fooled by Bruce’s insistence that “nothing’s changed”:
“Men fall from the sky. The gods hurl thunderbolts. Innocents die. That’s how it starts, sir. The fever—the rage. The feeling of—powerlessness. It turns good men…cruel.”
Yet he’s Bruce’s conscience amid all this—trying to reach him, and get him to realize that Superman “is not our enemy!” Bruce won’t budge…but later on, after the fight, he’s realized how right Alfred has been:
“I don’t deserve you, Alfred.”
“No, sir—you don’t.”
Say what you will about Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal—the character was written beautifully. Every piece of Luthor’s manipulations, bit-by-bit, resembles a spider spinning his web. We see him playing just about everyone—Congress, the media, the Nairomi terrorists, a Nairomi woman testifying in Congress, imprisoned criminals, Wallace Keefe…and Batman and Superman. He even plays loyal sidekick Mercy Graves—leaving her to die in the Congress bombing just to ensure everything goes smoothly.
Luthor’s a monster fueled by his vehement hatred of God…and everything and everyone that reminds Luthor of Him. And Superman’s perhaps the biggest reminder of all—and so, Luthor intends to destroy him—and the hope of all on Earth who ever felt inspired by this hero.
He’s perhaps the most disturbing and most vivid portrayal of an anti-theist villain on film. To all the Christian filmmakers who craft such villains—particularly to PureFlix: This, fellow believers, is the gold standard—precisely because this isn’t an on-the-surface “message” film.
(Incidentally, Luthor invokes his father throughout the film—and it’s all pretty…complicated. Whether Lex really was abused, or whether it’s just a convenient story he tells to “prove” his point to Superman, remains a mystery.)
Luthor’s a brilliant monster—able to anticipate and play even The World’s Greatest Detective. Of course, there’s another detective on the case—and a case could be made that Luthor is actually Lois’s arch-nemesis in this universe, not Superman’s….
(By the way…certain “Elseworlds” timelines have Lois and Lex as a couple. Kinda makes the rooftop scene even creepier, doesn’t it…?)
And though Lois is still able to get all the proof she needs to take him down—still, Luthor’s ensured enough roadblocks so that even Lo couldn’t prevent his plan from taking effect. Not when he has a backup plan….
Alas, Poor Keefe:
Wallace Keefe’s arc embodies the depths to which Luthor will go. While the accident itself happened in the Battle of Metropolis, and couldn’t be helped, it’s strongly indicated that everything that happens afterwards to “Wally” happens because of Luthor. It’s the most personal crime Lex commits—slowly and methodically destroying a man’s soul.
Lex keeps intercepting Keefe’s checks from Bruce Wayne—and sending the back with angry letters, allegedly from Keefe. Meanwhile, poor Wallace has been left desolate, divorced, and penniless—nothing remaining but despair.
It’s implied that his hatred of Superman stems from all that. We see him and Bruce developing a personal connection, at the beginning—there, he’s far from the embittered wreck Luthor forces him to become. And he never discovers that the man truly responsible for his post-accident suffering is the very man who recruited him to testify in Congress against a hero.
When we learn the truth, we can’t help feeling all the pity in the world for Keefe…and for Luthor, all the hatred a soul could possibly manifest.
The Charity Event—A Matter Of Detail:
Several little details pepper the film, where if you’re paying attention, it rewards you to your delight. Particularly, the charity event.
Both Clark and Bruce are specifically invited there, by Luthor—as Lex notes while looking them over, “I just love bringing people together!” It’s all to stoke the fires, of course—seeing if he can’t pit them against each other as much as possible.
But more subtly, when Clark and Bruce exchange words, we see Bruce looking Clark up and down quite a bit…sizing him up. It’s as if the World’s Greatest Detective has deduced it right away: “Hmm…so it’s you, huh? I wonder, son—those glasses really fool people?”
For his part, Clark overhears Alfred’s communication with Bruce, courtesy of Kryptonian hearing. He shadows Bruce a bit, brow furrowed in thought. As I said earlier, he’s almost certainly wondering if Bruce isn’t just a defender of the Dark Knight….
Meanwhile, another character’s introduced at the event—a mysterious beauty who’s watching Bruce, taking his hacking device and the information it’s just gleaned from Luthor. Understandably, Ben Shapiro’s noted that his wife initially thought this gal was Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. Heck, my brother (who’s no slouch when it comes to picking up on things) didn’t recognize her at first even though he saw Wonder Woman BEFORE this one!
Of course, it is Diana Prince—and with that knowledge, there’s some nice “rewatch value” with her tired reaction to Luthor messing up the Prometheus legend in his speech.
Bruce & Diana:
Rarely (if at all) played with in the comics, the idea of a romance between Batman and Wonder Woman comes from the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series. And let’s be honest: It’s a great idea. Much better than Superman and Wonder Woman—but then, I’m clearly a fan of Lois….
Anyway, we see sparks fly in BvS between Bruce and Diana, romantic tension simmering as Bruce confronts her over her “theft” from him:
Gal Gadot proved the critics wrong with this film—and Wonder Woman, of course. (Well…most critics, anyway—there are still a few holdouts, like the aforementioned Campea, for some reason.) Through her, Diana’s clever, cool, and maybe a little bit cynical—which she notes stems from “a century of horrors”. But Superman’s example helps her out of that…along with Bruce finding redemption, in this film.
As Bruce waits to break an encryption, he’s struck with an inexplicable two-part vision—one that seems to set up quite a few storylines to come, in the DCEU.
Part One shows Barman in a vast wasteland—a desolate cityscape, pillars of fire in the distance. A massive “omega” symbol’s stamped into the desert—the symbol of Darkseid, the DC Universe’s arch-villain. (Marvel’s Thanos was loosely based on this intergalactic “New God”—whose general, Steppenwolf, will be the main villain of the upcoming Justice League.)
Batman’s made a deal with other renegades for some Kryptonite…but he’s betrayed, his boys massacred by troops sporting the Superman “S”. We see large swarms of insectoid beings (Darkseid’s forces, aka “Parademons”) before Batman’s subdued and brought face-to-face with a furious Superman, troops kneeling around Supes.
Superman simmers, “She was my world…and you took her from me”—before killing Bats.
Later in the film, of course, Clark calls Lois “my world”.
Bruce bolts out of this “knight-mare” into Part Two…by the shouting voice of The Flash—struggling to reach out to him though a time portal (well, “time-stream” for comic fans), telling him 1) Lois Lane is “the key” (but then Flash realizes he’s “too soon” for that to be relevant, apparently), 2) Bruce was right about “him” and should “fear him!”, and 3) Bruce must “find us!”
What is all this? It seemingly invokes the Injustice alternate timeline, where Superman becomes a tyrant due to intense grief over the insanely tragic death of Lois (believe me, if you don’t know what happens, you don’t know the half of it)…although, Darkseid wasn’t involved in that version. Perhaps Darkseid’s brainwashed Superman, here. At any rate, future-Flash is clearly warning Bruce to take steps to avert this disaster.
What it all means, we’ll have to see….
Origins Of The League:
Speaking of The Flash, and “find us”…the data Bruce and Diana apprehend from Luthor includes recordings of four “meta-humans”—Diana herself…and Barry Allen (Flash), Arthur Curry (Aquaman), and Victor Stone (Cyborg). The first three are simply recordings of them doing “their thing”. The last is a brief origin story—along with a foreshadowing of the “mother-boxes” that will become very prominent in Justice League.
For those looking forward to this at least ever since The Avengers was first announced, it’s enough to get the blood pumping and the hard pounding.
Later on, we see Luthor finishing a communique with the aforementioned General Steppenwolf—just as troops come in to arrest Lex…and shave his head. Afterwards, he taunts to Batman that “he” is coming…and he’s hungry.
To be continued.
Attack On Washington:
One of Luthor’s most terrible crimes happens exactly at the midpoint of the film—the perfect place for an intermission, had the Ultimate Edition been the cut released in theaters. At any rate, it’s perhaps the most shocking, bone-chilling moment in the movie, as a bomb hidden within Keefe’s wheelchair by Luthor goes off—destroying the Capitol Building, and all within it except Superman.
Our hero can only look around him at the flames…wracked with guilt over those he couldn’t save—because for whatever reason, he didn’t see the bomb.
He does what he can, bringing out the survivors to the paramedics. But as far as he’s concerned, that doesn’t change anything. Looking out over those who didn’t make it…finally seeing Lois—who’d struggled to reach him before the hearing—now held back by barriers. But they lock eyes across the distance, sharing tears, and nonverbal words:
“Clark…it wasn’t your fault.”
And he flies upward, and away….
Clark and Lois are crushed by their failure. Alfred is distraught. And Bruce…
Well, led to believe that Wallace did it to send a message, a grieved Bruce is at last put over the edge. Everything before was just talk. Now, it’s time for action.
At last, what we’ve all been waiting for—the fight to settle the score.
It had happened before, many times—in the comics, in animation, and in video games. Whoever wins frankly depends on the writer.
In-universe, it depends on the context. In addition to being the World’s Greatest Detective, Batman’s also a master strategist. Give him enough time to plan, and he’s fully capable of crafting a perfect strategy to beat Superman. Yes, it usually involves Kryptonite—along with catching Supes off guard in order to use it.
Also, it involves Bruce’s knowledge of Clark’s psychology. Bruce is the first to admit that, were Superman to ever go all out, and hold nothing back…no human could possibly stand a chance. Thus, for Batman to take him down, it would have to be where Clark’s still essentially a good man. Hence his effective “preemptive strike”, in this film.
The fight is far different from the two in Civil War, needless to say. Unlike the airport scene, it’s a brawl—not an exhibition match. You can feel the grit, and the intensity. And yet, at the same time, there are “stages” in the fight with one dominating, than the other—so those on Team Supes and Team Bats have their opportunities to cheer.
Unlike the final Civil War fight, the reasons for their fighting actually make sense. Superman feels he has to either get Batman to back down…or kill him, to save his mother. And he’s been led to believe that the only way to get Batman to back down is to defeat him. As for Batman, he’s been led to believe that the risks of Superman’s power are too great—that ultimately he’s less of a “person” than a threat.
They’re both wrong. But we understand. In the meantime…fight on.
With the tragic battle over, the film can now “have some fun”. And it does—Alfred nonchalantly guiding Bruce in kicking the crap out of a bunch of goons, to save Martha Kent—though there’s a great moment of drama, especially for those “in the know” about Batman’s One Rule, and who agree with me that he technically hasn’t broken it, just yet….
“It’s okay. I’m a friend of your son’s.”
“I figured: The cape.”
Meanwhile, Superman—and we—enjoy a “hope spot” as he confronts Luthor about the latter’s defeat—with Batman’s over-the-phone assistance.
But Lex isn’t about to lose like this—and he’s had a backup plan for this from the beginning. Behold, the greatest threat Superman ever faced, from the comics on: Doomsday.
Appropriately enough, Luthor creates him here using material from the late, unlamented General Zod. And as it turns out, what doesn’t kill Doomsday makes him stronger—including a nuke foolishly launched by order of the president, over Swanwick’s objections.
Superman’s joined in his fight by Batman—who’s promptly saved by none other than Diana Prince, aka…Wonder Woman. Cue that classic “Marvel”-esque moment between Supes and Bats….
With the trio together, there’s spectacle galore—operatic, and clichéd as it sounds, “epic”.
But Doomsday still adapts—bringing the trinity to the brink of defeat. Only the Kryptonite spear can kill it—as Bruce and Lois have separately deduced. Ultimately, it’s up to Clark to retrieve it and use it, using all his strengths to fight the radiation’s effects long enough to finish off Doomsday.
But not before saying goodbye to the woman he loves….
The Death Of Superman:
One of the most famous storylines in comic book history. Tim Burton tried to make a film treatment in the late 1990s, starring Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel. Needless to say, the project fell through. (Film and comic expert Jon Schnepp made an excellent documentary on the project—The Death Of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? I highly recommend it.)
Now, at last, it’s brought to the big screen, as the climax of BvS.
There’s a whole new context, of course. Clark has been put through the emotional wringer throughout the film—wondering if he really has a place in this world, after all. But all the baggage is dealt with, now—in the end, as he tells Lois, “This is my world.” And of course, Lois herself is the one who keeps him going—just as Martha was, for Jonathan: “You are my world.”
But that doesn’t make it the least bit easier for Lois. After all…the feeling is mutual.
Meaningfully, Diana looks on in sadness, watching Lois’s anguished cradling of the lifeless Clark. It would take Wonder Woman’s release for us to understand: Diana knows exactly what Lo’s going through. And the moment where the two lock eyes—the moment of connection—is truly golden, in hindsight.
During the funeral, it’s all Lois can do to hold herself together—shell-shocked, silent, and beyond tears. It’s arguably far more gut-wrenching than just seeing her bawling her eyes out. It’s as if the trauma is too much for her to bear….
And Lois herself seems to wonder why she can’t even cry anymore—poignantly putting her hand to her chest in bewilderment, after receiving Clark’s “surprise” of an engagement ring.
It’s as if her heart refuses to accept that it’s over…that this is the end, for them.
A Light In The Darkness:
Amid all the sad, dark things that happen to Superman, Batman, Lois, and all the rest—there are still moments of hope throughout this film…reasons to still believe. Martha encourages Clark to hang in there—and to never think that he has an obligation to bend and break, when the world pressures him to. Lois stands by him to the bitter end. And ultimately, even the late Jonathan appears in a vision (perhaps a half-memory of a story Jon told him long ago), to let him know that 1) he can’t save everyone, and he shouldn’t tear himself up about that, and 2) even in the heights of despair, a certain someone can be his “world”, to help him press on.
For Bruce’s part, his loneliness does have a cure—though it takes him a while to realize it. His friendship with Alfred keeps him going, and he comes to understand he ought to value his butler’s insight a bit more. And of course, just maybe, a certain immortal princess can help him with the rest….
And ultimately, even amid the sacrifice of Superman, there is still hope. It solidifies for the world what sort of hero he truly was. And as Bruce notes to Diana:
“Men are still good. We fight—we kill…we betray one another. But we can rebuild. We can do better. We will—we have to.”
Further, for Superman—and Lois—though no one in-universe knows it…this isn’t the end. It’s just the end of the beginning.
By The Way…
Snyder and company gleaned much of the film’s story from various classic DC storylines. Luthor using his political clout to destroy the reputations of Batman and Superman comes from Public Enemies. An older, disenchanted Bruce Wayne—who eventually fights Superman—comes, again, from The Dark Knight Returns. And the grand finale comes from The Death Of Superman.
Incidentally, Death came out in the early 1990s—where Lois Lane’s a blue-eyed redhead (eerily resembling Amy Adams) and a “young” Lex Luthor has shoulder-length hair. (And a beard, but you can’t have everything….)
Jeffrey Dean Morgan—The Comedian in Snyder’s own Watchmen—plays Thomas Wayne in Bruce’s flashbacks. Supposedly, Zack cast him specifically so Morgan could play Flashpoint Batman in an upcoming film. Comic fans know exactly what I mean.
Jena Malone plays Jennet Klyburn (only appearing in the Ultimate Edition), forensics analyst at STAR Labs (run by Cyborg’s father). She’s apparently an old friend of Lois, assisting the investigation.
At the charity event, Bruce verbally wonders whether he owns the Daily Planet. It’s a light inside joke about the comics, where Bruce eventually does buy the paper.
Another inside joke: Perry’s line about 1938—the year Superman first appeared in Action Comics. That first storyline involved a corrupt U.S. Senator named…Barrows.
The museum curator who shows Diana the (fake?) Sword of Alexander is James Harmon—a one-shot villain from a Batman-Robin comic storyline, where he’s left his museum job in disgrace and goes on to commit murder.
The computer on the wrecked Kryptonian ship identifies General Zod as coming from Kandor. In the comics, Kandor is a miniature city in a self-contained environment, kept by Superman in his Fortress of Solitude. Clearly that isn’t the case in the DCEU.
By the movie here. And stay film-friendly, my friends.
THE SERIES SO FAR:
Rio Bravo (1959)
Man of Steel (2013)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Fight Club (1999)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Apocalypse Now (1979/2001)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Magnum Force (1973)
The Enforcer (1976)
Bridge Of Spies (2015)
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Any recommendations for films to make this series? Read the rules, here, and let us know!
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
Latest posts by Eric Blake (see all)
- The Greatest Conservative Films: Gran Torino (2008) - December 12, 2017
- Movie Review: Justice League—Do NOT Believe The Haters!!! - November 18, 2017
- The Greatest Conservative Films: Hail, Caesar! (2015) - November 16, 2017