Batman V Superman and the Lack of Emotion

SPOILERS AHEAD…

I wasn’t moved. There I was, watching my three all-time favorite superheroes together on the big screen for the first time and I wasn’t moved. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were there, in the flesh, fighting Doomsday, and all I could think about was when did they lose it? When did they lose their capacity to wonder? Their capacity to be the heroes I know they are. And I realized this has been a step-by-step process. Zack Snyder’s imprint is everywhere on this movie, as it was on Man of Steel, but I didn’t want to see it. I thought these heroes were able to survive whatever was thrown at them, be it Doomsday, Zod, Luthor… or even Snyder. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Unfortunately, they were victims, as were the rest of the citizens of Metropolis, blown away by a confusing and exploding ending battle. An ending battle representing the two installments we got so far of the DC Cinematic Universe. It wasn’t any of their well-known villains that killed them: it was Snyder’s vision, making the first stone of the DC Cinematic Universe more of a burden than a foundation.

I don’t recognize my heroes nor my DC Universe in any frame of these movies. Snyder was able to accomplish something I didn’t think possible: he changed my interpretation of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Right now I wish Singer would have been able to follow that movie with more sequels. Despite my complaints at the time of a Superman too nostalgic and melancholic for my taste, I didn’t see coming a Superman that could be unhappier and darker. I was wrong.

Snyder’s Superman is everything Superman is not supposed to be. He is not inspiring, he says his symbol means hope but does nothing to show it, he never smiles, and everything seems like a burden to him, as if the responsibility of being the greatest superhero of all time was unbearable. That’s not Superman, no matter how hard they try to justify it and make us accept this as another version of the character. Snyder’s Superman tries to be bigger than life in terms of philosophy and gravitas; he is telling us all the time how important and life-changing every decision and scene is, but he fails at the most important part. He fails at making us believe it. In Man of Steel, Superman does not reveal himself to humanity until Zod threatens Earth. He has done nothing for us, he has saved nobody. He just appears, God-like, flying above humans to turn himself in, so humanity decides for him. What was he expecting humanity would do? It’s completely different than previous versions of Superman; like Richard Donner’s, where Christopher Reeve’s Superman stops a lot of burglars during just his first night. And not to mention the times that Superman smiles, connects to audiences and characters and introduces himself as “a friend”. Snyder’s version seems more interested in having good frames than in developing a character.

Another failed character development is Batman’s portrayal. He has no consistency beyond being a criminal killer. The character is being pushed to a really dark edge because Superman is already a dark character. If they are supposed to confront each other, they cannot be on the same page – something well delivered in Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s animated adaption of World’s Finest. However, in this movie Snyder’s Batman seems to be translated to screen from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns but in an even more extreme version. The character seems to have an agenda but with no real purpose besides wanting to fight and kill Superman. We only get to see images of Batman with his armor or fighting criminals like it has been adapted from one of the Arkham games, scenes with powerful images but with no interest beyond how good-looking they are.

That’s something inherent to Snyder’s way of filmmaking. He likes to attach himself to visuals, and he delivers some powerful images in this movie, especially when he tries to repeat Donner’s version of Superman’s first night by showing him saving a lot of people… but he fails, again, at making us feel it and believe it. We only see great splash-pages, but with no feeling.

I won’t go into describing how Batman v Superman is not a good movie. There has been already a lot of analysis about it, and I think anybody can point out the film’s lack of consistency, character development, plot, and coherence. Not to mention the stupid “Martha” scene that ends the battle. I won’t go into that because what I really wanted was to like this movie. And it didn’t let me. Every time a new scene was unveiled, I was more shocked and horrified by what I saw. Characters were going from one place to another without any logic to it, and they were being treated as if they weren’t the biggest, long-lasting superheroes of all time. There is a reason why Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have been around for 75 years, and this movie does not reflect any of it. It portrays them as violent characters, with no regard for human life and more focused on their own vendettas and missions than the overall good. If these are the superheroes our times deserve, we should be really worried. At least we still have the DC Television Universe to be inspired by, with characters whose focus is still to be good.

Batman’s focus against Superman is hard to swallow, despite the only good scene in the whole movie: when Bruce Wayne runs around Metropolis during Man of Steel’s final battle. The rest of the movie does nothing to support that idea in a good way, instead we see Bruce looking for something called “White Portuguese”, and talking with Diana Prince and Lex Luthor in scenes written only for those characters to interact, not because those characters need to relate to each other in benefit of the story. That also happens with Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. they only have one scene as their alter egos and another one as Superman and Batman before they start fighting each other. Both of those scenes are useless for the story itself. They are there only to bring us what we could call a “Snyder postcard”.

And within these “postcard” moments, Snyder believes in only one thing: audiences will fill the voids. Audiences know Superman and Batman, they know Lois and Clark are in love, they know Wonder Woman is really strong, and so on. They know the basics, because the characters’ history supports it. But the movie, by itself, does nothing at developing these characters outside our already stablished mind frame around them. We see Lois and Clark in love, living together, and worrying for each other. But why is that? In two movies (and not two short movies), we have seen them together for about 15 minutes. With no romantic story arc and barely a romantic interest. But, alas, they are Lois and Clark. They are supposed to be together. As we are supposed to know the suit in the Batcave belonged to a dead Robin, with no explanation to moviegoers. Some of them won’t even decipher it is a Robin suit, but comic-book readers will fill this void. That also can be applied to dozens of scenes, from the parademons in the “Knightmare” sequence to Luthor himself. He is supposed to be the villain. It doesn’t matter this version of the character lacks purpose or has several plots going on at the same time that are opposite to each other. Because he wants to kill Superman at the same time he creates an alien monster more powerful than him. That makes no sense at all, like the rest of the movie. But, of course, Superman must fight Doomsday, because that’s what we know must happen. Like Lois and Clark falling in love. So, Doomsday appears and fights Superman. Again, no emotional anchor, nothing from the movie at least. The emotional anchor is the one the audience must bring with them. For each of us, Superman means something, and we bring our feelings for him to the scenes we are watching, but the movie does nothing for it.

It only shows something related to character development in one scene, when Martha Kent talks with Superman in Smallville. She tells him he can be the hope people need him to be… or he can be nothing at all because he owes us nothing. So, the only moment a character speaks for herself, not trying to take for granted the knowledge we have of these heroes, she destroys completely what they represent. This Superman had no love, no compassion, and not a single “superhero education” (if I may) from his parents. He just stands there, watching people get killed or killing his enemies. With that background from Martha Kent, with that sad and dark universe Snyder has put this Superman in, it’s no surprise that Superman dies. Hopefully, he will come back as the Superman we know and love, but this time with filmmakers interested in explaining and showing us the development of that character instead of taking it for granted.

Superman dies because that is what is supposed to happen when he fights Doomsday. And it’s not surprising, because the only thing left for this version of Superman to do was to die.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Hernando is Editorial Director of the Comics Department at Grupo Planeta in Barcelona (Spain), where he handles Spanish editions of Walking Dead, Star Wars, Saga, Paper Girls, Conan the Barbarian, Transformers, Creepy, Usagi Yojimbo, Southern Bastards, Lone Wolf & Cub, Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto, Monster and many more. Before that he was also the publisher of Spanish editions of DC Comics from 2005 to 2011, and he has contributed with other local publishers like Dolmen, Norma and Panini since 2001. He is the author of several works on comics in Spain like Batman: The Rest Is Silence (2004) or Superman: Creation of a Superhero (2013). In 2014 he published the work he is most proud of: Batman: Night Serenade, a biography on Bill Finger. He studied English Philology at the University of Barcelona, with a PhD on English Literature, specially focusing on adaptation studies. He is currently writing a book on Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

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