Why I Love Batman V. Superman
"That should be upside down. We know better now, don't we? Devils don't come from hell beneath us. No, they come from the sky."
I used to hate comic book crossovers. I really, really did. When I was writing for the site Batman On Film, I was forced to read all of the BIG EVENT issues so that I could write opinion pieces. Batman R.I.P. was going on around the same time as Final Crisis. As happens with these big crossovers, characters from all the big DC titles mingle together. Instead of focusing on Batman fighting his own set of villains, suddenly he was fighting gods, Gods and GODS, alongside Superman and Wonder Woman. I hated how the integrity of titles was compromised to give DC an excuse to sell more comic books. So it is with this in mind that I came to Zach Snyder's Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I just knew that it would be terrible. How could Snyder make a story work that has rarely ever worked in the source material? We would get the regular stupid shit of Batman somehow besting Gods, even though he was nothing more than a mortal man. When I finally saw Batman V. Superman, I didn't expect much. But boy was I wrong. I was terribly, terribly wrong. Batman V. Superman is the best comic book movie ever made. It is the smartest, the most emotionally and morally complex film of any in the genre. Don't believe me? Well, read on gentle readers.
Let's start with my obvious objections: how can you tell a story where a man fights a God and make it believable? Well, you do like Snyder does. He takes all of those feelings of anger and rage at the thought of an omnipotent being dealing out unilateral justice and mercy on their terms, and wraps them up in a supremely dense and compelling story. Lex Luthor is the villain, but his contempt for Superman is believable and familiar to anyone who ever considered that as Luthor says, an all good, all powerful being who lets innocents die and villains walk free. If he is all good, he cannot be all powerful. If he is all powerful he cannot be all good. Batman is manipulated by Luthor, it's true. But he too has hatred in his heart for Superman. Superman also feels that Batman is a vigilante with no moral compass. When Batman and Superman fight, it comes from a real place. Their motivations are believable throughout. The action scenes have a weight to them that few movies have. Everything means something. Major credit has to be given to Snyder and co. for making the fight substantial, with believable, exciting developments like a great wrestling match between two babyfaces. The build is WrestleMania quality and the payoff is too.
Batman defeats Superman, because Superman can't bring himself to kill Bruce Wayne. Batman is about to kill Superman and Clark Kent says "Save Martha." Some people thought this was a silly moment and an unlikely thing to stay Batman's hand. It is though one of the perfect moments in any superhero movie. Through showing his humanity, Superman shows that his heart is good, even if he isn't perfect. Batman responds to this humanity by sparing his life and comes to the realization that Superman is not his enemy. This is a movie about the pain that comes from fighting against our mortality and that of our loved ones. Batman's weakness and strength comes from the murder of his parents. It drives him to be stronger, faster and better, but it also cripples him emotionally and isolates him from the rest of humanity. He still hasn't come to terms with it. When he looks into Superman's eyes and sees that he too has love in his heart for his parents, he understands who Clark is. I think this is more powerful than anything in Nolan's Batman pictures, or indeed the Christopher Reeve Superman pictures. It is a subtle, moving moment.
Batman V. Superman is a complex story about how we relate to the idea of a God. I am an atheist, mostly, but I found both this movie and the exquisite Man of Steel to be powerfully moving examples of how and why people want to believe in a saviour. "Maybe he's just a guy trying to do the right thing." That lift, when Superman raises you up, when he catches you falling is everything that makes me want to believe in a God. A God who forgives your worst sins and who helps you to become a better person. Batman V. Superman is about how we struggle with the pull to want to believe in a God, while feeling conflicted about whether we should allow anyone to rule over us. Superman doesn't want to rule, he just wants to help where he can. As The Flaming Lips wrote on The Soft Bulletin, "Tell everybody waiting for Superman that they should try to hold on best they can. He hasn't dropped them, forgot them, or anything. It's just too heavy for Superman to lift." This is a God that I can get behind. It is perhaps foolish and solipsistic to believe that there is a personal God out there, but it is not so unwise to consider that there may be higher beings out there in the universe whose power would seem to us to be Holy.
When my father died five months ago, I had a lot of time to think on life and death. I loved him dearly. I remember watching Man of Steel with him in Den Haag, in the Netherlands. He was tremendously moved by the movie, especially the scene where Clark Kent's father, played by family favourite Kevin Costner, dies. I lost it and cried quite a lot. Noel would have loved Batman V. Superman, for its wisdom in discussing the moral questions of God and how it navigates the treacherous waters and gives an answer that is as far from stock as possible. It is not a simple thing to discuss the positives and negatives of believing in a God in a comic book movie. This goes back to Alan Moore's seminal work Watchmen - also adapted and directed by Zach Snyder - and the dog riding a bicycle argument. Well, in my opinion this isn't something that I am praising because it is in an unlikely form. I am praising it in the same way I would the brilliant Doubt and The Master starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, for discussing religion, belief and devotion in a clear headed way, but also in a way that understands the deep emotional resonance that religions and spiritual journeys have for us as human beings. Would we kill God if we had a chance? I know some people who would, and I at one time in my life probably thought that way. Batman's argument is convincing. Ultimately though, by understanding that Superman is as much a product of Earth as he is of Krypton, Batman understands that to kill him would be to destroy his own humanity. I think of Noel looking out for me, even now, and lifting me up like Superman when I'm falling. No comic book movie has ever reached the heights of intellectual, emotional and beautiful that Batman V. Superman has. It is a film that demands respect, so powerful are its many different elements.
Some words on Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She is beautiful and brilliant in the role. As with Man of Steel, she is given so much credit as an intelligent, capable person. Yes, Superman saves her a couple of times, but she is more than capable of taking care of herself. I love Amy Adams from Junebug, Doubt and Nocturnal Animals. There has never been a better Lois Lane, in any medium. The best choice in Man of Steel was to have Lois Lane discover who Superman was on her own, because of course she would uncover the truth. She is written and played as such an intelligent person that it would be an insult to her character to have to wait years before Superman told her he was Clark Kent. There is great detective work in Batman V. Superman, with Lois uncovering Lex Luthor's culpability in trying to smear the name of Superman, and Batman infiltrating Lex Luthor's home and uncovering the location of the kryptonite. Even Wonder Woman gets in on the act, by pilfering Bruce Wayne's digital nabber! Lois Lane here is one of the great female performances in a movie. She is strongly written, wonderfully played and just perfect for this cinematic universe.
Ben Affleck got some shit for his portrayal of Bruce Wayne and Batman but he is really very good. I was never a big fan of him before, but after seeing him in this I see I was wrong to doubt him. He is a terrific actor and completely embodies the character in a way that Christian Bale, Michael Keaton or Kevin Conroy would be proud of. His rage has gotten out of control by the time we are introduced to the character. Through fighting Superman and coming to terms with the fact that he is not a danger to Gotham City and the world, he gets his moral compass back. I love the scenes between Batman and Wonder Woman here. Some incredible chemistry between Affleck and Gal Gadot. I am sorry to say that I have not yet seen the Wonder Woman movie, but I fully expect to love it, so good was Gadot here. I dearly hope that we will get to see Affleck in a solo Batman picture.
Henry Cavill is as perfect as Superman here as he was in Man of Steel. At times he reminds one of a young Christopher Reeve. His heart is heavy with the weight of the world. When Luthor convinces an amputee to blow himself up in court with Superman next to him, the way Cavill plays the self-doubt is something to behold. Really fine performance all the way around. I love the scene between Clark and Kevin Costner. When Superman steps up and throws down, Cavill can be quite menacing and imposing. Yet there is a side to the character in both this movie and Man of Steel that expresses his inherent vulnerability. He is wracked with doubt and doesn't know what his place in the world is. Where as Batman is confident in who he is and what he does - even if that means he is never to be loved by anyone other than Alfred - Superman's power makes him question if he should bother putting himself out there to be shot down.
Holly Hunter does a wonderful job as Senator June Finch, and helps to deliver the story of God vs Man in a successful manner. Her desire to get to the truth and to uncover if Superman is culpable in the deaths of innocents comes from an entirely different place to Luthor, who desires the power that Superman has. Finch isn't settled on the question yet, and is open to discovering that she was wrong. These scenes are some of the best written of the film and really flesh out the wider world's relation to Superman and how they are processing such information. Larry Fishburne! He is amazing! As with Suicide Squad, there are some usual dumb as fuck sorts who objected to a black man being cast in a traditionally white role. Look race has nothing to do with the character okay? Nothing about Perry White comes from his race, it comes from his commitment to his job and to seeking out the truth. Jeremy Irons is a brilliant Alfred, knowing and wise. I hope we get to see plenty more of him as time goes on. Lastly, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is some kind of beautiful thing. He perfectly gets the weaselly, cowardly, deceitful bastard nature of the character. He plays it like he did Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, as a confused and insecure sort with massive resources. I also love his work in the recent Woody Allen film Cafe Society. He is one to watch for sure.
The Death and Return of Superman was the very first comic book I read. I loved it. Batman V. Superman makes good use of the story, and even throws Doomsday into the mix. Some have criticized Doomsday here, as being nothing more than a tool of Lex Luthor. BUT THAT IS JUST WHY IT'S SO PERFECT! Lex Luthor is The Joker to Superman's Batman. He is the true villain of the piece and it makes sense that he created Doomsday to kill Superman. And he does. I love that too. There are real stakes in the film, as there were in Man of Steel. I love that Superman dies, even if he is almost certainly returning in the upcoming Justice League film.
From the stunning fight scenes and action, to the complex way that the film deals with life and death, man vs God, to the staggering beauty to be found in seeing Batman and Superman come to terms with their place in life, Batman V. Superman is the best comic book movie ever made. The physicality of the fight, the poetry of its movements, it is the best example of why comic book movies should not be considered low Art. Think of it like a wrestling match. You don't need dialogue, the story is being told in the way the fighters square up to each other, to step up and take your life in your own hands. The courage to keep fighting when you feel you can no longer go. Batman is my favourite comic book character and I (previously) hated crossovers, but I feel this is the best vision of the character on screen or in print. Batman V. Superman is superior to The Dark Knight, to X-Men 2, to Spiderman 2 or The Avengers. See the Extended Version. Throw your prejudices out the window and enjoy.