The thought of writing a Batman v Superman thinkpiece is almost crushing my soul as I type. I haven’t wanted to spend another waking minute on this abomination of a film, as Zack Snyder systematically destroys cinema with his poorly-constructed battle royale. Batman v Superman is a fundamentally horrible movie on a very structural, base level. And it only gets worse from there. It’s almost objectively terrible, rendering any positive outlook on this picture seemingly flawed and blinded by the desire for it to be good, highlighting the inability for fans of the movie to see the way this thing is so shoddily put together. Scenes stop and start awkwardly, character motivations make absolutely no sense time and time again, other characters know things they have no possible way of knowing, and the less is said about the dialogue, the better.
I didn’t want to pile on this horrible movie because, frankly, I want to move on. But something has been eating away at me since I saw it. It’s one element – a massive element – of the film I cannot shake. Zack Snyder has ruined Superman. He hasn’t simply ruined this new Cavill Superman, mind you, he’s completely upended everything the character has stood for for almost 80 years. This new Superman is nothing the character was built upon for decades upon decades. Snyder and DC, and the DCEU, have a serious Superman problem, and it may be too late to turn back.
Disclaimer: I am not a walking comic book encyclopedia. I enjoy comic films and certain comic books and story threads, etc. Both Batman and Superman are my favorite characters, and I prefer DC to Marvel for the most part, because those are the two heroes I grew up on in the movies. I saw Donner’s Superman, Burton’s Batman, and I worked my way backwards from there into their comic catalogues. So I was eternally optimistic about this film; I wanted it to be great. And even when early reviews came in, my desire for this picture to succeed propelled my blind optimism. Until the film began, my pennant for Batman v Superman was waving wildly.
Batman is… ok? Whatever, I’m not here to talk about Batfleck because he’s not the issue. It’s Superman, a character Zack Snyder obviously doesn’t care about, doesn’t know, doesn’t respect, and philosophically disagrees with on a political level. Where Batman is an angry vigilante, proactively attacking the evil in the world, Superman has always been a defender of the good. He is a hero, first and foremost, reluctant to commit violent acts until there is no other option. He has an inherent desire to help the human race, to save as many people as he can. Born on an alien planet to loving parents, adopted in the heart of Middle America by equally loving parents, Clark Kent/Superman is a wholesome, caring ambassador for all that is good and all that can be good again.
Snyder’s Superman? He is a loner, a brooding and angry alien who is reluctant to help people. Unless Lois, the only person he honestly seems to care about through two movies now, is in trouble, Superman would rather isolate himself from humans and pontificate on whether or not he should actually use his powers to help society. The first 70 plus years of Superman had the character dealing with the fact he couldn’t save enough people all the time. This new version of Superman wonders if he should even bother wasting his time.
Think about Richard Donner’s Superman from 1978, played by Christopher Reeve. He is still the definitive Superman, and there’s no real argument against that point. He tells Lois he is fighting for “truth, justice, and the American way,” and he “never lies.” This Superman is a caring, warm spirit, everything the very foundation of Superman was built upon. Imagine Henry Cavill saying anything as reassuring as that to anyone in Man of Steel or BvS. He would never say something as thoughtful as this, because he’s barely given a chance to speak at all. Donner’s Superman would wince at the thought of a single human life lost, and that would be the torment driving his character arc. This Superman will do whatever he can to save his girlfriend, everyone else be damned. Case in point: the incredibly careless destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel. Not once does Cavill’s Superman plead with Zod to stop because of the people in the crossfire. That was, if you remember Superman II, Reeve’s desperate plea, and the whole reason he fled to the fortress of solitude; he witnessed the people in danger, and realized he must lead Zod and his cronies to an isolated battleground to save as many people as he can. That kind of thought doesn’t even cross new Superman’s mind.
Snyder’s marginalization of the definitive superhero is glaring and disheartening. Because this new DC Universe is all super gritty and dark, right? Groan.
Superman is not dark and gritty in really anyway, but Snyder and David Goyer are dead set on shaping him as such. Why? Why does every superhero have to be dark and brooding now? They aren’t that way in their canon. Before you light the torches and grab the pitchforks, sure, seeing a new and different approach to an icon as recognizable as Mickey Mouse and Jesus could be an exciting proposition. For the sake of argument, let’s say the idea is to make Superman dark (horrible idea, but let’s go with it). Is this what we get when that happens? A practically mute, angry, bitter manchild? No thanks.
And how about one of the more visible lines in the BvS marketing campaign: “If I wanted it,” he tells Batman, “you’d be dead already.” The hero we all grew up on would never say this. At least not in my mind. Superman never used to be predisposed to murder, no matter who it might be (which inadvertently takes us back to the climax of Man of Steel). But Snyder has dedicated his new universe to making Superman a selfish prick, not a savior of men. Any saving he does in BvS is done so reluctantly, at least that’s the vibe I got, because this new Jonathan Kent has told him not that the time will come when he can help people, but that he maybe shouldn’t ever do it at all. Hearing Snyder’s desire to adapt Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead shines light on this political leanings and the direction he’s taken Kal-El. Snyder obviously embraces objectivism in his life, and he has pushed that ideology on a character who would not in a million years identify with Randian politics.
Here we are though, in a new time and place, where every superhero must fit a filmmaker’s flawed vision. Of all the (endless) issues with Batman v Superman, Snyder’s utter dismissal of the second half of the title is the most unsettling. Why can’t we have a superhero, built on the foundation of all that is good in this world, stay that way in some shape or form? There is more conflict for these characters than anger and resentment. At least, there used to be.