This review contains spoilers.
“Black and blue. Fight night. The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world. God versus man. Day versus night! Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham!” – Lex Luthor
Comic fans have been having the argument for over 70 years about who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman. At the end of Man of Steel the production team was looking for the next challenge that Superman would face and in that conversation the idea was thrown out that it should be Batman. Thus was born the genesis of Batman v Superman, Zach Snyder’s newest film in the DC cinematic universe. Pitting a grizzled, bitter Batman against a Superman the world is not sure it wants, Batman v Superman is a serious comic book film that asks big questions while at the same time not loosing heart.
Fear What They Don’t Understand
Martha Kent tells her son that people fear what they do not understand and that theme plays itself out throughout the movie. Lex Luthor plays on the fears of the government, which is not sure what to make of this alien with god-like powers. He is also able to prey on the fear, anger and rage of Bruce Wayne who after 20 years as Batman has seen the loss of a Robin and many so-called “good men”. Fear drives Bruce to see Superman as something that cannot be contained, “That son of a bitch brought the war to us. He has the power to wipe out the entire human race and if we believe there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty” he tells Alfred. He has good reasons, since he was there the day that Zod attacked Metropolis, helplessly watching as he lost friends and employees in one of his buildings.
Fear leads Batman to become even harder and more cruel as he searches for answers because he believes it is duty to save humanity from a threat that cannot be controlled. In light of someone with such power who is the Batman? Alfred, like Yoda before him warns Bruce about fear, “That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.” Because of it, Batman is willing to be the complete vigilante, he will do whatever it takes to get the job done. This is where the “v” in the title comes in to play, will justice be served by the law or by someone like Batman. Superman stands clearly on the side of the law and working with it to bring justice, Batman on the other had is much more willing to dole out justice as he sees fit.
It was striking to see this as a reflection of America. We are being driven by fear, we don’t talk, we just yell at each other from different sides of the aisle and problems never get resolved. We are afraid of everything and it continually eats away at our humanity until there is nothing left. We face the same dilemma, will be be driven by our fear, allowing it to lead us down a dark path, or will we be lead by the better angels of our nature? At this moment the answer is utterly uncertain.
There is a senate hearing about actions that were taking early in the movie by Superman and the senator played by Holly Hunter talks about the importance of talking to one another in a democracy and working things out together. What is provocative is to see how the “fight” between Batman and Superman has come to a head because they have not talked to one another, they have just assumed things about the other. It is only when these two men do talk that they realize they are being used as pawns and are actually on the same side. The most powerful moment in the movie comes when Batman has Superman down and is ready to strike and Superman asks him to save Martha who has been kidnapped by Lex. In that moment Bruce realizes that he and Clark, though from completely different worlds are exactly the same, men who would do anything to save their mothers and it creates a bridge between them.
It’s a timely reminder that it is through dialogue and communication that most problems get solved. The hard work of setting aside preconceptions and prejudices has to be done if we ever want to make a better world. There is a time to fight but more importantly, there is a time to truly listen, learn and make peace.
Media and the Truth
The movie has a very realistic take on the role of media in our lives. We live in a world of the 24 hour news cycle that has created the era of the sensationalistic sound-bite culture that feeds misinformation constantly. There is very little responsible journalism when getting the story first is more important than getting it right. Clark faces that in the film as he sees the way the Batman is trampling on civil liberties and Perry White yells at him, “Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.” The world has stopped caring about what is moral and right in the news when like everything else it has become a form of entertainment. The movie wonderfully demonstrates this with the likes of Charlie Rose and Anderson Cooper showing up, playing the same roles they do in real life, questioning pundits who have no real knowledge, just half-baked theories built on conjecture. It’s a world where everyone is saying something but no one is listening. This talking heads do nothing but fan the flames of extremism on both sides because it’s good for the ratings and the truth gets trampled in the crossfire.
The film shows the difference of people who have experienced the kindness and help of Superman as apposed to those who have not. It’s shocking to see when he arrives at the capital the demonstrations where half of the people love him and the other half hate him, even though neither sides have probably ever met him or experienced him in person. It plays into the theme of fear perfectly and sadly it looks all too familiar, a world that takes sides with little to no true knowledge of the subject matter at hand.
One of the beauties of the DC cinematic universe so far is the consequences faced by the heroes and the situations that they are in. In Man of Steel an alien terraforming machine was unleashed on the world and two “gods” fought creating massive destruction. This carries in to Batman v Superman as Superman must figure out when is the right time to act, what is the right thing to do and deal with the untended consequences of his actions, even if the action was right. The movie does a good job of showing that Clark is trying to do what is right in all areas of his life, at the newspaper and as Superman, yet he lives in a world where what is right is often not seen as popular or even encouraged.
Perception of his actions have a huge impact on the movie since everything he does is captured, reported on and twisted in a million different ways in the media. It plays in beautifully with the ideas of the media and truth. Superman may have the noblest of intentions but since his actions are often seen or spun differently and it creates a firestorm that he often did not expect. Snyder brilliantly captures the heart of the cynical, jaded and self-important world we live in where it’s not the truth of what happened that matters but your own personal “truth” that is preeminent. We’ve lost the ability to believe in heroes because we’ve lost the belief in good and evil, to accept only our own spin on events. Additionally the blame game is in full effect, since no one these days is responsible for their own actions, it is always the fault of someone else and the one to blame is usually the person trying to do the right thing.
What is incredible about the movie is that it plays all of this out with Superman. His actions to save Lois in the desert from terrorists has led to him being blamed for deaths that he did not cause and the media spin does nothing to help. In the end the whole thing is being orchestrated by Lex to sow the seeds of distrust in Superman and he plays the world for fools by tapping into our fears, the media and the current lack of critical thought to unleash an even greater evil on the world. Sound familiar?
On top of this, Lex openly challenges the idea of an all good “god” with the classic problem of evil. If God is all good how can their be evil and if there is evil, how can God be all good? The death of religious belief has lead us to question the ability of anything altruistic or good in anyone, even our heroes. It’s hard to have heroes when we don’t believe in absolute good or evil, there are only shades of grey and someone like Superman can seem like a relic of a long forgotten age. It truly is the struggle of our time as we wrestle with the desire for a true hero and ostracism of them in the same breath. This is why all our “heroes” reflect us now, not the best part, the morally ambiguous part, because heroes make us uncomfortable with what we have given up. Heroes with the virtue of Superman, remind us of what we have lost in expulsion of absolute truth.
Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman
The thing that I love most about the movie is the was the way it nails the Superman character. May people cried foul at Man of Steel for not having him saving enough people, but this movie takes all of that criticism and builds on it. It shows us a man willing to be a hero, even when he’s rejected. Superman tells Lois, “This is my world” and he is willing to give his life for it, even if the people of it shun, hate or despise him, he’s going to be the hero they need. He lovingly plays out John 15:13, giving his life not only for his friends but for the world, even those that hate him and by doing so fulfilling his father Jor-El’s words, “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” And the people do, starting with Batman and Wonder Woman.
Batman was the best Batman I have seen on screen, from the costume, to the movement, to the way in which he seemed to have stepped right out of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. What made him so compelling was his need to be brought back into the light and that it was Clark that showed him the way. He was reminded of his humanity by an alien. It’s a powerful message of hope in the darkness and the need of someone to show the lost the way.
Wonder Woman was wonderful. DC was right to bring her into this film and introduce her to the world before she gets her own film in 2017. Gal Gadot was phenomenal and some of the biggest cheers in the theater were when she shows up in the costume to help lay waste to Doomsday. Honestly love everything about her.
This movie is a comic book on screen. It is fun too, do not let the reviews out there fool you, there were moments I was cheering and having a blast. I like that the plotting of Lex throughout the film brings all of the heroes together in the end, as well as sets up the need for the Justice League to form. I thought that Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was a refreshing take on a well known character. He brought a manic malevolence to the performance that set him apart from other Luthors we have seen. I also enjoyed the final climax to the movie as the three heroes try to find a way to defeat Doomsday and not destroy another city. The movie is not perfect, but I like is immensely and cannot wait to see it again as well as Zach Snyder’s Director’s Cut on blu ray. This is 4 and a half stars out of 5 for me.