Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ★★★★


Right from the first sequence of Batman v Superman, Zack Snyder presents his form of deconstruction in a split tension. These icons are not just two sides of the same coin, but mythic translations of a political world. We see the death of Bruce Wayne's parents - which is also intercut with a dream of young Bruce falling into a 'batcave' and the bats raising him up, like a chosen religious figure - and then we see the death of Bruce Wayne's constructed family - his business and wealth and the people who were there for him when his parents couldn't be. The ground-level perspective of Superman fighting Zod is harrowing. Snyder shows us the traumatic root-cause of Batman so that we can better understand the anger of Bruce Wayne, not to mention how the title card signifies 'mankind is introduced to The Superman' as if he's a force of nature or explicitly dehumanized. He isn't saving cats from trees or helping elderly folks across the street. The world that Kal-El finds himself in doesn't allow for that moral simplicity. Instead, Superman intervenes in CIA covert operations, which we eventually learn are spearheaded by egotistical tech billionaires and funneled through organized crime, and destroys cities to 'save' humanity. But from what, exactly? Zod is the least of our worries in this film.

If the scene in Man of Steel where Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent responds with a reserved "maybe" to the question of: "what was I supposed to do? just let them die?" means anything, it's that the world isn't merely *not* ready for Superman - his existence becomes an active deterrent to the functions of America's societal structures. His failure to see a terrorist attack on the US capital is a key element to this character. The Ultimate Cut explains it as the wheelchair bomb being lined with lead, so Superman couldn't have possibly seen, but even if he just didn't notice - this becomes a larger question of how Superman sees the world he's placed in. A disconnect between the character and how he is or isn't supposed to intervene.

"My world doesn't exist anymore"

The same goes for Batman. Not just a rich lonely traumatized tech-nerd playboy - he's also hell-bent on destroying Superman due to his actions, and treated like a terrorist, an alien, an individual who doesn't understand the state of the world around him. Much of this is true, but Snyder still finds an empathetic eye for Kal-El, and Batman is morally complex in that he disregards it all until a common thread of melodrama emerges: both mother figures in their lives shared the name 'Martha'. For most of the run-time, Batman disregards the media, even the companies he owns, and how they portray Superman as a conscious savior figure who's frequently out of control. He finds a commonality in the apathy of another caped hero, but denies Superman's misplaced hope. Bruce Wayne recognizes he himself is a criminal, so why can't Superman do the same?

But these larger questions aren't necessarily answered. And the only way for Superman to be truly selfless is to die, sacrificing himself for an America that is far from Rockwellian naivety. An America that never fully accepted him as one of their own, or even as a protector. The cruelty of men is a process, as Alfred states. Bruce Wayne is aware of his own downfall, and he knows that someone like Superman in the modern world cannot and will not stay loyal to preexisting foundations, especially when Zack Snyder portrays the US (rightfully so) as a shadowed hellscape of crime, 24/7 news, and capitalism gone amok. It's only fitting that Superman and Batman bond over a name that takes them both back to an innocence. And going even further, the film emphasizes Lex Luthor's creation - a blend of Kryptonian and Human blood - as a monstrosity. A Frankenstein creation with no feeling - a creature that is hit with a nuclear warhead and only grows stronger. The world is ending, and the only people that are able to save it are these famous freaks with superpowers. America can't control them.

Much of this film doesn't land as a thrilling blockbuster, so I can't say it's fully effective compared to other pop entertainments of the time. But it's clear that BVS is less concerned with providing these icons to sold-out crowds than reinterpreting them based on the pulse of our shared reality. When I saw this film back in 2016, even in its truncated Theatrical cut, I was enthralled in spots, but mostly I received a new perspective of these mythic creations, and one that I could take with me when I went home and turned on the news. In spite of its morose, overtly serious tone and its grandiose length, Batman v Superman lingers with its canvas of reactionary violence, neo-gothic expressionism, and melodramatic overtones.

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