I can’t believe my first full post on this blog will be defending a blockbuster film with negative reviews. But too many ‘critics’ have made faulty assessments of the film and the impressionable masses have gobbled it- as they always will.
Annotated Plot Details
Let me do a quick retelling of the film, as I have interpreted it. The film begins with a re-imagining of Bruce Wayne’s parents deaths. A thug approaches the Waynes, shoots Thomas Wayne. He falls to the ground, whispering “Martha…”, his wife’s name. His mother gets shot as well. This sequence is spliced with the young Bruce Wayne running away from his parents’ funeral, falling down a manhole and stylistically elevating with bats flying around him. There’s something to be said here; that the bats and the Batman persona is what elevates him from his insecurities, a theme that’s very prominent in Watchmen, another of Snyder’s films (this was my take, the imagery is obviously open to more than one interpretation). Bruce narrates here:
Bruce: There was a time above… a time before… there were perfect things… diamond absolutes. But things fall… things on earth. And what falls… is fallen. In the dream, it took me to the light. A beautiful lie.
Note the cynicism and bitterness here.
Fast forward to the events of Man Of Steel, where Bruce Wayne watches in horror as Superman rips through Metropolis while fighting Zod. He’s without his Bat-suit, powerless. It might seem abrupt, but the transition is pretty obvious, here. Bruce is feeling exactly the same way he did when he was a boy, watching his loved ones die. This could be edited in the extended cut, but the transition here was clear to me.
The film fast forwards again to the present, with Lois Lane in Nairobi, trying to get an interview with a known terrorist. Superman intervenes when things go South. He arrives after a hostile gun fight initiated by one of Luthor’s henchmen, Anatoli Knyazev (KGBeast in the comics). Again, all this is planned by Lex, but it’s not apparent here. Lane drops a book which gets shot at in the gunfight. There’s some debate as to whether Superman kills the terrorist here; he doesn’t. He holds the terrorist and punches a hole in the ceiling before flying off with him, but this is shown at his super-speed. Back in America, a Nairobian girl recounts how her parents were killed in the bloodbath (she thinks Superman was the one who instigates this) to Senator June Finch, who declares that the American court holds Superman responsible for this power vacuum in the African country (presumably on top of the Black Zero event). The girl whimpers “He will not answer to you, he will not answer to God, even, I think”. This is an important line, it shows how some people view Superman as just an alien, not as the God-like being others revere him to be. It also shows how much power, political or spiritual, Superman displaces on Earth.
Film introduces Lex Luthor now, a fast talking young billionaire who binges on sweets. He very quickly tells Senator Finch and her subordinate that he intends to make a weapon with kryptonite as a deterrent against future threats. The subordinate reminds him that there’s only been one Kryptonian on Earth – Superman. Luthor disagrees, saying there are more- meta-humans (or super powered beings, again to be referenced later). The Senator isn’t too pleased, so Luthor makes side dealings with her subordinate for access to the Kryptonian ship and the remains of Zod’s body.
Back in Gotham, Bruce Wayne is investigating a project codenamed “White Portuguese”. He tells Alfred that he thinks it’s a dirty bomb, and he’s found a lead in the henchman Knyazev (to which Alfred quips: “So… the White Portuguese is a Russian?”). Alfred throws down the newspaper article with Batman’s branding of a criminal in the headlines and asks, “New rules?” (implying this is a new low for Batman), to which Bruce simply replies “We’re criminals Alfred, always have been.” Alfred delivers his now famous “The fever, the rage….” line here. Bruce shrugs it off. Bruce later meets Knyazev at an underground boxing match and hacks into his phone during a brief interaction when he speaks in Russian with Knyazev. That’s Bruce Wayne right there.
There’s a brief scene of Clark Kent with Lois in her hotel. Lois remarks how people think he’s responsible for the Africa incident, and Clark shrugs it off, saying he didn’t kill anyone and that he was only saving the woman he loved. Lois says she’s unsure of her relationship with him, where “[he] can’t be [himself]”. Clark simply reacts by making out with her (it’s not an unimportant scene, it’s actually a very intelligent way of showing that Clark is still unaware of his worldly presence and Lois is his priority now).
Bruce has one of his many nightmares again, this time in the mausoleum where his family’s graves are. He briefly passes a painting of St. Michael, who is dressed in red and blue. His mother’s coffin (MARTHA) bleeds, and Man-Bat erupts from the coffin, fighting him to the death before he wakes up (he’s fighting with his inner demons, quite literally). Alfred chides him about not having any heir, while Bruce talks about how he traced Knyazev’s communication to Lexcorp. He intends to break into Lexcorp as Batman, but Alfred tells him it would be unnecessary because Luthor has invited him to the gala opening of a Metropolis library. Bruce spends a moment staring at his Bat-suit, and eventually the charred remains of a Robin suit with Joker’s graffiti written on it, before driving out. Do you see how well this entire sequence shows Bruce’s torn identity? He identifies as Batman before Bruce Wayne, quite possibly over-relying on his alter ego.
At the party, a drunk Lex Luthor talks about knowledge being in important element of Greek mythology (to which the just introduced Diana Prince aka Wonderwoman rolls her eyes – brilliant), while Bruce talks to Alfred via Bluetooth, asking for directions to Luthor’s server. Clark hears this with his super-hearing, and tries to follow him around. Bruce finds the server and attaches a device to copy the information, and Luthor’s assistant catches him but let’s him go (again, all planned by Lex). The device needs 7 more minutes, so Alfred tells Bruce to go back up to socialize. Lex is rambling right now and suddenly talks about the conflict for mortal men:
Lex: Books are knowledge and knowledge is power, and I am… no. Um, no. What am I? What was I saying? The bittersweet pain among men is having knowledge with no power because… because that is <shouts> paradoxical! And, um… thank you for coming.
Clark and Bruce have a quick conversation about their respective alter-egos. It’s a brief pitting of their philosophies, and personally quite sufficient for me in this film, because this isn’t about who is right, this film focuses on the change of hearts for both these characters toward the end. Bruce goes back to the server to take his device, only to realise that Diana has stolen it. Clark tries to intercept Bruce again, but he sees a news flash of a girl trapped in a fire in Mexico, and decides to fly to her instead.
There’s a montage of TV debates on what should be done about Superman. Very interestingly, Neil Degrasse Tyson makes a cameo talking about how the presence of an alien with God-like powers displaces many people on Earth:
Neil deGrasse Tyson: We’re talking about a being whose very existence challenges our own sense of priority in the universe. And you go back to Copernicus where he restored the sun in the center of the known universe, displacing Earth, and you get to Darwinian evolution and you find out we’re not special on this earth; we’re just one among other lifeforms. And now we learn that we’re not even special in the entire universe because there is Superman. There he is, an alien among us. We’re not alone.
Clark watches these and feels rejected.
Lex invites Senator Finch to his house, trying to talk her further into legalizing his shipment of kryptonite. He asks “Can I call you June (her first name)?”, to which she replies:
Finch: You can call me whatever you like. Take a bucket of piss and call it Granny’s Peach Tea; take a weapon of assassination and call it deterrence. You won’t fool a fly or me. I’m not gonna drink it.
Lex isn’t happy to hear this, and walks up to Finch and uses his fingers to make a galloping sound on the desk, talking about how politicians always think they are in control. Finch uses her hand to stop Lex’s fingers, which clearly infuriates him. It’s done very quickly and subtly, in typical Snyder fashion. Lex tells Senator Finch:
Lex: Devils don’t come from hell beneath us. No, they come from the sky!
He says this while pointing to a painting on his wall that shows angels descending on what seems to be a demon on the ground. Lex decides to ship in his kryptonite illegally.
Over in Gotham, Bruce finds Diana Prince again (she’s looking for antique weapons, a very interesting micro detail), telling her to give back what she stole. Prince says “It’s true what they say about little boys, born with no inclination to share”, telling him that she was merely checking if Luthor had a photo of her that she wants removed. However, she couldn’t decrypt the stolen information, so she’s left it in Bruce’s car. Bruce takes the information back to the Batcave for decryption, following which he has the Knightmare.
<knightmare begins> Bruce watches over a wasteland with large fire pits and Darkseid’s Omega symbol engraved on the ground. He has a small army of men who bring in a shipment of Kryptonite. While he’s in the lorry, half the soldiers standing outside reveal themselves as Superman’s soldiers, with his insignia on their shoulders, killing off his men. Bruce is startled, and from here on it’s one long, impressive shot (I think it’s roughly about 40-60 seconds) starting from the lorry, with Batman coming out and still using the henchmen’s gun as a melee weapon before growing desperate and starting to shoot them (it’s unclear if it’s straight kills or shooting to knock them out). As the camera pans to 360 degrees, Parademons start to appear on the scene (seriously the flow on this shot is amazing) before finally knocking him out. Batman awakens in a small cellar with Superman, who kills off two more of Batman’s henchmen, before ripping off his mask (showing how scared Bruce really is). He tells Bruce “She was my world… and you took her from me!” before punching through his chest-
Bruce awakes in the second phase of his Knightmare; with an armoured, futuristic Flash with facial hair talking with muffled audio:
Flash: Bruce! Listen to me right now! It’s Lois! Lois Lane! She’s the key! Am I too soon? <distorts> I’m too soon! You were right about him! You were always right about him! Fear him! Fear him and find us. You have to come find us, Bruce!
Bruce wakes up for real, and finds the information on Luthor’s drives fully decrypted. He finds out about Luthor’s shipment of kryptonite. Alfred questions him on the ‘dirty bomb’. Bruce tells him it’s kryptonite, and that he intends to weaponize it. This shocks Alfred, who thought he was merely keeping this out of Luthor’s hands. Bruce cannot see that he’s doing exactly what Luthor wants to do with the kryptonite himself:
Alfred: You’re gonna go to war?
Bruce Wayne: That son of a bitch brought the war to us two years ago. Jesus, Alfred, count the dead… thousands of people. What’s next? Millions? He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty… and we have to destroy him.
Alfred: But he is not our enemy!
Bruce Wayne: Not today. Twenty years in Gotham, Alfred; we’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?
Bruce goes off as Batman to intercept the shipment of kryptonite from the ship called White Portuguese. An action sequence commences, and Batman kills a bunch of thugs indirectly (INDIRECTLY). This Batman does not care. However, before he can get to the vehicle carrying kryptonite, Superman intervenes, and tells him to stop. Bruce rushes back to the Batcave with the damaged Batmobile
Meanwhile back at Luthor’s, he bails out a crippled man, Wallace Keefe, who lost his family and legs to the Black Zero event in Man Of Steel. He’s jailed for vandalizing the Superman statue in Metropolis, writing “False God” on its chest. Lex gives him a new wheelchair, urges him to take Superman to task in court with Senator Finch. While watching the news, Clark receives an anonymous letter with photos of Batman’s branded victims, with the words “Judge”, “Jury” and “Executioner” scribbled onto them respectively. He looks up at the TV and decides to fly back home to Kansas. He has a brief conversation with Martha Kent, who tells him to do whatever he wants. It’s a micro expression here, but Clark definitely doesn’t seem to pleased to hear her advice. Nevertheless, he flies over to court to answer Finch. Bruce Wayne watches the news on this on TV back in Gotham, while receiving another anonymous envelope with a newspaper, with the words “You let your family die!” scribbled on it. His employee tells him that the monetary compensation from Wayne Enterprises that was supposed to reach Wallace Keefe had not been received. In court, Snyder intentionally chooses to show how gently Clark pushes open the gantry to enter the witness pod. Lex approaches Finch one more time outside the courtroom, telling her “You’re going to be on the hot seat in there, Junebug”. Finch goes on with her introduction, before suddenly stuttering. She looks at the glass of ‘water’ placed at her desk. She gingerly and frightfully turns the glass around, to reveal that it’s labelled “Granny’s peach tea”, before glaring at Lex Luthor’s empty seat. Clark is trying to figure out what’s happening, before Keefe’s wheelchair detonates and blows up the entire courthouse. The camera slowly zooms in on a very disturbed and disappointed Clark Kent standing amidst the flames. Bruce watches this on TV in horror, whilst still agitated by the anonymous letter. A lot of people think this court scene is out of place, and don’t see the genius of it. Lex kills off the Senator he hates, kills off the one guy he knew could bring Superman to court, creates a scene in front of the masses who are eagerly watching the court, and effectively signals to Bruce that the law won’t handle Clark, and that it’s up to him now. Why? Because right after this, there is a montage of Bruce training physically and preparing his mecha suit. Meanwhile, onlookers ask if Superman is complicit in the explosion since he didn’t immediately help adjacent victims (it’s said out loud on the news as they burn an effigy of Superman).
Clark briefly flies over to Lois Lane, telling her that he couldn’t see the bomb because he wasn’t looking. Here’s a situation where he has decided to man up for his actions. and it never occurred to him that something like this could go up in flames. He laments to Lois:
Superman: All this time I’ve been living my life the way my father saw it. Righting wrongs for a ghost, thinking I’m here to do good. Superman was never real. Just the dream of a farmer from Kansas.
Lois Lane: That farmer’s dream is all some people have. It’s all that gives them hope.
[touches the S shield]
Lois Lane: This means something.
Superman: It did on my world. My world doesn’t exist anymore.
Lois tries to stop him, but he decides to fly off to the North Pole, away from the whims of mankind.
Meanwhile, Lex reports to Lexcorp where there has been an incident. Lex discovers that the kryptonite he shipped in has been stolen (probably a deleted scene where Batman infiltrates Lexcorp prior to his Crossfit montage) and smirks to himself. He revisits the Kryptonian ship, unlocking it with Zod’s fingerprints that he slices of from Zod with kryptonite. The ship is at 37% power, acknowledging Luthor’s override of controls. Luthor learns that the AI, Keelex, has information on thousands of planets in the universe, and urges Keelex to teach him. Sometime later, Luthor props Zod’s body into a genesis chamber (the ship presumably tells him about genetic cloning or some shit in between). He slices his palm, allowing his blood to drip on the carcass, before tearing as he laments, “You flew too close to the Sun… (Icarus reference) Look at you now.” Keelex tells him that the ancient council of Krypton has forbidden cloning on Krypton, and that every Kryptonian has a failsafe in that their biological tissue turn into a monster if cloning were attempted. Lex calmly replies “And where is the council of Krypton now?”. The ship says “destroyed,” to which he implores that the Keelex carries on with the ‘genesis’.
This is the final leg of the film. Bruce sends an email on meta-humans from Lex’s data to Diana. Diana realises that Lex has had data on herself, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman for months before the events of the movie take place. She was ready to leave with this information, but she starts to hesitate. Meanwhile, Bruce suits up in his armour and waits in Gotham with his Bat signal on, awaiting Superman. In Metropolis, Lex captures Lois (who figures out that the bullet was from Lexcorp, and ties Lex to the whole fiasco) and Martha Kent.
Clark is trekking on ice when he has a hallucination of meeting his father. His father (who died in Man Of Steel) tells him about how he dug up a trench to prevent his house from getting flooded back when he was twelve. His mother calls him a hero, baking him a cake. However, they soon realise that the flood avoided the Kent farmhouse, only to go on and claim the lives of the Lang farmhouse on the other end of their neighbourhood (UPDATE: I may have misheard this, it could be just the horses that drowned, will update when I manage to decipher Pa Kent’s Southern accent). Clark asks if this ever stopped haunting him. His father says the nightmares stopped eventually, when he met Martha. Martha was ‘[his] world’. He came to realise that all his actions would have consequences, but it didn’t matter as long as he could focus on the ones he loved. Clark nonchalantly tells his father that he misses him, and his father vanishes. A lot of dumb folks misinterpreted this scene. Clearly, Jonathan Kent here is a figment of Clark’s imagination. Clark’s outcast himself from humanity, but he clearly still wants to be human, to live with Lois. He needs that connection, to remain human.
Lex pushes Lois down from the roof of Lexcorp. Superman comes just in time to save her. Superman flies up to confront Lex, but Lex is not threatened at all, bringing out the problem of evil (an actual philosophical argument):
Lex: See, what we call God depends upon our tribe, Clark Joe, ’cause God is tribal; God takes sides! No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from daddy’s fists and abominations. I figured out way back if God is all-powerful, He cannot be all good. And if He is all good, then He cannot be all-powerful. And neither can you be.
He implores that Clark kills Batman, or Martha Kent dies. He doesn’t know where she’s kept, and Clark can’t do anything to him or risk his mother’s death. Lex flies off on a helicopter, presumably back to the Kryptonian ship. Clark comes down and briefly tells Lois about what’s happening, remarking:
Superman: No one stays good in this world.
He flies off to Gotham, while Lois tries to get there herself. Superman finds Batman and tries to tell him about Luthor’s plan, but Batman ignores him, interrupting him with traps placed about the abandoned warehouse. Superman gets pissed and the two fight. Batman manages to subdue him with kryptonite gas grenades, that reduce his strength and make him vulnerable to Batman’s attacks. Batman eventually overpowers him, and uncovers a kryptonite spear he kept in the warehouse. Ready to kill him. Knowing he’s possibly going to die, Superman pleads one last time to save Martha. People ask why he says his mother’s name as opposed to “Save my mother”. I think it’s pretty clear that Clark wanted Bruce to save her in the event that he did kill Superman… and it’s a really convenient plot device.
Bruce is flabbergasted, asking him why he said “Martha”, which Lois replies to (“It’s his mother’s name!“… as much as I want to defend the film, I cannot defend Lois’ convenient timings in this film). Now, a lot of people assume that the two stop fighting because their mothers have the same name… which baffles me (are people really that stupid?). Bruce gets a flashback of his own parents’ death again, remembering how Thomas Wayne mouths his wife’s name in his dying breath, the same way Clark does. Bruce realises that he’s become exactly what he swore to fight against when he became Batman, and momentarily realises how much he’s descended into darkness with his cynicism and rage. He throws the spear away and vows to save Clark’s mother, while Clark decides to regain his strength and confront Lex again. As the two men leave, Lois hides the spear in fear that it will be used against Clark again. She tosses it in a lightly flooded hole she finds (the warehouse is situated near the sea or river or some waterbed that separates Gotham from Metropolis).
Alfred traces Knyazev’s phone from earlier (remember how Bruce traced the connection back to Lexcorp?) and thereby confirms Martha Kent’s location, relaying it immediately as Batman boards the Batwing (with a newly furnished cowl… perhaps Batman keeps a spare suit somewhere, I don’t know). Batman takes down the henchmen and saves Martha. Superman comes back to Lex, who thinks he’s too late, calling Knyazev and asking him to break the bad news. Hilariously, Batman answers the phone and says “I’d rather do the breaking in person.” Unswayed, Lex unveils the abomination that he’s created with Zod’s body, calling “the blood of my blood, born to destroy you! Your doomsday.” It’s clear here that he thought he could control the creature, he has, in essence, played God and created life himself. He’s shocked however, when the first thing Doomsday does is try to attack him. However, Superman protects the guy who threatened to kill his mother and pushed his girlfriend off Lexcorp, and a third fight ensures. Diana is on the plane when she sees news of the creature causing havoc in Metropolis on the plane television. She decides it’s time to return to the world of Man and leaves the plane. The military is alerted of the creature’s presence and sends fighter jets to fire at it, to no avail. Superman brings the creature to outer space, where the military fires a nuclear missile. It momentarily incapacitates Superman, but does nothing to Doomsday. Doomsday comes back down and Batman realises that since it’s Kryptonian, the kryptonite spear might be the only thing that kills it. He tries to bring the creature back to Gotham with him, but his Batwing is destroyed. Just as Doomsday is about to roast him with heat vision, Wonderwoman swoops in to join the fight. Superman is rejuvenated by the Sun in space and returns down in prime form (this entire sequence is very kinetic). Superman asks Batman if he found the spear, to which Batman replies that he “was a little busy”. From the warehouse, Lois magically decides to retrieve the magic spear even though nobody tells her that the spear is the only thing that can stop Doomsday. The trinity fight the creature together (okay not all three, Batman is basically just running around avoiding damage). Doomsday emits a shock-wave that destroys the warehouse where Lois is, and she jumps into a body of water where the kryptonite spear conveniently is. Superman diverts from the fight when he hears her struggling, saves her and eventually finds the spear. Superman is struggling from the kryptonite, and the couple look on as Wonderwoman continues to fight the creature, using her sword to cut its arm (from which spikes grow) and containing it with her lasso. Batman fires his last kryptonite grenade at it. Clark turns to Lois, saying “I love you… you are my world“. He masters his final strength and takes the spear to impale Doomsday. In turn, Doomsday impales him with his spiked arm. Superman dies, and the threat of Doomsday is over (… for now). Lois, Diana and Bruce mourn for him.
Two funerals are held. One is a private one at the Kent farmhouse, where it’s revealed that Clark had intentions to marry Lois. Martha passes Lois the intended proposal ring. Elsewhere, a state funeral is held, with an empty box. People in public gather at a memorial point, with the words “If you seek his monument, look around you” inscribed on it. Bruce and Diana are at the funeral. Bruce muses about the superficiality of burying an empty coffin, to which Diana profoundly replies:
Diana: You don’t know how to honour him, except as a soldier.
Bruce tells her of plans to unite the meta-humans. Diana asks why. Bruce has a flashback with Lex Luthor, who is apprehended by the law after the Doomsday saga. In prison, Batman tells Lex he will keep an eye on him, to which a clearly unhinged Lex replies:
Lex: …but the bells have already been rung.
Batman doesn’t brand him (a subtle sign of his change of character) and leaves the prison, while Lex goes crazy, screaming “Ding ding ding-“. The camera pans on the angels and demons painting in Lex’s house, where the police are doing an investigation. The painting is now upside down, revealing a visual illusion with the angels underground, and the demon now descending from the reddish skies above, a very beautiful visual metaphor for Clark’s death and the next villain looming over Earth.
Back at the funeral, Wonderwoman opens up to Bruce:
Diana Prince: A hundred years ago I walked away from mankind. From a century of horrors… Men made a world where standing together is impossible.
Bruce Wayne: Men are still good. We fight, we kill, we betray one another but we can rebuild. We can do better. We will. We have to.
These are Bruce’s last words, while the camera pans silently on some dirt Lois released on Clark’s coffin in Kansas. The film ends with a quick shot of the dirt levitating.
Filling in the blanks
This panel clearly shows the changes in Batman’s methods, and how he’s gotten more brutal since Superman’s arrival.
Lex is already aware of Batman, long before the events of the film.
This one shows that Senator Finch is already favorable towards Superman.
These four panels entail further boardroom discussions about Superman.
Talk about how Superman can escalate international tension if he wished.
My favourite panels in the Luthor comic. Clearly shows Lex’s motivations behind closed doors.
The Political Allegory
Batman’s sentiments are reminiscent of Dick Cheney’s response to terrorists after 9/11:
If there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction — and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time — the United States must now act as if it were a certainty.”
It’s no coincidence that the introduction of Superman in Metropolis is visually made to look like the 9/11 terrorist attack. Superman himself meddles with the Kenyans, even if, in his mind, he only seeks to protect Lois. There’s the court scene too, to which I think there must be more depth in the director’s cut of the film. This is also the film’s premise: who does this God-like being answer to?
One of the things about the film is that it shows how people are divided (almost as if it were aware of people’s reaction to the movie itself) in their views of Superman. It’s interesting to note the contrasts between Batman and Superman here- people are divided on Superman, either greatly appreciating his presence, or reviling at the idea of his being. On the other hand. Batman is mostly a myth to his people, and is secretly appreciated by many of the older policemen (not the young one at the beginning of the film who tries to shoot him). When legal action fails to contain Superman in the Capitol building, Batman decides to intervene, to rid him preemptively (Bruce briefly tells Alfred that the early Waynes were hunters who traded animal skins with the French).
There is a motif of a horse twice in the film (there might be more). The horse appears first in the Metropolis sequence, and then again at the Capitol building. Both times, the horse is a silhouette in the smoke and dust from collapsing or exploded buildings. Both times, Bruce is shown in his anger and powerlessness. The entire thing is an allegory for American citizens: Batman is confronted with the threat of a foreigner (a literal alien), both times he hints at this capacity for destruction. Bruce is angry, and reflects the paranoia of the post 9/11 man. The horses could also be homage to The Dark Knight Returns.
The kryptonite here is also an allegory of nuclear weapons (so it’s pretty ironic when one actually gets fired in the film). Lex pretends that he intends to use it for deterrence. Alfred hopes that Bruce steals it from Lex to prevent him from potentially creating a dangerous weapon. In the end though, the weapon is the only thing that can stop a different threat. Again, writer Chris Terrio basically shows us the pros and cons of the idea, without condoning either side.
The Religious Allegory
Some think it’s heavy-handed. Some didn’t even notice it. Here’s the breakdown if you are in the latter:
- The film is released on Good Friday. The day Jesus dies from crucifixion. Superman dies at the end, with hints of returning from Justice League.
- Some conceive Superman as a God, he instills them with hope. However, there are atheists, either literally like Lex, or figuratively like Bruce. Both see him as a threat to humanity. Lex wants to prove that Superman isn’t a God, clearly orchestrating events that force him to move to off-peace territory, to have the blood of Batman on his hands, to be killed by Doomsday. On the other hand, Batman is brought back into the light with his interaction with Superman, not just when he realizes how far he’s strayed from it, but when he sees Superman sacrifice himself. Bruce bookends the dialogue in the film to show that change in his character after his interaction with Superman..
- Superman isn’t sure why he should continue saving people. He exiles himself and talks to his father on an icy mountain, much like how Jesus visited Gethsemane and prayed before his crucifixion.
- There is a cross in the rubble behind the Trinity when Doomsday stabs Superman.
- The painting of St. Michael in Bruce’s nightmare with the Man-Bat deformation has the same colour scheme as Superman. This is something that’s always been established with this portrayal of St. Michael, way before comic books were even published.
Guido Reni’s Michael, a 1636 painting.
I don’t think all of this is to conflate the idea of Jesus with Superman. While similar, the emphasis is more on how people treat the character, or religion in general. The theme of God extends far beyond Christianity in the film; there’s a lot of Greek mythology as well. How do humans react in the presence of far more powerful beings? In this case, these beings, heroes or meta-humans can be interpreted as Gods. Terrio mentioned that he was inspired by Grant Morrison, who ‘asks difficult philosophical questions in an extremely smart way’, perhaps this is how he asks the question about our place in the universe. It’s also important to note that this is a very different interpretation of comic book heroes on film; the X-Men universe sees them as freaks (allegory for homosexuals) while the Marvel movies only seem to concentrate on the saving-people-cliche. Terrio comments:
“It’s almost archetypal. In Batman’s origin [the murder of his parents], the primary thing I was thinking about is the fact he falls. It’s the primary metaphor for Western literature: There was a moment before and then everything fell. That brings up questions of Superman.
I began to think Batman and Superman occupy different parts of the mythic imagination. In superhero stories, Batman is Pluto, god of the underworld, and Superman is Apollo, god of the sky. That began to be really interesting to me — that their conflict is not just due to manipulation, but their very existence. In the end, there’s a common humanity which I think is discovered at a certain moment in the film.”
The characters here are presented as a pantheon of gods, with epic struggles as opposed to normal people with normal problems. Superman is tried and tested by Lex, and the public, before finally accepting that this will always be his reality, and that he will do it all for Lois, his one tie to humanity. This is more akin to The Matrix than to the Bible, where Neo concentrates his love for humanity in Trinity, not as Jesus does for all of the world. The biblical references are fun… and not that literal.
More importantly, this sets up Darkseid as the devil, a very straightforward interpretation of one of the most popular Justice League villains. It’s been long since we’ve had a terrifying villain on the big screen.
- Lex Luthor’s incarnation as a millennial tech mogul is a very refreshing take on the real estate mastermind from the original comics. The comics villain is a bald man who is more of an anti-hero, one who represents the best of humanity and is annoyed when an alien comes down to take this credit. That incarnation has appeared in movies and cartoons before this film, so Jessie Eisenberg’s nervous, frantic tech mogul seems very different at first but is more fitting for our times. The anti-hero dynamic was already tried with General Zod in Man Of Steel. Here however, Lex is full of mistakes, refusing to acknowledge them throughout the film. Still, he makes many plans ahead of the heroes, he’s preemptive. He’s aware of all the Justice League members’ identities (which makes for some very exciting potential down the line). Eisenberg has this sinister glare when he’s not talking to anybody (maybe we still haven’t seen the true Lex Luthor). He’s a very complex character, full of layers and emotions, but never losing his intellectual ability. He cries when he gives his blood to Zod. He’s clearly in fear when he faces Batman for the first time, even going on to maniacally forebode Darkseid’s coming. He’s the source of comic relief, albeit very dark humour (ie; when he mocks Wallace Keefe on his electronic wheelchair). However, I can understand why people might be disappointed if they were expecting the bald, assertive Lex Luthor. However, Eisenberg stole the film for me.
- Gal Gadot plays a very aged Wonderwoman, one who clearly had interest in Man for a while, and still finds something to be surprised about us once in a while (the way she smiles when she’s with Bruce). She also plays the warrior part well, smirking to herself when Doomsday pushes her. Her role is still small, but she was one of the surprise breakouts of this movie.
- Affleck is ferocious as hell as Batman, more so than any other actor in the franchise. One of the momentous feats Snyder has pulled off in this film is giving Batman the proper respect he deserves as a nightly terror in Gotham. A lot of the scenes with Affleck are tinged with horror-inspired film-making. Still, he’s more than just some deranged, bloodthirsty man. One of the best moments in the film is how emotional Bruce gets in the mecha suit as he remembers his own parents’ deaths and comes to the realization of his own madness, since we’ve only seen him as a force to be reckoned with when he is in costume. Also, he becomes a lot more comedic after that fight. Superman clearly inspires him, and we might see the old Batman later down the road. This movie is the transformation story for Bruce Wayne, who’s become old and jaded after tragedies like Robin’s death. Now Batman has to assemble a family of sorts again, because Earth is now vulnerable in the absence of Superman. He’s inspired, he’s ready to fight for good again. For the first time, we get an actor who is great as both Bruce Wayne and as Batman.
- Henry Cavill might seem a little week compared to the rest of the cast, but he’s consistently said that Superman hasn’t reached his comicbook personality yet on film. He’s physically absent in many scenes, with the movie following the other characters responding to Superman, rather than actual shots with Superman himself. However, I do appreciate Henry’s cocky, immature Superman. Cavill definitely has the charisma and understanding of the character off-screen in interviews, and while his presence was limited, he did an effective job.
- The supporting cast for the movie was excellent. Holly Hunter as Senator Finch stole all her scenes even when acting against Jessie Eisenberg. Lawrence Fishburne has decided to make his character more comedic, taking obvious cues from another comic book character who runs a newspaper company: J. Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman series. His scenes were short but with memorable lines (“Where did [Clark] go? Where does he go?”). Jeremy Irons is the best Alfred Pennyworth to appear on the big screen, versatile in both sassy, sarcastic lines mocking his master and stern warnings as a father-figure to Bruce Wayne. Amy Adams isn’t too bad as Lois Lane, but I hope there’s less of her in future movies. I can’t blame her, the character has never really been that interesting to me anyway.
This has always been one of the strong points for director Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong. There are many impressive shots in the film:
- The introduction scene, with the Wayne’s murder. The camera assuming Martha Wayne’s point of view as the gunman hooks her pearl necklace with his pistol and shoots her in the head is extremely haunting and creative.
- When the young Bruce is running through the forest from one point to another, and the camera spins 180 degrees vertically to give an upside down shot of him running.
- The recoil from the pistol dismantling the pearl necklace.
- The shot of Bruce falling in mid air in slow motion being spliced with the falling of necklace pearls.
- Wayne’s employee (Jack), who stands in front of the wide paneled windows as he overlooks the heat vision lasers destroying the Wayne building.
- The extremely bright shot of divers in the Indian Ocean retrieving kryptonite.
- The horror scene with Man-Bat erupting from a bleeding coffin.
- Before chasing the kryptonite shipment, there’s a airborne, rotating shot of Batman standing at a vantage point against the setting Sun as he awaits an opening to fire a tracking device at the truck with a sniper rifle.
- Superman’s cape flowing in slo-mo as he approaches the Bat-mobile.
- The Bat-mobile’s return to the Bat-cave.
- The montage of Superman saving people and doing ‘heroic’ acts spliced with news excerpts of panelists arguing whether Superman should be outlawed. Superman’s musical theme is also played in minor scale here- a sad version of his heroic theme.
- The camera panning on Superman’s face amidst the fires in Capitol building.
- The knightmare sequence is a minute long shot, starting from the back of the truck. Snyder mentions how the IMAX camera couldn’t fit through the doorway of the truck, so the top of the truck was torn off during the shot for the camera to come out to open space. While it’s panning around Batman, a replica of the truck is brought in behind the camera for continuity. Also, as mentioned earlier, Batman still tries to incapacitate Superman’s troopers but starts getting more violent once the parademons appear. The entire sequences is chaotic but seamless. Great choreography.
- Lex on the rooftop watching a lightning-filled sky as Batman turns on his Bat signal in Gotham.
- Superman appearing beneath Lois in mid-air, all smiles.
- The shot of Lex leaving fearlessly on his helicopter after instructing Superman to fight Batman.
- Batman’s cape forming the silhouette of a bat before he smashes into the windows.
- Nuked Superman regaining his strength from the Sun in space and his eyes glowing red as the camera pans towards him.
- A panning shot of Doomsday from the Batwing as Batman and Alfred try to figure out what they are against.
- Wonderwoman swooping down and landing with force after having shielded Batman, and her theme plays.
- Superman returning from space and forcefully slamming Doomsday into an oil refinery, while he watches the explosion from afar.
- The shot of Superman flying towards the camera as he shoots his heat vision, and the camera pans behind him to show Doomsday reciprocating likewise, then the camera pans to the front of both characters so you see both of them shooting their laser at each other.
- Batman grappling away from heat vision.
- Doomsday turning to his comic book look for a split second before being impaled.
- Superman’s body brought down by Batman and Wonderwoman.
- The painting with the angels and demons, and the illusion it makes when turnt upside down.
Chris Terrio is one of the best things about the film. He wrote the dialogue and everything sticks. Humour never feels forced, and there are really clever, witty lines throughout (ie, Lex telling Lois that “the shortest way to superman is a street called Lois Lane”). Terrio relies a lot on wordplay and repetition in his dialogue (Martha is said god knows how many time before the climatic battle… Lex says it three times to Superman!). As far as dialogue goes, this is one of the tightest scripts ever written for a movie, with almost no line wasted or thrown away (the greatest example being Granny’s peach tea).
(Random update: For those who are interested in what a ‘tight script’ is, it’s about the importance of every line or image shown in the film. A script is tight if the movie’s message is altered by removing any lines (as is the case with BvS).
If you want, a commonly cited work what’s considered a tight script is a 1981 movie called Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson.
Here’s a link to Chris Terrio describing his writing process for a scene in Argo, and his influences in screenplay.)
All the characters’ traits were nailed in their dialogue. Lex and his constant need for power, while also displaying the intelligence usually associated with his comic book counterpart. Batman figuring out everything by himself, instead of prancing around asking villains for clues, and his mourning for Robin and possibly Two-Face. Superman with his immaturity in believing the world will always appreciate him for what he is. Lois Lane being “feisty”, as Lex calls her, and being a headstrong journalist. Wonderwoman being strangely cynical but also a far more experienced warrior, thrilled by the challenge of strong enemies (an actual weakness of Wonderwoman, if you’ve read / watched Tower of Babel, a Justice League story). Alfred being witty and sarcastic, whilst also being Bruce’s moral compass. People think the characters have been bastardized, but the script shows serious respect for the core traits of these characters.
On the other hand, David S. Goyer’s story ideas got a little convoluted toward the end, especially when the fight between the two abruptly changes from being about different philosophies to a hostage situation. This was one glaring problem with the movie. Who is at fault? I don’t know. It could even be studio interference.This could potentially be rectified in the director’s cut, but as it is, I still managed to enjoy the movie.
There are some tiny plotholes, like Superman not being able to locate his mother himself on the rooftop (UPDATE: Zack Snyder says a deleted scene addresses this ‘plothole’), or Lois appearing everywhere the action is just so that she can talk to Clark. These are still minor plotholes, and if you think a three hour film is shit because of these reasons, I wish you good luck for your upcoming O level exams.
Ah. Yes. It’s fast. Too fast. But I can’t comment much because watching the film a second time was far less taxing once you are already aware of the story direction, allowing you to regale in the scenes, however short they are. Moreover, these should definitely be rectified in the director’s cut. Even if it isn’t, I appreciate how the films constructed to reveal more information with each rewatch. As it is, I also understand how hard it must have been for the team to reduce the run-time to two and half hours, considering how tight the script already is. Look at this deleted scene, for example.
Wait for the director’s cut.
Overall, there is a slight issue with the story towards the end; the convergence of too many comic book plotlines that make it far too intricate. This makes it hard to follow at first, but as someone who doesn’t want too strict an adherence to the simple comic book plots, this was a very reasonable movie. Tie-ins with the established movie universe with Flash’s time travel and Woderwoman’s 100 year old photograph show clear, complex planning and confidence among the film makers. The visual effects were top notch (though a bit clunky toward the end). Dialogue was crisp, and one of the best things about the movie. Every scene was important (lol at film school rejects or any other layman viewer thinking they are smarter than a man who was enrolled for a PhD in Oxford and who won an Oscar with his first movie). Snyder has honoured a long loved character in Batman, and has intelligently reinterpreted Superman’s classic arch nemesis.
There is honestly far more to enjoy in the film than there is to criticize. Maybe you wanted Batman and Superman to fight longer (most fight scenes in the film tend to be pretty short). Snyder and his team have taken a huge risk in presenting us with the tragedy of having God-like powers, the unwilling responsibility that comes with it and the consequences that follow from the public. Instead of having a film with heroes quipping non-stop, it gives an insight to two of the most famous superheroes in pop culture in their darkest, most trying moments. Both the heroes find their redemption by the end, and the movie hints at a far more uplifting tone in the sequels.
The film has been very meta in capturing the polarity in human nature itself, with the public and it’s disdain for superheroes ironically echoing the reception the movie has been getting. The central theme of power (and thereby powerlessness) is explored in depth throughout the movie; how one should use it, or how one should displace it.
Alfred: That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.
Senator Finch: The world has been so caught up with what Superman can do that no one has asked what he should do.
Lex: if God is all-powerful, He cannot be all good. And if He is all good, then He cannot be all-powerful.
Batman: I bet your parents taught you that you mean something, that you’re here for a reason. My parents taught me a different lesson, dying in the gutter for no reason at all… They taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to.
Lex: Do you know the oldest lie in America, Senator? It’s that power can be innocent.
It’s all in there. Literally. In the end, Superman sacrifices himself to show the world that he can be trusted with his power. Batman, who’s filled with rage and fear for him witnesses this, and realises that even after all he has gone through in Gotham, there is still good in men. Wonderwoman looks on, and decides to return to the world of men.
It’s a beautiful, tragic story with a compelling inquiry of how we view power in the world. We would never get a movie this deep with other production studios, and if this movie flops (it hasn’t broken even as of at the time of this writing), they might have to tone down the writing for the subsequent films. I’m truly in awe, and gratitude, of having witnessed the film.
Bonus Round: Easter Eggs
Mostly lifted from Reddit.
- Man-Bat is interpreted as Bruce Wayne’s manifestation as he descends into madness. It’s also an actual villain in the DC Universe.
- The actor that portrayed Cyborg’s father was in Terminator as Myles Dyson, the creator of Skynet.
- Flash’s cameo is inspired by a storyline called Flashpoint, where Flash travels to the past when things go wrong in the future. A time distortion is created in the process, and the nightmare Bruce experiences could possibly be memories from an undone future.
- The nightmare sequence itself is lifted from a storyline called Injustice, in which Lois dies and Superman goes rogue and dictates Earth. When he discovers that Joker is the one who killed Lois, he punches through Joker’s chest, as he does to Batman at the end of the nightmare.
- The creatures that attack Batman in the nightmare, parademons, are soldiers for a Justice League villain called Darkseid. His trademark omega symbol is imprinted on the ground when the nightmare first starts.
- Cyborg is attached to a piece of technology called the Motherbox. It’s the device through which Darkseid transports his parademons to and fro his home planet.
- Lex says “Ding ding ding ding-“, the sound the Motherbox makes.
- Superman’s healing from a nuke in space is an actual scene from The Dark Knight Returns story.
- Perry White telling Clark this isn’t 1938. Superman made his first appearance in 1938.
- There’s Riddler graffiti on the pillar near where Batman plants his kryptonite spear.
- The play that Bruce Wayne watches with his parents is The Mask Of Zorro. Zorro brands his victims.
- In the comics Superboy is created with Lex’s and Superman’s DNA. In this film Lex uses his DNA and General Zod’s to create Doomsday.
- The rods and wires that pick up Zod’s look similar to what Brainiac, another DC villain, is usually connected to in the comics. Interesting then, that Lex lusts after knowledge in the film, seeing that this is one of the trademarks of Brainiac.
- Superman gets stabbed by a reanimated Zod, the same way his father is stabbed by Zod on Krypton.
Excalibur is a 1981 film based on the tale of Arthur and the titular sword. It’s shown to be playing on the marquee of the theater Bruce and his parents walk out off.
In the end Batman slams the spear into the ground (stone). He pulls the spear out of the ground before he attacks Superman (sword from stone). After he realizes he’s become the bad guy, he abandons the spear the same way Arthur did after he abused its power to defeat Lancelot. Lois is the lady of the lake, tossing the spear into the water and then having to get it back before the final fight. The fight between Batman vs Superman is similar to the fight between Lancelot and Arthur (two good guys fighting against each other due to hubris and passion, eventually reconciling to fight the main bad guy)
Doomsday is Mordred. In the end Superman stabs Doomsday and gets stabbed in return, and Superman impales himself further to stab Doomsday through the back and kill him, same way the fight between Mordred and Arthur goes. Doomsday’s unnatural creation also mirrors how Morgana created Mordred to some degree.
What happens after this in the Arthurian tale is the formation of the knights of the round table… and the sequel to this film is Justice League.