Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?

13th Dimension contributor Rob Kelly: Batman v. Superman is character assassination.

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By ROB KELLY

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t just pit the Darknight Detective vs. the Man of Steel. After seeing the film, I felt as though Zack Snyder, the screenwriters, and the entire team at Warner Bros. was against him, too.

I will admit, I went into seeing BvS with lowered expectations. I’ve have not found Zack Snyder’s previous films all that impressive, and his dark, heavy, overly dramatic style seemed an odd fit for the DC Universe. My expectations sank even further still when the initial reviews came in. Some critics whose opinion I trust really seemed to hate this movie, so I geared myself up for what I assumed was going to be a disappointing experience. Still, I thought, holding out some hope, how bad could any movie be that features all my favorite superheroes finally assembled on the big screen?

The answer is, pretty bad.

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Ever since The Dark Knight Returns (from which this movie borrows so heavily Frank Miller deserves a screenwriting credit) it seems as though DC has been apologizing for Superman. Painfully uncool compared to the badass Batman, the company’s schizophrenic approach to the most famous superhero in history has now bled (and I do mean bled) into the lacquered walls of its parent company. In Batman v Superman, Zack Snyder gives us a Superman so beleaguered with self-doubt and self-hatred that it’s no wonder the world is against him.

Take, for instance, the scene where the Man of Steel arrives in Congress to testify. A crippled employee of Wayne Enterprises sets off a bomb, blowing up the building and nearly everyone in it. What do we see? A long, slow shot of Superman JUST STANDING THERE WHILE EVERYTHING AROUND HIM IS ON FIRE. If you want to be charitable to the point of incoherence, you can say this is the filmmakers’ attempt to show how slowly the world moves around Superman so he really wasn’t, you know, not helping while a room full of human beings were ripped apart by flames and debris.

As I watched this scene, I sat there, open-mouthed, at what was being put in front of me. This is Superman? Unfortunately, that scene is compounded by the following one, when we see Supes whining to Lois in her hotel room. As he stares gloomily from the balcony, we can hear ambulances in the background. So, instead of using his super-speed to rescue people and, I don’t know, bring them to nearby hospitals, he’d rather bitch and moan to his girlfriend? Great Rao!

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It would be one thing if the film’s POV was, “This is a dark and gloomy world, and it doesn’t appreciate the good that is Superman.” That would a grim but interesting take (similar to what Tina Fey’s classic show 30 Rock did—that show clearly sided with the Liz Lemon character, but was never afraid to suggest the world she lived in was built for sharks like Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy).

No, as BvS unspooled I felt as though the filmmakers themselves sided against the Man of Steel—they didn’t trust him either, so they just kept piling on. Superman spends a lot of time floating, staring, pondering, frowning, all the while he could be, I don’t know, acting like a hero. This Superman just lets things happen to him—for a guy who can change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel with his bare heads, he is incredibly passive.

Ben Affleck’s Batman I thought was pretty good, and his relationship with Jeremy Irons’ more action-driven Alfred was solid. Unfortunately, for a guy who is supposedly a genius tactician, he is brought down by a foe more diabolical than the Joker or the Riddler: the screenwriters. After not killing Superman with the Kryptonite spear, he tosses it away casually, even though HE SPENT THE WHOLE MOVIE FORGING IT.

This turns into a major plot beat where we then have to follow Lois (Amy Adams, given a whole bunch of useless scenes where she tracks down a high-tech bullet that amounts to nothing later on) as she retrieves it again, to help defeat the giant CGI poo-monster they call Doomsday. And after all this massive build-up to the fight, Batman is stopped from killing Superman because their moms had the same name?

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There’s more, so much more. Why in a 2 1/2-hour film, are we treated to not one, but two slow-motion recreations of Batman’s origin, a story unknown to exactly no one at this point? Why is it OK that this Batman seemingly kills people at will? If Lex has such a problem with Superman because he sets himself above the law, why has he been OK with Batman running around all these years? Why is Superman seemingly forgiven for the carnage that happened at the end of Man of Steel, and then public opinion turns on him yet again for events that take place on the other side of the world, which hardly anyone witnesses? Why doesn’t Perry White know how to run a newspaper (Kent—you’re on sports today!” Huh?). Why is the first scene featuring these two legendary characters wasted in a dream sequence? Why are forced to look at Polaroids of kind, sweet Diane Lane as Martha Kent with a gag in her mouth and epithets written on her forehead? Who thinks up such ugliness?

As I mentioned at the beginning, I was uncertain about Zack Snyder’s entire filmmaking approach and whether it was a good fit for Warner Bros.’ ambitious plan to have this movie kick off their multi-year, multi-film universe. But, going by the title, I thought we were going to be taken down this dark road only to be shown the light at the end, when the Justice League would be formed. Ah, I thought, it is always darkest before the dawn, so this will all work out in the end.

Unfortunately, the final scenes of Batman v Superman just promise that the subsequent movies will be more of the same. The same gloomy, overcast skies, the same level of hyper-violence, the same oppressive music, promising death and destruction at every turn.

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However, in an effort—as much for myself as it is for you reading this—to end this thing on an up note, let’s talk about what I did like (it won’t take long). Gal Gadot made for a striking Wonder Woman, and I liked the idea she’s been working behind the scenes for a long time. I liked the Crisis on Infinite Earths-style first appearance by the Flash. And, of course, as a life-long Aquaman aqualyte, I was absolutely thrilled to see Jason Momoa’s brief bit as the Sea King. I found those fifteen-or-so seconds genuinely amazing. Never, in my wildest imagination, did I ever think I would see Aquaman on the big screen. And yet there he was.

In a rare moment where I disagree with this movie’s harshest critics, I thought the film worked the other heroes into the movie quite well—it seemed organic and a well thought-out piece of world-building. (I am heartened that the subsequent character spin-off films will not be directed by Zack Snyder, and have the chance to escape his gloomy “vision.”)

But I just can’t get over the bad taste Batman v Superman left in my mouth. Sure, Superman makes the ultimate (albeit temporary of course) sacrifice to defeat Doomsday, but I found I just didn’t care, because this movie never gave me a Superman to care about. And while I know we’ll never return to the happy, look-into-the-camera-and-smile Superman from 1978, the audience and the character deserve better than the dyspeptic mope put before us.

All in all, Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. were able to do something Lex Luthor has only dreamed about—kill Superman.

Rob Kelly is a writer/artist/comics and film historian. He is the co-host of The Fire and Water Podcast (and the host of its sister show, The Film and Water Podcast), the co-creator and writer of the award-winning webcomic Ace Kilroy, and the creator of the book Hey Kids, Comics!: True-Life Tales From the Spinner Rack. Despite what he just wrote, he will be seeing Justice League anyway.

You can read his 13th Dimension REEL RETRO CINEMA columns here.

Author: 13th Dimension

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12 Comments

  1. This is the natural outgrowth of the selling of the DC soul to the bleak hell of the Nolanverse.

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  2. I found this movie to be overly dark, depressing and dull. My biggest question, why do they need the kryptonite spear to kill Doomsday? Why couldn’t Wonder Woman kill doomsday with her sword? This movie established Doomsday was a kryptonian, and kryptonian are vulnerable to magic. Specifically Wonder Woman’s magical sword cuts off Doomsday’s arm.

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    • You obviously do not know much about Doomsday, let alone the DC universe, its supposed to be dark, and depressing, its supposed to play with your emotions, also this move was all but dull, it was action packed, and if you are a superman fan, and you are upset he got his ass handed to him, Hes young, hes not the man of tommorow yet, hes still forming himself, hes confused, as a god, among mortal men, hes becoming the man of tommorow, but you expect them to just throw him into it as the superman we know and love, forgetting even superman had a path to travel to be the kryptonian we know today. As for Doomsday, after he is hurt/killed he not only regenerates, but he becomes immune to whatever hurt/killed him, therefor, when wonder woman cut him, and did not deal the final blow, he became immune to her swords magic, also, doomsday is not “Dead” per say, but more in the same kryptonian sleep superman is in, you can see as the fight goes on that he is evolving and becoming harder and harder to attack.That being said, seeing as your picture is Wolverine, i can assume you are a Marvel fan, which is why the movie may have been to gritty for you/all the other people going to see this movie expecting The Avengers, Or Captain America, This is not bright and shiny Disney-land, This is D/c.

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      • You talk about how dark and depressing the DC Universe is like it’s something to be proud of; get a grip! You seem to somehow equate dark and depressing with mature, adult fare, and you couldn’t be more wrong. And I completely disagree with your take on Superman as an evolving hero finding his way; he’s a mopey bore, and we deserve far better. I’m certainly not rushing to see this movie.

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      • As a long time Marvel and DC fan, I just want to point out how absolutely misinformed your argument is. Both Marvel and DC have a veritable f*ck ton of stories both light and dark. Born Again: Dark. Batman 66: Light. Kraven’s Last Hunt: Dark. Monster Society of Evil: Light. Death of Captain Marvel: Dark. Superman for All Seasons: Light. Not to mention literally everything with Punisher in it (especially Garth Ennis’ Punisher.) Or what about Bendis’ Alias? let’s not even get into the old Silver Age dc stuff. Remember when Batman wore a different color batsuit every night until eventually he settled on a rainbow colored batsuit? So look, if you’re argument is that DC is going for a consistent tone with their movies, I can’t disagree with that, but if your argument is that DC and Marvel comics are all one tone or another, you’re absolutely full of it.

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      • Are you fricking serious? This is a comic site. The people here READ and review comics. The very idea that you know more is hilarious. The whole problem with Superman is this world is this obessive unhealthy so called love he has for Lois Lane. It creates more trouble than it does uplift and inspire. Starting from MOS and continuing here. His choices seems influenced by that and its not pretty. It’s awful in fact. He’s a whiny hero who seem he would give up his cape if he could to play in tubs with her and a lapdog where he’d leave Wonder Woman alone to fight the rampaging monster to go declare his love for her…and oh he can’t even save his own mother.

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    • Doomsday is immune to Kryptonite, or at least became so. Either way, putting Superman’s death and Doomsday in Superman’s second movie was stupid as can be. Especially when I wanted Superman to be a founder of the Justice League. The movie looked promising at the point where Bruce saw the Metropolis destruction from Man of Steel, but it fell apart, which was pretty sad, TBH. When Captain America dies this year, I will be likely more sad and/or connected because Captain America has been in multiple movies.

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  3. This is what you get when you put a Ayn Rand lover in charge of superheroes. Next he’ll make a Lassie movie where Timmy can get his own damn ass out of the well….

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  4. Well, Rob. I saw BvS today. I think all of your points are valid. I went along for the ride, and was in to it for the most part, but most if not all of the things you pointed out bothered me too.

    Things that really worked for me were mostly in the first act:

    1. That was certainly the most elegantly shot version of Batman’s origin I’ve ever seen (not sure something that horrific should look that good, but it did). Snyder’s real gift is in setting up individual shots.

    2. Retelling the MoSteel devastation from Bruce’s point of view was genius. It gave us a view of what a battle between Supermen might be like in reality. The real-world stakes work for me. So does the debate on how to deal with a Superman among us. This sequence sold me, and carried me through a lot of lesser moments.

    3. The juxtaposition of Bruce, Clark, and Diana at Luthor’s party really worked for me. Naturally, there’s no way for Bruce to factor in Clark’s super-hearing into his heist.

    4. Ben Affleck’s performance was excellent (maybe more-so as Bruce Wayne than as Batman). He had me believing that he’d been doing the Bat-gig for too long.

    5. Using the coincidence of both mothers being named Martha was so simple! How is it that I’ve been reading comics since 1970, and it never occurred to me that they have the same name? Is it because I’m an idiot? It is? Okay, that answers that question.

    6. AQUAMAN! YES! (a little more orange next time would be nice. With just a dash of green)

    7. Cavill’s overall performance. Even when the material fails him, he carries the role with necessary gravitas.

    8. Gadot was good. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her.

    The film starts going off the rails for me in the second act. Things that bugged me the most:

    1. That ending. Ye gods, the third act had three acts of it’s own. End the damn thing already! Some of his still have to get dinner later.

    2. Superman standing in the fire. Stupid.

    3. Superman slamming a thug through a wall.

    3. Batman and guns. I realize it would probably be necessary for him to use them to survive beyond his first mission, but it still doesn’t sit right with me.

    4. Those dream sequences were just confusing.

    5. Doomsday looked terrible, and had no relation to the first two acts. Just mindless CGI monster with no motivation whatsoever.

    I’ll say this. Snyder and Co are taking chances. If they don’t pan out, at least no one will be able to say they played it safe. Green Lantern played it safe, and look how that turned out. It was a by-the-book superhero movie that followed the template to a T. That doesn’t make BvS great by comparison of course, but I do see risks being taken. Hopefully they’ll pan out better in Justice League. I think Man of Steel is far superior to this one. It holds up all the way through.

    I will not be taking Roger to see this for quite a few years (if ever). But he loves Supergirl.

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  5. Some comments from Snyder:

    (ON COMICS IN GENERAL) “(I read HEAVY METAL) and it was just hard for me then to pick up a normal comic book without going, ‘Well, when are they going to start f—g and killing each other?’ ”

    (ON SHOOTING JIMMY OLSON IN THE HEAD) “We just did it as this little aside because we had been tracking where we thought the movies were gonna go, and we don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters, but we can have fun with him, right?”

    (ON WHY HE’S NOT USING TV’S TERRIFIC ‘FLASH’) “I just don’t think it was a good fit. I’m very strict with this universe, and I just don’t see a version where … that (tone is) not our world.”

    THIS is the man to rule the Film DCU?

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    • Killing Jimmy was stupid. It would be like my parents saying. “We won’t let you have a dog, but we will get a dog and execute the poor animal with a shotgun to the brain because well, we need to destroy all hope of you ever wanting a dog.

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