Overstuffed, psychotic, polarising and brutal. A slap in the face to Superman’s Golden Age goodness, and Gotham’s gun-less Batman. A gussied –up series of trailers within trailers for DC Movies main event. All these criticisms have been laid at the door of Warner Bros and DC, like a beaten, Batarang -branded villain. Yet Batman V Superman Dawn Of Justice stays in my head in ways the competently entertaining Captain America Civil War does not. Director Zack Snyder and his writers David S Goyer and Chris Terrio swung for the fences with a dark, “Whom Gods Destroy” type of approach. And so help me reader, I Martha-ed, I mean, marvelled at its gloriously nutty ambition.
After denying, in the face of angry fans backlash, Clark’s / Superman’s wilful avoidance of collateral damage in his General Zod dust-up in Man Of Steel’s climax, Snyder has thought “Fuck it!” and gone with it as ground zero motivation for Bruce Wayne / Batman’s singular desire to take him down before another
Wayne Enterprises building city is levelled. “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,” Wayne mathematizes. Snyder even has Martha Kent vocalise his own ambivalence toward fan service – “Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be… or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did. Are you going to eat that?”
Walter Chaw has called Batman v Superman Zack Snyder’s better Watchmen adaptation. I guess that makes Bruce Wayne / Batman this version’s Rorschach, rather than Night Owl. He gets a crazy opening narration (“There was a time above. A time before, there were perfect things, diamond absolutes, but things fall, things on earth, and what falls remains fallen” – answers on a postcard, please). And that “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!” explosion is his rejection of “GIVE ME BACK MY FACE!” – his armoured mask, and twisted motivation for doing what he feels he has to with Clark /Superman, snapped away by the realisation that sacrifice and pain are universal constants. He sees himself reflected back, helpless in the face of parental trauma. From unnerved, to ennobled.
True, Superman feels like an adjunct to his own sequel, a character struggling to find his way in a world that seeks to question and police his every move, but the Ultimate Edition’s 30 extra minutes goes someway to correcting that impression. At least the time doesn’t consist of, as some wag put it, Lex Luthor peeing into that “granny’s peach tea” mason jar. By the way, I thought that was a hilarious revelation during the Senate hearing. On first viewing, I thought it was a jar of explosive-laced urine – taking the hearing out with a literal piss-take.
Confusing visions / The Flash’s warning from the future not withstanding, I found the film to be compelling, surprising, and entertaining. The cinematography by Larry Fong is gorgeous, from the Terry Malick-ian Indian Ocean Kryptonite retrieval, the pristine white Lex Corp labs (Luthor’s bitter “Knowledge without power” on Superman’s reveal, a sterile vacuum), to the Wayne estate looking especially striking in melancholic autumnal shades. Bruce’s coat brushes past waist high coppery weeds to his parents oozing crypt like Brad Pitt’s Jesse James – the assassination of Thomas And Martha Wayne by the coward Joe Chill?
Wayne Manor itself a burnt out husk, symbolising the “powerlessness that turns good men cruel” as loyal and sardonic butler / armourer Alfred (Jeremy irons) puts it. Bruce’s glass framed lake house like a black chimera, wreathed in mo(u)rning mist tendrils as it hunches over the shore, while he chews inside the beast’s belly over Superman’s threat.
One of the strongest elements is also one many reviewers called off the wall – the score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. There are so many great cues, from the opening “Beautiful Lie” over the obligatory flashback to Bruce’s parents death and his tumble through the bat crypt, to the deliciously nutty discordant thunking piano keys and grating strings of the ground level shot where Lex’s feet stomp in time towards the preserved body of General Zod. “You flew too close to the sun,” he chokes, as he slices off the Kryptonian’s fingerprints for his nefarious plan. Just another manic manicure, a plan to stave off his latent anger at a too-late “God” who failed to intervene “when I was a boy to deliver me from daddy’s fist and abominations.”
And of course, Wonder Woman / Diana Prince’s theme, introduced as she (Gal Gadot) appears suited up for the first time, crossed arm bracelets defiantly deflecting Doomsday’s rays from a surprised Batman. Walter Chaw compared the screeching guitar to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” – “she’s as awesome as the suggestion that it’s immigrants who will save Gotham and Metropolis.” Comics And Screen Blogspot scene by scene breakdown of the film elaborates on similarities:
“…both songs make significant use of the tritone interval, that is, a diminished fifth or augmented fourth. For Wonder Woman, the bass notes are throbbing on the root of E and the cello rises up to B, which is a perfect fifth from E, before coming down and emphasising the B-flat, which is the tritone. This interval builds a lot of energy because our ear is waiting for it to go back up and restore the perfect fifth, which it does at the end of the riff. Even better than the use of the tritone, I think, is the time signature and rhythmic bass line, which gives a strong sense of momentum and sort of leans forward.”
I was pleased to see her sound carries over to her upcoming solo venture.
And what of Superman? He’s a reluctant god who can’t possibly satisfy the soul sick needs of a world shaken to its core by an apocalyptic awakening. Framed by Luthor, his world shrinks to the women in his life (as Clark), until duty calls in a rigged game of death.
An interesting detail has been added to Superman’s costume in this film – subtle Kryptonian script threaded through it, which translates as an apt Joseph Campbell quote selected by Snyder:
“Where we had thought to travel outward,
We shall come to the centre of our own existence;
Where we had thought to be alone,
We shall be with all the world.”
Superman too, flies too close to the sun, blasted by a nuke just like in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but its rays nourish him anew.
I’m not beholden to DC’s history – I didn’t grow up reading Superhero comics, 2000 AD was my dark, twisted and freaky playground. I don’t think Snyder should be beholden either. Besides, in these characters long time in print, they have undergone many iterations – there is no one, true vision. Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war, I say. A tumultuous battle of titans is just what the big screen was made for, and the deliciously weird build up warmed the cockles of my coal black heart. It’s a refreshing, bold divergence from all that has come before, with just enough decent, innate goodness bubbling beneath. In the fiery (crowd free!) abandoned Wayne railway station in Gotham, chivalric Knights, an immortal Amazon, a crazy guitar lick, and the lady of the lake battle Mordred in the form of Lex-born Doomsday in a scene recalling the tragic, noble sacrifice of Le’Morte d’Arthur.
Waltermetz, in his piece focussing on the Excalibur motif (John Boorman’s film that plays as Master Wayne’s parents are murdered – again!) underlying the film, states that:
“It is the Man of Steel who redeems Batman, lifting the solution [the Kryptonite spear that will be his own downfall also] to the problem of the golem from the very film Bruce Wayne never got to see as a child.”
Batman then gently lowers the speared Superman’s body in his cape to Wonder Woman and Lois below, recalling many paintings depicting the lowering of Christ from the cross.
Every dark and twisted path in the film, the troika of Bruce, Clark and Lex’s trauma, has lead to rebirth and renewal – Superman’s noble sacrifice a symbol again, to remind the people of the world, not that Gods walk among them, but that, recalling his father Jor-El’s words, “they will stumble, they will fall, but In time, they will join you in the sun.”
Below is an interesting video documenting some of the film’s references that again elevate the approach of the film above most wham-bam costumed epics. Not least many works of art such as Gustave Doré’s “Paradise Lost,” Alfred Stevens’ “The Bath,” Cleon Peterson’s “A Balance of Terror,” and Andrea Mantegna’s “Crucifixion” – Snyder attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.