Today marks the opening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Just Another Attempt at Cashing in on a Comic Franchise. In preparation for the upcoming movie we have been bracing for the worst, while also trying to stay quietly and irrationally optimistic. Unfortunately, this movie has a tall building to leap in a single bound, and much like Man of Steel and its jaded and sepia toned hero, everything we have been seeing so far does not actually give us any hope.
The New Shifty Too
We here at The NYRD want to have high expectations for this movie. For many of us DC Comics was our first Springtime love. It was our first nerdy kiss, and like a first kiss it probably seems better in retrospect. Yet, it has gotten harder for DC defenders over the years, and that is saying something. Advents like the New 52 and the DC Cinematic Universe are not quite matching up to their Marvel counterparts. Criticism against the parent company of the Justice League is nothing new, but these days it is getting harder and harder to disagree. People have always liked to say that Superman is too powerful, too perfect, and too boring, and we can take that. Yet, the current problem is that one of those people is apparently named Zack Synder.
DC Comics has done everything they could to “improve” the character of Clark Kent, both under the direction of Snyder and in the New 52 comic universe. They have made him angrier, more tragic, and with a super scowl that could melt steel. The bright colors are gone, and is it just us or does Superman look naked without those red briefs? By altering the classic and iconic appearance of the Last Son of Krypton in order to fit into darker sensibilities, DC and Snyder have altered the character, more than they realize. Yet, that is simply a symptom of the larger problem, because what we get in Man of Steel is a bastardized version of Superman who is striving to be nothing more than a Bizarro reflection that wants to hang its foreign frame on the skeleton of Nolan’s Batman. For Hollywood the philosophy of “rinse and repeat,” is often their only strategy. Opening weekend box office sales may have gone “up up and away,” but DC needs to decide if the product they are giving us is truly representative of their past standards or just a momentary knee-jerk reaction to grab some quick cash.
After all, now that you have built a darker world where Superman -a man who literally is supposed to wear hope on his chest- is monotone and brooding, than what is the role of Batman? The great thing about Bruce and Clark is not their similarities but how they balance one another. Similarly their best moments rarely come when they are fighting, but instead when they are working together. Naming a movie Batman v Superman is such a juvenile transparent corporate profit stunt that it is barely made less ludicrous by the fact that they couldn’t even take the time to spell out “versus” or even at least abbreviate it to “vs.” It feels like the movie equivalent of a 5 year old ramming two action figures together and calling it a day, but then again, what else can you do when you have created a universe where your two main characters have the same depressed and violent personality.
The Last Straw of Krypton
Let’s get the obvious complaint out of the way first: Superman kills Zod, and as egregious as that is, it is only the beginning of the problem. In fact, we are a little surprised that Snyder didn’t slow down the reel so we could revel in the violence just a little longer, like Leonidas hacking a Persian to bits. Mr. Synder, we understand you want to make a grittier and darker version of Superman, but sometimes tarnishing something that is supposed to be shiny and spotless makes that thing into something else entirely. This isn’t Sparta, and Superman is not Batman.
The Man of Steel is meant to be a boy scout. Bruce calls him that all the time, and it is meant as a term of endearment. It’s part of what makes him who he is. You lost a lot of people with that particular head-snapping-stunt, including Mark Waid, who explains, “Some crazy guy in front of us was muttering ‘Don’t do it…don’t do it…DON’T DO IT…’ and then Superman snapped Zod’s neck and that guy stood up and said in a very loud voice, ‘THAT’S IT, YOU LOST ME, I’M OUT,’ and his girlfriend had to literally pull him back into his seat and keep him from walking out, and that crazy guy was me. That crazy guy was me, and I barely even remember doing that, I had to be told afterward that I’d done that, that’s how caught up in betrayal I felt. And after the neck-snapping, even though I stuck it out, I didn’t give a damn about the rest of the movie.”
Snyder defends his position saying that this act will be the origin for why Superman doesn’t kill, but that’s not really the point. That one final act just neatly crystallizes a larger problem. This Superman shows very little regard for human life throughout the entirety of the first movie. Yes, he saves people, but those are all scripted moments. They felt like peace-token offerings meant to placate audiences so that Snyder had an excuse to blow up buildings in the third act, because when the shazbot really does hits the fan we find a Superman who not only ignores the plight of innocent bystanders, but actively disregards the consequences of his destructive battle on the people caught in its path. We can understand the impracticality of stopping mid-fight with the major villain of the movie to try and save bystanders, but it would have been good to see Superman attempt it, despite the impracticality, maybe even because of the impracticality. If we had more examples of Superman trying to hold up a falling structure as people fled, only to be thwarted by a Zod counter-attack, then we might even have felt a little more urgency and even understanding when it came time for Superman’s fateful and final decision.
Superman: Birth Defect
In a non-Synder universe Clark becomes Superman to protect people. He wears a big goofy and bright outfit so people won’t be afraid of him. He does it because he feels this need to make the world a better place and because he is tired of hiding who he is. He does it to bring hope to people and to make his parents proud. In Man of Steel, Clark Kent becomes Superman because Zod forces him into the decision. He doesn’t begin his career as a savior, he begins it as a flying alien who would rather punch things, than stop a few fighter jets from crashing into the downtown area of Smallville.
Ultimately, that is people’s biggest problem with Snyder-man. The Man of Steel that we know and love from comics, cartoons, video games, and Richard Donner movies is a protector, not a warrior. That’s Wonder Woman’s job. Superman should be a beacon of hope who catches falling planes, not a dark avenger who hunts criminals. That’s Batman’s job. That is why the three of them work so well together, they are different shades of the same idea, but if Man of Steel taught us anything it is that DC believes their cinematic universe can only have one bleak and washed out shade of color. Superman shouldn’t need a reason for not killing. He knows how strong he is and how easy he can break things and break the people around him. The real Superman always understood that his powers gave him the responsibility to not do harm, but maybe in Snyder’s universe we can blame this particular flaw on the parents.
In Man of Steel Jonathon Ken expressed a real concern about his son exposing himself to the world, and any parent can understand that. However, you tend to lose audiences when he starts telling Clark that maybe he should let people die. More than the ending, that moment is the biggest let down of the movie. It was a metaphorical neck-snap of the entire Superman mythos. Pa Kent, a man who Clark always admired and revered and wanted to make proud, is reduced to a damned coward. As an aside, it is also worth mentioning that Clark Kent could have easily saved that dog from the tornado while walking at normal human speed. There was absolutely no reason Jonathon Kent had to sacrifice himself, especially because… again… Superman is not Batman. The Man of Steel never needed dead parents to motivate him, if anything it has always been his living parents that kept him grounded and happy.
We cannot be sure what Batman v Superman will add to the mistakes of Man of Steel. It is possible that this movie will hit the mark in ways we cannot even fathom and retroactively justify every decision made in the first movie. Unfortunately, with what we have been reading lately, that hope may be as long gone as Krypton itself. Despite the fact that DC still has award winning cartoons and enjoyable -if not a little campy- TV shows, heroes like Superman have always been easy targets for critics, but this time around we DC apologists may find ourselves facing another indefensible pile of CGI, jumbled plot lines, and frustratingly missed opportunities. For now, we’ll just have to console ourselves over a pint of ice cream and settle for rereading Superman: Birthright and watching old episodes of Justice League Unlimited.