This post contains SPOILERS for BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.
Like many, I went to see Batman v. Superman over the weekend with a little bit of trepidation. I hadn’t been a fan of Man of Steel and the trailers had been less than reassuring. But I wanted to give the film a fair shot. I came away with some complicated feelings on the movie. I liked aspects of it: Bat-fleck, Wonder Woman, Alfred. I even liked Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor, even if it’s not really my ideal version of the Businessman-turned-Mad Scientist. That said, I left the theater with some questions. Not really burning questions, but a few things that nagged at the edges of my mind while watching the film.
1) How long has Batman been around in this new movie universe?
Intellectually, I know the answer to this question. As the movie embraces The Dark Knight Returns as a foundational document, I get the feeling that this Batman is supposed to have been around for many years. The press junkets for the film also confirm this. There’s even the possibility that he had retired some years ago and only came back because of Superman’s appearance. But there was something about the beginning of the film, which gives us Bruce’s origin in brief, that really felt different to me. We jump from a young Bruce, fresh from running out on his parents’ entombment, being encircled and then literally lifted by a colony of bats directly to “18 Months Ago” and the battle of Metropolis. Here we see Bruce Wayne arriving in Metropolis (or possibly Gotham? The cities are virtually identical in the movie and are, for some strange reason, only a bay apart from each other) via helicopter and then driving around town for some prime product placement. While the driving is expert-level, something struck me about our introduction to adult Bruce Wayne being through Bruce the man and not Batman. As he races to get his employees to evacuate the Wayne Financial building, he witnesses the destruction of the building and hears the death of Jack – presumably a close friend and high-ranking member of the business – on the phone. Bruce then helps save a young girl, who he holds tightly to his chest as he stares at Superman fighting in the distance, grim determination in his eyes.
It’s almost like a dual origin story. Bruce’s parents are killed when he is a child and then he loses his employees in a devastating attack years later. The way all of this is presented in the film plays like Bruce was never Batman until after Superman appears. I can’t believe Bruce wouldn’t suit up to save his city and would rather arrive as himself to save a few people. Those opening minutes give us a story of man marked by tragedy who becomes the Batman in order to fight against the uncontrolled power of Superman, who from time to time fights some average criminals. And in that context, Batman’s hatred of Superman and his plan to take down the alien would make more sense, because it’s tied to how he becomes the Bat. Now, the movie does establish certain things about Batman. Joker clearly exists. There’s a nod to Jason Todd’s death with the Robin suit in the display case. But there’s also alarmingly little evidence Batman has existed before now in the film.
Clark addresses the story of the “Bat vigilante” to Perry White as if it’s the first time he’s ever heard of it. Surely if Gotham City was one ferry ride away from Metropolis, Clark would have heard something of the Batman, even if it’s just an urban legend. News reports of Batman branding criminals prove that he’s a known entity, so Clark’s story isn’t an expose, but an editorial about vigilantism. It’s like somewhere in the writing process for the film they could never decide what Bruce’s status was. There’s ample evidence for interpreting every possibility of Bruce’s career. Much of Alfred’s dialogue hints at a weary man watching his surrogate son fight a losing battle with himself, but Alfred has also never had as much life as Irons has given the character, he even relishes flying the Batplane.
I really like the idea that Bruce becomes Batman later in life and his 18 month stint as the vigilante has been an utter hell in which he lost his sidekick and his mansion was destroyed. It feels different and interesting, but there are just as many signs that point to Bruce having a long career as Batman. I’m not asking for the film to document every year of Bruce’s life to prove he’s been Batman. But the narrative choices of the film lead me down a path where I was never really sure how long Batman has existed in this universe and I’m not certain the filmmakers really know either.
2) How can Doomsday be so strong at first without being exposed to sunlight?
This is kind of a nitpick, but it was pointed out to me in discussions about the film that Doomsday is amazingly strong and powerful right out of the gate. And while this does fit the character, it’s very strange given the very particular origin its given in the film. We’re told multiple times that Doomsday is a “Kryptonian Abomination,” but we’re not given a lot of context for that really means. Based off the corpse of Zod and a splash of blood from Luthor, the abomination emerges to battle Superman. However, if it’s based off of Kryptonian biology, shouldn’t it require some charging from the Earth’s yellow sun? Even if it’s a weapon the Kryptonians developed separately, surely the yellow sun should make it even stronger? But this goes unremarked on by anyone in the film. Indeed, Doomsday is born at night and is at no point able to take in sun rays. Sure, we see that the “genesis chamber” Luthor places him in is leeching energy from Metropolis in the form of lightning bursts striking the Krypotnian vessel in a very lazy Frakenstein homage, but it seems like an oversight.
But then, in an effort to take the fight off earth, Superman takes Doomsday into space, which is strange because that would put the monster in a position to absorb more sunlight and give him more power. Instead, the military give Doomsday a Mario one-up in the form of nuclear mushroom cloud. Doomsday even has an overpowered version of Superman’s heat vision, which shouldn’t already be activated if there’s not even a drop of sunlight to be found amidst the storm clouds and ever present night. It’s a nitpick, sure, but if your solution to dispatching Doomsday is using Kryptonite, then he’s basically the same as Superman, and that means he should have been weak upon emerging from chrysalis. Indeed, it would have helped raised the stakes of the fight, by adding a stronger narrative reason for Doomsday’s increasing strength.
3) Did Martha lose her job at Sears because of the battle of Smallville?
By far my silliest question upon leaving the movie, but I couldn’t help but think of it because of the amount of product placement in Man of Steel. When Lois Lane is tracking Superman’s background, she comes to Martha Kent’s home. In the years since Jonathan Kent’s death, we’re shown that Martha has begun working at the local Sears to make ends meet. Though left unsaid, Martha is seen wearing a blue Sears employee polo and an employee ID on a Sears lanyard. It’s a somewhat interesting move to give use a sense of this character’s life without dwelling on it or making it into dialogue. Clearly she can’t tend to the farm by herself and may not be able to afford the farmhands to make it work, so she works in Smallville’s big department store. Only, during the fight between Superman and Faora that breaks out in Man of Steel, the Sears is ravaged. One of the rogue Kryptonians lobs a train at Superman and it skids right through the Sears appliance section. That fight really hits downtown Smallville hard. The IHOP is gone, a military helicopter crashes in the street and a missile explodes in Faora’s hand, right next to the Sears and the Post Office.
Now, Man of Steel‘s product placement is kind of notorious at this point. There’s a lot of it, and a lot of camera holds on brand names. There’s less of it in Batman v. Superman, but it’s still there. For the 2013 movie, Sears had worked up a special relationship with the film. The Sears is framed in a lot of shots during the fight. Including a weird error when Superman is knocked several hundred feet down the street from his position in front of the Sears to… the same position in front of the Sears. They even gave away a special Sears-branded edition of All-Star Superman #1, the cover of which features Superman flying over the Sears in Smallville from the movie.
Come Batman v. Superman, Martha is no longer working at the Sears. She’s now working at a rather seedy looking bar. The two times we see the location, it’s actually kind of sad. Poorly lit, dingy and somewhere between a dive bar and the worst diner in the universe. It made me feel for Martha, a lonely woman eking by in a dwindling farm town, her husband dead, her son being torn to pieces by the media and the country he loves. It’s strangely affective, and yet, I couldn’t help but piece together the idea that Martha is in this place because her son couldn’t take the fight away from Smallville. In a film that tries to meditate on the cost of superheroes, on the responsibility they shoulder to the public, this little moment that bridges the two films together really struck me. Martha is directly impacted by Clark’s abilities, often in negative ways, and still tells her son that he owes the world nothing. I’m not sure how to interpret it, but it’s one of the more interesting things I took away from the film.
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