Okay, let’s talk some Batman v. Superman.
To preface: I’m a big fan of Man of Steel. I mean, I like it a heck of a lot. For me, that film tells an incredibly emotional story about a man trying to find his place in the world – no, the universe – and having to make choices to decide what kind of man he’s going to be and what world he’s going to choose to be his own. Clark Kent chooses Earth as his home and fulfills both of his fathers’ (Jor-El’s and Jonathan Kent’s) wishes of becoming “a force for good” and giving “the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards”, becoming Superman. He understands that doing good can come at a cost; he kills Zod not because he wants to but because it is the only outcome of an impossible situation – the life of Zod versus the lives of the people of Earth.
Cue Batman v. Superman. The world has not forgotten the collateral damage of the Superman/Zod fight – nor should it. Another lesson of MoS is that there are consequences to our actions, both good and bad. Bruce Wayne is one of those who sees Superman as a liability, someone who is a good guy now but would be unstoppable if he was to change his mind. During that Metropolis clash of the titans, Bruce loses friends and sees children lose their families, making more orphans like him who must now grow up far too quickly. Unlike the idealist Batman of Nolan’s trilogy, this Batman is a realist; he’s battle-worn and cynical, no longer believing that purely good people exist. He’s more cavalier with his violence in this iteration. He undoubtedly kills many people over the course of the film, not because he sets out to kill but because he’s less careful – after all, they’re criminals and so is he. He accepts this hard truth of the world. Because he understands that all men are capable of both good and evil, Batman decides to kill Superman, not because of the man he is now but because of the evil he may become in the future. If Batman can prevent it, no more children will lose their families due to the carelessness of gods.
Superman continues to be the force of good wished upon him by his fathers but struggles when the world begins to turn against him – does he continue to help those who need him, or does he hang his cape and focus purely on loving his mother and Lois? As appealing as this second option is, he simply can’t ignore the cries of help from people who have no one else to rely on – he is truly a savior and ignores the hatred thrown at him in order to continue being a beacon of good in the only way he knows how. All the while, he learns of Batman’s increasingly violent (and extremely literal) brand of justice and comes to the same conclusion that Batman came to for him – Batman must end. Not die, but he can no longer continue operating as an arbiter of justice outside of the law, not under Superman’s watch. And thus we have our central conflict.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is a wild card who has immense wealth. Despite his incredible resources, though, he has less power than Superman. Maybe he truly considers Superman to be a threat to civilization, but unlike Batman’s genuine fear for humanity, Lex is jealous and wants Superman’s power for himself. A master manipulator, he decides to create another impossible situation for Superman – kill Batman so that the world can see him as truly powerful and not all good…or lose his mother. Throughout the film he does everything he can to turn Batman against the Man of Steel, framing Superman for collusion in a congressional bombing and sending letters of taunt. He also manipulates his way into gaining access to Zod’s corpse and his crashed Kryptonian ship, creating a monstrous Kryptonian/human hybrid that can finish the job, whether it’s Batman or Superman still standing in the end.
But something happens in that final duel: Superman initially avoids fighting Batman, refusing to kill Batman even for such a noble cause as saving his own mother. Perhaps the weight of the death of Zod, the last living Kryptonian, weighs too heavily on his heart – he doesn’t want to kill again, not if he can help it. However, Batman still sees his cause as righteous, so he shows no mercy, going so far as to having Superman within a stroke of death…when Superman reveals their mothers’ shared name. Martha. Batman hesitates. What is he doing? How can he stand over this man who has strove to do nothing but the right thing and take his life from him, thus also taking the life of yet another Martha? So he relinquishes his weapon and forms a truce, promising that Martha will not die tonight as Superman goes off to fight the new threat of Doomsday.
Batman succeeds. Superman struggles. Batman returns – a new partnership. Diana Prince, seeing the new threat to humankind, joins the fight. But still Doomsday is too much for the trio. One last time, Superman saves Lois, the woman he loves, before sacrificing himself for the good of the world he loves. Peace is restored. Good prevails. Superman is dead.
Batman is devastated, but he is also reformed. Superman has restored Bruce’s faith in mankind, showing him that true good does exist in the world and that helping is better than condemning. Instead of branding Luthor, marking him for death at the hands of his fellow inmates, Batman spares him, transferring Lex to Arkham and promising to keep a watchful eye on him. But Luthor makes a truthful remark: more are coming. More unstoppable forces, likely not as righteous as Superman, and therefore a true threat to Earth.
And that’s where the Justice League comes in – Batman’s answer to a world in the wake of Superman’s sacrifice for the people of the world. We can only hope that this film, and hopefully The Batman after that, will continue to build on these characters in meaningful ways.
These are my thoughts after watching the film (Ultimate Edition) for the first time. If you disagree? Okay. I’m not saying I’m right or you’re wrong, I’m just inviting discussion – these are characters with lessons to learn and values to teach. They learn from each other and we can learn from them.
If you would like to hear more in-depth discussions like this one, make sure to check out The Cinescope Podcast, a weekly show that I host where we talk about the movies we love and why we love them. We do this kind of breakdown for all kinds of movies! Check it out and be sure to let me know what you think!