‘Batman v Superman’ Has A Brilliant Message About Cynicism
The DC Extended Universe has been the butt of a lot of jokes for a long time – at least, until Wonder Woman lassoed into theaters, bringing a 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes and tremendous praise from fans with her on her back. DC is ‘cool’ again, and it’s due in large part to Wonder Woman. We’ll see how the upcoming Justice League performs, which has mixed word of mouth thus far, but I just want to take us back to that fateful day in 2016: the release of Warner Bros’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The movie was dragged through the mud for a multitude of reasons: for being too dark, for not having enough action, for the characters not being the way they are in the comics, for the visual style not coming across as particularly inspired. I could go on forever, but you get the idea. People generally panned the film because in their opinions, it didn’t quite line up with the ways they’ve seen the characters of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, aka Superman and Batman, for decades.
As someone who had mixed feelings about Batman v Superman (I liked several moments in the film and understood what they were trying to do, but thought that overall the film didn’t work the way it should have), I can attest to the fact that none of the above are problems I had with the film. I’m someone who’s fully supported both Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck in their respective roles – I think they’re both doing amazing jobs and aren’t talked about enough. I also loved Man of Steel, another controversial DCEU film that got a lot of flack from hardcore DC fans. So I’m someone who is coming from a place of being a fan of the established world, and desperately wanting it to work.
But there’s an undeniable divide. As much as us DCEU fans want to ignore it, there are many people out there who don’t like what’s being done with their beloved characters. As I said, we’ll see how Justice League turns out, but in large part, a lot of DC fans – even the ones who liked Wonder Woman – are very reluctant to see this universe go forward. And I can understand that, even if I disagree with it. But today, I’m here to give a counter argument about the DCEU and Batman v Superman more specifically – my idea of what the movie was going for, even if it didn’t necessarily succeed.
Both the ultimate and theatrical versions of the film depict an incompetent and often ineffective Superman. Argue all you want, but it’s true. He saves Lois at the beginning, but only ends up creating more destruction. He tries to do good, but it constantly ends up backfiring. Now, this isn’t necessarily his fault, but in the end Superman always ends up making things worse. In Man of Steel, he destroys an entire city during a fight that could have been avoided logistically. It’s early on in Superman’s career, and he is not entirely concerned with the bigger picture – yet.
Superman’s memorial is tagged with hate. When he comes to hear for his crimes against humanity, people are holding up signs that read ‘GO HOME, ALIEN!’ ‘WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE!’ People fear him. People laugh at him. People think he’s working for the government. But there is a very small contingent of people, if at all, that believe that Superman is an all powerful, all good force. And this is what made me fall so in love with the idea of the Batman v Superman film.
I love the idea that when Superman comes to Earth, he wouldn’t be entirely embraced by the people here. Why would he? I mean, come on – if we’re going to look at this realistically, Superman would be hated and feared. An all-powerful man who answers to no one and is unclear about whose side he’s on? The governments of all the countries would be looking for a nuclear weapon to destroy him, and completely uncertain about whether or not to trust him. Especially given that because he gets his powers from the sun, in real life Superman would likely not be Caucasian. People would throw dirt on his name, torment him, and make him unsure about wanting to be a hero or save anyone.
And him being unsure about his heroism, as well, was also portrayed in the film – very realistically. Superman doesn’t just dive right into being a hero – he has to think about it. In the world of the DCEU, Superman is, quite literally, a god. He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he wants. He doesn’t owe the people of Earth anything, and if he wanted to leave, he could. Why should he save them? Why should he choose to be a hero? What is there for him?
But Superman is conflicted – because there are good things about the Earth. His parents, who found him and took him in when no one else would, who raised him as their own and taught him the ways of Earth, who shielded him from bullying and torment at school. His girlfriend, who has completely rested her entire journalistic career on proving that Superman is innocent. His job. His boss. His quickly developing family, first with Lois and hopefully, with the Justice League. And because the one thing his father left him with, in the Codex, is the message of heroism – of hope.
In Batman v Superman, Clark talks to Lois on a rooftop about hope, and about trying to live up to a farmer’s dream from Kansas of justice, truth and the American way. He tells himself that he could be a hero, but he wasn’t trying hard enough – he could have saved the people who are blown up in the senate hearing, but he wasn’t looking for any danger. Throughout the film, we see Superman be talked at. And we see Superman be remorseful and regretful about the things he has and hasn’t done in the past, concerning his heroism and his role in the asylum of the world.
Even Batman turns cynical, believing as most of the world does that Superman could quite easily turn on humanity and become a weapon. Now I, someone who knows all about stereotypes and oppression, know this is ridiculous. But billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, who’s had everything handed to him on a silver platter for his entire life – at least financially; we’ll get to Bruce’s PTSD in a second – wouldn’t know about that. He wouldn’t understand that. So at this point in his life, it makes sense that Bruce would feel this way about Superman.
Now, let’s move on to Bruce. The film presents Bruce as angry, bed-ridden, frustrated and even going so far as to kill – maybe not directly, but certainly not going to great lengths to prevent the deaths of his enemies. This is in complete contrast to the Batman from the comics, who is just as hopeful and optimistic as Superman – but it’s an intentional choice, I believe, to show the ways PTSD can make a person more cynical.
Bruce has seen his parents be murdered before his very eyes. He’s seen Robin die – a son figure and the only person besides Alfred that we knew him to be close with. Presumably, he’s existed in this world for years and nothing has changed. Sure, he could beat up the Joker or Lex Luthor, but what changes? They go into prison, they eventually get out, more criminals come out on the street, and the pattern starts again and again. Bruce is tired. He has seen so much violence that it has begun to corrupt him, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
When Superman is killed at the end of the film, it completely reevaluates Bruce’s way of looking at the world. Here is a man – a god – who can literally do anything, and he has chosen to sacrifice himself to save the world from Doomsday. Superman’s sacrifice rocks Bruce to the core, so much so that he enlists Diana to help him form the Justice League and come out of hiding as a superhero.
And speaking of Diana? Gal Gadot has gone around saying that Wonder Woman’s decision to leave man’s world was a mistake, but I don’t agree. I think that Wonder Woman, just like any other superhero, is flawed. She makes mistakes. And the death of Steve Trevor is something that had a tremendously negative effect on her. Perhaps she, too, suffers from PTSD. She’s very lonely, working in the Louvre by herself when we meet her for the first time. She remarks that ‘standing together isn’t possible’, because she’s seen that men can be horrible all on their own, even without the help of the god of war.
When it comes to Superman’s sacrifice, this just shows the kind of man Clark Kent is – that despite the darkness and cynicism of the world as presented in this movie, he will continue to be a beacon of hope and light because that’s what both his fathers wanted of him. Because that’s the kind of person he wants to be. Because, much like Batman and Wonder Woman, Superman understands that the fate of the universe is something much bigger than just him – and because he knows what it feels like to be hated and rooted against, simply for existing. Because don’t forget, even before Superman’s fight with Zod, the government was wary of him and distrusting.
I know some of you still won’t be convinced that Batman v Superman holds any merit. A lot of people just want to see the light, fun versions of the characters – and I think that Marvel’s partially to blame there, but I also think it’s just because these are the more popular versions. As Deborah Snyder said, people don’t like to see their heroes deconstructed. It could also be a problem, too, that the DCEU went dark before it went light. That we never got to see these characters at their best.
But I love the idea of making Superman someone who is kicked, hit, and spit on by the world just as much as the rest of us – because ultimately, that makes him much more relatable. I love the idea of a Batman who has become corrupted by the darkness that he has fought for so long. And I love the idea of a Wonder Woman who is unsure whether or not saving the world is what she wants to do – because despite her heroism, she is still a person with mental health and the ability to become fatigued.
Batman v Superman is not a perfect movie, but its messages about cynicism, darkness, and above all hope are ones that resonated deeply with me. If I could make you see the film – and the DCEU – a little differently now that you understand what Zack Snyder was trying to do, that would be cause to celebrate. And remember that your favorite heroes, as cool as they may seem, are still people.