Warning: Spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Days after watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I was still processing my feelings about the film. I’m a pretty huge Batman fan and I felt my fandom was somewhat on the line; one of my favorite character’s integrity and popularity was being called into question. People kept asking me if I’d seen the movie and whether I liked it. I was forced to admit to them and myself, “Not really”.
I began to ask myself, “Why was I so unhappy with Batman v Superman? Even I had to admit, it was a much better film than most of the hysterical reviews would have suggested. Why did I feel so underwhelmed and hollow? As the days since seeing the movie in the dark of a theater in Northern California mounted, an unavoidable fact kept nagging at me.
We were missing an entire movie chapter…
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn’t the movie we should have seen in theaters last weekend. We should have been watching Man of Steel 2. I’m not sure what the subtitle would have been. Maybe MoS 2: Son of Krypton or The Age of Brainiac or even Superman & Lois In Love (I’m kidding).
My point is that BvS felt incredibly jumbled because there were so many plot lines starting up and trying to complete their arc within one two and a half hour long movie. Director Zach Snyder tried or was alternatively forced to include just about everything in the movie simply to kick start the Justice League franchise. It’s a big assumption by the studio that everybody wants to reach the ensemble Justice League movie as fast as possible. I’m not sure I agree.
Maybe the studio does want to reach the “Dawn of Justice” inflection point, in hopes of reaping Avengers-like financial gains, but most of us fans would be happy with a new standalone Batman movie. In fact, if anybody at Warner Brothers reads this, I promise to see a Batman movie starring Ben Affleck as this kick-ass Batman at least 10 times and take all my co-workers and family along at least once.
Back to Man of Steel
The missing sequel to Man of Steel would have dealt with some of the themes contained within BvS, but in a far less perfunctory way. For me, one of the best scenes in the movie was the explosion in the capital where everybody was incinerated instantly except Superman. It was a masterful scene, though it reminded me more of an event that would have occurred in Snyder’s own Watchmen versus anything from the DC universe.
I like the whole public debate and split perception of Superman. Some hate him for his involvement in the destruction of Metropolis in MoS. Some worship him for his alien super powers. Some bestow on him the trappings of a God. In his own, very human mind and soul (only his physical self is actually “Super”), Superman would have to learn how to deal with these dynamics. This level of focus and the ambition to connect us to Superman on a human level would have meant that by the time the end of BvS came along, we’d have been crying like babies. Instead, I was pretty unfazed. Superman’s Dead! Oh really?
Another powerful aspect of building our attachment to Superman and his growing humanity is his relationship to Lois. One terrific and overlooked scene by critics in BvS is where Clark gets into the bath fully clothed with Lois. He’s like a puppy around her. It reminded me of the great line Daniel Craig says to Vesper near the end of Casino Royale, “I have no armor left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me – whatever is left of me – whatever I am – I’m yours.”
I’m not asking for a soppy love story and scenes of Supes and Lois flying hand in hand while she asks inanely, “Can you read my mind?” but this type of scene establishes motivation and builds character. Supes would give his life for Lois and MoS2 would have shown us that, instead BvS only gives us Superman in a bathtub and assumes we’ll fill in the rest of the emotional connection that’s sorely missing here.
DC appears to adamantly be doing its own thing apart from Marvel. While this desire to differentiate themselves from their colorful, pun-a-minute competitive set of “men in spandex” is admirable and Warner is clearly convinced that the success of Nolan’s Dark Knight series means grim dystopian nightmares sell, Superman’s 78 years of successfully appealing to the public has never been tied to a morbid and cynical view of the Kryptonian. I’m not saying you can’t, nay shouldn’t do it eventually, but it shouldn’t be the core of the character.
Superman is a Boy Scout. He’s an alien who loves his adopted home and would fight and die for it. I understand, I came to the US from England 23 years ago and I freaking love my adopted country. Apart from the heat vision and flying thing, we’re practically twins.
The original blockbuster Superman starring the iconic Christopher Reeves in 1978 waited until Superman III to give us “bad Superman”. There’s a reason for that. We have to care first. That emotional attachment takes time to build. We have to understand that when Superman is being bad, he doesn’t mean it. He just stood too close to some bad Kryptonite or something.
Henry Cavill is a physical marvel. He “looks” more like a superhero than any actor has a right to without silicon implants. Still, his version Superman is a petulant “superbaby” and highly disagreeable. I actually felt Cavill’s performance was better in BvS than MoS, but he was still frowning his way through most scenes. Again, to draw on a Watchman analogy from Snyder’s prior work, Supes is treated like Doctor Manhattan, a sentient being so out of synch with humanity he can barely register emotion (except where Lois or his mom are concerned). I’m sorry Zach, but that isn’t much of a Superman.
In the missing MoS2, Batman wouldn’t have appeared in a single frame. However, if DC had been as smart as those marketing geniuses over at Marvel Studios, we would have heard about the “Gotham Bat” via side accounts and whispered conversations and as a smart, movie going audience, we’d have started to prepare ourselves for the inevitable crossover movie.
Another thing MoS2 would have corrected was the missing motivation of Lex Luthor. MoS2 could have established the why regarding the animosity between Lex Luthor and Superman. Many critics have astutely observed that Luthor’s motivations in BvS appear to be completely missing. I sense that Luthor is somewhat a self-made man, somebody who has distinguished himself by his mental brilliance and wishes to become dominant over his fellow mortals. Just at the point his intelligence appears to have made him a “God among men”, this “Earthbound God” (to paraphrase Frank Miller’s expression for the Man of Steel) suddenly appears and everybody goes crazy trying to hug the man in red and blue and give “this alien” the love daddy never gave baby Luthor. That kind of complex emotional reaction is not something you can satisfactorily hint at. That kind of animosity needs to build in a slow boil like the kind of brilliant violence that built over several seasons with Breaking Bad. It’s for this reason and every other reason I can think of that Bryan Cranston would have owned the role of Lex Luthor and made the antagonism between these two opposites one fans would have talked about in film thread discussions forever.
Man of Steel 2 would have continued the story immediately from the end of MoS much like BvS did. Superman would have answered the difficult questions about his involvement in the destruction of Metropolis. We would have seen him trying to repair the damage, both literal and figurative. He would have had to deal with people rather than run from them as a loner-hermit as he had during most of Man of Steel. He would have come to realize and accept his role as a unique protector of the people of earth whom he had chosen to live among. By the end of the film, they would have similarly accepted him as one of their own. MoS 2 cried out for a scene like the Spider-Man 2 train scene where New Yorkers carry Spidey’s broken, exhausted body over their heads with sanctity and love because he had risked all for them. They, in turn, stand in the way of certain harm to protect him from Doc Ock (even thinking about that scene chokes me up).
The villain in MoS 2 could have been any one of a hundred wacky villains from the Superman pantheon, but I’d probably go with Brainiac. (We’ll save Bizzaro Superman for when things need to get wacky.)
By the end of MoS 2, we would have come to accept this Superman just as Metropolis had. Superman would be in the glow of victory over Brainiac or similar, having protected the city and saved it from ultimate destruction. But there, on the horizon as the sun sets, a shadow would be creeping toward Superman and Metropolis. A shadow in the shape of a Bat.
End Scene. Start Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.