Batman v Superman: The Triumph of Hope in the DCEU
September 3rd, 2016 | by Kyle King
Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition has shone new light on the relationship between Batman and Superman in the DCEU. ComiConverse has already been home to some epic debate about the state of the DC Extended Universe and today is no exception. Here, our Man of Steel Writer T. Kyle King lays out his case for the triumph of hope in the DCEU.
Batman v Superman: The Triumph of Hope in the DCEU
The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and its lead director, Zack Snyder, are subjects of constant controversy among fans. The DCEU is proceeding full steam ahead, with a raft of new movies coming our way and a sequel to Man of Steel in active development. Nevertheless, virtually every decision has produced a torrent of criticism of the films’ dark tone and their failure to make proper use of Lois Lane and Superman.
These ongoing debates between devoted fans are being echoed right here at ComiConverse. Recently, our own Ryan Mayer made a compelling case for the Superman of the Snyder movies as the ideal Man of Steel, a flawed god struggling to do what’s right in a world that does not fully accept him, while colleague Dusty Haynes offered thoughts on how to fix the DCEU. Although my own thoughts on the state of the Extended Universe have been mixed, I agree with ComiConverse contributor James Morgan that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was greatly improved by the inclusion of additional footage in the recently released Ultimate Edition.
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After seeing Batman v. Superman in original theatrical release, I — as a Superman guy — definitely viewed the DCEU glass as half-empty. Ultimate Edition, though, has helped me to see the trajectory of the cinematic stories in a more positive light, leaving me convinced that the arc of the Extended Universe is long, but (as the subtitle implies) it bends toward justice. Thanks to the restored footage, I now think of Dawn of Justice the way Ryan thinks of the series’ Last Son of Krypton; namely, as flawed, yet, in the end, more about hope than about darkness.
(This should go without saying, but, just in case you haven’t seen Ultimate Edition, stop reading now and go watch it, because spoilers follow!)
With all due respect to Lois Lane — and I have considerable respect for Lois Lane — the Caped Crusader is the key to this film. Ben Affleck’s brooding Batman spends the majority of this motion picture as the most aloof, distant, and emotionally disconnected Darknight Detective ever depicted on film. For much of the movie, Bruce Wayne lacks any sentimental attachment to any living human being. His strong feelings all are reserved for the departed — for his parents, for the Robin whose costume is enshrined in the Batcave, for the victims who perished in the toppling of Wayne Tower in Metropolis — but his attitude toward the living — toward Alfred, toward the criminals he brands, toward Wally Keefe, toward both Clark Kent and Superman — ranges between cynical indifference and open hostility.
This Batman has taken the idea of fighting fear with fear to its cruelest and most amoral extreme, to the point of scarring criminals in a way he knows marks them for death in prison, using guns in pursuit of his objectives, and morosely moping: “We’re criminals, Alfred. We’ve always been criminals.” This Batman doesn’t just create contingency plans to set into motion if Superman goes rogue; he systematically plots a premeditated murder in a preemptive strike against the minuscule possibility the Man of Tomorrow turns evil, beginning by breaking and entering at Lexcorp, then ending by lying in wait for the Action Ace. Bruce asks Alfred rhetorically, “How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?”; the faithful butler’s sardonic reply ought to have been: “Evidently, Master Bruce, one fewer than I had believed.” This Batman begins as a bad man.
The only direction this Batman comprehends is downward. In the opening lines of Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne ominously observes that “things fall. Things on Earth. And what falls is fallen. In the dream, it took me to the light. A beautiful lie.” (This is not the only time a prominent character in this film will mistakenly describe the truth as a falsehood.) This Batman only understands, and only believes in, falling — Thomas and Martha Wayne’s bodies dropping to the asphalt in Crime Alley; his own plummet when running from his parents’ gravesite; the collapse of Wayne Tower; the failure of former heroes. When Bruce announces his homicidal intentions, Alfred knowingly intones: “So falls the House of Wayne.” This Batman, like Richard the Lionhearted in The Lion in Winter, adopts the dim view that “the fall is all there is“.
It is clear even in the theatrical cut of Batman v. Superman that the Man of Steel eventually inspires the Dark Knight to change, but only the extended edit makes it completely clear why. The added scenes in Ultimate Edition, which unwisely were deleted from the big-screen version, restore both Clark Kent’s zealous pursuit of the truth and Superman’s selfless devotion to saving everyone — in short, what was put back into the film was the heroism without which the Big Blue Boy Scout was reduced to the Grim Grey Grump. The Ultimate Edition Superman — who no longer stands still, silent and stone-faced, while a bomb detonates and kills everyone around him — serves as a refutation of Batman’s brittle cynicism, rather than as a confirmation of it.
There is no doubt that Batman v. Superman, much of which occurs in inclement weather after sunset, often is gloomy in appearance and in tone, but there is a reason why the film’s subtitle is not Twilight of Justice, for it is always darkest before the dawn. In the titular clash of the comic book titans, the Caped Crusader mockingly denies that the Kryptonian knows what it means to be a man, but he gets his first glimpse of his opponent’s fundamental humanity when he learns that both men have mothers named Martha.
What happens next is the crux of the movie.
When the central characters swiftly switch from embattled enemies to wary allies, Superman does something so extraordinary that even Bruce Wayne’s hardened heart is changed. The Action Ace has every reason to doubt the Darknight Detective and to believe his alien abilities make him capable of both saving his adoptive mother and stopping Lex Luthor. Nevertheless, he empathizes with the fallen hero who only moments before had intended to kill him. Superman understands what has made Batman who he is: Clark Kent had to stand idly by in Man of Steel and watch his father die, and he knew when he made the terrible choices he had to make to stop General Zod that it meant the end of every vestige of Krypton other than himself.
In that moment, Clark sees Bruce not as an untrustworthy other, but as someone like himself. Both have suffered losses that left them alone; both know the pain of helplessly watching a parent die — but, when Zod threatened Clark’s mother, he was able to do what Bruce was not when Joe Chill threatened his: Superman saved Martha, but Bruce became Batman because he couldn’t. Rather than abandon Batman and rescue his mother on his own, therefore, Clark compassionately sees what Bruce needs, places his trust in Batman, and offers him the opportunity for redemption that could come by no other means except through saving Martha.
That, of course, is just what Batman does, expertly. When the fight is finished, the hero calms the freed yet frightened hostage by telling her, “It’s O.K.” — and then he utters what Brett Culp of the Rising Heroes Project convincingly and movingly identifies as the most significant line in the entire movie. It’s easy to miss, because it immediately follows the most tightly choreographed action sequence in Dawn of Justice and it comes right before Martha breaks the tension with the laugh line: “I figured. The cape.” What’s more, what the World’s Greatest Detective says is entirely unexpected; the audience more likely anticipated that he would utter the iconic line, “I’m Batman.”
That isn’t what he says, however. Instead, Bruce Wayne tells Martha Kent: “I’m a friend of your son’s.”
Think about that for a minute.
“I’m a friend of your son’s.”
Is “friend” a word you can even imagine Batman — this Batman — using to describe his relationship with a living person?
In under an hour, Batman has gone from being resolute in his determination to slay the alien interloper he refuses even to acknowledge as human to realizing that, when he chose to view the glass as one per cent empty rather than 99 per cent full, he underestimated the son Martha Kent raised. The somber loner has been transformed into a sympathetic teammate who believes a man can fly.
From that point forward, Bruce Wayne is a changed man. When he confronts Lex Luthor in prison, he tells him he has arranged to have him transferred to Arkham Asylum, and he embeds the bat symbol into the wall instead of into the criminal’s flesh. For all the film’s focus on falling, the message of the movie is not to affirm, but to disprove, Lex’s perverted version of the truth: “Devils don’t come from Hell beneath us. They come from the sky.”
The audience knows, of course, that this line foreshadows the fact that the forces of Apokolips are coming from above, but what might be missed is the reality that, due to Superman’s sacrifice and Batman’s leadership, the Justice League will be there to face the villains in the air. The moral of Batman v. Superman, then, isn’t that Darkseid descends or that heroes fall; the lesson of Dawn of Justice is that Superman still provides an ideal inspiring others to strive to join him in the sun, and — because the Man of Tomorrow has proven that the light is not a lie — where once Bruce Wayne lay fallen, now the Dark Knight rises.
What do you think of the direction of the DCEU?
Are you upbeat or skeptical about future movies in the series?
Share your views by ComiConversing with us in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: Warner Brothers