The Issues of Batman v. Superman: Grim Points from Grim Material (WARNING: SPOILERS WITHIN)

As I mentioned in the end of my post on Friday, my post today would be discussing more about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, I will be getting into spoilers with this post. That means that, among the points I will be examining today, I will go into detail in regards to the ending. If you do not want to be spoiled, then I suggest you perhaps read one of my other posts instead. Do we understand? Good. Now, let us continue. In my review, I had laid out some of my points of critique, most notably the mood. The film chooses to present its story in a dark and grim fashion, with barely any sense of fun. Along with that, both Superman and Batman are presented in ways that feel like they lose the core heart of their characters to me. How can this be? Well, the overall mood and several points of style can be clearly traced back to a story known as The Dark Knight Returns. Before we get to that, however, I wish to discuss the film’s ending and its source of inspiration: The Death of Superman.

For those unfamiliar, The Death of Superman was a storyline from the comics that had made headlines because of its basic idea: a powerful monster known as Doomsday attacks and while Superman stops him by crossing the line and killing him, Superman dies in the process. It was a monumental event, one that saw the DC Universe coming together to mourn the loss of one of its greatest heroes. Now, this film borrows heavily from that story for this ending. Lex Luthor, using Kryptonian technology to revive/mutate the corpse of General Zod into a lumbering monster, unleashes the beast to kill Superman. Though Batman and Wonder Woman do their best to stop Doomsday, it ultimately takes the sacrifice of Superman armed with a Kryptonite spear to stop him. Now, I do believe that The Death of Superman could make for a powerful plot for a film. However, I feel that having Superman die in this film is a flawed move.

For one, this is the film that is supposed to be building up the DC Cinematic Universe. It would seem to me that you would want Superman to be around while this universe is forming before playing that card. If they had waited, they could have had the Justice League come together for his mourning and shown the world’s reaction after he was firmly established as a hero. It could have have a bigger impact had they been willing to wait. Speaking of which, they film’s very last shot shows some dirt moving on his coffin, suggesting that he is already recuperating from his apparent “death”. In other words, they have undercut the impact of him dying by already promising his return. At least when DC Comics had killed Superman originally, they had waited about a year before even suggesting his return. Finally, any threat that Superman faces within this Cinematic Universe is now undercut because the worst has happened. What could have been a powerful moment later down the line, perhaps when the Justice League faces Darkseid or a similar level of threat, Superman’s death could have shown just how dire the situation is. Instead, what could have been a powerful moment later is lost for the sake of forced drama now.

Now, the other big influence on this film is the comic book miniseries The Dark Knight Returns. Written and drawn by Frank Miller, this was a non-canon miniseries that told the tale of an aging Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement once more to become Batman and clean up a future Gotham City. It made a major mark when it had first hit store shelves, bringing a dark mentality and method to DC superheroes right around the same time as Alan Moore’s Watchmen offered a brilliant deconstruction of superheroes themselves. It also cast a new light on the relationship of Superman and Batman, presenting a new interpretation of them as mistrusting and wary of each other. As influential as that comic may have been, I personally feel that drawing so strongly from The Dark Knight Returns is a poor choice. Though that story has a battle between Superman and Batman that serves as the central basis for this film, there is meaning and history  behind that fight which is lost.

In the comic, Batman has become an aging and ruthless warrior seeking to reclaim order, while Superman has become a reluctant tool of the U.S. government. That fight served as a pivotal moment for a story that Frank Miller wanted to tell, a story not only about destructing two of DC Comics’s greatest heroes but also in offering a critique of 1980s politics. As for history, both Superman and Batman are firmly rooted in it. They know each other well, aware of their weaknesses. Superman wants to avoid the fight altogether despite the government’s orders and tries to convince Batman to stand down. Batman, meanwhile, prepares for all avenues of battling Superman and finally takes him down using synthetic Kryptonite. However, he does not use a killing amount. He only uses enough to defeat him. Between both, there is some sense of respect even as they come to blows, a final culmination of a long and storied relationship. With this film, the fight is simply a case of two cynical figures pitted against each other by Lex Luthor. The battle may be there, but the heart behind it is gone.

All of this brings me back to a core point from my review of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Namely, it is a film mired by its dark and gritty style which also forgets the heart of its characters. Though it may have been pulling for the same gritty approach as The Dark Knight Returns, even that comic maintained core aspects of Batman. Though his methods were ruthless, he saw guns as the weapons of his enemies and only used them if he absolutely had to, treating the idea of using a gun as a serious moment. In Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman’s actions are easily killing plenty of criminals and he uses guns freely at several points, never treating the idea of using guns as a serious thing. Even as the writing may change and people bring their own interpretations of these iconic heroes, there are certain core tenets that define these heroes. With Batman, he is a figure of vigilance, a hero who faces the darkness so that others may not suffer like he did when he parents were gunned down in front of him. Witnessing such a traumatic moment had left him with not only a desire to stop such suffering, it has left him firmly against killing and against guns. Even The Dark Knight Returns and its dark take on Batman, which presents him as a ruthless vigilante, recognizes and maintains that core tenet of the character.

That is what is so disappointing to me about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. For the sake of trying to create a dark and gritty narrative, it chose to sacrifice the core tenets of two of the most iconic superheroes in comic books. The result is a shallow, cynical creation.

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