Okay, we’re finally moving into the final act of this turd. Only one more part left after this one. And yet there’s still so much crap left to cover.
Spoiler Warning (Obviously)
Now, before we get really into this part, let’s play the catch-up game again on some of the plot threads that we’ve missed. Basically, Lex, after being given access to the Kryptonian Ship and to Zod, has sliced off Zod’s fingerprints and used it to access the Kryptonian computer. Surprised the military didn’t think of that, as soon as they recognised it had a fingerprint scanner, but whatever. Anyway, Lex gains access to the knowledge in the Kryptonian computer. He discovers some illegal method to mutate a Kryptonian into a monster and decides to try it on Zod’s body. The Kryptonian computer, despite probably having should’ve had safeguards built in to stop people doing that since it’s so illegal, just shrugs and goes ‘Eh, why not?’ since the Kryptonian High Council is dead. I hope, in the future, any AI’s we build won’t suddenly agree to kill people and build nukes simply because the EU was wiped out.
Anyway, this is yet another reason why this Lex Luthor is a terrible adaptation of the character. The key appeal of Luthor as Superman’s arch-rival is that he is among the best of humanity as far as intellect goes (and in some incarnations as far as physique goes) yet is constantly overshadowed by what he considers an alien, a cheater, who, ironically, embodies the best of humanity morally.* The idea that this Lex Luthor’s final grand plan revolves around him using alien tech for an alien technique on an alien body just makes him feel like a scavenger, someone picking up Zod’s sloppy seconds, and not enough like a legitimate threat in his own right. Not to mention, why exactly does he want to create a mindless rage monster in the first place? It’d make some sense if Doomsday was a last ditch backup plan in case the stuff with Martha and Batman failed, but no, he starts it up before Superman and Batman even start to fight really. What was he going to do with it if Batman succeeded in killing Superman? Start a petting zoo?
“$5 to touch him, $10 to ride, $50 to get him to turn up at your birthday party and incinerate your friends.”
Anyway, now we’re all caught up, back to the main plot. Lex kidnaps Martha Kent and Lois so he can lure Superman out of hiding and use Martha to- Waitwaitwaitwaitwait, LEX KNOWS SUPERMAN’S SECRET IDENTITY?! What? When? How? Why? We never get any kind of explanation or foreshadowing towards this! Lex just knows who Superman is all of a sudden with no rhyme or reason. Did he know at the party? Did he know before the film even started? Did Clark drunk tweet it or something? Lex also apparently knows who Batman is as well with equally no explanation. How did he find this stuff out? Did he just read the script? If he knew this stuff all along, why hasn’t it been foreshadowed in the slightest? Surely you could’ve added some kind of interesting interaction between Clark, Bruce and Lex at the party if he apparently knew who they were this whole time. Also, if Lex can find out who Superman is, how come Batman seems to have no clue? The guy’s supposed to have been investigating Superman since he turned up, I doubt the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ would miss something that the floppy-haired goon picked up. Ugh, and I’ve barely even gotten started with this thing.
Anyway, as I was saying, Lex kidnaps Martha with the help of some goons in a van. He also sends Generic Sinister Henchman to kidnap Lois from the Daily Planet building… somehow. Seriously, there were still people in the building at the time and we never see GSH threaten her with a gun or anything. Lois just sees him dressed up as a janitor and next scene she’s kidnapped. It didn’t even have anything to do with that pointless bullet investigation or anything. Anyway, Lex meets with Lois on a rooftop and lobs her off so Superman can rescue her. Which he does. Which is a touch frustrating because it means, after his emo moment, Superman doesn’t really return to being a hero of his own accord in this movie. He just does it to rescue his girlfriend, aka someone he specifically knows and is important to him. Come to think about it, almost the entire rest of the movie is spent rescuing either people he knows or fighting back against stuff specifically trying to kill him. Just like MoS, there’s very little of Superman’s actual heroism for the common man to be seen here.
“What, you mean making a ton of Jesus Symbolism isn’t enough?
Anyway, Superman flies up to confront Lex on the roof and I’m reminded once more just how utterly terrible this movie at bringing together its plotlines. Because, if you think about it, Superman (as Superman) and Lex have never actually met up until now. Sure they met once, with Supes as Clark Kent, at the party but they’ve never had any kind of meaningful interaction. And Supes has no idea about anything Lex has been doing or that he’s even a factor in any of this. For like all of the movie up to this point, Supes probably just thought Lex was some random billionaire who he barely knew. Next minute, he’s on a rooftop and Lex is ranting like this was some grand, built-up confrontation between the two of them. Supes should be largely confused as to who the hell this guy even is.
“It’s… Tex something, isn’t it?”
Anyway, Lex reveals he’s kidnapped Martha with all the clownishness of Heath Ledger’s Joker but none of the intimidation factor. The Ledger Joker’s clowning worked because you never knew when/if he was going to snap and shove a pencil through someone’s eye. He was unpredictable and that mix of clownishness and brutal violence made him utterly terrifying. Eisenberg’s Luthor is unpredictable but not because he’s going to shove a pencil through anyone’s eye. It’s because you don’t know what ridiculous thing he’s going to do next. And that makes less intimidating and more, well, ridiculous. Anyway, using the photos, he gets Superman to kneel before him and, while he’s unable to act, stabs him in the neck with a Kryptonite shiv made from that tiny bit he used to slice off Zod’s fingerprints. Oh no, wait, that would be the sensible thing to do. Instead, he sends Superman after Batman telling him to kill the latter or Martha gets flamethrowered. Apparently, he’s been deliberately manipulating Batman into fighting Batman by forging letters from Legless Employee. Which makes no sense.
Now, at first, my assumption was that Lex was sending Supes after Bats so he could get his Kryptonite back. Bit pointless since he already has Supes under his thumb, but maybe he wanted it to collar Doomsday or something. But the fact that he was deliberately goading Batman into fighting Superman changes all of that. Because that suggests he was goading Batman to steal the Kryptonite in the first place. So why does he want Batman dead? The two should largely be on the same side, seeing as they both Superman dead. The only real problem Batman caused Lex was to steal the Kryptonite which Lex apparently wanted him to anyway. And if he doesn’t want Batman dead and just hopes that Superman will be killed by him, that still makes no sense because there are million better and more sure-fire ways he could’ve killed Superman, especially now he has Martha to threaten him with. Pretty much the only reason I can think of that he’d want to send Superman to fight Batman is because ‘it’s in the title’. It’s an excuse plot of the worst kind. Despite all the build-up (as little as there was) and foreshadowing of the incompatible ideals of the two, ultimately the only reason Batman v Superman comes to fruition is a mixture of a misunderstanding, one character being blackmailed and a huge scoop of ‘because the plot said so’. See, this is what happens when you spend your runtime on pointless Courtroom and bullet subplots. You end neglecting the very purpose of your movie.**
“Maybe if we filled the holes with more Jesus symbolism…”
Also, speaking of goals making no sense, we get to learn Lex’s motive for hating Superman and boy is it a doozy. Apparently because God didn’t save Lex from being abused by his father, that means Gods don’t exist or God can’t be either all good or all powerful and other stuff Snyder/Terrio found in their religious philosophy for dummies book. And that all somehow relates to Superman because this movie looooves pouring on the undeserved Jesus imagery. Except he’s obviously not a God, since he’s already explained he’s an alien and otherwise he wouldn’t have let Metropolis got smashed in the climax of MoS. Does Lex seriously think that someone being more powerful than a normal human makes them a full-on God? Was he stalking and murdering weightlifters until Superman came around? It’s just the stupidest, most nonsensical motive that’s only here because the movie wanted some more unearned religious symbolism. Hell, if you’re trying to make him the Joker, why not go all the way and just give him no motive? How much better would it be if a devastated and terrified Superman looked up into Luthor’s eyes and asked why he was doing this. And Luthor answers ‘Because I can.’ That works so much better than some half-assed religious crap. And you can read a lot more into it.
Okay, I’ve ranted enough about this movie’s ‘Greatest Criminal Mind of Our Time’, let’s get down to the titular fight. And it’s a little difficult to talk about because action is one of those very subjective things that people can easily have different, but equally valid opinions on. I know a lot of people who really liked this fight. I, on the other hand, was bored out of my skull. So I can only talk about my own reactions. However, it is slightly odd that I was so bored by this fight, yet I actually found myself really enjoying the later Doomsday fight. So what was it that made the latter work for me but failed to make the Batman v Superman fight work? It took me a bit but I think I’ve worked out the precise reasons I found this fight significantly worse.
1) It gave us a clear hero and villain but put them the wrong way round.
Now, I would’ve preferred to have a fight where both heroes are to some extent in the right and good guys and fighting for what they believe in, but simply have incompatible ideals. But, if we must, having one side forced to fight and the other side simply having a misunderstanding can work. But the problem is that they have things the wrong way around. Batman is the villain in this fight. There’s no two ways about it. Superman is trying to save his mother’s life. Batman is trying to kill Superman. Superman is the hero here. The problem is Superman is also not the underdog here. Superman seriously outmatches Batman. And that makes it really difficult to keep narrative tension because writing a balanced fight for Superman is, well, really difficult. People made that joke about this fight being over with a single blast of Supes’s heat vision but that’s completely true, even with all of Batman’s traps. If the hero can beat their opponent with a single look, where’s the dramatic tension? Now, if Batman was the good guy in the scenario and fighting for the right cause or, hell, if they were both fighting for a good cause, this fight would be a lot tenser for it, because of that unbalance. Hell, even if was just a case of Batman desperately trying to hold Superman off for, say, 10 minutes, it would be a lot tenser. As it is, this fight is just a case of Superman letting Batman punch him around when he should be able to win the fight easily while the audience gets frustrated and tells him to just end it already. Which leads me to my next point.
2) Superman should have be able to win the fight easily.
Or at least the fight as it’s been set up in the movie. The second Supes grabbed Bats to fly him through that building, the fight should’ve been over. It should’ve been obvious to Supes from the sonic weapons/machine guns that Bats had this entire place booby-trapped. So what he should’ve done was fly Bats as far away from the place as possible so they could talk. Or dropped him in the ocean. Either would’ve done the job. But no, it never seems to occur to him, even after he starts to recover from the initial Kryptonite gas bomb. Why? Because the plot insists Superman acts like a moron so Batman has the chance to weaken him and punch him around a little.Speaking of…
3) There’s no real intelligence behind the fight. It’s just a brawl.
You may be reading the last point thinking ‘That may be true, Mal, but surely it’s really difficult to write a balanced fight between Superman and Batman in the first place?’ But you’re forgetting that this is ‘prep-time’ Batman we’re dealing with. The guy who can apparently defeat Gods by simply having a few days to prepare properly. Which is why it’s so utterly pathetic how little intelligence and creativity he shows in the fight. Really, he set two booby traps (the sonic blasts and the machine guns) and just relies on Kryptonite gas and punching Supes with a robot suit for the rest. What a let down. These two are supposed to be polar opposites right, brain and brawn? Let’s put a little bit of that brain to use.
Imagine, if you will, Bats using that sonic blast as a distraction for Superman when he lands. While Supes is dealing that, Bats leaps down a hole into a base he’s prepared ahead of time (lined with lead of course to avoid Supes’s X-Ray vision). Supes rolls his eyes dismissively, floats down after him and is immediately hit by a Kryptonite gas bomb. Now Supes is weakened, taken off guard, trapped below ground and it’s pitch black, leaving Batman plenty of room to put his key feature (stealth) to work. That’s a good way of putting them on even ground and leaves room for plenty of tactical trickery from both sides as Supes tries to fend off Batman long enough to regain his strength, while Bats tries to make sure Supes stays down. That would be a great fight. Sure you’d have to ditch the Bat-armour to make the stealth work (or have Bruce put it on below ground), but that’s only there for the Dark Knight Returns reference anyway. Unfortunately, all we got in this movie was two guys punching each other.
“Basically this, but if the characters had less personality.”
4) There’s no real spectacle compared to the other fights.
The fight between Supes and Zod in the last movie was enjoyable to watch (for some) because they’re both superhumans. The fight between the Trinity and Doomsday was fun to watch because they’re (Batman aside) superhumans. The fight between Batman and Superman is one slightly-stronger-than-average human fighting a superhuman so heavily handicapped as to become a slightly-stronger-than-average human. Yet it’s still shot as if it should be as impressive or as big a deal as those other fights. It’s not.
5) The entire thing could’ve been avoided if both sides didn’t act like idiots
Seriously, if Batman had taken two seconds to listen to what Superman was saying, this fight would not have happened. Similarly, if Superman hadn’t given up so quickly on trying to explain the problem to Batman, the fight wouldn’t have happened. It’s difficult to feel pumped for a fight when the story leaves you yelling at the screen ‘just stop acting like idiots and listen for a second’. It’s a pointless fight that shouldn’t have happened if either side had any common sense.
6) There’s been no build-up to these characters.
Before this point, Batman and Superman have only met once in their superhero identities. The only other time they met, Bruce had no idea Clark was secretly Superman. They’ve had no chance to get to know anything about the other. They are complete strangers to each other. Hell, before tonight, Batman was merely a footnote in Supes’s life.
But beyond even that, they’re poorly defined as characters in general. I went into this pretty heavily in my ‘Show don’t Tell’ bit, but I think it could bare another examination. To steal an idea from Red Letter Media, try to describe the personalities of both Batman and Superman in this movie. Not Batman and Superman in the comics or animated series or any outside media, just what we see in this movie. There’s barely anything there. I mean, sure there are a few things you could come up with for Batman but Superman is a surly blank slate. That’s what happens when you spend almost all of your runtime mistaking talking points for characterisation. These characters are wooden and unlikeable and thus I don’t care about seeing them beat each other up. And this leads me into my final point.
7) I don’t care about these characters
Let me repeat. I don’t care about these characters. I care about Superman and Batman in media as a whole, but I don’t care about them in this adaptation. In this movie they don’t feel like real rounded human beings with aspirations and personalities and lives of their own. They feel like mannequins with the Superman/Batman logo on them designed to spout whatever talking point crosses Snyder’s mind and do whatever the plot tells them regardless of whether it makes sense for that character. How am I supposed to care about that? I cared about Batman when he ran into a collapsing skyscraper to help his employees. But now I’ve had to sit through 2 hours of him being grim, bland and ultimately ineffectual to the main storyline. Superman is even worse. At least Batman got the skyscraper moment. Superman does nothing but mope and look miserable while doing the obligatory ‘saving people’ montage. And Superman’s supposed to be the more human of the two. He’s the one with a genuine human life in the form of Clark Kent. Yet he never once feels like a well rounded character. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are well rounded characters. They have ups and downs, tears and laughter, goals and aspirations and flaws and varied relationships and are just as willing to shoot the shit with friends as they are to get into a deeper conversation. As such, we care about them because they’re well defined characters. We (or most of us) like them both. And thus, when they argue or fight, it hits us harder. Even their short verbal squabble in Avengers hit me harder than the entire fistfight in this movie. The characters have none of that. None in the slightest. But that’s what happens when you mistake grimness for depth.
Phew. So yeah, that fight was a bit of a let down. And I think everyone and their aunt has talked about how stupid the conclusion was. That the gladiator match between two of the greatest superheroes on the planet was solved not by a sense of empathy or understanding of the other’s ideals, but by a glorified coincidence. If Ma Kent’s name had been Julia, Bats would be sticking Clark’s head on a Kryptonite pike by now. So, rather than rag on about that, I’m going to touch on a different point. If Bats hadn’t chosen to save Martha, how would that have led to the Knightmare future? Yes, Martha would be dead but, then again, so would Superman. It’s a bit difficult to become dictator of the world with a Kryptonite spear in your heart. And I seriously don’t think Batman would just leave the body lying around for it to magically revive or whatever’s happening in Justice League. The Knightmare future shouldn’t have happened either way. Food for thought.
Anyway, since they both have Mums with the same name, Bats and Supes are super best friends now. Bats goes off to save Martha from where she’s being held captive, leaving the Kryptonite spear lying around the warehouse where anyone can find it because God knows that thing wouldn’t be dangerous in the wrong hands. But anyway, I’m sure in this upcoming fight we’ll be able to see his newfound empathy and renewed hope in goodness after reconciling with Supes and how it’ll bring him back from his murderous rampage to the side of good and respect for human life once mo- What’s that? He straight up murders the guy with the flamethrower? Never mind then. Because God knows we can’t let anyone actually have any kind of character arc in this movie.
“Wait, my mother’s name was Martha too!”*boom*
Oh and also we get another poorly placed and unnecessary Justice League tease, this time with Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. It’s amazing that, despite the fact these scenes could be placed almost anywhere in the movie, Snyder insists without fail in placing in the spots where they’ll do the most damage and break the film’s momentum. I’m half surprised he didn’t stick one in the middle of the Doomsday fight. But whatever. I really don’t have much to say about these clips. They’re nothing more than poorly placed product placement just for the next film instead of for a business. Honestly, I’m half surprised one attachment in that file didn’t have an IHOP ad.
Okay, let’s wind down for now. Only one more part left to go. Come on, Mal, you can do this.
However, for my final comment on this part, I’m going to quickly return to the ‘Martha’ thing. Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t rag on about that. I lied. But I’d like to talk about a specific defense of the moment that I’ve seen people bring up. Specifically, the idea that bringing up Martha’s name allowed Bats to emphasise with Superman, to see him as something more than just an alien, to see him as someone with a life and family of his own and even with some (coincidental) similarities with Bats’s own life. And that’s great. That’s a great idea and way to help the two reconcile their seemingly incompatible mindsets. There’s just one small problem.
This movie did barely anything to set it up.
Seriously, it’d be fine if this movie had a running theme of Batman insisting Superman is alien and inhuman and can’t possibly be empathised with, only for the finale to flip it on his head. Maybe even going on a rant at his parent’s grave to Alfred about how ‘that thing isn’t human. It doesn’t have empathy or humanity or a mother who cared for itand taught it right from wrong.’ You know, interesting direct foreshadowing. But no, that wouldn’t have left room for Bruce hallucinating about being attacked by a giant bat. I mean, sure Batman brings it up Supes not being ‘a man’ once in a blue moon but the movie is already packed with so many useless, unexplored talking points that those are simply mistaken for even more of that and washed away in the flow.
In Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, as flawed as that movie was, there was still strong foreshadowing for Bruce escaping the pit through the talking points but that’s because the talking points were memorable, repeated often, decently explored and not overcrowded with a million other barely explored talking points. There’s no decent foreshadowing for the big moment in this movie so the realisation either falls flat or looks dumb. I’ve seen a lot of people who just don’t understand why Batman would switch at that moment. And it’s not their fault for ‘not getting it’. It’s the movie’s fault for not doing a good enough job explaining it (unless it’s deliberately supposed to incomprehensible, like the ending of 2001. But somehow I doubt that). Hell, I’ve seen multiple completely different/incompatible explanations for why Batman seemingly stopped from defenders of this movie. Even they can’t make up their minds. And none of those explanations are set up properly either. Just like most of this movie. But I’m going to go into even more detail on that when I reach the most egregious example of that in the next part.
So, join me next time for the grand finale as we finally finish off this turd. And it’s going to be an interesting part since we get to cover, in my opinion, one of the best moments in the film… and one of the worst.
*Before I get complaints that Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor wasn’t like that in the original Superman either, I’ll be honest, I don’t think that Hackman’s was a particularly good interpretation of the character either. Better than this, mind, but still one of the weakest parts of the original Superman for me.
**It’s also annoying because the ‘retrieving the Kryptonite’ motivation made sense before Lex revealed he was goading Batman into the fight in a single throwaway line that could’ve been easily removed. Effectively, the writers were so concerned with making Lex look like a chessmaster effortlessly manipulating every character that they accidentally made his plan and goals make no sense. Also, again, Batman and Lex haven’t really interacted in any serious degree either because the plotlines in this movie are so poorly brought together.