There’s been a lot of controversy about Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Saying it has gotten mixed reviews is an understatement. One thing that was particularly apparent to me as I watched the movie was this was not Superman and Batman as I knew them, nor did they stand for what I feel the characters should stand for. Of course, adaptations are under no obligation to follow the source material, especially when the source material is as vast and conflicting as DC Comics are. But I still feel there are a few things at the core of these characters that should always be kept and the movie missed these things. And as a result the movie seemed to be lacking at its heart.
Of course, this sort of thing is always subjective, so feel free to give your opinions in the comments. Do you agree with me that Zack Snyder was wrong to change these things?
The Kents taught Superman to give back to the World
The problem this movie had with the portrayal of Superman’s family is one that hearkens back to Man of Steel, where Pa Kent was portrayed as someone who discourages Clark from using his powers to help others. It continues in this movie, with Martha Kent telling Clark he doesn’t have to help others because he owes this world nothing.
For me, this misses an essential message that has been present throughout the Superman mythos. Clark’s first connection to humanity is with his parents and they instill in him these deep moral values, this sense that people are here to help each other and as a part of this world he should be help others as well.
These actions of Superman’s parents touches many because it stresses the importance of adoptive families. It’s not Superman’s birth parents who shaped him into who he is, who made him feel welcome in this world- it’s the people who raised him. The Kents are supposed to be an example of the power of good parenting.
Superman is not detached from humanity
From All-Star Superman
Which leads to our next point- Superman is not supposed to be detached from humanity. A scene in the movie that really rubbed me the wrong way was when Clark claimed helping humanity was his father’s dream, not his. Not only does this contradict Man of Steel, where Pa Kent kind of repeatedly told Clark not to help humanity, it just goes against who Superman has been from the beginning.
Clark’s dream is to help people, because despite where he was born, he considers himself part of humanity. He was raised as a human, he has our values, and even if he’s different, he feels connected to those around him. This is why he lives mostly as Clark Kent, rather than Supermanning it up all the time.
Superman was written by sons of immigrants, and many people have commented on what he represents from that perspective. It’s basically a manifesto about how even if your birth parents were from a different place, anyone who grows up in America or hangs their hat there is as American as anyone else and can even become the best of America and make America a better place.
A Superman who doesn’t consider himself human or doesn’t want to help this world is sort of missing the essential metaphor there, a message that was important then and is still important now. Superman struggles with being different and often even gets flak for it, but at his core he’s connected to us, he’s one of us and it was his decision to embrace Earth as his home, not anyone else’s. That’s why he never gives up. That’s who he is.
Superman is an Open Person, Especially Compared to Batman
From Justice League: Unlimited
The weird thing about Superman in this movie was he was so stoic and reserved he was sort of indistinguishable than Batman. The two characters should be differentiated a bit, and Clark is usually shown (despite all his secrets) as being more of an open person than Batman. The main crux of this movie was the fallout over Superman’s collateral damage in the Man of Steel movie. We didn’t really have Superman ever discuss his feelings about it at all. There was no verbalization of concern or even wishing he could’ve managed to have the fight elsewhere. There was no grief on Superman’s part for the people who died or indication of him trying to help with the fallout.
I think the movies idea what Superman was just struggling about this inwardly, but the fact is, Clark is typically shown as someone who talks about his feelings rather than endlessly bottling crap up, at least in comparison to Bruce. Even if he wasn’t, having two characters who just kind of grimly stand there and stare into the distance all the time just kind of makes them blur together. It would have made Superman feel much more relatable and sympathetic if there had ever been a moment of his being open about how much turmoil all this stuff is causing him...or some of his trademark cheerfulness once in a while.
Superman's inner conflict should have been about wanting to save people
From All-Star Superman
On that note, the weirdest decision of this movie was to have Clark’s conflict be about why he should even bother saving people, when it should have been centered on really wanting to save people, but feeling incredibly guilty over the collateral damage and wondering if he is ultimately just a harmful presence. I even felt that might be what the movie might have been going for sometimes, but all these weird tangents about not owing the world just clouded it. Either way, the Superman I’m familiar with is the kind of guy who would more openly worry about deaths he couldn’t prevent and try to figure out how to fix it so it doesn’t happen again. Having the whole story be more focused on that would have made him way easier to connect with and understand.
Batman doesn't kill
From Batman and Robin
The problem of Movie Batman being a killer certainly isn’t limited to this movie, as the supercut of movie Batman killing proves. But he was just…very casual and upfront blowing people up here, compared to Nolan’s movies.
And look, I myself have pointed out there are a couple instances of Batman killing in the comics, but they are far and few between and mostly out of continuity. I also think the comics often took the “no-kill” rule to obnoxious lengths that made Batman look more sanctimonious and callous than anything. Batman lecturing Wonder Woman for daring to kill a guy when she had no other choice is ridiculous. Having him tell his teenage sidekicks they aren’t allowed to kill even to save their own lives is heinous. So is the fact that the Joker kills ten million people a week, including Bruce’s family members and close friends, and they just keep sending him back to Arkham.
But those problems come from the comics having no sense of scale or logic whatsoever in a lot of cases. Batman having a basic moral code of “avoid killing” can be an option without going to those ridiculous lengths.
Because I do think it’s important to represent Bruce Wayne as a guy who does everything he can to avoid taking a life. He’s someone who had to see a horrific death at an early age. It makes sense that he doesn’t want to see more loss of death and speaks to his deeper ideals Bruce doesn’t want a world where anyone has to die. That’s who Batman is at his core.
You can have someone be badass without having them kill people.
Superman should value human life over his ego
From Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
The premise for the actual fight between Superman and Batman (which is surprisingly short) is pretty thin. Basically, Lex kidnaps Superman’s mom and he has to kill Batman or she’ll die. Superman realizes he can logically explain this to Batman and get his help, but also just…immediately decides he’s probably going to kill him. He tried to explain once, Bruce attacks him midsentence, and he just gives up.
There are many pauses in the fight where he could have actually attempted another explanation, but it seemed like he just got so ticked off at Bruce for being mean to him he didn’t care anymore. Which would have worked in another situation, but in this one, lives are at stake. A Superman whose ego overrides his respect for human life is not Superman to me.
Batman torturing people should be properly explored and addressed
In this movie, Batman starts branding criminals and so on. It’s definitely to show he’s losing his grip a bit, since Alfred points out he’s become cruel. But that’s about it. Because Batman threatens Lex Luthor with a brand at the end of the movie, there’s not much indication he’s left that cruelty behind. Honestly, Batman becoming crueler should have been explored way more if it was going to be introduced as an element.
It should MATTER if Jimmy Olsen is shot in the head
When I was watching the movie credits, I noticed “Jimmy Olsen” being credited and was like “wait, he was in the movie?” And then I looked it up, and he’s the photographer who gets shot in the head in one of the opening scenes.
And that….seems to pretty much sums up Zack Snyder’s attitude toward the Superman mythos. One of the longest-running Superman characters is shot on the head, but we don’t even know it’s him, nor is he developed as a character, so it had zero impact. It is solely there just as some sort of cruel jab at the idealism of Superman comics, failing even to be a shock death. It’s an outright mockery of the source material.
The Daily Planet should value journalistic integrity
From Superman: Secret Origin
Throughout Superman's history, the Daily Planet had been represented as a news organization that tries to do the right thing, but this movie decided that wasn't cynical enough and presents the newspaper as preventing Clark from reporting real news. Which raises the question of why Clark doesn't find a better media organization to work for, but the movie seems to present an idea there's no such thing as journalistic intergrity in the modern age...
Idealism is important for these characters
From Superman by Tim Sale
In fact, when Clark is trying to get the Daily Planet to have some basic journalistic integrity, Perry White says “it’s not 1938 anymore”, referencing the year Superman debuted. And that gets down to the core of what Snyder believes and the root of all these problems I have. His movie has a disdain for the idealism of the source material. There is no moment of joy in this movie, no moment of hope or light or awe that you typically expect in superhero media...instead it's grim monotony.
He thinks the modern world is too corrupt and cynical to want a Superman and Batman who have ideals, who give us hope the world can get better. He thinks that’s best left to 1938.
And that is nonsense. The world is no more corrupt now than it was in the 30’s (World War II was on the horizon back then, after all). People can still enjoy heroes who have integrity and they still need light in their lives.
Superman and Batman can and should be flawed, interesting characters, but they should be characters who give us hope, who strive to do good and who are idealistic. The characters were intended to be something to aspire to and should impart a message you should care about your fellow humans, not a message that “no one is truly good.” I hope someday the DC Cinematic Universe remembers that.