By Matthew Asente | Think Pieces | March 26, 2016 |
By Matthew Asente | Think Pieces | March 26, 2016 |
Virtually everyone I know has asked me how excited I am for Batman v Superman. Which makes sense; I’m the biggest Superman fan they know. My online identity is “superasente.” I have the Superman shield tattooed on my arm. My collection of Superman comics borders on the insane. No-one should be more excited than me, right? I’m the 30-something white cis-male super-fan demographic.
But y’know what? I’m not going to see it. And you shouldn’t either.
I could run through a litany of reasons that Man of Steel failed as a film, but the most glaring is that it fundamentally betrays its own thesis statement. The movie drives home the point repeatedly that Superman is Kryptonian Jesus. His emblem is one of hope. He is repeatedly framed against Christian iconography. He falls from space like he’s nailed up to a cross. For God’s sake, his blood sacrifice is literally the only thing that can save his people. If the movie were true to itself, Superman should have made some kind of sacrifice in the third act (and no, Metropolis does not count). But that’s not what happened. What happened is that Jesus stood up from the table at the Last Supper, snapped Judas’s neck, and fled Jerusalem. It’s just bad film-making.
Furthermore, with Zack Snyder’s recent announcement that he will go on to direct Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, it has become finally and abundantly clear that the Superman we’re watching is one filtered through the lens of Randian Ethics. Snyder’s cinematic Superman is not the pacifist or public servant he is in the comics. He feels no duty to protect the people around him. The most important obligation Snyder’s Superman has is to himself. He’s not the self-sacrificing, noble hero that we’ve come to expect over the last 75 years of publishing — he’s the hero of Objectivist morality: “Take what you want and pay for it, says God.” That’s our cinematic Superman.
More plainly stated: the Superman you want is not the Superman you’re going to get. So abandon hope, ye few Superman fans. Pick up your favorite comic book this weekend and read that instead. (For those of you who quite liked this version of Superman and would like to read more, I eagerly suggest Miracleman as a suitable proxy).
So what are we left with that might motivate us to go? Apparently, quite a lot! Batman! Wonder Woman! Flash and Aquaman and Cyborg (maybe)! It’s the Dawn of Justice, you guys! Like the Justice League? Get it, asshole?! We’re getting sequels and they’re building their own competing super-hero universe! And they’re totes going to dethrone Marvel, cuz duh — Batman!
Except that’s not going to happen either. Because the same thing that Snyder did to Superman, he’s going to do with your other favorite hero as well.
It’s clear from the imagery being used for Batman that the production teams have designed this movie based on The Dark Knight Returns, one of Batman’s most popular stories. His costumes, the bat insignia, even the fact that they cast a (relatively) older gentleman in the role are all indicators. In TDKR, Batman comes out of crime-fighting retirement because he can no longer stand the corruption of the establishment. He attracts new followers, confronts with finality his old foes, and eventually leaves his duel identity behind to quietly wage his war from the shadows. At the time, the story did two things for Batman: it bid fond farewell to the corniness of the Silver-Age (think Adam West) and it helped the entire comic-book medium grow up a little. Batman wasn’t just for kids anymore - he’s for everyone.
Most importantly, TDKR also framed Batman as being squarely Anti-Establishment. The Silver Age generation of comic-book readers had only known Batman as a public servant. He had a red phone that connected him directly to the commissioner. He was officially deputized. He was The Man. By re-framing him as Anti-Establishment, DC and Frank Miller gave Batman new life. The police weren’t working with Batman anymore - they were actively hunting him. Batman’s love interest was a hooker and his enemy was Gotham’s most influential fat-cats. He was gritty. He was urban. TDKR and its companion piece “Year One” set this idea in concrete and no-one has broken it in 30 years. For good reason: the formula works. It’s probably why you’re such a big Batman fan in the first place.
So should you expect to get this particular element of Batman accurately portrayed in Batman v Superman? Don’t hold your breath. The whole premise of the movie hinges upon the idea that Superman isn’t well-trusted by the public and/or government. He’s the rogue element. If Batman brings himself into direct conflict with the outlaw alien juggernaut, than he’s fighting on behalf of The Man. He’s doing the government’s work for them. Or potentially even worse - if Bruce Wayne sides with Lex Luthor, he’s siding with Industry. He’s siding with one of the fat-cats he’s set himself against since the 80s. That dichotomy that you loved in TDKR, that essential element of Batman’s identity, is reversed and corrupted.
So what about Batman’s role in the burgeoning league of heroes? Surely there is some gold to be mined there. Well, Batman’s role changes pretty significantly when he’s amidst his peers in the Justice League of America. Since he’s not in his own comic anymore, he doesn’t need to fill every role in the narrative. While Superman and Wonder Woman are punching alien invaders and (hopefully) saving lives, Batman is free to vanish into the shadows and actually solve problems. As the decades-long star of “Detective Comics,” it’s kind-of his whole thing, actually. He’s far more useful to his peers when he’s leading efforts behind the scenes and directing everyone to their shared goals. He’s not the dude who should be punching Doomsday (or Superman for that matter).
So is this something you should expect to get? Batman the detective? Not from the looks of it, no. The Batman we’re seeing in previews is the easily-manipulated, hyper-violent thug from a video game. In fact, early reviews are reporting a murderous version of the character; someone who has no problem running bad-guys down with his car, blowing them up, or breaking their necks. Zack Snyder himself describes his crime-fighting technique as “manslaughter more than murder.”
Is there anything about Batman I should expect to get? Any core concept of the character that will be accurately represented? Well, sure! He’s still a white dude, isn’t he? He’s still rich, right? He’s got a butler and a cave and a car. I mean, the car has machine-guns mounted to it and Batman’s not really one for guns, but whatever it’s Batman! $200 Million opening weekend!
I said earlier that I’m not going to see the movie and that’s half true. I’ll watch it eventually. I’ll rent it from my local library, or maybe pirate a copy online, I don’t know. I’ll probably watch it at home with a glass of cheap scotch and a fair amount of bitterness, and bitch to my wife and the guys at the local comic shop for the next few months about how disgusted and disappointed I am. What I should’ve said is that I’m not going to “pay money” to watch it. Every dollar I contribute to these movies is a dollar that encourages Warner Bros. to keep making them. And I do not want more of this.
Put another way, these aren’t the heroes we want, but if we pay money for this movie, they’re the heroes we deserve.