I have a lot of opinions and thoughts about the emerging DC Cinematic or Expanded Universe and readers can agree or disagree all they want. We like what we like and just because I didn’t care for or enjoy Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) doesn’t negate your feelings for it. If you liked it, loved it, then bless your heart for being so open to this movie universe they’re building. If the blatant plot holes, or the nebulous motivations of the characters, or the lack of character development, or the choppy editing, or the bleak tone doesn’t bother you, then congrats this movie was clearly meant for you. And if the only investment you had in this was to see Batman and Superman fight each other, then by all accounts you are winning when it comes to Spring/Summer blockbusters.
But here’s the thing, there are those of us who didn’t like it for all of the reasons you probably did like it. That doesn’t mean your opinion is any less valid but it also doesn’t mean that my criticisms or concerns are intended to insult you. Art has and will always be subjective and everyone is coming at this movie universe from different perspectives and experiences involving these heroes.
That being said, my overarching concerns for the DCEU has been their character development – or lack thereof – because I could actually accept a ho-hum script if the characters made sense or had any consistency in who they are and what they stand for. Unfortunately, DC’s Big Blue remains a blank slate, which is problematic when you stack him up against other heroes in the DC Universe. Superman’s attitude, his moral code, remains ill-defined after the mixed messages of Ghost Dad Jor-El and Sacrificial Lamb Dad Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel. Hero or God? Man or Superman? All of the above? It’s still unclear how Clark actually feels about being Superman since his decision to put on the suit is forced upon him instead of being a decision he makes out of an innate desire to help people.
So when we come to the ethical dilemma at the heart of BvS – that of power and accountability – we’re still in the dark about who Clark is and how he feels about his position as Earth’s protector. Where the movie could have given Superman the ability to express himself and by extension relate his worldview to the audience is squandered for a plot point surrounding a jar of Lex Luthor’s piss.
Yeah. You read that right.
The jist is Superman (Henry Cavill) has arrived at a Senate committee hearing to discuss his actions in Africa involving a hostage Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a warlord, and a group of mercenaries hired by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) to make it look like Superman went ballistic and killed everyone. During the hearing Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) begins her opening statement about democracy being a discussion, but is distracted by a mason jar labeled Grammy’s Peach Tea, which is filled with urine – a callback to a conversation she had with Lex after denying his request to import Kryptonite from the remains of the World Machine. Right as she starts to freak out, she looks over at a gentleman sitting in a wheelchair provided by Luthor, notices Luthor’s absence, and then the wheelchair blows up. It takes out a good chunk of the building, killing everyone inside except Superman.
It’s worth noting that Luthor’s personal assistant, Mercy Graves, is among the dead, but that’s a rant for another day.
Much of this is built from a few previous scenes (as stories are wont to do), but it’s the nature of those scenes that inform Clark’s attitude when he stands before the committee. Prior to Superman’s arrival at the hearing he somewhat emphatically tells Lois he didn’t kill anyone (though that’s hard to believe considering he flew that warlord through a few walls) and follows up by saying he doesn’t care what the outside world thinks of him. Later, he’s back on the Kent farm with his mother who tells him he doesn’t owe the world anything. This is important because Superman’s attitude during the whole ordeal is a sour-looking frown that clearly shows he doesn’t want to be there and the whole thing is an inconvenience. This is a Superman who regards a government hearing, in the country he lives no less, as a fundamental waste of time. This is a Superman who was raised to hide himself from the world and yet somehow develops a chip on his shoulder big enough you can see it from space. This is a Superman who cried his eyes out after snapping Zod’s neck, but when a building full of people blows up around him he has this look on his face like he’s just bummed out.
It’s a disturbing disconnect because throughout the entirety of the scene Clark never speaks. From arrival to explosion, Superman is silent and sullen. And it’s a wasted opportunity to give Clark the platform he needs to talk to the world. The hearing is being recorded, he essentially has the stage, but he never says a word. In the cartoons, comics, and previous Superman films whenever Clark finds himself being broadcast to the entire world he uses it to convey his message of hope, peace, and, most importantly, his desire to help. He is a force for truth and justice but he isn’t above the law. He’s a citizen of the world and he knows he must answer to it. If anything, Superman should have been the one to request a Senate hearing instead of the other way around. Or, at the very least, have Lois conduct an “exclusive interview” that gives him the ability to speak for himself.
The purpose is twofold: we get to hear Superman talk about his personal philosophy and it gives us something to contrast with Batman. Clark and Bruce represent two sides of the same coin. Their methods are different on every level, but their goal is ultimately the same. It’s what opens the door for a begrudging respect to develop into friendship. It’s what makes these two black-haired, blue-eyed, muscle-bound men different in the eyes of comic book readers. BvS doesn’t blur the line between Batman and Superman, it erases it entirely. There is no difference between the two where their ideology is concerned. Yes, we get some clear statements from Bruce that set the tone for this universe’s Batman, but Superman never gets the chance. People talk about Superman and to Superman but the actual Superman never talks about himself.
Man of Steel had the same issue, though I’m fairly sure Henry Cavill had more lines than in BvS. Clark has a lot of people tell him who he should be but he never definitively expresses who he is or who he wants to be. He just is and that’s not a character you can relate to or identify with. Batman v Superman could have used the Senate hearing as a means of course correction, letting Superman speak for himself and giving the world (and Bruce Wayne) at least an iota of insight into the man behind the S. As it stands, Clark’s silence speaks volumes about how achingly wrong this universe is shaping up to be for the big blue boy scout. Hopefully his inevitable resurrection will result in a new attitude and outlook on his place as a hero.