Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will bring us the next chapter in director Zack Snyder’s burgeoning DC Movie Universe – and for better or worse (depending on who you are), the foundation for that universe is Henry Cavill’s Superman, as depicted in the film Man of Steel.
Fan debate still rages (and we do mean rages) over Snyder’s interpretation of the Superman character and lore – with part of the blame and/or praise going to script contributors Chris Nolan and David S. Goyer. We have a divisive cinematic Superman on our hands right now, but rather than continue the circular debate about whether or not Man of Steel was a great Superman movie (or even just a good movie), it’s time to be more constructive and look ahead to the future in order to maybe identify ways that Snyder and CO. can utilize some of what fans didn’t like, in ways that can best enhance the story and character arcs of Batman V Superman.
Here are 5 ways that the Man of Steel version of Superman could be put to good use in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice:
5. Lost Fathers
It’s no secret that in comic book lore Superman and Batman (or rather, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne) have both lost their fathers; however, in most tellings, Superman’s loss is much less tragic than the “Jonathan Kent vs The Tornado” sacrifice we saw in Man of Steel. How Pa Kent died (and why) is one of the more debated aspects of the Superman reboot (was it effective? Silly? Poorly shot?), but it is the story we have, so let’s make some damn good lemonade out of it.
Beyond the Batman / Superman superhero action that everybody is most excited about, Dawn of Justice needs to also address the men behind the mask, and what ultimately connects them as “men,” and not just superheroes. Thanks to Man of Steel, this film offers the rare opportunity to have Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne bond over the pain of patriarchal loss in a way we really haven’t seen before.
Moreover, both this new version of Thomas Wayne and the MoS Jonathan Kent/Jor-El combo can be positioned as men who died for ideals (helping Gotham, protecting Clark and Earth). That would provide deep, rich common ground for their superhero sons to bond on – a foundation of deeply-rooted values and ideals that define an entire Justice League.
4. Illegal Alien
One thing that Man of Steel treated much differently than previous Superman movies was the character’s status as an alien. Back when Superman was created in 1938, aliens were hardly party of the mainstream zeitgeist; however, in our sci-fi saturated modern society, the question of alien encounter is more “when” than “if.” In that context, Man of Steel had to treat the revelation of an extraterrestrial superpowered being from a more cynical modern perspective. But a world where Superman isn’t automatically established as a globally-accepted do-gooder deity could be interesting for Dawn of Justice.
In the famous graphic novel Kingdom Come, we saw a vision of the near future where concerns about out of control metahumans force Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor into an uneasy alliance in the name of defending humanity. That same idea could (and likely will) trickle down to Batman V Superman, if Superman’s handling of Zod has made him as feared and hated as he is loved.
Indeed “The Alien” nature of Superman could provide some great narrative thrust, if the story involves Batman’s views on “humanity,” and his ultimate pivot from the side of Lex to the side of Kal-El. (Side note: that would also be a pretty meta way to hopefully pull a lot of skeptical fans to the side of this new DC Universe.)
3. Detective Clark Kent
One criticism I can wholeheartedly agree with is that the opening act of Man of Steel was choppy in its edits at the expense of world-building. Among many understated elements lost in the shuffle of quick cuts was Clark Kent’s prowess as an investigator. As we see young Clark flitting from one odd job to the next, it’s never emphasized enough how he is actually stringing together information to discover his own origins. That lack of development makes it hard to appreciate the resonance of moments like he and Lois first being brought together because of their mutually insatiable curiosity – or how those qualities naturally steer him toward investigative reporting.
While it may not have emphasized it hard enough, Man of Steel did lay the foundation for a Clark Kent who is an effective and clever investigator – and Batman V Superman can make great use of that alter-ego.
With Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor now being depicted as a skinny but genius tech-age billionaire, it’s obvious that fisticuffs aren’t going to be the way that Supes and Lex clash. Handling Lex will take finesse, not brutality, and the court of public opinion would be just as much a battlefield as an actual battlefield. In that sense, it could be Clark Kent (not Superman) who has the most ammunition to battle with.
We know how smart a tactician Batman is, but Superman could earn The Dark Knight’s respect by displaying some impressive cognizance of his own. See above for how fun it can be when these two heroes match wits instead of brawn.
2. Dark Superman
One of the biggest, and most enduring threads in the DC universe is the concern over what would happen if Superman’s powers were ever used for the wrong purpose. Whether through some form of manipulation (brainwashing, coercion), or just for his own selfish agenda, Superman’s godlike power gone awry is a threat the whole world – and Superman himself – are acutely aware of in DC Comics.
Man of Steel has been criticized at length for presenting a solemn and violent depiction of Superman; however, the memory of that depiction is something that can be mined for great depth, as the Man of Steel confronts the ominous potential of his awesome powers. Like Bruce Wayne in TDKR, Clark-El may not be sleeping soundly with the choices he’s made; whether killing Zod, not better protecting Metropolis, or even the remorse of ostensibly eradicating his own race to save another.
While Batman V Superman will almost certainly deal with Superman as an alien threat to humanity (see #4), the idea of Superman’s concern about himself – and subsequently Batman’s views about the need for a Superman contingency plan – is a separate character thread that could be great to watch (and watch it we did, in the Dawn of Justice teaser trailer) . While MoS was the “Superman Begins” formation of a superhero (with all the accompanying trial and error), Batman V Superman can transform that flawed Supes into the brighter, more righteous icon so many want him to be again.
With the more maverick-minded Batman in the picture, it will also be interesting see Superman struggle to find the middleground between scary destructive god figure (as seen in MoS), and complacent lacky too scared of looking bad to step out of line – even when such insubordination is needed to achieve a greater good.
1. Superhero Code of Justice
…Building off the steam of #2, one of the biggest challenges facing Batman V Superman is fulfilling the implications of its own subtitle, Dawn of Justice. As you may guess from that not-so-subtle tease, a Justice League team should be firmly established by the time this movie ends – but that kind of feat requires more than just a bunch of superheroes hanging out together onscreen.
One thing the Justice League needs is a foundation, and that foundation has been traditionally cemented by the combined values and ideals of The Dark Knight and The Man of Steel; both the values and ideals they have in common, and the ones that often distinguish them as polar opposites. If we are truly going to see the “Dawn of Justice,” Batman V Superman will have to recreate that B/S foundation in the cinematic universe, and that’s where the Man of Steel Superman comes in.
Based on the events of MoS – and the current implications of BvS – the cinematic Justice League could naturally evolve out of the two superhero titans’ sense of duty (see #5); their hard-earned trust of one another as good men (keyword – see #2); and of course, the desire to combine power and precision, idealism and strategy, so that their superhero actions never again result in something like the Fall of Metropolis.
Indeed, much of the thematic arc of Dawn of Justice could conceivably involve Batman and Superman teaching each other the necessary lessons needed to correct their respective flaws. And once those wrinkles have been ironed out of their capes, that smooth, sturdy, Justice League foundation will have been formed.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25, 2016.
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