NOTE: The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Batman V Superman
Following a relatively reserved marketing campaign for Batman V Superman, Warner Bros. blew the doors wide open with the third Dawn of Justice trailer - showcasing more of the titular fight, the three-hero team-up, and outright revealing the film's earth-scorching threat: Doomsday (or, depending on who you ask, Wraith). Still, questions lingered: how does Doomsday differ from the classic version in the comic books? What exactly is Lex Luthor's longterm goal? Plus, what exactly is going on in that Batman desert fight scene (and subsequent unmasking)?
Fortunately, in a new interview with Michael Wilkinson, the Batman V Superman costume designer spoke candidly (maybe a little too candidly for Warner Bros.' taste) about the production - revealing that another Justice League hero will cameo in Dawn of Justice and also straight-up explaining the context of Batman's desert fight, Knightmare suit, and militarized Man of Steel.
The interview, conducted with Brazilian outlet Omelete (hat tip to We Got This Covered), explains both the origin of the scene within the film's production as well as how it fits into the larger Batman V Superman storyline.
Obviously, the quote contains SPOILERS for Batman V Superman, especially the Knightmare Batman scene, so readers who are attempting to remain unspoiled should turn away now.
SPOILERS for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Speaking to the desert scene (which features Batman facing-off against, and eventually captured by, armed guards bearing Superman's crest along with winged aliens) Wilkinson claims the set piece is entirely Bruce Wayne's nightmare - a future where Superman and other extra-terrestrials tear Earth apart unchecked:
“Zack had a great idea of this sort of nightmare-ish vision, almost a vision of the future, a post-apocalyptic vision. It’s like a dream that Ben has, so we wanted to, it has almost a Mad Max quality to it where it’s like the end of the world, trying to survive and then of course Superman and his minions come, so it’s sort of a way of representing the amazing amounts of, the sort of obsessive quality that Bruce Wayne has about the threat of Superman.”
At the time of the second Batman V Superman trailer, a lot of moviegoers had already suspected the desert fight shouldn't be taken at face value - specifically that it would either be a flashback or dream sequence. After all, the color palette and post-apocalyptic look is reminiscent of a similar scene in Man of Steel - where Zod explains his plan for a "New Krypton" to Clark via a "dream sequence."
Months later, at New York Comic-Con, Warner Bros. showcased Dawn of Justice's Desert Batman action figure - which the studio had dubbed "Knightmare Batman." The titling of the figure was not lost on fans - confirming, for many, that the sequence was some form of "Nightmare" and, given that Batman is the one seen overpowered by Superman soldiers, it was safe to assume that nightmare belonged to Bruce Wayne.
Thematically, it made sense too - given that every pre-release detail we have suggests Bruce was helpless to save people he cared about during Zod's assault on Metropolis and, as a result, has become fearful that Superman will bring further destruction to Earth: either unintentionally (attracting further malevolent alien threats) or directly (becoming an all-powerful dictator).
Now, thanks to Wilkinson, we know for sure the scene is a "vision" - a manifestation of Wayne's paranoia that Superman will, one way or another, lead to opponents that the Dark Knight is "powerless" to overcome. The costume designer doesn't elaborate on when or why Wayne has the dream (Man of Steel's dream sequence occurred when Kal-El passed out on Zod's ship) but it's relatively safe to assume that neither the Superman guard or winged aliens are actual threats in the film; instead, they're exaggerated figments of Wayne's three primary fears - thrown together for a scene of mixed chaos on Earth:
- Superman will become a God-like ruler of our planet, complete with loyalist followers to enforce his commands.
- Superman will attract otherworldly forces beyond on our control who, like Zod, will harm the people of Earth in order to hurt Kal-El or take control of the planet and its resources.
- Superman will unmask Batman - humiliating the Dark Knight, undercutting the symbol of justice he has become, not to mention endangering the people he loves.
Ultimately, the Knightmare Batman scene is an efficient storytelling device that plays on a long-running and tenuous dynamic that has existed for decades in print form between the Dark Knight and Man of Steel. Throughout comic book history, the pair have partnered up to take on larger threats but Batman has often prepared for the possibility that Superman could, one day, pose a threat to humanity. To that end, the Dark Knight devised a number of plans to contain the Kryptonian, sometimes in collaboration with Kal-El, other times in secret, should Superman ever lose control or need to be sent away from Earth.
That's all to say: the Desert Batman scene might seem like a strange outlier in Dawn of Justice (though, with Doomsday running around, Batman V Superman isn't exactly pulling any punches); yet, it's actually a very efficient way of communicating Bruce Wayne's greatest fears, and subsequently motivation for his action against the Man of Steel, all while providing moviegoers with some snappy Zach Snyder visual flair.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25th, 2016; Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016; Wonder Woman – June 23rd, 2017; Justice League – November 17th, 2017; The Flash – March 23rd, 2018; Aquaman – July 27th, 2018; Shazam – April 5th, 2019; Justice League 2 – June 14th, 2019; Cyborg – April 3rd, 2020; Green Lantern – June 19th, 2020.