NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman v Superman & Spider-Man: Homecoming
The decision to change Bruce Wayne's origin story in Batman v Superman may be controversial... but Marvel's own changes to Spider-Man: Homecoming may prove DC made the right call. At first glance, some might dismiss the comparison entirely. But for those who know the characters, they share more in common than most Marvel and DC properties, both in their heroes and the challenges faced in their most recent movie reboots. Both heroes forged in the murder of a loved one, and both attempting to win over mass audiences who had yet to forget the previous actors in the part.
For Warner Bros. and DC, it was Christopher Nolan's Oscar-winning take on Batman they needed to move beyond. For Marvel, it was a chance to do Spider-Man 'right' after Sony had strayed from success. The biggest challenge posed to each was where to start this reinvention: the very beginning? The heroic debut fans now crave from longer superhero franchises? Somewhere in the middle?
The makers of Batman v Superman may have gotten little credit for their solution to Ben Affleck's Batman introduction at the time, or since. But compare it to how Marvel solved the problem, and it comes out on top. The alternative to reliving the pain that made a hero was simple: just don't include it at all.
How Batman v Superman Solved The Origin Story
When it was first revealed that Superman wouldn't be facing another alien opponent after Man of Steel, but an ideological one in Batman, the critical community had yet to form its consensus about Snyder's approach to DC heroes. That meant that it was merely requested, hoped for, and expected that this new version would take Bruce Wayne's origin story for granted, and spare the world the trauma of seeing yet another pair of Wayne parents murdered. Not only had Christopher Nolan delivered an entire origin movie, effectively 'updating' Batman's beginnings, but FOX's Gotham had even more recently done the same. And when it was confirmed that Snyder's Batman would be a veteran crimefighter much older than Superman, it appeared that the studio understood the concerns. But Zack Snyder had another surprise in store.
Not only did Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice include the death of the Waynes, but it opened on that very scene. We're willing to assume that, regardless of how people may view the success of the following film, most would agree that translating Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns to film delivers one of the most stunning, stylized version of Thomas and Martha Wayne's death seen on film. That fact alone wouldn't excuse its presence for everyone, but by the movie's end, the ambition and design of Snyder's own spin on the origin story is evident.
Where previous versions (Nolan's, in particular) emphasized Bruce as his father's son, and the senselessness of urban crime, BvS leaves a wholly different impression. When faced with a threat, Thomas Wayne responds with rage, turning to violence to defend his own despite the risks. Only when Bruce's mother falls does he scream in horror. And in his final moments, it's not his son that Thomas thinks of: it's his wife, whispering her name as he watches life leaving her eyes. Aside from being more violent and realistic than usual (shots had to be removed to avoid an R Rating), it establishes the act that sent Bruce Wayne on his 'Batman' mission as a painful one. And it begins to sound the themes which echo through the entire story.
Crucially, his father's last words being a woman's name seared into Bruce's memory plays a pivotal role as the only thing capable of shocking him out of his rage - the same rage he witnessed his father embrace when his world was threatened. Unlike the DCEU's Superman, Bruce Wayne has no fatherly wisdom guiding him, as he is "older now than my father ever was." He has no example to follow beyond his dreamlike memory of his father's defiant death - the "magical thinking of orphan boys" he shares with Lex Luthor. Yet it's the love for his mother - given a voice by Superman's love of his mother - that saves him. And in the final act, Superman becomes Batman's hero by sacrificing himself for the woman who had become his world, just as Martha Kent had been Jonathan's, and Martha Wayne had been Thomas's.
For those fond of the film, doubts about the inclusion of Bruce Wayne's origin were met with one of the most unforgettable adaptations, more essential to the story than even most comic treatments of Batman. For those not so fond, it's at least obvious that the scene was put to some narrative function, informing who this version of Bruce Wayne is and is becoming, whether fans enjoy the ride or not.
Which wasn't the only way Snyder and DC could have gone...
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