Director Zack Snyder has defended his depiction of a murderous Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but his new rationalization for Bruce Wayne's killings merely emphasizes the flaws in his approach. The controversial filmmaker has become an influential champion of edgier comic book movies since he adapted Frank Miller’s 300 in 2007. Snyder followed this up with the cult favourite Watchmen in 2009, before Warner Bros. tasked him with the formation of the DCEU. Throughout Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Snyder chose to re-envision Superman (Henry Cavill) and the Dark Knight (Ben Affleck) in a different way than before. Whilst the sentiment was admirable, this proved to be a highly controversial decision.
Despite occasionally killing evil-doers in his earlier comics, the consensus among fans and cinema-goers is that Batman doesn’t (and shouldn’t) use lethal force in his war on crime. Indeed, many of these homicides have been retconned or explained as alternate versions and prototypes of the “true” Batman. Nevertheless, the sight of a hardened Bruce Wayne dispatching goons in Batman v Superman instigated a seismic dispute that continues to echo throughout pop-culture.
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Since departing Justice League after a family tragedy, Snyder has rarely discussed his tenure or the backlash to his creative choices. But during the recent Zack: Snyder: The Director's Cuts charity event at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Snyder staunchly stood by his version of the DC universe and its premier Caped Crusader. Naturally, Snyder is entitled to his own opinions and is free to defend his interpretation of this pop culture icon. However, several of his comments about Batman’s killings belied a highly flawed reading of the character that needs to be addressed.
- This Page: Zack Snyder's Defence Of Killer Batman
- Page 2: Why Snyder Is Wrong About Batman (& Watchmen)
Zack Snyder Made Cinematic Batman A Proper Killer
Firstly, it must be remembered that, in the same way that Batman killed in his comics, the Dark Knight’s onscreen murdering was not a new phenomenon by 2016. Certainly, Tim Burton’s original Batman ended with the Joker (Jack Nicholson) being dropped to his doom thanks to some well-placed Batrope. One of the Penguin’s (Danny DeVito) henchman was later dispatched by Batman (Michael Keaton) cheekily stashing a bomb in his belt in Batman Returns.
Similarly, Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) fatally lost his footing due to Batman’s (Val Kilmer) intervention in Batman Forever. And, even though Christopher Nolan heavily foregrounded Bruce’s (Christian Bale) “one rule” across The Dark Knight Trilogy, his version of the Caped Crusader still left Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson) to die in Gotham’s collapsing monorail and ensured that Talia al Ghul (Mario Cotillard) was crushed to death in her truck.
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The most notable aspect of most of these cases is not just the overall lighter tone of these films, but the fact that they Batman either kills in a somewhat indirect manner, or that they (mainly) occur in desperate, climatic situations.
In contrast to these previous adaptations, Snyder’s Batman is far more overt in his displays of brutality. Batman v Superman showcases a vigilante who wilfully runs goons over in his Batmobile, guns them down with his Batwing’s turrets, or else pins them to the wall with their own knives. A major subplot of the movie, expanded in the Batman v Superman: Ultimate Editon, is Bruce branding criminals with a bat, leading to them being brutally murdered in prison (it's a little wonder Jared Leto's Joker has only lost his teeth). And, of course, the character's primary drive is his unshakable desire to kill Superman.
Zack Snyder's Defence Of His Murderous Batman
Disillusioned after twenty years of crime fighting, Ben Affleck’s Bruce has also lost his way due to the rage and helplessness that he feels after Zod’s (Michael Shannon) catastrophic attack on Metropolis. The plot of Batman v Superman organically supplies a narrative reason for Batman’s onscreen barbarity. But during his recent panel, Zack Snyder stressed that it’s simply more realistic to depict Batman this way. In the most divisive section of his Q&A, Snyder stated:
"Once you lost your virginity to this f***ing movie [Watchmen] and then you come and say to me something about like 'my superhero wouldn’t do that.' I'm like 'Are you serious?' I'm like down the f***ing road on that. It's a cool point of view to be like 'my heroes are innocent'…That's cool. But you're living in a f***ing dream world,"
Snyder cites real-life crimes of embezzling money and “committing atrocities” as the kinds of actions that heroes would involve themselves in if they were more grounded. In reality, yes, few (if any) individuals are as perfect as fictional characters. And while conflict does make them more realistic and relatable, expecting these characters to be less flawed than ourselves is kind of the point of fiction. Its purpose isn’t just to hold up a mirror to reality, but to explore and escape from it in ways that cannot be achieved otherwise.
In his Q&A, Snyder explained that his personal stance towards Batman derives from Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel, Watchmen, which depicted an alternate, grounded reality, where masked vigilantes exist – yet they have been outlawed. Against the backdrop of a looming nuclear war, the dubious morality of these remaining heroes – and superheroes by extension – comes under scrutiny when one of their number is murdered. Watchmen has proved to be one of the medium’s most defining works, something that Snyder wholeheartedly approves of:
“I love more than anything Superman and Batman - but in the same way that Alan Moore was ...like, ‘Okay no, they do this,’ clearly this is a response. Watchmen talks about comic books in the same way that this movie talks about comic book movies, but it talked about comic books at their most - they were broken, so he was just addressing that.”
From this, we can clearly gather that Snyder attempted to apply Moore’s approach in Watchmen to Batman, to fix what he saw as being broken in making the character truly real. In following Snyder’s logic, it would appear that Batman shouldn’t be examined in any other manner than gritty realism, because Watchmen forever set the genre on this seemingly correct course.
Again, Snyder has free reign to interpret Batman in this way. After all, innovation has made the superhero genre what it is today. But there are failings in this deconstructive mindset, namely that by examining a subject (in this case, Batman) there needs to be a statement about its fundamental aspects, their meaning and the audience’s relationship to it. And this is where Snyder’s assertions – and Batman v Superman – fall short.
Page 2 of 2: Why Snyder Is Wrong About Batman (& Watchmen)
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