Zack Snyder's Killer Batman Isn't A Commentary
If Zack Snyder and his defenders are to be believed, Bruce Wayne’s grim psyche in Batman v Superman is a commentary on how his character would naturally progress. Admittedly, there is some initial sense in these ideas. With his sheer willpower - and his use of violence and intimidation – Batman’s darker brand of heroism could easily accommodate murder. Plus, killing murderous villains like the Joker can be viewed as a logical move if it were to spare lives down the line.
Yet realism can only go so far when the character in question is a billionaire who dresses as a bat to fight super-powered criminals in a (typically) hyper-real, art-deco, gothic hybrid of a city. Even then, such a change like this would prompt many other alterations to the makeup of Batman’s world. For example, how would Batman’s villains continue to return, and why would staunchly moral characters like Commissioner Gordon still tolerate him?
Indeed, Batman v Superman briefly acknowledges that Batman has become meaner, and that fear and pain have corrupted him. Batman is intentionally positioned almost as a villain, yet the movie never commits to interrogating these ideas. All the hallmarks of Batman’s universe are not affected by Batman’s new brutality, so there’s no exploration of what implications there might be for his actions.
Moreover, because there’s no glimpse of how Batman was in his youth, the movie struggles to reflect back and comment on the kind of merciful or vengeful hero that Batman should be. A contrast could have been made between Batman’s nihilism and Superman’s traditional optimism, but Snyder’s Superman is similarly disaffected, so the connection doesn’t ring true.
Furthermore, there's a lack of necessity to this wrinkle in the character's canon. Bruce expresses an altruistic outlook after re-evaluating himself in the wake of the infamous Martha moment – along with Superman’s demise. It’s a solid enough character trajectory, but this arc doesn’t even require Batman to kill criminals to emphasize how broken he is. Certainly, other adaptations (such as Batman Beyond) articulated the drama and nuances of Batman’s waning moral code without the need for murder. In fact, Batman’s shocking willingness to kill Superman in Batman v Superman could demonstrate Bruce’s dishonor well enough on its own.
Even accepting the inclusion of Batman’s bloodshed as part and parcel of this reimagining, the fabric of Batman v Superman simply doesn’t support this arc towards a more hopeful Caped Crusader. Certainly, in sparing Superman, Bruce realizes how he has been manipulated and how far he has fallen. Yet this epiphany is followed up with the brutal warehouse scene. Batman might be fighting to save someone’s life, but his heroism is undermined by the fury of his onslaught which, with its dynamic and engaging camera work, renders Batman’s skills in an awe-inspiring way. As such, even with Batman’s near-branding of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) later in the movie, Snyder inadvertently undercuts whatever redemption Batman was meant to find by reveling in the blood lust onscreen.
Zack Snyder's Batman Comments Misunderstand Watchmen Too
The juxtaposition of Batman’s arc with his stylishly staged one-man battle recalls many of the criticisms that have dogged Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation since its release a decade ago. Certainly, many critics felt that Snyder’s heavily deferential take on Watchmen misunderstood the text’s main themes, and these comments seem to further confirm those assertions.
Threaded into real-world history, Watchmen introduced new characters such as Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan. Because they were fresh characters unencumbered by pre-existing backstory and expectation, writer Alan Moore and artist David Gibbons used them to question morality and heroism in ways that comic books had not done so before. Yet, coupled with The Dark Knight Returns, the grittiness of Watchmen ushered in the Dark Age of Comic Books, where superheroes and their worlds became more conflicted and darker than they had been previously.
Writers and publishers evidently believed that this was now the best way to tell superhero stories, even though the approach didn’t always suit the character (case in point: Spider-Man in Todd McFarlane’s Torment). But this had never been Moore and Gibbons’ intention. Indeed, they have long asserted that Watchmen was meant to deconstruct yet celebrate superheroes. Moore subsequently explained (via A.V. Club) that “It was meant to be one work on its own,” from an alternative, realistic viewpoint, and not a manifesto for how superheroes should or shouldn’t be written.
In his Q&A comments, Snyder betrays that he’s taken the same kind of lesson from Watchmen that comic book writers of the 80s and 90s did: that the legends of our favorite superheroes can only be interrogated through a prism of grittiness. But we know that interrogating the hero’s values, makeup and legacy doesn’t have to be done in this way. The Lego Batman Movie is a spirited and metatextual tribute to Batman’s past and character, and though its tone and approach is as subjective as Batman v Superman’s, it emphatically proves that grittiness is not the only way to question the nature of the Caped Crusader’s heroism.
This is not to suggest that superheroes have questionable morals or have flaws of any kind, since there are plenty of characters who have, including Batman. But by exploring his ethics, mythology and code, the hope and optimism that is inherent in his character shouldn’t be forgotten. Indeed, throughout his printed and adapted history, Bruce Wayne has repeatedly confirmed that Batman was formed out of compassion – the desire to enact justice and turn fear back onto wrongdoers. He fights so that no innocent person would experience what he did as a boy.
And this is the crux of the issue. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder tried to address these ideas from an overly dark, deconstructive angle, but in doing so, Batman became unrecognizable, and the film forgot what made him so beloved to audiences in the first place.
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