Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’m genuinely surprised by how beautiful and visually interesting the first hour of this film is. I say without hyperbole that it recalled for me Murnau’s Faust, not to compare Snyder to such a master, but hear me out: the film moves seamlessly from instances of photorealism to dreamlike abstraction. The visual and emotional landscape leaps from dreams and legends and fantasies and realities. These moments fold into each other; the lines are blurred. These moments are the highlights of the film; the bat-demon emerging from the crypt, that bizarre desert dream, the elliptical memories embedded in the present moment. Maybe Faust is too lofty here, but for a solid 45 minutes Snyder is operating in a register not unlike those greats that recalibrate all forms into one: montage, expressionism, impressionism, and realism.

Still, Snyder is only a remix artist. All of his images are prefab, lifted from anywhere and everywhere, which is not necessarily a bad thing (Scorsese and O. Russell do this masterfully). Here he’s more attuned to rhythm and by grabbing willy-nilly from multiple sources—dozens of artists and writers and graphic novels and plot lines—he’s not beholden to animating the work of others. This film really benefits from operating like a serial comic book: constantly moving forward, picking up old elements to reconfigure, cycling through the familiar at breakneck speed, and (finally after nearly two fucking decades of these shit films) an assumption that the audience is familiar enough with these characters that all exposition and back story can be relegated to abstract images.

Still, his visuals and their attendant movements are disconnected from his ideas, which forever render Snyder as a sometimes interesting metteur en scène. While Batman v Superman is gorgeous, occasionally complex, and at times in direct communion with the spirits of silent cinema, by the final act it’s as bad as anything Snyder’s done. The Doomsday fight scene is visually ugly, thematically stupid, and goddamn tedious. But the final images of the film recall those poetic opening salvoes (the photographing of both Bruce and Clark’s homes is truly poetic stuff).

Snyder or Goyer or Nolan or Warner Brothers don’t know what to do with Superman. This isn’t a fanboy argument. There are dozens of precedents for the Man of Tomorrow—like the Caped Crusader—but here he is empty, little more than a prop in Batman’s adolescent moral conundrum. I prefer the lonely Superman (of Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman) to the crisis of faith Superman, but any consistent and developed choice would have sufficed.

To return to Snyder’s inability to visualize his ideas: the politics—or “philosophy” if you must—of this film is silly as fuck. I’ll admit to appreciating the choice to have a Batman that murders, as I find the whole “I don’t kill” line to be disingenuous horseshit. Real world vigilantes kill people, usually black children in an attempt to “protect” “their” neighborhood from “thugs” (don’t forget that the cinema and the 20th century’s first masked “crime fighters” wore white hoods and burnt crosses). The reality is that superheroes, by their very nature, are stupid: they require an over simplification of complex social issues to the point that they are so marred by masculinist nonsense they barely make coherent sense. And Batman v Superman is no different. This is because these films demand an erasure of the political landscape in order to prop up their lone good guys. For example: human trafficking isn’t solved by lone gunmen beating up bad guys. It’s solved by academics applying quantitative research methods to demographic data and collaborating with law enforcement to determine the causes of trafficking and building best practices for post-rescue care and approaching the issues from a legislative standpoint (at my university I have the privilege of knowing several brilliant scholars who do this work). But that’s not sexy. That doesn’t promise the seductive simplicity to “make America great again.” Instead these dumb ass movies “ask” rhetorical questions about power only to answer them for us. The only way to be a true philosophical inquiry is to not demonize the antagonist who raises the contrary argument, but this genre is wholly incapable of doing such a thing, at least so far. Once an antagonist raises a question it is shortly revealed that they are bat-shit lunatics who want to “watch the world burn”, simultaneously sweeping up all radical politics, dissent, and protest, into a single gamboling image of evil that must be squelched by a fascist authoritarian who legitimizes state violence (see: the X-Men franchise, Netflix’s Daredevil, Nolan’s Batman trilogy, etc. etc. etc.). Lex Luthor here is exactly that and suffers from the same contradictions as he does in Mark Waid’s Birthright: if he is so concerned about the unchecked authority of an invincible authoritarian (a legit question) then why the fuck does he create Doomsday? Simple: the plot demands it.

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