Bryant Tyler’s review published on Letterboxd:
Batman V Superman: Ultimate Edition
The Hope In Seeing That People Are Still Good
Zack Snyder’s films feature complex character arcs with depth, realism and artistry rarely seen in comic book films, and with his most recent film, Snyder is at the height of his filmmaking abilities. Compared to the typical blockbuster, Batman V Superman is a challenging work of art; exploring complex themes rather than solely driven by plot, structured as a five-act revenge tragedy rather than a conventional three-act hero’s journey and deconstructing tropes of the genre. Like Snyder’s previous Superhero ensemble Watchmen, BvS explores the logistical problems that would naturally arise if superheroes existed in real life. The film explores the intersection between violence and politics, the nature of justice, complexity of truth and ethics, consequences of choices, power and powerlessness and the impact of parental presence and absence. In the midst of cartoonish superhero depictions, ‘Batman V Superman’s depicted realism chafed with some of the audience, causing intentional provocation. The film depicts a realistic world: where war is real and tangible, the ruin indestructible aliens fighting in a populated city would cause, the serious cost of collateral damage and seriously depicts the scars that violence leaves on the human soul. Instead of glorifying violence or presenting it as spectacle, the film has the audience confront it as the characters do. The film also uniquely takes advantage of the cinematic medium by “showing rather than telling”, weaving the themes throughout through subtle motifs and the characters’ unspoken mindsets. As this Superman is more introverted, he does not often verbally express what he is thinking, while Batman gives rationalizations that cloud his psychological state and Lex creates a facade which leaves his true intentions to be pieced together. The film does an amazing job of establishing DC’s heroic Trinity by taking each of them through a rebirth to become their authentic selves.
The film explores Batman’s damaged psychology by taking the character below to his darkest place so he can finally confront his untreated childhood trauma to begin healing from it. In Homeric fashion, the introductory scene establishes key themes crucial to the story. As a child, Bruce Wayne’s parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, are murdered in front of him: and he is powerless to stop it. At his parents’ funeral, Bruce runs away from the pain and his surrogate father, Alfred, and falls. To emphasize the motif, everything in this scene falls: leaves fall, snow falls, sparks fall, bullet shells fall, Thomas falls, pearls fall, Martha falls and finally Bruce falls. When Bruce falls, the camera turns upside down, showing that Bruce is not seeing things the “right way” any longer. Bruce’s decent concludes as he falls into a dark cave where he finds the Batman persona. As an adult, Bruce looks back and comments on his own self-deception. Batman’s mask has been a false salvation (“a beautiful lie”) - the alter-ego has become an addiction and escape from reality though which he “forces the world to make sense”. His work as Batman has given him meaning and purpose. Bruce grew up feeling powerless and fought to suppress his pain by gaining power – corporate power, physical power and the power to terrorize criminals. Bruce thought he was going to change his exterior world by stopping criminals, but after twenty years he sees little fruit to the labor of this Sisyphean task and feels his actions don’t have a lasting impact. Bruce has retreated to the cave and the penthouse rather than residing in Wayne Manor itself. The current state of the mansion is symbolic of Batman’s psyche and situation: an empty husk of the home it used to be. Bruce has lost touch with his original vision for Batman, due to his inability to handle his real and perceived failures. In his loss of himself, Batman no longer sees the humanity in criminals and has begun branding them like animals (this harkens back to The Mark of Zorro, a character who inspired Batman for Bruce and also left his mark at the scene).
As Alfred directly interpolates, “powerlessness” is the key to understand Bruce’s psychology. When Bruce saw Superman and Zod fighting in Metropolis, he relived his childhood feelings of powerlessness and projected onto Superman the role of the ultimate criminal. The same memories were revisited and magnified when he witnessed the battle in Metropolis, and his powerless was evident as he stayed on the phone with a friend in the collapsing building, was only able to save an already-amputated employee, and hugged a little girl who just lost her mother (who was now an orphan). Again he was powerless to do anything, and again “[he] let his family die.” Bruce convinces himself he will show Batman’s worth and honor his father’s legacy through the bravery of killing Superman. When Alfred confronts him about this saying “you’re going to war. [Superman] is not our enemy […] its suicide”. Bruce doesn’t deny Alfred’s argument, but rationalizes his crusade saying “we’ve seen what promises are worth. [Even if he’s good today] how many have stayed that way? Even if there is even a one percent chance, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.” It’s important to distinguish that this “one percent” doctrine is not Bruce’s real motivation; it’s just part of his rationalization to himself. He further cherry-picks a point in the Wayne history that frames him as a hunter, characterizing his dehumanization of Superman as mere prey and creates a narrative that Superman is an all-powerful animal, which if left unchecked, “could wipe out the entire human race”. Bruce also compares Superman to his greatest criminal enemy as a “freak dressed like [a] clown”, the same clown who killed his adopted son. Batman feels “the world only makes sense if you force it to”; acknowledging at some level that he has a skewed perspective and that he imposes his interpretations on reality, rather than taking reality as it is. He tells Superman “I understand”, conveying that he has all the information he is willing to accept. He tells Superman “you were never a god”, (failure to live up to Bruce’s idea of God) and “you were never even a man” (Superman has no humanity). When Batman later defeats Superman in their fight, he isn’t lecturing about the “one-percent” doctrine, he wants to impress upon Superman how naïve he was to cling to hope. Until this point, he’s refused to engage in conversation, so these words mean everything Batman wants to communicate to Superman before he dies. “I bet your parents taught you that you mean something; that you're here for a reason. My parents taught me a different lesson, dying in a gutter for no reason at all. They taught me that the world only makes sense if you force it to.” The “parents” Batman references are conceptual; he has reduced them to mere props in the formation of his worldview and patterns of thinking. He subconsciously knows he has tarnished their legacy: conveyed through a monstrous Bat erupting from their crypt in his nightmares, also prophesying that if he spills (Superman’s) blood, this is what he will become. The titular fight for Bruce parallels his initial fall: into the cave and into darkness. The progression of the fight represents Bruce descending deeper and deeper into the Madness: on the rooftop he destroys the Bat Signal, then the fight continues to descend below to the lowest point in the building, where Bruce will have to make a choice. Snyder deliberately has Batman's mask broken in half to symbolize the choice between his humanity and the monster that Batman is on the precipice of becoming.
One of the main difficulties audiences had in understanding was the resolution of Batman and Superman’s fight. A typical revenge tragedy takes a character all the way to where they will carry out the vengeance: if they do, they are actually harming themselves. This moment is called anagnorisis: a recognition or moment of clarity when a character gains understanding of either their or another’s true identity or discovers the true nature of their own situation. In the moment Batman is going to strike Superman, cognitively, there is no way he expects to hear the name of his mother. Superman says “you're letting him kill Martha”, appealing to both Batman’s past heroism and current guilt complex. This caused Batman to pause and process: the fact that he’s standing over someone about to kill them (the character did live long enough to see himself become the villain), that Superman is bleeding (so he does bleed and is not too powerful to exist), realizing that he would be responsible for making Superman an orphan - all of these realizations domino in this moment as he realizes he misjudged Superman. Bruce is also having a PTSD flashback, reliving the trauma he has suppressed and run from. Bruce is remembering a time before he cast the spell on himself; realizing that while his “force” let him take command of his life, it did not honor his parents or free him from being “fallen”. He starts to see his own father in Superman, but when Lois arrives and clarifies “it’s his mother’s name”, Bruce not only sees his father in Superman, he sees himself. It was Lois, not the word (as many have shallowly misinterpreted), who stopped Batman. As Alfred hoped "some woman from Metropolis [would] make him honest", and as it turns out: Lois was "the key" for Clark and Bruce. Bruce can no longer deny Superman’s humanity or assert that his crusade was for mankind. His facade falls apart and he can no longer maintain the lie that he has told since childhood. For the first time in a long time Bruce truly empathizes with someone else, finally snapping out of his vengeful tunnel vision. Furthermore, Bruce had stopped trusting; the partnership with Robin was over, he lies to Alfred and he doesn’t even trust himself. Yet even under his boot, Superman still saw in him someone who saves, someone who could protect his mother and chooses to trust - calling out the best in Batman. Bruce is shown grace and forgiven by the man he was about to kill, and more than that, Superman trusts him with saving his mother. Bruce recognizes Superman is needed elsewhere and affirms Superman’s trust: making him a promise (something he previously said were useless), “They need you at the ship. I’ll make you a promise, Martha won’t die tonight”. Bruce has been on the wrong path, but his experiences were not a waste: only because of his years of training can he save Martha in the warehouse. He has been given a chance to show that his skills and work as Batman do have value, and in saving Martha Kent he is able to free himself of the demons that have haunted and driven him since childhood. Bruce had disconnected from and taken Alfred for granted, but after his encounter with Superman, he admits his fault and tells his surrogate Father “I don’t deserve you.” Bruce begins to trust in the value of promises again.
After Superman’s sacrificial death, Batman is visually shown stepping out into the light, signifying his redemption. Batman walks through the smoke, and there is fire in the background behind him, symbolizing his return to the world from the hell he shut himself in. Bruce has been cynical about humanity since the death of his parents, but he now has a renewed hope, standing in the true light (in the sun as Jor-El prophesied) and later affirming at Clark’s funeral that “men are still good”. The guilt Bruce felt in not being able to help his parents as a child, is now feels for Superman. Bruce realizes that Superman’s death may have been preventable, had he began healing sooner: “I failed him in life; I won’t fail him in death.” Bruce will honor Superman’s memory: by rising to higher standards and by “rebuild[ing and] do[ing] better”. That admission is the first of many indications that Bruce has made a profound character change; he is now dealing with failure in a healthy way and no longer believes hope and heroism are a beautiful lie. When Batman first appears in the film, he chooses to brand someone and in Batman’s last scene, when he visits Lex in prison, he chooses not to brand. Snyder uses each character’s first and last appearance to convey something important. Furthermore, the film ends and begins with beautiful symmetry - opening with the Waynes’ death and ending with the death of Superman: two funerals that changed Bruce Wayne’s way of thinking.
The film places the character and idea of Superman in a modern, relevant context, exploring the idea of the near impossibility of a perfect hero within the complexities of our world and challenging his belief in the goodness of people. The trials he experiences in the film could have made him cynical, but his adoptive parents raised him with a “beautiful truth” of love and acceptance, which is the fuel for his hope in humanity. Like Bruce, Clark has also lived his life following the role model of his father. Among his many examples, Jonathan modeled bravery and standing by his convictions. He showed Clark what it means to be an authentic man, and by proxy, what it means to be a Superman. However Superman is alone in his endeavor as the first “Super-hero”, the role of which he is navigating and defining, along with the world in processing the new concept. In the eighteen months since his emergence as a public figure: Clark has a challenging, professional job, a calling which allows him to exercise his gifts and is love with Lois Lane, planning a marriage proposal. He is appreciated for his heroism, silently serving without regard for his reputation. At heart, “he is just a guy trying to do the right thing.”, and if Lex never found the Kryptonite, he would be content to live his life in this way. This is why he is in denial at the end of the “love affair” with the world: due to Lex’s creation of collateral damage to Superman’s actions and manipulations of public perception. Clark doesn’t want to discuss the hearings, though the media’s criticisms begin to weigh on him. It is understandable why protective Clark is of Lois, she is his encouragement and the sole acceptance of all aspects of his identity, and why he is defensive when she questions their future: “there is a cost. I just don’t know if it’s possible for you to love me and be you.” Lois has come to see the value of the Superman as possibly more important than her relationship to Clark. Clark is aware of this, and worries his alter ego threatens his life with Lois. The one thing he strived for (acceptance) might be lost at the expense of a symbol that has been under public scrutiny. This is threatening to him; especially when he had intended to commit himself to Lois for life. He fears what he would have left if Lois abandons him for the Superman, and Superman is abandoned by the world. He tries to ignore the criticism and swallow his fears about his relationship. Clark reacts humanly and directs his frustration at another, a vigilante intentionally causing collateral damage, who he believes should be the focus of the media’s criticism. Clark sees news reports of Batman branding people and those who have been branded are being targeted and killed. Clark raises questions to investigate the vigilante at work, but is discouraged by his boss. When Clark goes to personally investigate in Gotham, he is told that "there's a new kind of mean in [Batman], he's angry and he's hunting". He also visits Santos's wife, and she tells him "men like that, words don't stop him. You know what stops him? A fist." Further research for Clark reveals that Batman has a supported immunity from the police, that he dehumanizes people to the point of branding and that he is feared by the general population. Feeling ineffectual himself, Superman goes out to intimidate Batman and warn him to “bury [his symbol]”.
Senator Finch fears Superman will act unilaterally without oversight, and has held a series of hearings questioning Superman’s role in democratic society. After the cultural conversation has been built, Finch invites Superman to a hearing. After reflection and seeking council, Superman decides to appear at the Capital, intending to testify and hear the testimony of others: to engage in conversation and submit to the will of the people. Everyone was looking forward to what he had to say, Superman was going to change the world with his words. He has no reason to expect violence or collateral damage here, yet Lex makes sure it continues to follow him, decimating the Capital with a bomb and robbing Superman of his voice. Clark is disheartened and begins to doubt if The Superman would ever work. He “didn’t see [the bomb] because [he] wasn’t looking,” Superman wasn’t anticipating the worst or looking at the dark side of people. He says that the symbol of hope meant something “on [his] world. [However Krypton, his] world doesn’t exist anymore”. Clark hikes to the mountains to reflect, and remembers his father. Clark remembers Jonathan telling a story in which he was trying to help in a dangerous situation, but didn’t realize that his good intentions would have negative consequences for others. This parallels when Superman fought to stop Zod, (but inadvertently caused destruction in Metropolis), how in Africa Superman intervened to save Lois, (but unintentionally acted as the US intervening in a civil war), and at the Capitol Building, Superman tried to do the right thing by testifying and engaging in conversation, (but didn’t realize it would be a target for Lex’s terrorist attack). Clark asks Jonathan if “the nightmares ever stopped?” It’s clear from this question and his reactions throughout the film (watching the debates and protests) that Clark takes everything to heart, and he has also had nightmares due to the unintended consequences of his actions. Clark is not only feeling guilty, but is also having a crisis of faith towards the inherent goodness of humanity. Jonathan tells Clark it was love that stopped the nightmares, “when I met your mother, she gave me faith that there was good in the world: she was my world.” He also affirms his love for Clark as he tells him “I miss you son”. As Clark navigates gray areas in this complex world, it is helpful to recall the similar complexities his father experienced. Unlike Lex and Bruce, Clark bounces back quickly from failure and despite his feelings he doesn’t lash out to hurt others or himself: in his healthy habit of retreat and reflection he is reassured of who he is. Clark is reminded to view the world through the lens of love rather than failure. He embraces the “beautiful truth” and returns to Metropolis.
Though Clark’s peace is short-lived, as Lex tears it down by using his vulnerable human connections as blackmail against him (pushing Lois off the Lexcorp building and kidnapping his mother) to manipulate Superman to fight Batman. This is Clark at his lowest, after everything he's been through in the film, he's being forced into a no-win situation, just like he was with Zod at the end of MoS. This interaction with Lois had to be brief, because Lex said that his mother would be killed if he didn't directly go to face Batman, and the clock is ticking. He tells Lois “convince the Bat to help” showing that he still has hope, and his preferred option is to prevent a fight with Batman, and seek to work together with Batman to find a way to beat Lex. But then he adds "or he has to die", the look on his face when he says this is dread, at the sheer notion of having to kill him, though he is open to the possibility rather than having his mother die. Given that it may be one life or the other, and that Clark has been primed to see Batman as ruthless vigilante who is responsible for other's deaths, it is plausible that Clark in his distressed state, may rationalize to himself that it is justified to kill Batman. Anticipating how he will resolve this dilemma gives the audience another reason to anticipate the Batman/Superman fight.
And even when he lands to meet Batman, he immediately tries to connect to Bruce, admitting fault and trying to reach past his hardened heart. “Bruce […] I was wrong,” referring to their last exchange, where he judged Batman from afar with incomplete information and used threats and a show-of-force as the answer to conflict. However, nothing Superman could say would change Batman’s mind: Bruce has been trapped in his fixed mindset of projection and powerlessness. Bruce is closed off and has convinced himself he needs to take out Superman for the future. Batman to activates his traps, and Superman, while under the stress of Lex’s time limit, returns to exerting his power to put Batman in his place. He still thinks he will have more moments to reason with Batman and doesn’t think he is in danger until Batman hits him with kryptonite: only then he considers that he may have to kill this brutal vigilante to save his mother. Compared to Batman’s precision and planning, Superman is now in a frantic state, improvising and making snap decisions. Despite Batman’s actions, Superman ultimately still sees someone with good intent and heroic potential. When weakened under Batman’s boot, by pleading for someone else instead of himself, he showed his humanity and bravery (both of which Batman denied he had) when faced with death, just like his father. Batman sees the error of his ways when he sees Superman’s human connections and selflessness. For Superman it’s cathartic to see his hope in humanity realized as a reality and that there is still “good in this world”. He has already forgiven Batman, but intends to rescue Martha himself, until Batman asks to take Superman’s burden from him – something no one has done before. An enemy is asking for the opportunity to be an ally and do a service for him. In response, Superman doesn’t just turn the other cheek; he goes the extra mile and chooses to trust this man with his mother’s life. When Bruce later calls Superman a "beacon", he speaks from experience; his encounter with Superman changed him, gave him back his hope in humanity and made him see the "best version of himself". Superman's sacrifice even brought Wonder Woman out of the shadows, while she had also lost faith in humanity; Superman proved to her that the world was still worth fighting for.
In childhood, Clark had anxiety about the world because it was too big; and he experiences the same pressures in adulthood, as Superman, on a larger scale. In both cases, the answer comes from his parents, to “make the world small”. In childhood it is conveyed through a metaphorical island, in adulthood it’s through Lois Lane. Lois has been his encouragement, partner and sole acceptance of all aspects of his identity; representing the best in humanity for Clark. Before flying to sacrifice himself against Doomsday, Clark quiets his mind and finds his center, “his world”, in Lois. Just as Jonathan said, it’s our human connections that embolden our faith in humanity and give us the strength to go on in the world. When Superman dove into the water (symbolic for cleansing, purification) to save Lois and the spear, he emerged with his traditional “S” curl in his hair, signifying his growth of character. Clark rediscovered his center and stood “proudly in front of the human race” just like his father had hoped. Coming full circle from “Man of Steel”, Superman once again embraced Earth as his own and himself as its protector. His sacrifice conveyed his heart and humanity: he could and did die for humanity. He left his own legacy, personified through how the world reacted to his sacrifice in their proclamation: “If you seek his monument, look around you”. The whole world saw the “beautiful truth” and Superman’s inspiration now lives on the heart of humanity.
The film explores the character of Lex Luthor by creating a rich origin that honors his comic history and earns his evolution into a Super-villain. In the film, Lex is portrayed interestingly in relationship to his parents, because he doesn’t have a redemption arc like Clark and Bruce. In his introductory scene, Lex says “Dad started saying he named the company after his kid at investment pitches to old ladies, which they thought was cute: ‘write checks for Lex’”. By playfully saying his father was a liar; Lex characterizes him as an ego-driven, lying, charming, manipulator willing to use his child for money. This immediately exemplifies how Lex has mastered his father’s craft of illusion. Lex also reveals that he hasn’t re-arranged his father’s office, choosing to preserve his father’s memory – perhaps because he’s trying to prove something to his father, to himself, or because he revels in the pain as a private remorse. This desire to preserve the past he calls “the magical thinking of orphan boys” (drawing parallels to Bruce). Telling of his father’s private atrocities, Lex shows his resentment towards his childhood abuse and that no “man from the sky came to save him” from his father’s “fists and abominations”. Lex coped with the abuse by learning: exceeding his father’s knowledge and placing himself above his father. Lex later states that “every boy’s special lady is his mother”, and while Clark and Bruce’s mothers are prominent in the narrative, Lex’s mother is completely absent. It can be inferred that he was never rescued, comforted or protected by his mother. He credits his father’s passing with his orphan-hood, his mother having died much earlier, and her prevailing sin presumably being that of absence. Lex punishes his mother by not keeping her alive in his memory as he does his father.
Like Bruce, the memory of his mother is revisited upon Lex: in the presence of Senator Finch. When meeting with Finch in his father’s office, Finch sees through Lex’s facade of trying to use her and she refuses to partner with him: this gives her power over him. Furthermore, she clamps down on his hands, like a mother would a child. Lex practically casts her in the role of his mother, as he asks her directly “whether Dad would mind if I changed just one thing [in his office]?” Lex is furious at Finch for seeing through his façade and this is when he decides to exact brutal revenge on her.
With Superman’s arrival, Lex again experienced his childhood existential crisis of feeling helpless and powerlessness, reliving those feelings from under the abuse of his father. To Lex, Superman has to be a fraud and a monster in his heart just like his father was: and it pains him that he is the only one who knows and sees it. Lex is obsessed with power dynamics and yet there seems to be nothing he can do to change this: Superman has shown no weakness. When his father died Lex gained more power, so Lex pursues the path to power that he knows: through knowledge. In the two years since Superman’s arrival, Lex formed connections with the government and intelligence agencies, has facial recognition software sourced into all surveillance video, steals top-secret Star Labs research, he discovered the other meta-humans and learned the truth behind Bruce and Clark; coming to understand their psychologies. With his discoveries, he realizes he cannot simply kill Superman: this would make him a martyr and risk the other meta-humans taking his place. He needs to corrupt the symbol and expose to the public what he believes to be the oldest lie in America: “that power can be innocent”, so they are not taken in by frauds. Lex selects Batman as his knight in his game of chess to accomplish this, in which either outcome of their orchestrated fight would illustrate his beliefs. If Superman kills Batman, then it would prove Superman is not all good: he can be corrupted under certain circumstances. On the other hand, if Superman loses to Batman, it would prove he is not all powerful: he can be bested by a human. In either outcome, Lex will have proven his point. Akin to Bruce’s self-deception, Lex compares himself to Prometheus and rationalizes his actions are for the good of mankind. Unlike Bruce, Lex knows of Superman’s humanity, is unchanged by it and sees it as a weakness to exploit.
Lex invites Bruce and Clark to his fundraiser because his plan is nearing fruition. It is time for his combatants to meet each other, and Lex wants to see them meet, so he could relish in his superior knowledge and power which brought these two men together. Lex relishes being able to shake hands with Clark and slap his chest without fear of reprisal from Superman in a public place, as he tells Bruce “you should not pick a fight with this person (replacing man with person).” Lex also tells Bruce “I’d love to show you my labs, my R&D is up to all sorts of no good”, inviting him to work together as a contingency, should Bruce fail to steal his files (which he carefully selected to manipulate and equip Batman). During his speech, Lex has a slight meltdown in acknowledgment of his own paradox: “the bittersweet pain among men is having knowledge with no power.” He has all the knowledge and is pulling all the strings; therefore by his definition he has all the power. This conflicts with his condemnation of Superman, perpetuating his feeling of powerlessness. Lex sees Senator Finch’s hearings as theater encouraging the “oldest lie” and allowing Superman to speak at the largest Capital hearing would have completely destroyed his message. He uses the handicapped Wallace Keefe as a “Trojan horse” to smuggle a bomb into the Capital building. The destruction of the Capital was a triumph for Lex by stopping Superman from changing public sentiment, removing the obstacle of Senator Finch and provoking Batman. With the gatekeeper eliminated, he is granted unrestricted access with no oversight to the Kryptonian ship, finally to take in the “knowledge from a thousand worlds” exclusively. How Lex’s plans played out showed his patience, the precision of his planning and how far back it was orchestrated.
Like the discovery of kryptonite, entry into the scout ship became another game changer for Lex. He finds his worldview validated and he no longer has to force the world to make sense. The purity of meaning conveyed through Doomsday ends Lex’s existential crisis: it is his message incarnate and there is no further need to distort Superman’s image or engineer controversy. This allows Lex to clearly show the public that this is what ‘true power’ looks like. This was his ultimate conversion to his father’s legacy, creating his own abomination and a manifestation of his dark theology. At this point, he defies his father’s magical shrine and inverts the painting to depict his worldview. Lex has accomplished his mission, which is why he was transparent with Superman on the helipad; because he had abandoned fear of exposure. Doomsday is a culmination of the ideas that were setup in the first two acts: a visual representation of how powerless Bruce feels in the face of Kryptonians, what stands in the way of Superman becoming the Ideal of Hope he so desperately wants to be, and the power that Lex wanted to reveal. When Lex’s abomination later turns against him to strike with a fist, this time the Man from the Sky is there to save him. This is a huge moment for the character, and the narrative expectation is for Lex to also have an anagnorisis (as with Batman), acting as the catalyst for his redemption. Lex doesn’t address this moment and come to terms with his feelings of powerlessness. He “doesn’t know how to lose” and chooses to remain trapped in the loop of his father’s shadow, seeking even greater power in the aliens through the ship. Having discovered community in the monsters of Apokolips, Lex has found that his dark theology of destructive power has a religion. He bleeds, communes, is baptized and prophesizes about the coming of his newly actualized Omega devil. At the end of the film, having his head shaven in prison makes the character’s signature look a sign of a character shift: Lex has now transcended and transformed into a Super-villain.
Wonder Woman, while having less screen time, also has a full character arc in the film. Diana also followed in the legacy of her lineage (the Amazons) and withdrew from the world after seeing the evil in the heart of humanity. The Amazonian home, Themyscira, is their “paradise”: and while they would give their lives for other Amazons in battle, they refuse to sacrifice “paradise” for mankind. It’s a rational choice for a people/nation without purpose. Diana withdrew from the world after “a century of horrors”, and has been without an aim and purpose ever since. Like Bruce, Diana had seen the fallen nature of man and was disillusioned, stewing in a crisis of faith. Diana is a woman without a home, and everything she has loved has been lost to time.
Diana didn’t want to reveal herself to humanity as a tribal god and even after the BZE that would still be the case. As terrifying as extraterrestrials are, they’re still bound by science and the natural world. Superman’s powers (especially flight) still allowed him to avoid tribalism. If Diana emerged in the public, without flight and with powers which put an emphasis on fighting, she’d necessarily become tribal. Her jurisdiction, response time and range would be fixed to a small radius where she would elect to use her powers. Additionally, her capacity to rescue is much more limited as her powers are geared more towards combat, which would naturally mean judging humanity. Any action or interaction as a goddess in the modern world would set one side against another. It’s one thing to fight an outside threat (gods and “things from other worlds”), it’s another matter to choose a side, which mankind would force her to do. Because of her power, she wouldn’t have to justify herself, but because she believes in love: she chose not to intervene in a world where “man doesn’t stand together”. Diana hid her true nature (arriving at the same conclusion as Jonathan Kent) that she should consider the cost and consequences before revealing her identity to the world.
Diana and Bruce meeting and becoming friends is likely the last thing Lex would want: she could ruin Lex’s careful plans to have Batman kill Superman and the other metahumans. So like Finch and Lois, Diana also aids in undoing Lex’s plans, even if she’s unaware of it. She steals the flash drive which allows her to meet Bruce, and later saves his life, which further helps him directly see that not all metahumans are bad.
Diana finally decides to act and come out of hiding when Bruce recovers the photograph, sharing knowledge of others like her (especially Arthur and Barry who also bear similarities to the Greek gods) and the colossal threat of Doomsday.
When she sees the lightning from the scout ship, she still remains in the shadows. The threat is undefined and surrounded by cameras. She goes to her room to pack, where sees the event on tv has become more serious and still ongoing. While she still doesn’t rush to act, she goes to her computer to look for more information online. Part of her is looking for an excuse to act. She then gets Bruce’s email: she sees the photo and scrolls past it quickly, almost ashamed remembers who she once was. The photo recalls the past, and she is convicted how Steve and the other soldiers may view her now, compared to the warrior she was. Reading the email, she sees that Bruce knows about her as well. She also sees the videos. If her concern is exposure, her secret has been outed to two of the most powerful men in the world. This is overwhelming for her to process and she closes the laptop. As she boards her flight, ready to withdraw again, the news gives her a first glimpse of Doomsday, no longer an abstract lightening show, but now a threatening monster. From everything Bruce’s email revealed, Diana sees the world is changing.
The death of Superman changes the world, and it changes Diana. Superman dying breaks the existential fears that these beings are gods, and his sacrifice creates the assumption of their benevolence. Diana attends Clark’s funeral, recognizing what he did, but is still uncertain about her role, and is initially reluctant about joining Bruce to recruit the others. There are “others”, (they are not alone) and “there is an attack coming” (an outside threat). Diana does not want to divide mankind, though a threat that unites meta-humans is a threat that unites humanity. Bruce wants to “stand together”, meeting Diana’s heart to be a “bridge to greater understanding”. Bruce reminds Diana that “men are still good”. The WWI picture was also a reminder of Steve: she had been inactive for a hundred years, she is reminded of who she was and contemplates donning her uniform again. Bruce returning Steve’s memory back to Diana, reminds her of a time when she was open to change, growth and a new world, she remembers a time when she intervened and has hope she can do it again. Diana is restored and chooses to join Bruce “in the light”.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a story of three people (Clark, Bruce and Diana) who have lost hope and are reborn as better versions of themselves in finding hope again. The Super-hero concept is born with Superman’s example and sacrifice. Bruce was a vigilante and Diana was a warrior, but at the end of the film they are both embracing a new model; embracing Superman’s concept of a “Super-hero”. Batman is now turning his lonely legacy into a life-giving mission, trusting and “play[ing] well with others again”. The Justice League will harmonize the concept of “The Super-hero” in the public, so when Superman returns he can depend on the framework they established and will no longer bear the sole burden of the definition. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice placed the characters in a tangible world; deconstructed well-known tropes to depict them with realistic psychologies and purged them through catharsis to emerge stronger as the truest version of each character.
Zack Snyder has more of his epic story to tell with these characters.