Last weekend I went to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And let me preface this by saying that my only reason for going was because I knew Wonder Woman was going to show up at some point and I love Wonder Woman.
I tried my hardest, I really did, to understand what was going on for most of the movie. I don’t know if it was just me, but walking out of that theater, I’m still not sure I understand what that movie was about. I never saw Man of Steel, so I didn’t have much context for Henry Cavill’s Superman, only a general knowledge of Superman’s mythology. Eventually Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne meet, at a party arranged by Lex Luthor. Clark Kent criticizes Batman for being a violent vigilante and Bruce Wayne criticizes Superman for being so self-righteous and laments that his heroic exploits are too destructive. All the while, Lex Luthor is plotting against the both of them. Inevitably, Batman and Superman must fight each other, right? That’s what the title of the movie implies. So about two hours into a movie that was and hour and a half too long, Batman and Superman go head to head.
And that’s probably as much as I can tell you without spoiling the movie. Wonder Woman does show up sparingly throughout. Her subplot teases the formation of the justice league and obviously another decade’s worth of superhero movies. She finally dawns the Wonder Woman suit in the movie’s climax and puts both Batman and Superman to shame, though I will admit maybe I’m biased.
Batman v Superman was written by a bunch of guys about a bunch of guys and for a bunch of guys. And none of the female characters seem like real people.
This movie only barely passes the Bechdel test. It’s not until the end of the movie when Lois Lane and Martha Kent share a sweet moment. But they are kind of talking about Clark, indirectly. Does that count?
Other than Wonder Woman, none of the women in the movie serve much of a purpose other than to influence the actions of the male characters. Like I said, I never saw Man of Steel so I had a hard time buying that Lois Lane and Clark Kent were really in love. And Lois Lane doesn’t really do anything in the movie, other than constantly find herself in trouble from which Superman has to save her.
Clark Kent’s mother also makes an appearance, for no other reason than to be taken hostage. Surprisingly, Bruce Wayne doesn’t really have a love interest, not that I’d think that that was important. But we do get one scene where we see him get out of bed, and an unclothed woman is lying next to him. But we never learn her name or hear her speak, or ever see her again. It seems that the only purpose in including her was to remind the audience that Bruce Wayne is indeed a straight.
In “Textual Negotiations: Female Spectatorship and Cultural Studies”, McCabe explains that female viewers were “drawing on cultural knowledge and personal experience to interpret meaning” and “extend[ing] their reading beyond what was actually depicted on screen” (42). So despite that Wonder Woman’s character seemed pretty hollow, as did Lois Lane’s, most female viewers could project themselves onto and understand her character better.
There is also this strange subplot of Batman obtaining some “information” about Diana Prince. Towards the end of the movie, he sends her an email revealing that he found a picture of her in her wonder woman regalia from a long time ago. Mulvey talks about “woman as image” and “man as bearer of the look.” In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, she says: “women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact” (837). Honestly, as much as I love the Wonder Woman suit, it has not gotten any less impractical over the years. I mean, you must be a badass to fight off bad guys in pretty much and armored bathing suit, with no straps. There’s no support! Her costume was definitely designed through the lens of the male gaze.
But there’s also this weird scopophilic gaze because Bruce Wayne has these photos of her that she didn’t know existed. Mulvey also talks about the voyeuristic pleasure in “the surreptitious observation of an unknowing and unwilling victim” (835). Bruce Wayne seems to enjoy having obtained this “secret” of hers. Diana Prince doesn’t seem at all irked about where the photos came from.
Despite that this movie was about three white guys making a huge mess, there was some POC representation. But here could have been more. There could always be a lot more. I remember one scene very particularly during Lex Luthor’s fancy party, Bruce Wayne walks past the kitchen and all the wait staff are watching the spanish language news. Cause that’s not a stereotype, right?
I saw this movie at the St. Anthony Main theater on a Saturday night, so there were a lot more people in the theater than I’m generally used to. (I usually like going to movies in the middle of the day during when nobody else is there and I can yell at the screen as much as I want.) The tickets were $6 a piece, $9 before the discount with my student id. Popcorn cost as much as the tickets, though it was a necessarily evil, because, in my opinion, you can’t go to the theater and not have popcorn. But I brought my giant Wonder Woman purse so I could smuggle in a water bottle and some candy, because I refuse to spend money on any other concessions. Because of the student discount, I assume, most of the other patrons were college students. There were a few older couples and one family with kids. (Which seemed weird to me for such a late night showing.)
At a certain point during the climax of the movie, my buddy and I were no longer able to contain our reaction to the absurdity of what was happening and we both burst out laughing. And perhaps we were being overly critical, but we definitely weren’t the only ones who were laughing. We were promptly shushed from across the theater, though that only made us laugh harder. And I will admit to gasping audibly when Wonder Woman finally appeared. I like to talk to the movie screen. I’m probably not very fun to see movies with.
Had I been watching this movie at home, I probably wouldn’t have put up with Batman brooding and Superman questioning his purpose for two hours before any of the action starting, not that I would have enjoyed two hours of action. But the build-up to it wasn’t worth it, in my opinion. The ending was a bit predictable and a little unsatisfying and I’m genuinely still confused as to what actually happened. Had I been watching this movie at home, I probably would have fast-forwarded though everything until Wonder Woman showed up. But that’s just me being honest.
McCabe, Janet. “Textual Negotiations: Female Spectatorship and Cultural Studies.” Feminist Film Studies: Writing the Woman into Cinema. London: Wallflower, 2004. 37-64. Print.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Visual and Other Pleasures (1989): 833-44. Web.