A Super Underwhelming Superhero Movie

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a 2016 superhero film directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Warner Bros. and DC Comics. The film is a sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel, which solely featured Superman (which I have not seen, which made some of the film difficult to understand). The film draws its inspiration from several arcs of Batman and Superman comics to create an original narrative. As the title implies, the movie centers around a conflict between Batman and Superman, driven by Superman’s arch nemesis, Lex Luthor. Basically, the two superheroes see each other as threats to humanity for various reasons, one example being Superman’s interference on a journalistic voyage to Africa where civilians were killed. Lex Luthor manipulates the two heroes throughout the film into fighting each other while he attempts to manipulate the US Government into obtaining kryptonium, the element capable of killing Superman. The film ends with the two of them realizing their mistakes and uniting against Luthor, who is eventually arrested. However, Superman is ‘killed’ in the conflict (one of the story arcs on which this film is based is the famous “Death of Superman,” in which he returns from the dead. The film’s ending also highly implies that Superman is not actually dead because we see strange activity surrounding his grave).


I first heard of the film’s theatrical release from a preview at another movie with my brother. After that preview ended, we both said, in unison, “That looks terrible.” We were not wrong, least of all for its portrayal of women, always a contentious issue when a new superhero movie comes out (and how they keep coming out). The film featured the usual reduction of women and lack of complex women we would expect from a superhero movie, but this film also added a disgusting layer of violence and invoked the final girl trope I never would have noticed if not for our study of Cabin in the Woods.


To focus on the existence of and portrayal of Wonder Woman in the film would probably be both too easy and redundant to existing or future commentary on the film. Examining the portrayals of the other women is much more personally interesting, especially in the movie’s opening scene. Early on, the film gives a very brief overview of Batman’s origin story that is already known to almost everyone: his parents are murdered outside a show while he watches. Arguably, his mother’s death is the central event; his father’s murder is secondary because we see her die through both young Bruce’s eyes and his father’s. Though the film spends maybe a minute on their actual murder, with maybe six seconds on the father’s shooting, the films spends double, maybe 12 seconds, on Martha Wayne’s death. The shooter makes a point to weave his gun through her pearl necklace before she is shot, and we see the necklace break in slow motion and are left with the image of her lifeless hand dripping the pearls down a storm drain. Since she was shot at point blank range, likely in the face or chest, she dies immediately. We still see her husband scream her name before he dies. Additionally, we get the secondary view from young Bruce who has to watch both his parents die before the shooter finally flees the scene of the crime. By lingering on her murder, the film seems to glorify the violence against her in a way similar to slasher films. Though she is shot second, so she witnesses her husband being shot, she dies first. She functions in a way as Clover’s final girl by witnessing her husband’s shooting. The entire scene is wrapped in Mulvey’s scopophilic package, however, because we see everything through Bruce’s eyes.


The film also uses scopophilia similar to Vertigo in a scene where Clark Kent (Superman’s secret identity) comes home to his girlfriend, Lois Lane, shortly after the Africa incident (by the way, Orientalism, anyone?). She is naked in a bathtub while he is fully clothed holding flowers. In that moment, she seems powerless and without agency. She says she does not know if their relationship can work while he is Superman (I infer. I assume she must have learned his identity in Man of Steel). He responds by kissing her before jumping in the tub and stripping. Sex is heavily implied. Because how else should a man validate his woman’s feelings in a rational discussion?


When not underwritten at worst, the women are at best masculinized in a way that made me uncomfortable. It was mentioned in one of the Zero Dark Thirty readings that the female lead only gains respect after acting as “one of the boys,” asserting that she was the “motherfucker that found bin Laden.” In the same way, Lois Lane and another character, Senator Finch, have similar moments. Lane interrogates a Pentagon official in the men’s bathroom, to which he responds with something along the lines of, “With balls so big, you almost belong in here.” Transphobia aside, this also illustrates the same phenomenon. Lane has to be aggressive to succeed in her field. Finch says something in discussion with Luthor along the lines of “You can piss in a jar and call it sweet tea.” She has to be vulgar to be respected or come off as authoritative.


Fortunately, my student discount at the Saint Anthony Main theater only had me waste $6 on this depressing film (granted, I don’t like many superhero movies, so I wasn’t expecting much). I was not the only one who thought the film looked terrible, I suspect; there were maybe 10 other people on the theater, though it was a random weeknight. Ultimately, this is the kind of film I would have much rather torrented at home with my own snacks (I decided not to even look at their concessions, which are conveniently right as you walk in the door) rather than watch in a dark room with strangers in the slightly pretentious neighborhood of St. Anthony.


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