Why Batman v. Superman Is The Most Cynical Movie Ever
I'm not here to argue whether Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice sucked. The word-of-mouth negativity has already given this movie the second-biggest drop between first- and second-weekend box office ever, so anything negative I say would just be squirting lighter fluid on a forest fire. So, putting quality completely aside, the movie has probably one of the craziest messages I've ever seen on the big screen. It is trying to argue something that seems so crotch-slappingly inane that I actually went to see the movie again to make sure I hadn't gone totally Lex Luthor-style nuts.
Yes, I went to a 3D screening of Batman V Superman. Alone. And I learned that ... well, let me take you through, step by step.
[Note: I'm about to spoil absolutely everything that happens in this movie.]
Batman's Arc Is Him Learning That Superman Isn't Responsible For The Deaths In Metropolis
When Man Of Steel came out, the biggest criticism was that although Superman saves the world, he doesn't make much of an effort to avoid killing innocent civilians. At one point he and Zod punch each other into space, but when they come back down, they land in Metropolis again, even though it presumably would have been easier for them to finish their fight somewhere that wasn't, ya know, a school zone. At the beginning Dawn Of Justice, Batman seems to agree with those critics, when he looks up from the wreckage of Metropolis and vows to stop Superman. He's an in-universe avatar for all of Man Of Steel's critics.
"YOU SON OF A BITCH! THAT WAS MY FAVORITE BUILDING!"
But then it turns out that his arc over the course of Dawn Of Justice is learning that Superman isn't so bad. Not from getting a new perspective on the event, like learning that Superman had no choice or that Zod killed most of the innocent people (neither of those things is true), but from getting to know Superman as a bro. First, he learns that Superman is fighting for his mother, Martha, and then he sees Doomsday. By the end, after Superman sacrifices himself to kill Doomsday (told you there'd be spoilers), Batman says: "Men are still good. We fight, we kill, we betray one another, but we can rebuild. We can do better. We will. We have to."
Putting aside the fact that this makes precisely zero sense (why does Superman, an alien, sacrificing himself to stop Doomsday, an alien created by an evil human, give Batman faith in people?), the point is we watch Batman learn that Superman was right all along, and we shouldn't hold him accountable for the deaths in the movie. Superman is beyond any concept of being held responsible for his actions, because ... uh, his mother's name is Martha, I guess.
Just wait until Clark Kent finds out what happens in Hollywoodland.
The Movie Argues That Death Is An Inevitable Part Of Heroics
In one of the movie's 1,700 dream sequences, Superman is hiking up an (imaginary?) mountain and talking to the ghost of his dad, Kevin Costner. Costner tells a story about a time when he, as a kid on a farm, had to quickly build a dam to keep his animals from being washed away. He succeeded, but the consequences were that another farm upstream was washed away instead. He talks about being haunted by the dreams of drowning horses.
And then Union soldiers shot my horse, Cisco, and ... wait, wrong movie.
It's a creepy story that, in any other movie, would be a difficult moral question. But here, it's treated like an absolutely necessary byproduct of heroism that you're going to end up hurting other people. "No one stays good in this world," Superman tells Lois. "Twenty years in Gotham -- how many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?" Batman asks Alfred. And speaking of Batman ...
... he kills tons of people and the movie is fine with this. Initially we learn that he's been branding criminals, because when he brands them they're killed in prison by other prisoners (a newscaster says, "The Bat-brand is a death sentence," which is the thing that makes Superman mad at Batman in the first place). The way it's set up, you'd think that Batman has to learn that he's gone too far and that he has to pull back and stop killing people in order to stand for the thing he stands for, which is hopefully not "Murder is the answer." But he doesn't learn that. At the end, not only does he murder dozens of people while rescuing Martha Kent, not only by smashing their heads but by explicitly making them explode, but he still has his Bat-brand. He doesn't use it on Lex (because ...?), but he also doesn't get rid of it, and we're not given any hint that he's about to.
It's also worth pointing out that every character who questions Superman's heroism is either explicitly villainous or killed by their own naivete: Lex Luthor is the villain, Senator June Finch is exploded during a hearing about Superman, and Wally The Wayne Enterprises Employee is manipulated into becoming a suicide bomber. Oddly enough, Superman says he feels guilty about this, but that he doesn't care about people's criticisms of other things he's done.
The point of Batman V Superman, as far as I can tell, is that you aren't responsible for things you didn't intend to happen. Especially if you're super powerful. The only thing weirder than this argument is the fact that the movie seems to be making it on purpose.
Zack Snyder Said That This Was His Point
You might disagree with my above interpretation, by pointing out scenes I've forgotten about or bringing up details I'm not thinking of (again, I've only seen this movie twice, and I never intend to watch it again). Or you might argue that this movie just has a messy script where most things don't make sense, so we can't really argue that it means anything. And that'd be fine if Zack Snyder hadn't gone on record confirming the bonkers worldview I just described.
Presumably while making this face.
In one interview, he argued that Superman can't escape criticism, because everything he does has consequences: "When we find him, he's been dealing with the everyday world of being a superhero, but there's a paradigm shift happening in that the unintended consequences of some of those rescues are starting to come into fruition.
"Like, if you're just taking a cat out of a tree, you can't touch anything or the arborists will say, 'He damaged the tree branch when he got the cat down.' Or, 'The cat wasn't neutered, so now there's thousands of cats.' There's no winning anymore for Superman."
That straw man argument is super weird, right? He's comparing Superman killing as many people as the nuclear bomb drop on Hiroshima with him damaging a tree while rescuing a cat. But it's at least clear was his point is: Superman is dealing with lots of unfair criticism.
Later, he said a significantly weirder thing about the morality of Batman's murder-sprees:
"I tried to do it by proxy. Shoot the car they're in, the car blows up, or the grenade would go off in the guy's hand, or when he shoots the tank and the guy pretty much lights the tank [himself]. I perceive it as him not killing directly, but if the bad guys are associated with a thing that happens to blow up, he would say that that's not really my problem. A little more like manslaughter than murder."
I admit I'm not a legal scholar, but when Batman uses the machine guns mounted on his Batmobile to blow up an SUV filled with people ... that's not manslaughter, right? Lawyers can chime in from the comment section, I suppose. But regardless of that, it's still the most insane understanding of morality and consequence I've ever heard from a grown-up. I feel like Zack Snyder is the kind of guy who will eat your lunch out of the office fridge and then blame you for not labeling it clearly enough.
It's my name in block letters, Zack. Goddammit, what else do you want?
The thesis of this movie seems to be "The powerful aren't responsible for the consequences of their actions." I can't say I'm surprised that Snyder's next movie might be based on an Ayn Rand novel.