“Non sum qualis eram.” I am not what I once was.
In 1978 I was 14 years old, an avid comic reader, and my comic books stacked across the room. When I first saw Superman the motion picture, I sat amazed as I did “believe a man can fly.” Chris Reeve was Superman.
I mean 1978 was perfect, and I would be sure to get the soundtrack for my 8 track player, and listen to it while I wrote my D&D character program on my brand new Radio Shack TRS-800. The future would be great, and there would be no terrorism because Jimmy Carter just signed the Camp David Peace Accords. Man, the future was going to be Awesome.
- Henry Cavill would not be born for five years.
In 1989 I was 25 years old, and when my ex-wife and I finished up our management shifts at the Trumbull mall in Trumbull, Connecticut we went to see the midnight showing of the new Batman movie. We were of course still debating whether or not Michael Keaton could pull it off.
The movie was great but dark, and afterwards I would read all of the debates pro and con in Starlog, and watch them on Entertainment Tonight, which was the YouTube of our generation. Somewhere a seventeen year old Benjamin Geza Affleck-Bold was also sitting waiting for the same movie to start, not realizing that one day he would be wearing the cowl.
That was, of course, 27 years ago when Russia was withdrawing from Afghanistan and Nelson Mandela was still in jail and apartheid still existed.
Welcome to the 21st Century.
Instead of continuing Nolan’s films about the Dark Knight of Gotham, and living under the shadow of Christopher Reeve, Zack Snyder has chosen to approach Legends facing global issues, and it’s about time.
Yes, you can make an argument about how Marvel’s Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are both concerned about how SHIELD is engaging in government oversight, and how the world is concerned about superheroes, but the films have a uniquely American viewpoint. I mean it is Captain America. You may also listen to the critics say it wasn’t any fun! It was humorless. You’re right, this was neither the Avengers nor Deadpool, nor was it supposed to be.
Dawn of Justice is a thinking person’s film, and if Deadpool can have adult humor, language and nudity then Batman versus Superman can have depth, emotional turmoil and require thought. This is like comparing Kelly’s Heroes to Full Metal Jacket. Yes, they are both about the military, but really that’s about it.
Superman, if he existed, would be a global matter. Where he once fought for truth, justice and the American way, in the 21st century he would have to consider the planetary obligations of his powers. Now imagine that’s your cross to bear. How would you deal with that mentally?
Think about it for a moment. You’re a kid growing up in Kansas, and you suddenly have amazing abilities show up. You go to talk to your mom and dad, who drop the following: ‘You’re really a space alien. We’re not sure what to do with that, so just hide it and hide yourself from the world.’ So you do, until you stumble on the truth, and then space bullies show up, and fight you – and oops, the fight kills 10,000 people.
Paging Dr. Phil.
Superman has two real links to humanity: his parents, and Lois. That’s the only thing that gives him any humanity to begin from.
No, this is not the optimistic Clark Kent of the 40’s that Siegel and Schuster created; this is his Grandson who has long outlived them. This is a being of mass power that Bruce Wayne has every right to fear, and Lex Luthor would want so desperately to control.
Let’s talk about Bruce Wayne, shall we? Bruce has never been exactly stable, has he?
“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.”
Easy there, Bruce.
Again Snyder deftly handles the Batman legend, and shows us something new on film: the Miller-esqe aging Dark Knight Detective. The manor is in ruins, Robin is dead at the hands of the Joker, and yet Wayne Enterprises are doing very well, and through of this the Batman is still fighting, and still unrevealed.
Where Kal-el’s touchstones to humanity are Lois and Martha Kent, Batman’s family is now his employees and obviously Alfred, and thus when the Kryptonian battle kills thousands of his family members Bruce very correctly sees Superman as a potential Zod himself, as evinced by some of his nightmares.
“He has the power to wipe out the entire human race and if we believe there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.”
Bruce Wayne has now seen that Gotham is no longer his patrol ground; all of the earth is, as long as men like Superman and women like Wonder Woman exist, and in making such a realization he has become all the more frightened. Batman has never denied having fear, far from it.
“Bats frighten me. It’s time my enemies shared my dread.”
Batman is all about maintaining control, and does so with fear. That is why Batman wants to break Superman, to make him afraid, or if he can’t make him afraid, then perhaps to destroy him. Batman’s psychosis is such that he believes he can destroy or control the evil in Gotham, and beyond.
Think about some things that were said between Alfred and Bruce.
“Twenty years in Gotham. How many good guys are left? How many stay that way?”
Bruce’s war has been going on since 1996. If we take events of Miller’s Batman: Year 1 as his probable starting point, he was still getting his feet wet in those early years when 9/11 occurred.
Alfred: “That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.”
Much has been said about Batman killing people in this film, and everyone who is griping is failing to realize that Batman killed in the pages of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s original works, where Batman was pretty much the Punisher with a cape and money. Even Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns showed Batman killing villains. (Bomb in clown pants much?) To believe that Batman would have the slightest issue with killing terrorists is a tad naïve to a man who started his career flying a biplane with a fifty cal.
Now, let us not overlook either Lex or Diana Prince.
Lex Luthor has had many iterations, from the fully coiffed mad scientist living in a flying city re-animating dinosaurs (Action Comics #23; April 1940) to his recreation as an industrialist in the 1986 Man of Steel Series by artist writer John Byrne. So a new, younger millennial non-Smallville Lex Luthor is fine with me. The fact that Lex is possibly possessing of Asperger’s or Tourette’s syndrome to me is fantastic because it’s giving the character depth, and humanity. The fact that Luthor is Bat-crap insane is, of course, a given.
Wonder Woman’s introduction was amazing, and powerful. Here was a woman shown on stage, where the only reference to her beauty was an aside by Bruce as a cover to get away from being held up. She was at no point seen as sexual being, but a mystery and then as a powerful force of her own, and both an asset and a potential ally. That Wonder Woman is from the Middle East, and is actually played by an Israeli is both a windfall and to be cheered. Kudos, Mr. Snyder.
To conclude, Dawn of Justice is about us, the whole of humanity, as we face the age of terrorism and fear. H.P. Lovecraft once stated, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Humanity fears what it does not know and what it cannot understand. The bright and promising 21st century that we all dreamed of, a Roddenberry-ish utopia, was a lie. We never received it because the Taliban found that fear was the most powerful weapon. We all surrendered our heroes such as Christ, Gandhi, Mandela, and the Dalai Lama for demagogues and State Supervision. We looked to the powerful and entrusted them with our fears.
We hoped for Superman, and got the Bat.