There are spoilers ahead as to the DC two-part animated film, The Dark Knight Returns, as well as spoilers concerning Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Without a vision, things die. Zach Snyder’s DC films so far have much style, but no vision. No heart. It seems that DC decided to jump the gun on their film enterprise, and in so doing, forgot the depth that resides in their own universe. Such is the case with Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
If you watch DC’s own animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a two part film—which Snyder borrowed from not nearly enough—and ingest the entirety of the story, you understand that Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent had a longstanding, if very tense, respect for one another as men attempting to maintain justice. An odd friendship forged by the bonds of something only they understood between one another. The two men had agreed to disagree when necessary, and stayed out of one another’s way. You understand that things got political, as they do in our modern world, and at some point, Bruce agreed to cease activities as Batman.
Clark eventually became a weapon for the U.S. Government, and this makes perfect sense in terms of how such a ‘superhero’ would find himself, despite his god-like strength, in service to American interests. Clark is an American. Flyover Country American, at that. Though he could wipe out humanity on his own, his conscience and his upbringing limits his power through the avenue of his heart, not his mind, not his strength. Thus, in order to serve his own heart, Clark serves the interest of his nation, though he, deep down, understands the dichotomy.
In The Dark Knight Returns Part 2, this places Clark and Bruce at extreme odds. In Part 1, Wayne resumed the mantle of Batman in order to deal with a dangerous gang and the lawlessness that had erupted in Gotham. The gang called themselves ‘mutants’ and were psychopathic and brutal, led by an Alpha. The Batman eventually beat the tar out of the mutant’s leader and ended their immediate threat. This made headlines. The U.S. Government was angered by Wayne’s flagrant vilolation of the agreement to remain idle. In Part 2, The American President himself dispatched Superman to do his duty and “Oh, you do what you need to do, son,” to quote the very Reaganesque President, in order to deal with the embarassment of The Batman.
To Bruce, Clark sold his soul into the service of the American Empire. To Clark, Bruce was something of a thorn; trouble, an embarassment to his nation’s leaders. Yet Clark understood Bruce. Clark would hold back from killing Bruce, risking the ire of his own nation’s leaders, because of that deep, if odd, respect that the two men had for one another.
Snyder gives the viewer none of this. Instead, these men are strangers. They are caped freaks. One all powerful and the other brooding and rich, they square off for ridiculous reasons. Clark is a spoiled, brooding messiah, who seems reluctanct to do his duty through means other than anger. The dark blue god scowls constantly. Bruce is something of a coward, at one point holding his arms up to ward off Superman when his poorly-contrived Kryptonite gas wore off. Sillier, the reason Wayne had given Alfred in a poorly-written soliloquy for being stupid enough to take on EmoMan in his inferior suit was ridiculous.
DC’s animated adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns gave Wayne purpose to fight and scare the bloody hell out of Clark. Superman’s ego had grown a bit overmuch, and, to Wayne’s reasoning, had become dangerous. Yet Wayne also needed a way to disappear from the American Big Brother apparatus, and Superman’s orders from the U.S government to eliminate him served the perfect opportunity. American interests no longer wanted anything to do with vigilantes such as Wayne, but Bruce had a lot of work he needed to undertake. Dying was the perfect way to get America off his back. For Wayne, it was two birds, one stone.
Snyder and DC neglected to build any sort of foundation for their Justice League launch film. There were stylish moments, no doubt. There were sometimes impressive visual effects. The film’s depiction of Lex Luthor was no less than an insult to the character, but given Snyder’s Millennial mindset, this is not surprising. No doubt Snyder found this iteration edgy and funny.
It was all but impossible to like or sympathize with either Wayne or Kent in Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice. Both men seemed like over-powered spoiled brats with anger management issues. Clark had no reason to hold back. Not only does Snyder’s Superman lack the depth of character to understand the reason he would need to hold back, there was no friendship present; no mutual respect between them. Wayne had no reason to hold back either, and could have, if given more time and a prior film or two, formulated a Kryptonite toxin to actually do what he’d yelled in Alfred’s face that he intended to do.
There was no sense to it all. No heart. Who cares? Two asshats fight, film at eleven.
Then there is the aforementioned fight. DC’s The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 gives its audience a Batman versus Superman fight that fits the depth of the story. Wayne’s understanding of Clark’s psychology is as much a weapon as his impressive techno-suit. The aforementioned suit is not only clever in its design, but powerful enough to give Superman a very entertaining bit of trouble. At one point, Batman uses a full sized wrecking ball to pound Clark for all it’s worth. And the film also gives its audience enough credit to assume the truth of the matter: both men know that Clark could end Bruce at any split-second of a moment. But he won’t, and this is Bruce’s true weapon. This weapon gives him just enough time to introduce a very potent force equalizer.
Wayne’s Kryptonite toxin is potent enough to stop Clark in his tracks. And Wayne further plunges the knife by telling Clark outright that, “I didn’t have to go easy on you.” He held back, just like Clark. Yet despite this, when Bruce’s plan went into full fruition and his heart supposedly stopped, Clark instantly sought to save his old friend. He didn’t scowl at Bruce, didn’t brood. Instantaneously, Superman was not, nor had he really ever been, Batman’s actual enemy. Both men had a job to do, this was their code.
This peculiar way in which an immovable object deals with an unstoppable force in The Dark Knight Returns Part 2, is something forged in time, not imediate.
Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice gave its audience nothing to ground them. The reasons for the peculiar conflicts on screen were never defined. The characters, being complete strangers and being introduced to the audience in the midst of their conflict, have no heart and certainly no soul. Batman sounds ridiculous, and his metal suit is not comparable to the technology that Miller gave Wayne in his graphic novel. Superman is an asshole, and I suppose I can partially blame that on the DC ’52’ universe.
James Wan, one of my favorite young directors, will be directing the Aquaman film. In my mind, this isn’t Aquaman, but a new character. Still, the makeover is understood, as that character has been historically overlooked. Wan has already stated that, while he will give nods to Snyder’s stylistic vision, his film will be his film. I only wish that he would give not a single nod to Snyder’s style-no-substance vision and make a James Wan film.
The irony of the Aquaman movie saving DC’s cinematic ass would be lovely.
I am rooting for James Wan and Jason Momoa.
And if that doesn’t do it, give the entire live-action film world over to Bruce Timm and Crew.