Storytelling Failures – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Things That Happened

or, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

So the characters of this movie were generally written poorly. The second criterion by which I judge a failure of storytelling is the plot. Let’s get started.

Lex Luthor’s Plan:
As I have stated before, I have no idea what Lex’s plan or motivation was in this movie. Through tenuous logic he figures out that kryptonite is harmful to Kryptonians. While the movie never explains how, Lex obviously figures out Batman and Superman’s secret identities. All he does with that information is manipulate them into fighting each other for reasons that are never made clear. He hates Superman but is it because he, like Bruce Wayne, blames Superman for the destruction of Metropolis or because he’s got some weird god hang-up and wants to see this god-like alien taken down by a mere man? He says at one point he’s trying to protect humanity from the destruction Superman can cause but then he creates Doomsday who is meant to be even more powerful than Superman.

What is clear is that Lex wants kryptonite. He says he’s to create a weapon to destroy Superman, but he doesn’t seem particularly upset when Batman steals the kryptonite (which Lex knows because there’s a batarang calling card). He also gets access to Zod’s body and what’s left of Zod’s ship. He just happens to get access to the ship and finds out how to create monsters, and he does so, but this is never explained. Was this the best he could come up with after Batman stole his kryptonite? Given how he goads Batman into fighting Superman, did he plan for Batman to develop a weapon to kill Superman? In that case was Doomsday the back-up plan in case Batman couldn’t kill Superman? There’s no clear explanation for anything Lex Luthor does, only hints, allegations, and vague suppositions.

Existential Crisis:
The larger conflict is supposed to be if Superman is really doing any good what with his saving people and all (particularly Lois Lane). Senator Finch is meant to represent the nay-sayers against the helpful alien but there also clearly enough people who see Superman as a hero that they got a statue of him erected by the Battle of Metropolis memorial. Batman, of course, is on the side of Superman being a menace to the world even though he’s never spoken to the guy and makes exactly zero effort to do so. Also, the debate about Superman is intercut with scenes of him saving people, so except for the destruction of Metropolis (which was not instigated by him) he’s not doing anything that might possibly be construed as menacing anyone. It’s hard to position this as a moral conflict when all the audience sees is Superman helping people. Anyway, this crisis as far Batman is concerned is resolved in perhaps the stupidest way possible. For those of you who have not seen the movie and only parodies and can’t believe this conflict is solved by Superman grunting “Martha” and Batman suddenly deciding that Superman’s mother having the same name as his is enough reason to cease hostilities, well, believe it. That’s the solution – their moms have the same name. Oh, and everyone in the world seems to forget this contrived conflict based on the turnout for Superman’s funeral.

Teaser-trailers:
I loved Wonder Woman but there is no reason for her to be here, not really. She comes in at the climatic battle and proves pivotal to the heroes’ victory (and I would argue she could have defeated Doomsday herself if Superman had given her the kryptonite spear) but she’s not necessary. The movie could easily have been written such that she wasn’t needed. She’s only there because she’s part of the Justice League. She also conveniently views some clandestine Lexcorp footage of other Justice League members. If I were an editor, the subplot with her would have been dropped entirely.

Hallucinations:
Another subplot is Bruce Wayne suffering from daydreams/hallucinations. These seem to be of a dystopic future with Superman as some kind of warlord, but upon closer inspection the world looks a lot like Apokolips and eventually parademons show up. Also, Cyborg’s dad has a motherbox. Anyway, I think the audience is supposed to think Bruce is extra-paranoid of Superman based on these hallucinations and the WTF moment with Flash, but we’re given no reason why Bruce would believe anything he sees in these hallucinations. I’d frankly assume that a stoic, rational person like Bruce Wayne would reject anything in these hallucinations because obviously something is very wrong for him to be having hallucinations in the first place. I clearly give this movie too much credit to portray Bruce Wayne correctly. And then at the end Lex Luthor is babbling about Darkseid like Renfield babbled about Dracula.

Pretentious (Misplaced) Religious Symbolism:
And this isn’t strictly a tonal issue. This heavy-handedness application of religious symbolism actually affects the plot.

The most obnoxious lines come from Lex Luthor (no surprises there) who almost literally tells the audience the title of the movie twice! As part of his largely incoherent motivation, he also calls out the title fight in religious symbolism, like using the phrase, “god versus man,” and referring to angels and devils. Even Martha Kent’s few lines of dialogue are burdened with that kind garage (“Be their angel, be their devil…”). Superman is still apparently Space Jesus, which again undercuts the Existential Crisis subplot because how can Space Jesus effectively be framed as a bad guy? So again we are treated to pointed placement of crosses in many scenes, Superman descending from the heavens as flood victims reach toward him, the “unwashed masses” attempting to touch their savior, and of course his final death pose with arms spayed out like a cross. This leads directly to one of the worst examples of chomper logic in this movie.

See, when Batman gets it in his head he’s got to kill Superman, he steals kryptonite and makes a weapon. He could make any kind of weapon and in fact makes two kryptonite weapons. One is a gun. Putting aside the fact Batman doesn’t use guns, this gun contains aerosolized kryptonite that weakens Superman when he breathes it. However, the dosage isn’t high enough to kill him outright. This begs the question of why didn’t Batman actually make a gun with a kryptonite bullet that would kill Superman outright? Obviously he had the skills. Instead, his murder weapon of choice is a kryptonite-tipped spear. Yes, that’s right, Batman decides to kill Space Jesus with a spear. Holy lance, Batman! That decision makes zero sense except in this context of this religious symbolism. I know, when Jesus was pierced with the Spear of Longinus he was already dead so the movie doesn’t present quite the same situation. I guess even the writers who put Clark Kent in front of a stained glass representation of the Garden of Gethsemane realized it would be a little too much to have Batman beat up Superman with a kryptonite cross.

What it Says on the Tin:
This, I think, is the problem with the plot or lack thereof. The whole point of this movie existing is to get Batman and Superman on-screen together and for any reason beat the snot out of each other and set out some world-building for the greater DC Expanded Universe (DCEU). From the point of view of the audience going in to see this movie, it is clear that the sequence of events is meant to a) lead up to the title fight and b) establish a basis for the Justice League movie. The meta-logic holds up, but the internal logic of the movie falls apart. There’s a lot going on but little explanation for any of it. I think this movie doesn’t have a plot so much as plot devices powered by contrivance to get the title fight and sequel bait promised in the title. So much of what happens so obviously has no other purpose than to push towards the climax that to say this is chomper logic doesn’t seem adequate, but that’s the term I’ll go with. For examples:

1) The existence of kryptonite.
2) Lex Luthor just knowing Batman and Superman’s secret identities.
3) Batman and Superman’s complete failure to follow up on the source of the anonymous correspondence goading them towards a confrontation.
4) The citizenry believing Superman killed a bunch of people with guns.
5) Security at the statehouse not checking the wheelchair.
6) Lex getting his hands on Zod’s ship and body.
7) Lex getting complete access to the computer on Zod’s ship.
8) The computer having exactly the information needed to create Doomsday despite the A.I. explicitly stating such information is forbidden.
9) “Martha.”
10) Lois somehow knowing the bat-spear is the only thing that will kill Doomsday.
11) Superman using the bat-spear to kill Doomsday even though it’s pretty obvious Wonder Woman could probably do the job.
12) Batman teaming up with anyone to form the Justice League, much less to do so in Superman’s name.

Conclusion – It’s a hell of a long slog to get to the payoff, such as it is. This movie is stuffed to bursting with subplots but in writing the sum of the subplots does not actually equal a coherent plot. This movie doesn’t have a coherent plot or internal logic because that’s not the point of the movie. The point of the movie is to get Batman and Superman to fight each other, which they do, after 2+ hours, and for less than ten minutes, and to set up the Justice League, which is done by throwing Doomsday at them and killing off Superman to give Batman the motivation of another death to avenge. So technically the movie provided what was promised in the title, but the lazy writing and contrived plot devices deprive the events of any emotional impact. Like the characters, the plot is muddled, thin, and kind of boring.

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awritershailmarypass

S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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