Storytelling Failures – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a Tale of Two Cities

Oh, no, I’m not done with this thing yet. After 2.5 freakin’ hours of this mess, there’s a lot to untangle. So my third criterion in analyzing a storytelling failure is the setting. I will admit in some movies the setting is largely irrelevant. Clueless was an adaptation of Emma set in 1990’s Los Angeles and that was just fine. However, the comic book mythos the filmmakers were trying (and failing) to capture, the setting is very important.

I already lamented how Man of Steel failed to make a meaningful distinction between Smallville and Metropolis. I posit the distinction between Gotham City and Metropolis is vitally important to understanding why Superman and Batman have conflicting point of views about how to mete out justice.

The City of Townsville Metropolis!
Metropolis is meant to be the city of tomorrow, like the 1950s World’s Fair exhibits actually accurately predicted the future. It’s a city of innovation, possibilities, and looking forward. It’s a city where people can come to realize their dreams, like a certain small-town farm boy. That’s not to say Metropolis doesn’t have a seedy underbelly. In general, the police seem to have a good handle on the type of crime that occurs in the seedy underbelly, and Superman is around to deal with greater threats the police can’t possibly begin to handle. The people are generally productive citizens in their teeming city of steel and glass, secure in the knowledge that if there’s danger, Superman will be there to save them. The greatest criminal mastermind in Metropolis is a corrupt genius corporate mogul who is, in his own mind, the best person to lead humanity into a shining new future. Metropolis is a city of hope.

Dark City:
Gotham City is a place stuck in the past. It’s a city of stagnation, decay, and looking backwards to a long-lost prime. It’s a city where dreams go to die. Gotham City is almost nothing but seedy underbelly, and the woefully understaffed and/or corrupted police force can’t hold back the tide of crime, thus Batman has to step in. The people of Gotham City are mostly just victims-in-waiting who are trying to get through their lives without attracting the attention of the out-sized criminal element, and many secretly fear Batman is just as much of a threat. The greatest criminal mastermind in Gotham City is a violently psychotic clown whose motivation for anything can vary wildly but always results in death and destruction. Gotham City is a city of lost causes.

Citizen vs Citizen:
So where we have Clark Kent, a small-town farm boy who’s done good for himself, who set out to make his way in the big city and did so. As Superman, the citizenry generally loves him. And we have Bruce Wayne, the last scion of a once-proud and now fallen family whose attempts to save Gotham City were not enough to save them. Superman sees the best in humanity and that’s why humanity is worth saving. Batman sees the worst in humanity, but believes so strongly in justice he tries to save humanity anyway.

Point of View:
And what did this movie show the audience? It’s raining in Gotham City but not in Metropolis even though the two are literally right across a river from each other. What the hell? These are not St. Paul and Minneapolis! Comic book writers have to facilitate a certain forced obliviousness in their characters to the plights of other settings because otherwise no character would have much of a solo series. It is important that Metropolis and Gotham City have some significant geographic distance. Otherwise, it really makes no sense Perry White has no interest in a story about the Gotham City vigilante because he’s right over there! It also doesn’t make sense for Gotham City to be in such decay when Superman is right over there to help! He goes to save some people from a house fire in Mexico; he can surely hop over the river and bust up some organized crime. In the comics, the heroes keep their own turf and the flimsy in-world reason for it is that Superman generally gets distracted with world-shaking events once Metropolis is fairly safe. He doesn’t have time to go to Gotham City, or Star City, or Central City, or any of those places because Brainiac is coming!

… I may have let example get a way from me a bit. The point is, if the two cities are going to be compared and contrasted, do it right. Showing it raining in Gotham City and not in Metropolis even though they are only separated by a river is not how to do it! Yes, I know it’s meteorologically possible, but it still looks damn stupid and artificial in a movie. Good grief, even the cities are posturing pretentiously.

So there’s one final installment about the narrative structure. This is also where I’ll discuss the directorial choices, tone, music, and all those other items that still badly need critical analysis.

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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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