SPOILER ALERT FOR BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN BELOW.
I walked into Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice ready to watch a terrible movie. Instead I caught glimmers of a great superhero movie, buried underneath several pages of a bloated script written by committee. I don’t mind seeing a bad movie, but seeing a bad movie that was almost great drives me insane. There are several small problems with the movie I’ll address at length, but it all boils down to one word:
Every character in the film spends 2 hours doing nothing, leading up to a 10 minute fight, that turns into a 15 minute fight. The flashback and dream sequences could easily be replaced with a consistent story that puts our heroes on an inevitable collision course, in a way that challenges the characters and makes them grow. Let's take it from the top:
Starting with the Batman’s origin really got my eyes rolling. Everyone knows this story: the alley way, the pearls, etc...so why show it? It’s only in the movie to remind everyone that Bruce’s mother was named Martha, which in turn sets up the big dumb change of heart that I’m going to replace in a little bit.
Instead we should open with the incredible sequence of Bruce Wayne speeding through the destruction of Metropolis. What a sequence! The smashy-smashy finale to Man of Steel was one of the film’s greatest weaknesses, and BvS corrects this immediately by showing the human toll. For a moment the audience actually feels like we’re in a superhero universe, and the result is incredible. But this sequence is also a lost opportunity.
Bruce Wayne is frightened by the higher powers at play, but what if we gave him direct personal stake? Since we’re dealing with an older Batman (a great decision by the filmmakers), what if he married Selina Kyle and quit being Batman? Then Selina is killed in the battle. Now he has lost another member of his family (the other was Robin) because he wasn’t Batman. This loss drives him to become Batman again. Except now he’ll be more ruthless--the type of man who will do what’s necessary to take down a God.
The next time we see Batman it can be the exact sequence that introduced him in the movie: lurking in shadows, terrifying the people he saved, and wearing the classic gray and black suit.
Superman gets his own action opening, this time working in the light. He flies around the world saving people from disasters: earthquakes, fires, plane crashes, robberies, maybe stopping bullies from beating up a transgender kid. Above all, HE KILLS NO ONE IN THIS OPENING, and must take care to SAVE LIVES. (As opposed to his first scene in BvS, where he straight up kills a guy by flying him through a wall). This Superman has taken the life of a son of Krypton, and is haunted by his actions.
This opening is like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, giving the two leads introductions that establish their characters.
Superman finishes flying around the world, and realizes he’s late for an important appointment. The audience might think he’s late for work, or meeting his mom or Lois--but he heads to the US Capitol. The capitol is surrounded by a mob, protesting Superman for the same life-saving acts we just saw him perform.
He appears before the Senate committee, and we get all the lip-service from Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) that was spread out across the first hour of BvS. Lois is in the capitol building, covering the hearings for the Planet and secretly supporting her man.
A bomb explodes, and Superman only has time to save one person--he chooses Lois. This is a strong gut punch: his existence threatened the woman he loved, making him doubt whether acting unilaterally is the right thing.
This happens at the beginning of the film because as Batman rises, Superman should recede.
Let’s add in a playful scene: Lois sits at her window with her phone in her hand. She asks, “Can you hear me now?” She gets a text: Yes. “Can you hear me now?” The text again says Yes. We cut to Superman, miles away, holding a cell phone and floating in the air. They have a playful conversation where she tries to put him at ease. He tells her that she ties him to the world, and that “The world’s not worth saving without you in it.”
Lois wants to alleviate Clark’s guilt, so she does what she does best: investigates. She looks into the bombings, uncovering a conspiracy that will eventually lead back to Lex Luthor.
Clark visits Smallville and gets some bad news: his mother has cancer. Now, for all his fame and power, he has another parent he cannot save.
Bruce Wayne is obsessed with metahumans and tracks down any evidence he can find. He reads reports of a super-strong woman in World War I, and tracks down the only photograph of her. This puts him on a direct collision with Wonder Woman, and leaves Luthor out of the mix. (For the record, I loved Gal Gadot, and Wonder Woman. It seemed like she was the only adult in the movie , showing up to break the boys apart. Loved her guitar theme too).
Luthor shouldn’t be the fidgety “obviously a bad guy” character we saw in the movie (Zach Snyder loves to make his secret bad guys obvious, like Ozymandias in the Watchmen). Instead he’s a brilliant philanthropist, a genius whose inventions save thousands of lives. There is a shot in the hallways of LexCorp of framed photos of “Time’s Person of the Year,” showing he won the honor two years in a row...but this year’s cover features Superman.
Lex summons Superman to his penthouse to talk about making the world a better place. Superman can’t tell when Lex is lying, because the billionaire had a pacemaker implanted that regulates his heartbeats. Clark is taken with Lex, and agrees to work with him. The project: using Kryptonian technology to cure cancer. Superman escorts Lex into the downed Kryptonian ship, and they decipher its secrets together.
Batman, meanwhile, is still on the hunt for metahumans, and looking for any way to augment himself to defeat Superman. He turns to one of Wayne Enterprise’s top technicians: Silas Stone. Stone is working on a way to create cybernetics to help his son Victor, who was paralyzed in the Battle of Metropolis. The experiment goes wrong, and Cyborg is created. Now Bruce Wayne has to look elsewhere for the tools to defeat Superman. (I don’t like cramming other hero origins into the story, but they should at least serve the story).
Wayne Enterprises begins to collect any Kryptonian tech they can--and their interests clash with Lex Corp. Bruce sees a news story about Lex Luthor and Superman working together on a new initiative. He tells Alfred, “He’s gathering up Kryptonian tech for Superman; they’re planning something.”
This turns into a conversation about killing your enemies. He tells Alfred that he didn’t kill the Joker, even after what he did to Dick, but killing the alien might be the only way to save the world. So again, the characters are walking opposite paths. Batman becomes more sure of himself and his right to kill, Superman is plagued with self doubt and guilt.
Meanwhile, Lois is investigating the disabled suicide bomber who was responsible for the DC explosion. She finds out through some “Law and Order” style interviews (maybe one with Bruce Wayne?) that he was injured and lost his family in the Battle of Metropolis, and that he suddenly got his new chair from a mysterious benefactor.
Finding a dead end, she investigates the chair, and finds something troubling: parts of the casing were Kryptonian (this is how the bomb slipped past security). Only two companies are buying up Kryptonian Tech: Lex Corp and Wayne Enterprises. Lois knows that Selina Kyle was killed in the battle and suspects Bruce is behind the bombing. But, she also doesn’t trust Lex. Something about him seems off-putting.
She tells Clark what she’s found, and the Man of Steel jumps to a conclusion: Bruce Wayne is behind the bombings.
Meanwhile, in the Indian Ocean, Lex Corp is salvaging the fallen Kryptonian ship. Everything is going fine, when a crew of pirates with high tech SCUBA gear and underwater weaponry arrive (working for Wayne Enterprises, but we don’t know that because it’s not like they have the corporate logo on their arms). Their gear can also be similar to the armor Batman wears when he fights Superman later in the film so, you know, that gets a little foreshadowing.
We would normally expect Lex Corp to be the pirates and Wayne Enterprises to be legit, but this sequence subverts our expectations and shows that Bruce Wayne will go to any lengths to defeat Superman.
The pirates overwhelm the Lex Corp crew and they’re towing away the ship with a submarine, when another force intervenes: Aquaman. His appearance is short, fast, and he quickly defeats the pirates. Now Lex Corp is free to retrieve the Kryptonite. (By the way, the reveal of Aquaman would have been way cooler if the studio hadn't tweeted this picture of Jason Momoa a year ago.)
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is spending a lot of time studying the Kryptonian tech (just like in Superman 2, remember?). He is forming a backup plan for defeating Superman, or maybe he knows Darkseif is coming and wants to control the next generation of metahumans.
Meanwhile, Clark Kent visits his mom in the hospital, and a news story about Batman branding child molesters appears on screen. His mother tells him that she’s afraid Superman is inspiring violence in others, and that he needs to show the world that there is a better way. This makes his mother a strong moral compass for him, as oppose to the “you don’t own the world anything” speech we got in BvS. Clark reaffirms that the Batman’s methods are too extreme, and that life is precious.
Bruce Wayne is flat out angry about yet another metahuman getting in his way, and he’s doubly determined to take down Superman. Just like in the BvS, he tracks the shipment of Kryptonite, and is interrupted by Superman.
THIS time, however, Superman uses his X-Ray vision and discovers that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Remember, he thinks Bruce is behind the bombings, but can’t prove it. He tells him that he’s out of control, and he’s going to find proof and put him away for good. Batman asks if he bleeds, and Superman responds by calling him “Bruce,” and flying away.
Now Bruce sees Superman as a direct threat, and formulates his plan.
Superman goes to see his friend Lex Luthor to ask for advice, and check on that cure for cancer. He tells Luthor what he’s discovered--that Batman is Bruce Wayne, and that Bruce Wayne was probably behind the bombing of the capitol. Superman doesn’t know that Lex has Kryptonite a few floors below.
Lex Luthor applauds Superman for making the hard decision with general Zod, for having the courage to kill him. Lex makes a compelling argument that some people are just monsters, and that Superman is justified in killing people to protect the weak. “A man like Bruce Wayne would stop at nothing to kill,” he says.
This is where we start to see why Lex Luthor wants these two to fight. if batman wins, he kills Superman and Lex wins. If Superman wins and kills Batman, then the world will be horrified that Superman has started killing regular human beings, and Lex wins.
As the two of them are talking, Batman is sneaking into the building to steal the Kryptonite. We’ve seen Batman kick ass, but now we get to see him in stealth mode. He avoids fighting and detection. This is a tense sequence, the exact opposite of the smashy-smashy action in the rest of the film.
Superman leaves, and Lex casually strolls into his private chambers and watches a live video of Batman stealing the Kryptonite. Mercy Graves reports to Lex that they put up token resistance, like he ordered. When she asks why he wanted Batman to take the Kryptonite, Lex corrects her: “Half the Kryptonite. I keep my share.”
Clark gets a call from Lois: it’s Martha, and it doesn’t look good. He rushes to meet her, but suddenly detours when he hears a bridge collapsing. He holds up the bridge as people evacuate, and he can only stay there and wait.
As he’s performing his super duties, his mother whispers to him. "Clark, I don't know if you can hear me...." She tells him not to give up, that he can help people, that he has to use his gifts to protect people. She dies miles away from him, severing one of his ties to humanity as his duties as Superman keep them apart.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is working on his backup plan at the alien ship. He’s got Zod’s body, and it looks like he’s taking blood samples...all very creepy and mad scientist. He can have a dialogue scene with Mercy Graves about gods and monsters, if you like that sort of thing.
Bruce Wayne is in full “Let’s Show Off How Ripped Ben Affleck Is” montage mode, when the Flash arrives from the future, warning Bruce that the end of the world is coming. He tells him something cryptic that can be misinterpreted, I guess: whatever he needs to say to set up Justice League. You don’t even need this scene, I just figured it was the best way to shoehorn the Flash into the story.
Batman sets a trap for Superman in Gotham City, and the fight plays out just as it did in the movie.
At the same time, Lois is at Lex Tower interviewing him about her story. Something happens in the interview that ties into information she received earlier. Now she knows for a certainty that Lex was behind the bombing. She is terrified for her life, but then a story comes on the GBS News: Superman and Batman are fighting.
Lois is horrified as she and Lex watch the fight live. She knows Clark is fighting because he thinks Batman is behind the bombing, but she can’t warn him without tipping her hand to Lex.
Superman has been exposed to Kryptonite but is still overpowering Batman. He’s pinned him down, hitting him over and over, and it seems like he might kill him. Lois, watching on TV, can’t let Clark take another life. She runs to the balcony of Lex’s penthouse, faces Gotham City, and screams, “Superman! It wasn’t Bruce, it was Lex!”
Lex Luthor stands behind her, denies everything, and tells her she’s free to go. After all, “Superman looks busy and you shouldn’t distract him like you did at the capitol.”
Across the bay, Superman hears the message and holds back, and Batman takes advantage. Now Superman tries to talk Batman down, but Batman is filled with rage. He’s ready to kill Superman.
He’s about to deal the death blow, when something goes wrong at the ship. It turns out that Lex’s experiments on Zod’s body were careless, and have created a new monster. Doomsday is born, smashes out of his shell and destroys the ship with an energy blast. Batman sees this and realizes he’ll need Superman’s help to stop the monster. He throws away the kryptonite spear (not knowing the monster is Kryptonian, and the spear can help him) and helps Superman to his feet.
Their immediate plan is to lead Doomsday away from the city (unlike in BvS, when Batman’s plan was to lure it to the city). When they get close to the monster they figure out it’s Kryptonian, and that they need Kryptonite. Wonder Woman shows up, just like in the movie. She and Superman fight the monster, while Batman takes the Batwing to retrieve the spear. Except now it’s already been recovered by Lex Luthor’s armored troops. Batman has to fight them off, then take the spear back to Superman.
Luthor makes Lois an offer: he’ll have his armored transport escort her to the ground, “so you can be with Clark,” he says with a smile.
The last fight can go pretty much how it is in the movie, with Superman dying (just once, this time) to save the world. Lois arrives in time to be with him in his last moments.
Lois is stuck with the knowledge that the wealthiest man in the world is a super villain and she can’t prove it. She tells Batman about Lex, and he pays the Luthor a visit. This way we can get the whole “Bell has rung” speech to foreshadow Darkseid.
Batman trusts metahumans and works to recruit the people he researched, with the aim of stopping Darkseid.
That’s how I would have changed Batman vs Superman. Make all the story beats serve the character, and you have a great superhero movie, instead of a 150 minute trailer for the next movie.
Agree? Disagree? Holler at me on twitter @ryanarey to let me know.