So by now, those of us who decided to see Warner Brothers' Zack Snyder directed comic book flick, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, despite critics' mixed reactions, have all come to different conclusions about the scene in which *SPOILERS*
Batman is standing over a nearly defeated Superman, a spear made of Kryptonite, brandished triumphantly above his head, ready to plunge into the alien's heart, when Superman is able to get out his presumably dying words, "Save Martha. Find Martha", to which Batman is stunned, taken aback, and freezes where he stands, a seemingly large amount of equal emotions and thoughts rushing through his head and heart. Why is Batman, all of a sudden so paused in his mission to fulfill what he believes will be his legacy, in ridding the world of the Kryptonian terror?
First, we have to take a detour back to the beginning of both characters in the DCEU.
Let's start with Superman in Man of Steel. In 2013's MoS, likewise of the Snyder vision, Superman is advised by a Christian pastor to "take a leap of faith" when Clark asks of what he should do when his choices are either to surrender to the humans and let them do with him what they may, or trust Zod and join him in what he believes is right. Clark takes the pastor's advice, taking the leap of faith and reassuring himself as the pastor had, that "the trust part comes later".
In BvS, that trust Clark decided to wait on in MoS, is now in effect and being arduously tested to his dismay.
Anything he does, no matter how good or kindhearted it may be, those actions lead to unwanted consequences. As his apparition of a father, Jonathan Kent, explains to him in a self-imposed exile vision, you block a flooding river, the water just goes back upstream to inflict harm and conflict on whoever resides there [paraphrased]. This Superman in this cinematic universe, is facing a plethora of challenges and uncertainties that past Supermen in other films have not had to deal with. With Zack Snyder's Last Son of Krypton, being Superman is not as easy as it seems, a bold assurance of calculation and determinism taking place of un-wavering blind confidence, and an overzealous attitude.
Despite his best efforts, Superman cannot escape the scrutiny and criticism of the world because of the aforementioned reasons. So in response, he is oppressed, down-trodden, weary, yet determined. Though this Superman displays the behavior of an Everyman in his reaction to such stressful conflict, contrary to more "All-Star Superman"-like iterations such as Christoper Reeve's portrayal, he retains one of the most iconic and honorable characteristics of Superman: Endurance. Superman, feels the hurt, but he continues to endure. However, when Lex blows up the Capitol, killing hundreds within, Superman blames himself, for putting too much trust in the humans, therefore leading him to not even search for the possibility of a threat to his life or any others' in the room before the explosion occurs. Superman begins to see the futility in trying to trust the human race, though he wants to, ever so much.
Batman represents the pinnacle of this distrust and cynicism towards Superman.
During the opening credits sequence of BvS, we are given yet again, the Wayne parents' deaths. Though what we see which is unique in BvS to such an iconic sequence, is Bruce as a child running from the funeral in despair and confusion, only to fall, and fall and fall to the deep bottom of a dark pit, where demons await, a pearl, symbolically landing by his clenched fist. Where things get trippy and even more symbolic is when we see Bruce rising to the top of the pit, to the bright light, carried by the bats, something Bruce refers shortly after to as "a beautiful lie". The cynicism and paranoia of the bats (Batman) are what lead Bruce to the light in the first place, though what does so for the second time, is the titular, foreshadowed revelation Bruce has, while standing over the defeated Kryptonian. The beginning sequence of the orphan rising to the light from the pit is a foreshadowing of what is to occur at the culmination of the character's developmental arc at the end of the film.
So, back to the legendary face-off: Batman is standing over Superman, his resolve shaken, his old wounds opening, "Martha" - his mother's name - ringing in his ears. He's taken back to that night where everything, including his childhood, died. He's a kid again, falling, falling and falling in to a deep, dark pit - which is why the scene is shown again as a flashback, mirroring the images flashing through Bruce's mind. He's angry, questioning the alien why it dared utter such a name. Bruce is hurt, he's furious. And that's the kicker with Batman here - he's no longer Batman, he's Bruce Wayne, a child beneath the mask, struggling with his demons, deep at the bottom of that dark pit. It's why he lowers his weapon and withdraws from the fight; he's essentially defeating himself.
Lois Lane offers further proof to Superman's true character.
When Lois Lane enters the scene and rushes to Superman's aid, frantically telling Batman that Martha is Superman's mother, this further throws Bruce into a spiral which is ripping him ever further away from his defining, warped sense of a legacy to leave behind.
Bruce now sees that this "alien" has a mother; a human, which he has adopted as a paternal figure. This is how much this alien indeed cares for humans. It no longer has parents of its own, but loves a human enough to replace it's biological family. This alien can't be a monster. It can't be some reckless force which doesn't understand the value of human life. It has willingly assimilated itself into human life as a means of belonging and filling a painful void due to tragic circumstances, actions which dictate more good-willed intention than bad.
Furthermore, the fact that a human female could care so much for this alien to step between it and a war-ready machine that is The Batman, proves extensively that not only does this alien hold a warm spot in its heart for humans, but that there are humans which feel the same about it. Suddenly, Superman no longer seems a threat willing to do away with innocent lives, but a protected, sheltered, reserved man with powers and an opportunity to do good he may not very well understand quite yet, with humans that do understand that dilemma, contrary to what the masses might think or know. Batman now sees that Superman isn't a willing killer, a threat sent to do evil or turn on a species of beings he cares enough about to adopt as family and have relationships with. There's more to Superman which no one on Earth, but a few, seem to realize. Superman did not defend himself when he was near death - he didn't want to hurt Bruce, even though he very well could have.
Instead, Superman begged for the life of a human, forgoing his own.
Batman sees Superman for who he really is.
Bruce now sees that indeed, Superman is "just a guy trying to do the right thing", a sentiment that is echoed earlier in the movie during the televised talk shows and think tanks during the "Must There Be A Superman?" sequence where Senator Finch is asked that very question.
To Batman, at the conclusion of his fight with Superman, his answer is "Yes, we need a Superman. Someone with the capacity for this much good will and honor is sorely lacking in the world I have failed to make better."
Batman no longer sees Superman in that "larger than life, holier than thou" light the whole world sees him in. He sees the good man in Clark and the bad man in himself. His legacy of being the "Destroyer of the Superman" has now become a cruel joke.
From Jeph Loeb's Batman: Hush
- "Deep down, Clark's essentially a good person....and deep down, I'm not."
This is the Superman who Batman in BvS comes to terms with.
Superman finds his trust for Mankind in Batman.
Batman ultimately yields in the fight.
It can be argued that Batman did indeed win the physical fight in BvS, though on the contrary, Superman won the spiritual battle. He and Lois are able to convince Batman that they are all on the same side. There is conflict to be had between enemies, not friends.
In light of this revelation within Batman, he makes Superman a promise, one Superman at first is not sure how to take,
"I made you a promise. Martha won't die tonight."
Batman is essentially telling Superman, "You have my trust, now give me your's."
This is Superman realizing that even the most corrupted of good men in the world, can yet be redeemed and see the light which he is simply trying to share. This is Superman becoming Earth's Mightiest Hero. Big Blue. The Boyscout. The Superman who all look up to in the world and feel a sense of security and Hope.
The Martha scene in Batman v Superman was not executed in a subtle manner. Though if you step back and look at the rest of the movie's execution as a whole, you'll see that it was intentional. The movie plays heavily in the grey fog of morality, an area we in our reality are all too familiar with as it is most often where we find ourselves in day to day life. BvS holds a mirror to our world and implants superheroes within the reflection, where everyone's a skeptic and faith stays locked up in the church. This world doesn't bend or give way much to heroes, a lesson heroes as large as Batman and Superman learn in some of the hardest ways imaginable in the movie. Thus the corruption of their characters in the movie and the ascension to The Light the two of them achieved in the film's ending.
- Josh Price