Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fear and Loathing in Bat Country

"DAILY PLANET editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) declares that the American conscience died with "Martin, Bobby, and John." He's admonishing one of his idealistic reporters, but he may as well be addressing anyone left in the audience hoping to see the hero who protects us. The biggest lie, Luthor says, is the idea that power is ever innocent. How terrible that he's right. How terrible that this truth is the truth in a Superman film. How fascinating that Snyder's better Watchmen adaptation isBVS. Snyder paints himself into a curious corner with his interpretation of Superman as this moping, solipsistic god. There's a montage of him doing wondrous things, like blowing up missiles and rescuing farm families from rooftops. But if Supes isn't governed by an innate morality, the cornerstone of this character, then the only reason he hasn't thrown every bad guy on the planet into orbit is because he doesn't really care to solve that problem. He whispers at the end that Lois Lane is his world. She is. The sum total of it. Oh, and his mom, sort of. He has a penchant for running away when things get hard. He's a whiny, truculent, occasionally homicidal child, and if that's now a better representation of the United States and what it believes in, then I stand chastened with knuckles rapped. Who knew that the Superman symbol would go the way of the Confederate flag? When White wonders aloud if Clark clicks his heels together to be transported back to Kansas, in my head I'm thinking that The Wizard of Oz was released in 1939, the year after Superman was introduced in Action Comics, and that Thomas Frank has wondered aloud--and famously--what happened to the progressive idealism of Kansas to make it the wingnut capital of the Midwest. It's a loaded jab that speaks to what a pussy I am to cry at a new Star Wars film that reminded me of the old one in every meaningful way. That time is over. More, it never existed in the first place. Glory to the Superman movie that removes hope, and every memory of hope. Every shred.

I should mention that this Batman kills people as well. Not even Frank Miller's Bats killed people with this kind of purpose--at least not the one from Miller's seminal The Dark Knight Returns. In that way, he's like Tim Burton's Batman, and like Tim Burton's Batman, Snyder's Batman is a psychopath. He is, indeed, a thought too big for little minds. BVS is best read as expressionism. It isn't bound by character development or sense. Rather, it's strung-together dream sequences, perverse emotions, and nightmare imagery. There are bleeding crypts and holy levitations; unabashed Christian imagery and infernal suggestions abound (one of the caged human traffickees refers to Batman as "a devil"). Desecration of corpses and resurrections? Yes, both. There is the murder of parents--the ghosts of them, too, haunting literally and figuratively at the periphery. BVS is itself deranged. Its consciousness is delusional and subject to hallucination. There's a scene where Lois almost drowns in radioactive green water, not because it moves the script (the circumstances of her immersion are silly, the exposition setting it up clumsy and obviously a post-production crutch. "Did you find the spear?" When was the decision to look for it ever discussed?), but because the image of her trapped in glowing green is straight out of a Dario Argento movie. Inferno, to be precise. Batman/Bruce Wayne is angry with Superman for killing thousands of people, even though Superman did it to save thousands more: the Devil's rationale. So Wayne builds some Kryptonite weapons and challenges Clark Kent to a duel. Then Wonder Woman appears to a soundtrack sting that's suspiciously like Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," and she's as awesome as the suggestion that it's immigrants who will save Gotham and Metropolis. When Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman stand in hero poses, I had a moment of nostalgia true and painful to the kid version of me, eating frozen french fries and contemplating the value of teamwork and halls of justice. It doesn't last. Dreams never do.

"BVS isn't about that. It's about branding the bad guys like cattle, deep in their flesh, so they get "justice" in the prison yard. The word "justice" is so cynical a euphemism that you can only say it now with a sneer. BVS is about wholesale murder for the greater good, and the word "fear" is used so much that it should actually be the picture's subtitle instead. Take careful note of the moment where a hostage is freed and how our hero neglects to ask the one important question. Or another where a 9/11-esque memorial is used as a weapon. Take note, too, of Superman fucking Lois Lane in a bathtub. BVS is brutal to nostalgia. Batman's entire battle cry is how Superman is a naïf, a child, and how he's going to make him into a man by beating him to death. He crystallizes the struggle as offense that Superman's code is borrowed from a dead Kansas farmer, while Batman's is forged in the understanding that people die for no reason and that the only sense in the Universe is the sense one tries to impose on it."

-Walter Chaw, Batman Vs Superman Review, Film Freak Central 

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