Why Do People Want a Boring Superman? Defending Superman’s Character Arc In BvS
Superman's character is often criticized in the film Batman v Superman, but here's why it might actually be worth a further look.
Whenever somebody brings up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, you can almost hear a collective groan from the rest of the world; most people seemingly hate this movie. One of the biggest reasons why is the characterization of Superman. He’s too gloomy. He’s void of hope. He doesn’t care about saving people. Yeah, I’ve heard it all.
This boils down to people wanting the simple comic book characterization. In other words, they just want him to be good and save people. How is that interesting? The fact that Superman goes through hell in BvS makes the character that much stronger.
It All Goes Back to Man of Steel
To understand why Superman’s arc works so well in BvS, we have to pay respects to its predecessor. While I respect the original Superman from 1978 because of Christopher Reeve’s masterful performance, the character himself wasn’t that interesting. There’s no conflict within the character. He’s just Superman.
It’s the same reason why the Captain America films do nothing for me. Sure, Cap faces plenty of external conflicts, but the character himself is bland. From the very first film, he never goes through a character arc. He’s just a good guy who gets injected with super serum. Whoopty Doo.
Man of Steel’s brilliance comes in the changes David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder make to the mythos. Krypton breeds artificial control. Everyone has a predetermined future. The one Kryptonian who is born naturally is Kal-El (Superman). That’s the whole point. Instead of being predetermined to be Superman because it’s in a comic book, Clark must decide if humanity is worth it and chooses to be Superman. That’s a hell of a lot more interesting.
While BvS is often criticized for not being a true Man of Steel sequel and more of a mandate from the studio to set up a Justice League shared universe, it’s Superman’s arc that is the true heart of this film. It builds off of Man of Steel beautifully. Now that Clark has decided to become the world’s protector, we see the ramifications of it in BvS.
Clark Kent is Human
In many comic books and interpretations, Superman is perfect. Why would you want to watch a movie about a perfect person? In BvS, he’s an actual character.
In the beginning of the film, Superman barrels down to Africa to save Lois Lane. While part of a frame-up job, it results in the death of many villagers. His interference in this conflict causes much debate. At the end of the day, though, he was just a guy trying to save his girlfriend. He doesn’t care about the consequences. That makes him human.
We see this again when Clark Kent comes home and Lois grills him about what happened, warning him that hearings are being conducted about Superman’s involvement. Clark doesn’t want to talk about it. He completely ignores what’s going on and playfully gets in the tub with Lois. People criticize this scene because it’s Clark not recognizing there’s a problem. That’s the point!
How often do we ignore problems at work with humor and distractions? That’s what Clark does. It shows he’s relatable and an actual human being, not this boring, one-dimensional character.
Build Him Up, Tear ‘em Down!
BvS brilliantly reflects how our society would handle somebody like Superman. After Superman saves Metropolis, he’s built up as the ultimate hero and god. There’s even a damn statue erected of him. What do we love to do as a society? Build people up so we can tear them down!
We see this happen all the time with athletes and actors. They reach a certain level of success, until the time comes when we play the “We’re sick of hearing about how great they are” card. That’s exactly what happens to Superman, but on a much deeper level.
Snyder does a great job of efficiently getting this point across. After Superman saves a little girl at the Day of the Dead ceremony, a montage ensues of political pundits debating Superman. Does he have a right to interfere? Should we fear him? Is he making some sort of political statement every time he straps on his cape?
These moments are essential to Superman’s arc in the film, and it’s where Henry Cavill’s acting really shines. As Clark watches this unfold on TV, you can see how much it weighs on him. It’s probably how many famous people feel when they face a constant twitter barrage. Clark just wants to save people and help out, but every time he turns on the TV, it’s all nonsense and debate shenanigans. It frustrates him. If that’s not a human quality, I don’t know what is.
It irritates me when fans criticize asinine things like “Why doesn’t Superman smile more when he saves people,” but they ignore all these great nuggets.
Superman’s Low Point
Superman finally has a chance to explain himself to all these criticisms when he goes to Washington, D.C. to respond to Senator Finch. This part of the movie is often criticized because you desperately want to hear what Superman has to say, but the scene works because even that opportunity is ripped away from him when the bomb goes off. Once again, it’s nothing but death, destruction, and controversy that follows this guy like a plague.
Even though it’s not his fault, Superman feels guilty for not even seeing the bomb. He gives an honest assessment of himself. How can he inspire good when he himself is lost? Lois tries to remind him of the symbol of hope on his chest, but Superman’s response is probably the most powerful in the film:
“It did on my world. My world doesn’t exist anymore.”
Wow. This is where people really lose their minds over this movie. It’s probably the most depressing line of dialogue you’ll ever hear from Superman, but again, that’s the point. If a character doesn’t have a low point like this, then the end of the movie can’t be as powerful.
People also get in a tizzy when Superman goes off in isolation. Again, this comes from a place of people just wanting the character to stop whining and be Superman. At this point, though, he’d be Superman for the wrong reasons. It’s easy to say at most jobs to tough it out. This is a little different. I don’t want a guy who’s not right in the head handling giant missiles. He needs to figure stuff out.
Superman Earns His Stripes
Superman feels like he’s failed to inspire hope, which was the dream of Jor-El. It’s not until his fight with Batman where he finally succeeds and trusts humanity.
When Superman is at the end of his rope as Batman holds the Kryptonian spear over him, it’s Superman’s very human plea to Batman to save his mother where Batman finally realizes Superman is not an enemy, but a man. He’s human. You can argue it’s lucky their moms had the same name, but even if Superman called out “Save Beth” or something, I’m confident the scene would have worked just as well. It would have snapped Batman out of his mad funk.
When Batman tosses the spear away in a very powerful moment, Superman realizes he’s finally inspired hope. He just convinced Batman, the person who was the most void of hope of all, not to kill him. Superman trusting Batman to save Martha is the moment we’ve been waiting for – he believes in humanity and trusts Batman to save his mother.
This is finally summed up at the end of the Doomsday fight in a neat little package:
“This is my world.”
That’s what Superman says before he sacrifices himself for the world. Despite all the hell he’s been through trying to be Superman, when it matters most, he does the job. Even though this sequence is a giant CGI-fest, it’s that final moment when Superman jams the spear into Doomsday as Hans Zimmer’s brilliant score blares where it’s Superman’s ultimate catharsis that has built up the entire movie.
BvS is Optimistic, Dammit!
The biggest complaint levied at BvS is that it’s void of hope and optimism. I guess everyone must have walked out of the theater before it ended. The ending to this film is more optimistic than ever.
Bruce Wayne’s “Man is still good” monologue sums this up beautifully. In seeing Superman’s arc unfold, it inspires Bruce Wayne to be good again. He even makes the point of saying he won’t fail Superman in death. The reason this optimistic ending means more than in any Marvel film is because these characters went through hell to get there. They earned it, whereas many other superhero movies are more comedic and fun so they can impress a mainstream audience.
BvS requires investment.
It’s a shame people prefer the more boring comic book interpretation of Superman as opposed to a character who has to actually go through internal trials. The iconic Superman symbol of hope means more in BvS because of the character arc Clark Kent goes through in this film.
While this movie has its flaws, I’d urge you to give those Superman scenes a real chance. Don’t look at them as a guy who’s merely gloomy, but as someone who struggles the same way we do, and you might just find the hope and optimism you want out of this movie.
How do you feel about Superman’s arc in BvS? Is it worth another look?
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