Thursday, May 26, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 19 and 20

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 19, Bruce and Alfred's "invited" interaction, and Scene 20, Bruce's walk through the batcave and drive to Lex's party.


  • Plot developments from Knyazev's phone data
  • Why was Lois's scene inserted in the middle of Bruce's morning?
  • Bruce and Alfred interactions and character development
  • Bruce is pointed toward Lex Luthor (and the audience is onto him more than Bruce is)
  • Why does Bruce go through the Batcave before heading out in his civilian car?
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco for his help with this analysis.

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast


<TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE>
Welcome fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast focuses on analysis of the movies that are part of the Justice League Universe, which we now know is officially part of the DC Films division at Warner Brothers. There has clearly been an increased commitment on the part of Warner Brothers to produce movies based on DC intellectual property, and it remains to be seen what movies may eventually come out of the DC Films division that are not part of the Justice League Universe --- but my prediction is that within the next 3-4 years, there will be something like 10 movies in the Justice League Universe but also a handful of DC Films that are not in the Justice League Universe proper, like maybe Sandman, Lobo, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, and possibly even Shazam.

But for the time being, Alessandro Maniscalco and I are happily proceeding forward with our analysis of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In the last episode, we covered Scene 17, Bruce’s dream in the Wayne mausoleum or what some call the crypt, and Scene 18, with Lois and Swanwick.

Before we get into Scenes 19 and 20 with Bruce and Alfred, we wanted to give a quick note about Scene 17 because I referred to the monster in Bruce’s dream as Man-bat but Alessandro reminded me that I should not have assumed everyone knows Man-bat from the comic books or the animated shows or the LEGO animated movies. So if BvS was your first time seeing Man-Bat, a little background is that he was created in 1970. The story was that Dr. Kirk Langstrom made a serum which turned him into a man-sized bat. However, the serum also took away his intelligence and so he basically became a rampaging monster. And Man-bat has appeared many times since then in DC comics, even as recently as the Superheavy storyline in the Batman series.

Ironically, in BvS, one might say that Batman has sort of followed a Man-bat type path in his pursuit to take down Superman because he is becoming overtaken by fear and anger and losing some of his rationality. So the appearance of Man-Bat in his nightmare is symbolic and foreshadowing.

Okay, it’s fitting that we mentioned Scene 17 because Scene 19 actually is a direct continuation of it, with Bruce bringing some tea for Alfred and then recapping what he was able to pull from Knyazev’s phone. In terms of the plot, the main thing that we learn here in Scene 19 is that Knyazev, who is involved in human trafficking and arms deals and who Bruce knows is part of what he’s calling a dirty bomb plot involving the White Portuguese, has actually been in communication with Alexander Luthor -- that is, Lex Luthor.

And by the way, Lex is referred to as Lex and as Alexander throughout the movie, so it is incorrect to insist that Lex only refers to the father and that Alexander refers to the son.

So Scene 19 is the first time that we get a hint of Lex Luthor being behind all the different things going on in the movie -- although audience members, with our long history with the character, should have suspected it much earlier than Bruce or Lois would have. And bear in mind, that for the audience, seeing Knyazev connected to Lex Luthor also means that we can connect Lex Luthor to the African incident with Superman and Lois, because Knyazev was there in Africa. (This is why it was so smart for the filmmakers to cast Callan Mulvey, who has a very unique and recognizable face.) So we, the audience, can be suspicious of Lex with regard to everything, whereas Bruce has no way of knowing Knyazev was there at the African incident, so Bruce is just connecting Lex to the White Portuguese, that is, to the Kryptonite, he doesn’t know Lex is also manipulating things around Superman.

Moving on, Scene 19 sends things forward as Bruce receives the invitation to Lex’s party in support of the Metropolis Library -- part of Lex’s ongoing efforts to patronize the rebuilding of Metropolis.

This invitation will give Bruce a chance to investigate Lex more closely to see how he’s linked to the White Portuguese or if he is the White Portuguese, and we know from later events in the movie and from interviews with the filmmakers that this was no coincidence that Lex invited Bruce over. Lex already knows Bruce’s identity as Batman and he is pulling Bruce ever more into his schemes, which we’ll talk more about in the next episode at Lex’s fundraiser.

So those are the main pieces of the plot in Scene 19. But we want to cover a few more things here: First, if Scene 17 and Scene 19 are basically a continuous sequence with Bruce, why did the filmmakers insert Lois and Swanwick right in the middle of it? Second, what does this scene reveal about Bruce’s relationship with Alfred and Bruce’s ongoing character arc? And third, what should we take from Bruce’s contemplative tour of the Batcave?

So first, what’s up with Lois and Swanwick stuck in the middle of Bruce’s morning routine? This is not the first time that the filmmakers inserted a cut-away scene into what otherwise could have been a more extended scene rather than two separate pieces. Back in Scenes 11 and 12, remember that Wallace Keefe’s vandalism and the Daily Planet’s reaction to that vandalism was inserted right into the middle of Lex’s meeting with the Senators. I explained back then why it thematically made a lot of sense, though it is not the typical thing where movies follow events from A to B to C.

Here in Scene 19, there seem to be a few plausible reasons for intercutting Lois and Swanwick. Scene 17 involved Bruce waking up from his dream and basically disregarding the woman in his bed. By putting in the brief Scene 18 with Lois, this allows for some passage of time for Bruce so that we can skip ahead to him walking out to Alfred, already having the tea made, and the unnamed woman has had time to disappear without mention, which is fitting for where Bruce is in his mindset.

As I mentioned in the last episode, cutting to Swanwick in the restroom also allowed for a clever transition with the linking of people washing up. Then Swanwick was able to physically take us out of the restroom and on into his work in the Capitol. This matches the fact that when we come back to Bruce, he is also coming in and is ready to do his work, which is going through the information from Knyazev’s phone and planning his next steps with Alfred.

Also, as has been happening all along thus far in the movie, Bruce’s investigation is progressing in parallel with Lois’s investigation. One is trying to take down Superman, the other is trying to redeem his name. It’s a nice structure that leads us to wonder who will be successful or who will have major breakthroughs first, and whether their investigations will cross paths. As it turns out, they both end up leading to Lex Luthor, but one investigation was actually desired by Lex and the other investigation was one he didn’t plan for because he thought it would blow away like sand in the desert, but of course Lois gets the last laugh.

So as Bruce’s investigation takes a step forward here, it is nice to see in close proximity how Lois’s investigation is going. In contrast, she hits a bit of a brick wall with Secretary Swanwick.

If you accept the goal of having Lois and Bruce’s investigations developed in tandem throughout this part of the movie, then you realize that they really put her scene with Swanwick in the only place that made sense. The other options would have been before Bruce’s mausoleum dream, but that would have ruined the juxtaposition of Lex’s angels and demons and Bruce’s visit to the grave, which we talked about in the last episode. Or Lois and Swanwick could have been placed after Bruce’s scene with Alfred, but that would have ruined the momentum of Bruce getting the invitation and then proceeding to the fundraiser.

So it makes quite a bit of sense to put Lois and Swanwick where they did, and I think it’s another case of some unconventional sequencing of scenes that gave some people a sort of gut reaction of displeasure, but when you look thematically you can see some really nice juxtapositions, and if you think about the alternatives you can realize that the filmmakers made the best choices.

That being said, these scenes do somewhat contribute to pacing challenges. Thus far in the movie, BvS has had lots of scenes that are only about 1 minute or 2 minutes each. They all have important character implications but you have to read between the lines to get them, and you also have to be able to hold all the threads in your mind as they come by and weave together rapidly.

To me, these short scenes with lots of dense content and themes made it seem like the movie was moving very fast because I couldn’t really appreciate all of it until I had seen the movie a few times. But what was surprising to me, is that apparently when people have complained about the movie’s pacing they have meant that it was slow for the first hour or so. The only thing I can think of to interpret people who had the opposite sense of pacing than me is that they mean there were lots of scenes in a row without action. And this is basically true, there was the Metropolis battle action at the beginning but then no real action since then. You had suspense in Scene 7 with Batman, but only a few gunshots, not an action sequence. And in Scene 17 you had a jump scare, but not an action sequence.

We think this just speaks to the fact that Batman v Superman is a character drama with philosophical overtones, that happens to have some segments of action, rather than an action movie that happens to have some drama and philosophical themes. So I don’t view the lack of action thus far as a negative thing at all, especially because I love analyzing themes and character in movies. But maybe you can put some blame on the movie or its marketing for misleading people into what kind of movie it was going to be.

I just think that, even without action, this first 45 or 50 minutes of BvS has a lot of thrust, and the thrust comes from the character’s motivations. From what we’ve seen to this point in the movie, we have the following motivations:
Lois is investigating the bullet and what really happened in Africa, because it was a near-death experience for her and it triggered a change in perception and pressure on Superman.

Bruce is investigating the White Portuguese, for what he said is a dirty bomb but what is actually the Kryptonite that he thinks will allow him to take down Superman, and he’s trying to reclaim his sense of power as he struggles to deal with his past losses and failures.

Lex is trying to find a way, above board or below board, to reassert his dominance and keep Superman in check.

Clark doesn’t really have a tangible objective like the others, but everyone else is basically concerned with him and so he is the center of their motivations, plus Superman is the focus of the broader media and society. One thing that Clark explicitly expressed concern about in Scenes 9 and 15 is Batman’s activities. But I will insert a little criticism of the movie here because I think Clark should have had one more scene showing his investigation of Batman, maybe talking to people in Gotham. This would have given Clark a clear line of investigation to go along with Lois and Bruce’s at this point in the movie. Now, a Clark reporting scene was filmed, so maybe it will be in the 3-hour cut on blu-ray.

But the overall point is that there is clear momentum through this part of the movie, even if there isn’t an action sequence every 15 minutes.


Okay, the next thing to look at here is Bruce and Alfred. Alfred starts things off with his line about the empty wine cellar, which continues Alfred’s pattern of bringing sarcastic humor in his scenes. This line also happens to be paraphrased from The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, and it alludes back to the drinking that we saw from Bruce in his previous scene. Alfred then mutters under his breath that there’s not likely to be a next generation of Waynes. This is not only funny but shows that, in some ways, Alfred has more awareness of where Bruce’s life is headed than Bruce does himself and Alfred gets increasingly more direct in trying to confront Bruce about his negative, destructive path.

The fact that Bruce has no indications of having children also highlights that he has not formed any family connections, other than Alfred himself, to replace his lost parents or move on from their death. Bruce has been swarmed by death and loss, not life or rebirth (until the end of the movie, that is).

Next, Bruce brings over some tea that he has prepared for Alfred. Bruce is literally serving Alfred rather than the other way around. This is an important for the audience to recognize because it signals a different sort of relationship between Bruce and Alfred than in past iterations. WIth regard to TV and Cinema, the 1966 TV series had Alfred as a straight up butler, as did the 1989 movie series. The Christopher Nolan trilogy shifted Alfred toward much more of a father figure for Bruce, but Batman v Superman makes him basically a full partner to Bruce. Domestically they are more akin to an old married couple than a father-and-son, and with regard to the Batman side of things, Alfred is Bruce’s right-hand man. In the comic books, of course, there have been many different interpretations, with, for example, the New 52 Batman series going more with a heartfelt butler and the Earth One series going more with the capable partner like we have in BvS.

So after delivering the tea, Bruce and Alfred talk about Knyazev’s phone data just like we mentioned at the start of the episode. It puts Bruce on the tail of Lex Luthor. Bruce says he wants to put a leash in Lex’s house, which I think is referring to the gadget that we see later, and the key thing here is that Bruce says he needs “the suit,” referring to his Batsuit.

Alfred points out that Batman has not been successful in his brutal interrogations but that Bruce Wayne was successful in getting the data from Knyazev. This is a very important point of discussion because Alfred is essentially making a case for Bruce Wayne while Bruce is making a case for Batman. This can be interpreted as a plea from Alfred for Bruce to come back to reality and step away from the dark spiral that he is following as Batman. But Bruce, as we’ve described before multiple times, is not thinking rationally about the most effective way to take down Superman, he is being driven by deep psychological insecurities and feelings of powerlessness and his real, subconscious goal is to try to prove that Batman is necessary and has been worth it. Bruce is trying to reclaim his sense of purpose and value that he had doubted for the 10 years since Robin’s death and that came crashing down around him when Superman arrived. For Bruce, it has to be Batman that accomplishes this task that he’s set out before himself, because that’s the whole point. Alfred, however, recognizes that this path of destruction is actually going to destroy Bruce, not Superman.

Alfred ends up winning this particular little debate because he shares the invitation from Lex Luthor to Bruce Wayne.

But because of Bruce’s psychology that we just described, it’s not a matter of just hopping into the car and going. The filmmakers give us several shots of Bruce struggling with his internal conflicts. I’ve decided to call count as Scene 20 the interstitial segment of Bruce preparing for Lex’s fundraiser. There is no dialogue here but we see Bruce staring at the Batsuit, stopping to glance up at Robin’s suit, uncovering his civilian car, and driving past Wayne Manor.

Taking these one by one, Bruce staring at his Batsuit connects directly with the points we were just making about Bruce really having his conflict with himself and with his career as Batman. What has he accomplished? Has it all been a beautiful lie? Was it really the best way to cope with his parents’ death? What does it mean to be Batman now that Superman is around and operating in the world? Rather than answer these questions in a healthy and productive way, we can see in his face, and in the context of the other scenes thus far, that the questions are leading to a building rage that he is projecting onto Superman.

With regard to the Batsuit itself, costume designer Michael Wilkinson talked about the batsuit in the Art of the Film book. He said, “Zack really wanted to pay homage to the way the Batsuit’s been drawn in the graphic novels and comic books over the last 75 years… that his power wasn’t through the armor and the technical details of the suit, but just the brute strength of the man inside the suit.”

Next, the Robin suite. Bruce glancing at the defaced Robin suit gives a profound sense of history to Bruce, who we have to remember has been operating as Batman for about 20 years. This shows that those 20 years were largely painful and full of loss, setting the stage for Bruce to deal with his feelings of failure and powerlessness. And BvS is telling that story of how Bruce was finally able to pull himself out of it and start a new, more hopeful chapter, encapsulated by his closing monologue. But for his character, here in the early parts of his character arc, the filmmakers have showed us the tragic loss of his parents, right in front of his eyes, the overwhelming destruction and loss of his employees’ lives during the Black Zero Event in Metropolis, again right in front of his eyes and marked by the little girl who he could not prevent from becoming an orphan, and now we see that Bruce has also lost a Robin in some brutal manner at the hands of the Joker. For the Justice League Universe, this is intriguing world building, but for Bruce’s character, this is heartbreaking.

It’s even more disturbing that Bruce chooses to display the Robin suit so prominently, forcing himself to look at it day after day. This is clearly the behavior of someone who doesn’t really want to get better, who almost refuses to allow himself to heal from his wounds. Perhaps if he had been able to respond and cope to his past losses more effectively, Bruce would have had a much different reaction to Superman’s arrival on Earth. But the Batman mythos is not really about a healthy, well-adjusted individual. At the core of Batman’s character, he’s always a bit damaged and bereaved, and this leads to his general distrust and skepticism. It will take something profound to pull him out of this dark place, and he will have to allow himself to be pulled out. Thankfully, both of those things come to pass by the end of the film, with the “Martha” scene being the moment where he realizes he has been corrupting himself and Superman’s sacrifice being the external event that infuses Batman with hope.

By the way, before we move on the Robin suit, we wanted to say that a Warner Brothers tour guide did confirm that this was the Jason Todd Robin, rather than the more familiar Dick Grayson Robin. But to comic-book fans, Jason Todd was always the more likely Robin in BvS because of the “Death in the Family” story arc, which you can find as a graphic novel or adapted into the DC animated movie called “Under the Red Hood.”

Bruce then goes and uncovers his civilian car, which is an Aston Martin, and according to Bloomberg Pursuits this is actually Zack Snyder’s own car that was given to him by Warner Brothers after the success of 300.

I think the car is possibly an homage to the early issues of the Batman comic books, back in the 1930s and ‘40s when he drove a fancy sedan similar to the one in this movie, before they introduced the batmobile. And in BvS, we’ve now seen Bruce driving a Jeep and an Aston Martin, but we haven’t seen the new batmobile yet. This just further whets our appetite and lets us know that a batmobile scene will be coming when the time is right.

Finally, to end Scene 20 Bruce drives from the garage at the lake house past the decaying remains of Wayne Manor. The manor was most likely initially damaged by fire, but since then Bruce has chosen not to repair it or renovate, nor has he bulldozed it. This symbolizes the damaging, painful events from his past, especially the death of his parents, that he hasn’t gotten over or moved on from. And like the Robin suit, he keeps it there as a daily reminder, almost like he wants to wallow in the pain. But this is not a healthy way to deal with pain and loss, and it’s through self-inflicting behaviors like this that Bruce has gotten to a place where the anger and pain has gotten out of hand and taken ahold of him in a way that, as Alfred said, has changed everything.

The burnt out Manor and the Robin suit are both like the ghosts that are part of a revenge tragedy, coming into the story to remind the main character of his desire for vengeance. But in Bruce’s case, he projects all of his vengeful energies onto Superman, even though Superman was not responsible for the Manor or Robin.

By the way, if it was a fire that burned out Wayne Manor, was it related to the activities of Batman or just an innocent accident? If it was related to Batman, was the fire also related to the actual death of Robin? BvS doesn’t answer these questions because it doesn’t need to. But it does give a sense of weight and history to Batman’s character, and some of it might be explored in future movies.

A contrast to Wayne Manor is the sleek, modern lake house. The production designers described it in the Art of the Film book as the “glass house” that is representative of Bruce’s bifurcated personality. The house is seemingly very open and transparent, but it’s also in an isolated location and the transparency is an illusion because it doesn’t reveal the hidden batcave beneath.


So that’s what we have for Scenes 19 and 20. These obviously lead right up to one of the biggest scenes in the movie, Lex’s library fundraiser.
To close this episode, we just want to make a few remarks about the lack of Superman thus far in the movie. We’re now 20 scenes in and there’s only been one new scene with Superman. But this does not mean Superman is missing from the movie thus far or that he isn’t being developed as a character. In fact, the entire movie is about him and everyone’s reaction to his existence. So Superman’s presence is felt even in the scenes where he doesn’t appear. As Henry Cavill put it in the Art of the Film book, the movie overall is about the world coming to grips with a seemingly invulnerable alien living amongst them.

This obviously includes Lex and Bruce, primarily, but it’s also Lois, trying to figure out how she can love and protect the person who protects so many others. It’s the Daily Planet and the news media -- how do they cover people of great power? Do they try to report in an unbiased way or in a way that generates clicks and draws attention by stoking fears and conflict? How does the government handle someone like Superman? What about the people affected indirectly by his actions like the African woman or Wallace Keefe? What about the mass public?

So it’s not about how many lines he has, it’s about his reactions to the way the world is reacting to him -- the negativity, the positivity, the debate, the people trying to interpret his actions as something evil, the people plotting and planning to take him down off his high horse.

Thanks as always to my inspiration, the Man of Steel Answers podcast. And the best place to keep up to date on DC TV and Film news is the Suicide Squadcast. And finally, DC’s Rebirth era has now begun in the DC comic books so this is a great point to jump on as a comic book reader or to jump back in. The DC Comics Rebirth special is written by Geoff Johns and is only $2.99 for 80 pages. All you really need in preparation for Rebirth is to read Flashpoint or watch the animated version of it, available on Netflix, and then to read or be familiar with Watchmen, the classic graphic novel by Moore and Gibbons that was a deconstruction of superheroes and that was part of setting the modern tone of realistic, gritty comic books. With those two things in hand, you can jump into Rebirth and follow some new DC comics starting this summer!

Thanks again to Alessandro Maniscalco for his help, and thank you for listening. Leave your questions in the comments and we might answer them in future episodes.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Sam! I appreciate all the hard work you put in to these.

    ReplyDelete