Monday, June 13, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scene 26

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Clark and Perry in the Daily Planet offices when Perry again shoots down Clark's coverage of the Batman story.

  • Clark investigating his Batman story
  • Press as the Fourth Estate (contrasting with the talking heads Superman montage)
  • 1938
  • Superman's idealism (Mark Hughes article)
  • Powerlessness in the major characters
  • BONUS: Responding to major criticisms of BvS (Part 1) -- starts around 15:30
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast features scene-by-scene analysis of the movies from the DC Films division of Warner Brothers pictures. This episode covers Scene 26 from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which is Perry White and Clark Kent in the Daily Planet offices. It is the 1938 dialogue. And the analysis here is by myself and Alessandro Maniscalco. Also, at the end of this episode, we are going to give our responses to some of the major overall criticisms that we’ve seen of Batman v Superman.

But first, let’s go through Scene 26. The last time we saw Clark Kent, he was covering the Metropolis library fundraiser at Lex’s house, and before that we saw in the Daily Planet pitch meeting that Clark actually wanted to be covering the Gotham Bat and the rumors about his becoming much more brutal and uncaring about actually fighting crime. In Lex’s party scene, Clark leveled three criticisms against Batman -- that Batman is trampling on civil liberties, that innocent people are afraid, and that Batman thinks he’s above the law. We also know that Clark is basically right because we have not really seen Bruce being a hero since he saved that little girl in the Battle of Metropolis. Since then, he’s turned away from his normal hero operations toward his singular focus on taking down Superman. Even when Batman saved the people being trafficked in Scene 7, that was just an afterthought.

So Batman’s cruel turn is a big story, and it’s especially important to Clark because Clark is getting increased scrutiny for doing heroic things as Superman, yet Batman is getting off the hook for doing cruel and violent things. In the Ultimate Cut of BvS, it looks as though we are going to get at least one additional scene of Clark carrying out his investigative reporting in Gotham City, and we’re pretty sure that the new footage will take place before this Scene 26 because it’s probably how Clark gathered enough information to write the copy.

Perry White starts Scene 26 by including a quick product placement as he says he logged in to Dropbox to check Clark’s copy. Overall, there seemed to be much less noticeable product placement in this movie compared to Man of Steel and compared to other big blockbusters, and I didn’t mind this particular product placement because I know myself and many others actually do use Dropbox like this to share documents with one another. It seems pretty realistic and it shows the Daily Planet operating in a modern context.

Anyway, Perry says that he did find copy, but he’s frustrated because Clark’s writing is not about the Gotham-Metropolis football game or the Friends of Metropolis Library as he had assigned in previous scenes. Instead, Clark has written about the “god-damned Gotham bat thing”. The phrasing here again touches on the heaven and hell theme that has been ever-present in this movie. And we see again that Perry does not support covering the Batman story. In Scene 15, I talked about how Perry cited the death of the American conscience and he was basically saying that 21st Century morality is in line with Batman’s conduct -- we’re accepting of vengeance and vigilantism, especially if it’s confined to the lower echelons of society, and we are very comfortable with moral gray areas, almost to the point where there’s no real rights and wrongs at all. Clark, on the other hand, is still holding to the more traditional notions of moral purity and that conviction is represented in his desire to cover the story of Batman taking the law into his own hands.

In response to Perry, Clark says that “if the police won’t help, the press has to do the right thing.” This is another example of Clark holding on to tradition -- in the past, the media played an important role as a check and balance on forces of power in society. Now, the media is just more of an echo chamber and their primary concern is views or clicks, not societal responsibilities.

It will also be interesting to see if there is something in the Ultimate Cut about the police explicitly not helping Clark in going after Batman.

So Clark says that the press has to do the right thing, and Perry challenges the entire idea that there is a “right thing” at all. Perry says, “You don’t get to decide what the right thing is.” This touches on one of the major ideas of the movie. What is right and wrong? Is it a matter of perspective, such as Bruce seeing Clark’s perspective or Clark seeing Bruce’s? Is it a conversation, like Senator Finch says it is? Perry is telling Clark that Clark doesn’t get to decide what the right thing is, but this also speaks to Superman and the struggle he is facing. Can Superman be trusted to decide what the right thing is, because Superman has so much power that he is implicitly saying with each of his actions that that was the most right thing he could have done. This dilemma may be made even clearer with the deleted scene of the woman asking Superman how he chooses who lives and who dies.

So Perry has shot down the idea of Clark as an individual deciding what the right thing is, but Clark stands his ground and appeals to an institution that can hold up what is right. Clark says, “When the Planet was founded, it stood for something, Perry.” This something probably refers to both standing up for the people and also standing against those with power who are abusing it. This is what is commonly referred to as the press being the Fourth Estate in society -- the first three estates can be thought of as the three branches of government in the U.S., or the original use was closer to the idea of the three estates as the church, the wealthy class, and the working class. Interestingly, the first known use of the phrase the “Fourth Estate” was in a book called On Heroes and Hero Worship by Thomas Carlyle. In BvS, with Superman’s arrival, it has upset the balance of the three primary estates and now there is the question of what role the fourth estate should play in the new society. Clark is taking the stand that the press should not just go along with the whims or the hot stories of the day, and we might add that it also shouldn’t allow itself to be used as a pawn by the likes of Lex Luthor, but instead Clark is saying that the paper should hold to traditional principles.

It’s also important to note the specific words that Terrio chose for Clark’s line here -- “the Planet stood for something.” We just recently heard Lex tell Wallace that he wanted to help him stand for something. So as an audience we are clued in to track what the different characters are going to stand for as we move into the next segment of the movie. Wallace is going to seem like he’s standing for accountability, but he’s really being used. Whereas Clark wants the Planet to stand for the right thing and the undefended, rather than being used as a pawn by going along with and amplifying the passions and whims of society.

But Perry responds with a dose of reality, coming from the fact that BvS is set in a very realistic world, which means Perry is not just talking about the in-movie world, he’s talking about our real world. He says that Clark and the Planet could stand for something, too, if it was 1938, “but it’s not 1938. WPA ain’t hiring no more, apples don’t cost a nickel. Not in here, not out there.” So presumably, 1938 was the year that the Daily Planet was founded, which is why Perry uses that date to contrast how things have changed. This also happens to be a nice little commentary on the Superman mythology overall, however, because 1938 was the year that Superman first appeared, which was in Action Comics #1. So Perry is telling Clark that his way of thinking is naive and outdated, but he’s simultaneously making a meta-commentary of the character of Superman and saying that things are very different now than they were when Superman was first introduced, so it would be silly to think that Superman can hold to the same values and operate in the same way now as he did back in 1938 when he was introduced. This is a signal to the audience that we shouldn’t expect the George Reeves or the Christopher Reeve versions of Superman, because those were from a very different era, and if we’re going to take Superman seriously and put him in a realistic world, then we have to be prepared for what that means.

Now, even though Perry White is right that it’s not 1938 anymore, it doesn’t mean that he’s right that Superman and Clark Kent have to give up on pursuing truth and justice. What we will find out by the end of Superman’s character arc in BvS is that Perry is actually wrong. It does matter, now more than ever, that we have Clark and Superman as a beacon of hope and purity amidst all the mess and madness that is present-day society. The ultimate point that the filmmakers drive home is that Superman is going to have to put up with more crap here in our modern world, but that he will ultimately stand firm through it all and make the sacrifice that inspires everyone else to rise up, to get better and stand together, like Bruce talks about in his closing monologue.

We will get to more of this culmination of Superman’s character arc in later scenes, but if you want to read it right now, there is a great article by Mark Hughes called “Zack Snyder Loves Superman and Batman v Superman Proves It” ( and he makes a great case for why Perry and others who try to disregard Superman are portrayed as being wrong by the filmmakers. Yet, unfortunately, some critics of BvS only read these things on the surface level and thought that the filmmakers were making the exact opposite point. They were thinking that the filmmakers agreed with Perry when really they were using Perry to show what the situation was for Superman and what it means for Superman to make it through those dilemmas.

But back to Perry’s specific line, the WPA refers to the New Deal program called the Works Progress Administration, which put unemployed people back to work during the Great Depression. So Perry is pointing out that we are no longer under the New Deal and the situation is different for the poor of Metropolis and Gotham. He also talks about the price of an apple, which highlights again how different the time periods are and contrasts with the mention at the beginning of the scene about Dropbox, a technology that would’ve been unfathomable in 1938. And this is also a nice touch to give us an illustration of how long the character of Superman has been around and been relevant to popular culture.

When Perry says, “Not in here, not out there,” he’s also kind of breaking the fourth wall by alluding to the world in the movie but also the world out there, that is, our real world outside the movie. One can interpret him as saying that the plight being depicted in the movie, of Superman getting judged and causing controversy just for trying to do the right thing, of raising questions about how someone should carry out justice in their own hands or whether they should at all, of the world and its cynicism, are also meant to be critiques raised about our real world.

Perry then finishes: “You drop this thing. Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.” This, of course, is some dramatic irony because we the audience do care about the Superman and Batman conflict… some of us have been waiting for this for decades. But it’s also interesting for a couple reasons that this is specifically about Clark Kent taking on Batman, not Superman. In the movie, Clark Kent is a fairly insignificant journalist and Batman is a crimefighter who’s been operating for about 20 years. In this sense, Batman is well beyond Clark’s level and it’s silly for Clark to try to take him on. Also, as we talked about in previous scenes with Perry, there’s a sort of societal endorsement of Batman and his methods, even if they’ve gotten a bit more brutal recently. Society is okay with a vigilante taking out the criminal class even if it’s in extra-legal ways, and also society has basically moved beyond the old institutions of newspapers and the media as the Fourth Estate. So in this way, if media is about social buzz and echo chambers, then nobody really cares about an investigative journalist trying to shed light on a Batman character who is getting a little bit out of hand in Gotham’s port districts.

A final reason that it’s important that this is about Clark Kent is that, for Clark, he is trying very hard to take down Batman as Clark Kent, through his official avenues as a journalist and thus through the approved channels of checks and balances in society. Clark initially wants to be above-board in his take-down of Batman. But as we see later, he eventually gives up on this official route and, after some further prodding by Lex, takes up the cause as Superman.

This desire to operate as Clark Kent rather than Superman is the inverse of what Bruce Wayne is going through in wanting to take down Superman. As we explained in multiple scenes before, Bruce very much needs it to be Batman who takes down Superman, not Bruce Wayne, because for him it’s not really about removing the threat of Superman -- that’s just his rationalization. It’s actually about proving that Batman can do it and that his efforts haven’t all just been a lie, carried out by someone who is damaged and unable to get over his feelings of powerlessness.

Speaking of powerlessness, it amazes us how tightly woven this movie is with all the main characters dealing with feelings of powerlessness. Here, Clark feels powerless to cover the story he wants and powerless to confront an injustice that he sees in Batman. Of course, we’ve talked many times about Bruce and Lex both feeling powerless relative to Superman and going down a negative path because they are no longer the top dogs that they were used to being. Out of Bruce and Lex, one is able to pull himself out of that dark path while the other basically goes all the way off the edge.

Also, Lois is dealing with feeling powerless to protect Clark from the slings and arrows that society is throwing at him, and powerless to protect Clark from his own sadness at these reactions and repercussions. For her, she finds out by the end that her love of Clark and Superman together actually was very powerful for Clark in giving him the courage to go forward, and she learns exactly how much that did mean to him in the heartbreaking scene at the end with the engagement ring.

Even more, we have Alfred who is powerless to get through to Bruce to save him from his destructive path. Even though Alfred can see where it’s headed, he can’t reach Bruce and he also respects Bruce too much as a grown man to actually stop him from carrying out it out.

So it’s amazing to watch this movie weave together all the character arcs in such a coherent way, though, yeah, it’s not always a barrel of laughs. That leads to one of the main critiques of the movie, which we are going to touch on here before the end of the episode.

Before that, one more thing about Scene 26 -- we had Henry Cavill again performing as Clark Kent in the Daily Planet. Obviously he is not changing his voice or doing a clutz routine to hide his identity. Instead costume designer Michael Wilkinson said that they focused on giving Clark clothes that were dark and patterned in ways that hid Cavill’s physique. I really like the wardrobe that they had for Clark and I think it will be even better to see him out talking to people in Gotham, too.

Next up is Scene 27, where we hear the first lines from Diana at the museum with Bruce.


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