Monday, July 4, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 32 and 33

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scenes 32 and 33 of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which are quick scenes where Perry looks for Clark at the Daily Planet and Lois gives the bullet over to Secretary Swanwick.

  • Where is Clark Kent?
  • "Goes back to Kansas, I suppose"
  • Perry White
  • Lois entrusts Swanwick
  • What's the deal with Lex's special bullet?
  • Responding to listener comments and questions (White Portuguese, Extended Cut, DC News, Musical link)
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

<Transcript of the episode>
Welcome fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast Alessandro Maniscalco and I share our scene-by-scene analysis of the films in the Warner Brothers Justice League Universe.

This episode focuses on Batman v Superman and two scenes -- Scene 32 when Perry looks for Clark at the Daily Planet, and Scene 33 when Lois gives the experimental bullet to Secretary Swanwick.

These are two quick scenes that the filmmakers, in the Theatrical cut, wanted to fit in before we get swept away with the batmobile chase scene and the scenes that follow immediately after. Scene 32 gives us a little bit of a chance to catch our breath after the emotional intensity of Bruce and Alfred in Scene 31 and to prepare ourselves for the action sequence in Scene 34. It uses a little bit of humor to aid in this.

The scene is set back in the Daily Planet -- again, no establishing shot, but again I would say we don’t need one, it’s very clear where we are -- at Clark’s desk, right where we saw him get the mail in Scene 30 and basically the same spot, though shot from a different angle, as where he debated with Perry in Scene 26 about what the Daily Planet stands for. In the Extended Cut, we see a lot more of what happened between the scenes for Clark and it fills out what led him to confront Batman in the batmobile, but even here in the Theatrical Cut, we have seen that Clark is trying hard to stand for principles -- principles that Batman is violating. Clark talked about the Daily Planet’s principles, but really he’s grappling with them himself as Superman. Perry hampers Clark’s efforts by again taking him off the story and by saying that “No one cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.” In essence, and in a meta-textual master stroke, Perry is saying that Clark is trying to stand up for ideals that the 21st Century public doesn’t even really care about anymore.

Then Clark receives the photographs showing the end result of Batman’s actions, and that steels his resolve. Clark is going to act, even without Perry’s blessing, and he’s not going to act as Clark Kent anymore, he’s going to act as Superman.

So Perry comes in calling for Clark, but Clark is gone. In the Theatrical Cut, it’s not only that Clark is gone from the Daily Planet, he’s actually gone entirely, having changed into Superman. And Superman is going to do the exact thing that Perry has been telling him not to do.

Of course, we, the audience, don’t yet know where he is and we won’t know until he shows up in the headlights of the batmobile. But based on decades of Superman stories on TV, in movies, and in comic books, we know that whenever Clark is conspicuously missing from the Daily Planet, it’s because he’s off doing a job for Superman. This pattern fits with Perry’s question, “Where does he go?” which implies that this has happened before.

It is already a little bit funny seeing Perry exasperated and yelling across the office, and then we get the full humor with Perry quoting the Wizard of Oz, “Clicks his heels three times, goes back to Kansas, I suppose.” The line works because Perry knows Clark is from Kansas and, here in the big city, Clark is probably teased playfully for being a farm boy from the Midwest. And the Wizard of Oz is, of course, a famous cultural touchstone set in Kansas. This is also the second of at least three times that Batman v Superman references the Wizard of Oz. The first that we noticed was Lex in Scene 10 when he was talking about the Kryptonite and said “Emerald City.” And then there’s another with Lex at the end of the movie when he says, “Ding dong, the god is dead.”

This scene gives us an excuse to comment on Perry White’s role in this film. Clearly, he brings humor into most of his scenes, and humor allows us to connect with him so that it’s more poignant at the end when he somberly gives Lois permission to use the helicopter, and his “on the roof” line echoes his “coach” line earlier. We also connect with Perry when he’s reading the headlines about Superman’s death.

Perry also serves as a character who shows us how respected Lois Lane is in her work. For Clark, Perry serves as a representative of the public sentiment that Clark is grappling with, and as a newspaper editor it makes sense that he would be tapping into and very aware of public opinions, but a broader question raised by BvS is what responsibility the news media has to not only follow public sentiment by giving the people what they want -- which is often fear-based, prejudgmental, divisive, and sometimes overly influenced by the power players -- but the media should also give the people what they need.

One final thing that we’ve mentioned about Perry before is that he vocalizes the modern society in contrast to Clark, who is trying to live and act by the classic Superman rules, but society won’t let him. This shows the filmmakers’ commitment to take Superman seriously and place him in a realistic setting. Fans of the classic and pure Superman will hopefully see in this movie that Clark, and thus the filmmakers, were staying true to that classic mythology but the world kept getting in the way. And Perry was there to give some of the meta-textual commentary on what was happening so that the audience didn’t miss it (although, unfortunately, a lot of the audience did still miss it).

But to wrap up Scene 32, the big question that it raises in the audience’s mind is “Where is Clark?” This draws us in to the next few scenes as we wait in anticipation for Superman to show up, then right when we are getting totally engrossed in the batmobile chase and have probably forgotten we’re supposed to be on the lookout for Superman, that’s when he shows up.

Moving on to Scene 33, this is where Lois meets Secretary Swanwick under a bridge or overpass of some sort and gives him the bullet she’s been investigating. If you’re interested in (or confused by) Lois’s investigation, I definitely recommend the Extended Cut right now digitally or in a couple weeks on Blu-Ray.

In Lois and Swanwick’s previous meeting, Swanwick had accused her of some bias as she was trying to construct a narrative to restore Superman’s halo and her own. Lois begins this scene, saying, “I don’t have a halo over me, Mr. Secretary. I went into the desert, people died. It keeps me awake, it should.” So she is admitting that she’s not innocent in the tragedy, even though she didn’t directly do any of the killing. And in fact, I’d say Lois has a right to be more defensive than she is because the CIA actually used her to gain access for their own intel operation, but she takes the high road and just talks about her own role and not the CIA’s role in the incident.

Lois also shows that she’s not trying to circumvent the repercussions -- the weight of the incident is hitting her hard and she knows that it should, she’s not trying to avoid it.

She hands over the bullet and says, “If you think Superman is a murderer, then throw it away. But I don’t believe you think that.” This is a significant leap of faith because she is giving up her only piece of tangible evidence, but she has carefully calculated this move because she knows Swanwick has a personal history with Superman and she knows that he won’t be able to resist checking out the bullet. Moreover, the African set-up, especially in the Theatrical Cut, was not really about making Superman look like a murderer but was instead meant to raise scrutiny and conversations about accountability around Superman. Thus the African situation was not perfectly set up as a framing for murder, and Swanwick, as Secretary of Defense, would have access to even the classified info that the public has no idea about. So Swanwick is more likely than the public to believe in Superman’s innocence.

Lois wants everyone to know the classified information and the truth overall because she is trying to defend and restore Superman’s image in the public. She is not only the personal connection that centers Clark, but she will also be the one who ultimately builds the case against Lex and uncovers the full truth. In the Extended Cut, this full truth that she exposes also includes Lex’s involvement in the Capitol bombing.

But in the Theatrical Cut, the African incident and the bullet are her main foci. Scene 33 also allows us to take the time here to answer the question: Why did Lex’s guys in Africa use special bullets? We have at least three answers to this.

First, it’s likely that Lex’s research and development is working on new ammunition that might be effective against meta-humans. Since this was an incident where it was expected that Superman might show up, it made sense as a sort of field test.

Second, the fact that the ammunition was something even beyond the U.S. military’s capabilities made it more likely that Central Intelligence was going to classify the information, thus cloaking Lex’s involvement in Africa in the eyes of the public.

And third, and probably most importantly, the Man of Steel Answers blog post on Lex Luthor explained that the fact the bullets were experimental and not easily traceable meant that anyone investigating the bullets would have to turn over quite a few leaves, and Lex would keep an eye on those leaves with his various sources and connections, so he would immediately know about anyone looking into the African incident, whether it be the CIA, the Nairomi government, or Lois Lane. Lex keeping tabs on whoever is looking into the bullets is confirmed later on the helipad when Lex already knows Lois was investigating his bullets, but he isn’t too concerned because the CIA has classified the information because of their own fault in the incident, and he knows that details such as the bullet will blow away like sand in the desert.

For Scene 33, I think Zack Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong had a little bit of fun using a film noir style. A rainy, secret meeting with a government official in Washington, shot with a black-and-white feel and silhouettes. Even the trenchcoats confirm the film noir feel, and many of the film noir classics also involve multi-layered investigations.

It also reminds me of All the President’s Men with its secret parking garage meetings between journalists and an anonymous government contact. This fits with the fact that they didn’t really show Swanwick’s face clearly in the scene at all. The contrast in BvS is that it’s the journalist giving the evidence to the government official rather than the other way around.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s a deep thematic connection between these movies and BvS, but I do think the filmmakers drew some visual inspiration for this scene.

And speaking of the rain, @SonofArrogance on twitter noticed the progression of the rain throughout the movie. It starts here in DC before the Capitol bombing. Then it shows up in Gotham before the Batman-Superman fight. And finally it crosses the bay into Metropolis before the final fight with Doomsday.

That’s all we have on those two quick scenes before the batmobile chase scene. Since this was a shorter episode, we have time to respond to a couple listener questions.

1) First, some people have asked if we think there was enough in BvS of Batman being the world’s greatest detective. They also wondered if Batman should have figured out earlier that the White Portuguese was a ship. So overall, we did feel that this movie paid tribute to Batman’s detective skills, probably more so than any past live-action movie. He tracks the low-level criminals to Knyazev, he hacks into Knyazev’s phone, he decrypts Lex’s data, and tracks the Kryptonite. If you’re looking for even more of Batman’s detective work, Ben Affleck has recently said that his solo Batman movie is going to be rooted primarily in a detective story. So that might take it even to the next level.

With regard to the White Portuguese, even a great detective has to start somewhere. Upon hearing mention of the White Portuguese, he doesn’t instantly know the answers. He follows leads and researches the information, and in BvS that’s what we see happening. And it probably wouldn’t be as easy as tracing a regular ship because Lex might’ve been keeping it off the books, because he knew he might have to smuggle in the Kryptonite if he didn’t get official clearance from Senator Finch. And finally, as others have mentioned on other sites, it’s possible that Bruce already knew the White Portuguese was a cargo ship and had been lying to Alfred about it being a person just as he’d lied to Alfred about the dirty bomb. In this case, when Bruce finally gets into Lex’s files, it shows the audience that it’s a cargo ship and Bruce then lets Alfred in on this part of the real story, but for Bruce what he actually found out was when and where the ship was docking.

2) Next up, this isn’t really a question but it is a comment about our listeners. We just wanted to thank you for all your good thoughts and analysis about the Extended Cut. From interacting with you about it, it’s gotten me even more excited about it and I can’t wait to watch it again. Originally, I was coming to it having seen the Theatrical Cut many times and really loving the Theatrical Cut, and even though I still don’t think everything in the Extended Cut is totally necessary, I can definitely see what you and many others are really appreciating about the Extended Cut. It was also great to see the apologies across the Web that were being sent to Zack Snyder, and to see some of the reviewers posting updated reviews based on the Extended Cut. I really hope Zack Snyder comes to Comic-Con with the Justice League group and it would be awesome if Hall H gave him a huge ovation!

3) Will we be covering future trailers for Suicide Squad or Wonder Woman or any of the stuff that will be released at Comic-Con in a few weeks?

So overall we have decided to focus our podcast on the contents of the movies themselves, focusing right now of course on Batman v Superman. But our reasoning is that there are tons of comic book websites and pop culture websites that have articles about every interview, every trailer, and even most of the posters that are released for upcoming superhero movies. That ends up being hundreds of articles in anticipation of the movies. But each of those sites only post one or two articles actually reviewing or analyzing the movie itself. We feel like the general online landscape is skewed toward analyzing the marketing more so than analyzing the actual work of art itself. And the filmmakers put in so much work and creative effort into the movies, we want to dig into the details and brilliance of the contents of the movie, and we’ll leave the trailer breakdowns and coverage of actor interviews and stuff to other sites.

To put it another way, it seems like if you tallied up all the podcasts and websites covering superhero movies, it’s like 90% focused on anticipatory material and only 10% focused on analyzing and appreciating the movies after they’ve come out. So we want this podcast to contribute to raising that 10% a little bit.

And don’t get us wrong. We love the news coverage stuff. The Suicide Squadcast, for example, is a great podcast that keeps tabs on DC news and marketing materials, in addition to movie reviews when they come out. But we just don’t think there’s a need for yet another podcast on that stuff. We do, however, draw on interviews and on-set articles to help inform our analysis. So, for example, if Zack Snyder gives an interview to Empire magazine, we’re going to read it and take notes about how it might help us better understand scenes from Snyder’s movies.

4) And finally, a thank you to Vermouth1991 on the DCU_Club subreddit for checking Man of Steel and Batman v Superman to confirm that yes, the music during Jor-El’s dive into the water for the codex is the same as the music during the kid’s dive into the Indian Ocean for the Kryptonite.

Okay, that’s it for now. Thanks again for listening. And be sure to check out Man of Steel Answers, especially if you want to go back and listen to some great analysis of Man of Steel, and as we mentioned, the Suicide Squadcast is your best source for coverage of DC-related news.

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