Sunday, July 10, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scene 35

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Scene 35, which is the end of the batmobile chase and the first meeting of Superman and Batman.

  • Superman's strength
  • Was Superman too rough with Batman?
  • Superman's ultimatum
  • Batman's ironic threat
  • Should Superman have gone after Lex's men instead of Batman?
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit
Pulpklatura on private vengeance in BvS

<Transcript of the episode>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, Alessandro Maniscalco and I go scene-by-scene through the DC Films released by Warner Brothers pictures. Right now, we are coming off of the batmobile chase scene and now we have arrived at Scene 35, the first meeting of Batman and Superman. Yes, they’ve met before as Bruce and Clark, but now they are in their suits and it is epic.

This scene starts out with some great visuals to emphasize the moment. We get a glimpse of a figure in the road as the batmobile skids around the corner and then the headlights illuminate the red and blue of Superman, standing confidently in the batmobile’s path.

The editing here is clever as we see Batman’s foot stomping on the breaks and then it immediately cuts to Superman’s foot giving a slight kick and sending the batmobile bouncing off to the side and into some fuel dispensers. This fuel ignites, adding some fire to the visual palette, and we see Batman stranded in his vehicle amongst some wreckage, which foreshadows him later in the batwing after Doomsday has knocked him into a crash. In this case, Batman stands up defiantly and confidently to meet Superman face to face. In that future scene, he puts his hands up and needs Wonder Woman to save him. The two images together emphasize that by the end of the movie he has learned his lesson in humility and come to realize that maybe he shouldn’t expect Batman to be able to handle every situation -- sometimes he’s less powerful and needs help, and that’s okay.

But let’s talk a bit about Superman here, too, before we get into the dialogue of the scene. In the theatrical cut, Clark had seen that Batman’s tactics were leading to criminals’ deaths, and so he left to come here as Superman to confront Batman. In the extended cut, Clark saw the photos and so went to do further investigating of Batman in Gotham. That’s where he talked to the girlfriend or wife of the branded man and this made him determined to confront Batman as Superman.

As we’ll see, he doesn’t harm Batman or take him in to the police, because harming him would be stooping down to Batman’s own level and he doesn’t trust the police anyway because they might be on Batman’s side even though Batman is a violent vigilante. Instead, Superman roughs up Batman’s vehicle and gives him a warning that his activities as Batman need to stop. Superman doesn’t fully articulate why he is so opposed to Batman’s methods, he just says matter of factly that it needs to end. Based on Superman’s exhibition of power, he is implicitly sending the message that Superman is at a whole ‘nother level above Batman and so not only should Batman stop, but he might as well stop because Superman can do all that and more. Of course, Superman doesn’t know it, but such a show of strength like this is going to have the opposite of the intended effect because challenging Batman and throwing it in his face that he is powerless compared to Superman is only going to feed the psychological beast that Bruce has already been dealing with since the Black Zero Event in Metropolis.

Speaking of Superman’s show of power, the filmmakers did a great job setting up this scene because, as an audience member having seen the batmobile go through ships, walls, and trucks, it makes it that much more impressive to now see the batmobile totally outmatched by Superman and thrown aside like a hot wheels toy.

Now, the astute viewer might ask the following question: Does the batmobile bouncing off Superman like Superman’s immovable contradict the first scene on Earth in Man of Steel when the sailor is able to tackle Clark out of the way? That scene established that Superman in this universe is not as strong or immovable as in past incarnations of the character when he could bench press planets. But I don’t think it’s a contradiction because Clark at that time hadn’t fully refined his powers yet and he was also surprised by the impact so hadn’t steadied himself. Here in BvS, he’s been Superman for about 2 years, having tested his capabilities as Jor-El recommended, and most importantly was waiting for the impact with the batmobile and so he could brace himself and thus not be moved.

Critics of this scene have said that Superman should have been more gentle and found a way to talk to Batman in a more level-headed manner. Well, yes, he could have been more gentle, but he wanted to make an impression on Batman and get his point across to Batman in a very direct way that Batman should consider this mercy. Superman wants Batman to know that he’s outmatched and that Superman is being merciful in not just taking Batman out but instead leaving it up to Batman to reign himself in. But as we said before, Superman doesn’t know everything that we know about where Batman is mentally right now, so Superman doesn’t know that he’s feeding Batman’s flames by trying to exert his will over Batman, and Superman doesn’t know that Batman reacts so destructively to feelings of powerlessness. If Superman did know those things, then I think he would’ve taken a different approach to this encounter.

But instead of criticizing Superman for not being even more gentle, we should give him credit for being as gentle as he was. Superman, ever the symbol of hope, wanted to give Batman a chance to stop on his own and not physically force him to stop being Batman.  This may have even been a gesture of respect to Bruce for all his contributions to Gotham because remember that at this point Superman already knows his identity.  

Now, here are some quick comments on the lines of dialogue from Superman:
“Next time they shine your bat in the sky, don’t go to it.” This sets up the pay-off later when Batman ignites his own bat signal as the catalyst for the BvS fight. He’s lighting it up as a visual rebuke to Superman. Now of course, when we get there, things have become a bit more complicated because Superman doesn’t just rush over because of Batman’s defiance, he is also dealing with Lex’s kidnappings at that point, too.

Then Superman says, “Bury it. The bat is dead.” This touches on the funeral and the mausoleum from Bruce’s nightmare and especially the underground motif that has been running through Bruce’s character arc. And of course, the bat being dead is exactly the idea that Bruce is trying to reject. He is grappling with whether his career as Batman has been a waste, a beautiful lie. Now Superman is saying that that career as Batman is over, and if it is, then Bruce has lost and failed in all his efforts that have consumed him since his parents’ death. This is why Superman’s ultimatum only invigorates Bruce further and why Bruce never considers following Superman’s demands even for a second.

Superman wraps up by saying, “Consider this mercy.” Which we already talked about. Superman is trying to show that he has taken the high road because it could’ve been much worse for Batman if Superman wanted it to be. But as we will see, Batman does not respond well to attempted immasculations, and he also is so angry and vengeful that he doesn’t even appear to be as scared as he probably should be in this situation.

That was Superman’s dialogue, but the filmmakers also reinforce the ideas visually. Superman doesn’t attack Batman. He just stands in his way both literally and metaphorically, preventing him from continuing on as Batman. The visual is also great because of the memorable setting and the framing using the rule of thirds, where the batmobile and the two heros are placed at the upper-left grid mark based on the rule of thirds, and the flames are placed along the right gridline, with the flames also reflected in a puddle on the street to complete the framing. Furthermore, Batman rises up slowly out of his seat -- again, it’s him physically coming up out of the low and dark batmobile, giving a visual connections to the underground motif that is also mentioned verbally in Superman’s dialogue.

Now, some people may be interested to know that Superman’s dialogue ended up being different than the original script. According to the Art of the Film book, the line was originally as follows: "Your light in the sky will be my signal. Next time they call you, don't go to it. Because I'll be there. No talking next time."
So feel free to dissect the changes, if you wish. Overall, I think the final version in the movie is better. But I do have a slight nitpick here. I didn’t think the voice dubbing for Henry Cavill was very good here. His performance was okay, but the ambience and microphone placement just seemed a bit off for the environment of the scene. And it’s not that I blame them for dubbing. In most movies there’s dubbing where the actors replace some of their dialogue in studio, and especially on big budget movies where they can’t get a clean audio recording on set because of fire crackling, rain falling, or other loud things going on. So to do the dubbing is fine, but just in this scene, they didn’t quite nail it.

Moving on to Batman’s response. He says the famous lines: “Do you bleed? You will.” Now, Superman flies away between the question and the answer, and some people have speculated about whether Superman used his super hearing to still hear the answer and maybe Batman was counting on Superman using his super hearing. But I tend to interpret more as Superman just not really caring that much about the threat because he just thinks it’s all talk. Superman does not actually feel threatened by Batman because he has no idea about the Kryptonite yet.

The great thing about the “Do you bleed line?” is that it’s actually much more than a threat, it also connects to some of the big issues around Superman’s character and Bruce’s questions about Superman’s humanity. Bleeding is a human and vulnerable thing to do, so in a sense Batman is asking whether Superman has vulnerabilities and thus connections with mankind. And this is the real issue, that Batman thus far has not seen Superman as sympathetic or a real person. Batman says, “You will,” which sounds like a tough guy threatening line, but it is also foreshadowing the fact that yes, Batman will make Superman bleed but instead of this marking Batman’s victory over Superman, it is the moment when Batman realizes Superman’s humanity and thus it is the beginning of Batman’s shifting perspective, of seeing Superman differently, and thus saving himself.

For more on the great layers to these lines, the Man of Steel Answers podcast included it in some of the analysis of the trailers. I think it was probably the episode on the teaser trailer because it ended with the “Do you bleed?” stuff. I’ll put a link in the show notes and cross my fingers that I remembered correclty.

These lines also gave us a chance to hear the bat voice modulator that was foreshadowed earlier with Alfred in the bat cave. I liked the voice modulator and thought it made sense for Batman to use tech in this way rather than to try to just alter his voice physically.

And then to wrap up, of course a big question about this scene is how long was Superman watching the batmobile chase before he intervened? Did he know the full extent of the situation, and if he did, why did he only stop Batman instead of stopping Batman and the Lex Corp guys, who were, after all, firing rifles and a rocket launcher? Well, Superman didn’t have anything on those men. They were transporting and defending their cargo.  I’m sure he could figure out that if Batman is after them they are likely to be criminals, but it was Batman who instigated the trouble and Superman isn’t privy to their criminal activity.  If he had been watching all the way from the harbor, it would’ve just looked like some guys transporting a shipment and Batman came in swinging like a maniac out of control. The public was endangered by Batman’s actions, not the criminals’ actions. Another way to look at it, though, is that Superman was coming in there with a very specific goal in mind -- he wanted to deliver his message to Batman. So yes, you could fault Superman for not being perfect and getting slightly tunnel-visioned himself, like Batman has been for almost two years now, but he is tunnel-visioned for a reason, and it’s a pretty good reason.

Also, thematically, what needed to happen was the interaction between Superman and Batman. This pushed both of their character arcs forward and it set the stage for their later confrontation. Any fixation on things like “Superman should’ve done this” or “Superman should’ve done that” seem to me to be missing the point by focusing on hindsight and personal preference rather than focusing on what did happen and what it means for the story. So if you still want to have an issue with Superman failing to stop the Lex Corp guys, that’s your choice. But you can also ask yourself, how would that have served the story or the thematic development? It probably wouldn’t have. So this is a case where Superman being perfect and doing exactly the right thing may not have been best for the story. And so I guess it comes down to personal opinion on what should be driving a story --- perfectly logical actions or emotionally-driven actions that are relevant thematically.

End of Episode:

That’s our quick run through of Scene 35. A final thought that we wanted to mention from Pulpklatura, a tumblr writer who we’ve mentioned before but not for awhile, is that BvS explores the theme of public vengeance versus private vengeance. Scene 35 is an important scene with respect to this theme because here Clark has finally decided to shift away from public avenues of vengeance, that is, writing a story that reveals and changes Batman’s behaviors, and toward private vengeance, that is, confronting Batman and giving him an ultimatum as Superman. Definitely check out Pulpklatura, if you haven’t already.

And also be sure to check out Man of Steel Answers and the Suicide Squadcast. Thanks again for listening and please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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