Wednesday, July 13, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 36-38

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Batman v Superman, Scene 36 (batmobile's entrance to the batcave), Scene 37 (Lex and the Kryptonite), and Scene 38 (Senator Finch's invitation to Superman).

  • Batmobile's entrance to the batcave
  • Batman without the cowl
  • Tracking device
  • Lex Luthor and his Kryptonite
  • Senator Finch invites Superman to the Capitol
  • "Good is a conversation"
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. Alessandro Maniscalco and I love the films that have come out thus far in the Warner Brothers Justice League Universe and we’re using this podcast to share our scene-by-scene analysis of those movies. Right now we are making our way through Batman v Superman, trying to finish it out in time for Suicide Squad on August 5th.

Last episode, we covered the batmobile chase scene and Superman’s first meeting with Batman. In this episode, we’re going to move quickly through three short scenes -- Batman’s arrival back at the batcave, the Kryptonite being delivered to Lex Luthor, and Senator Finch’s invitation to Superman to appear at a Senate hearing.

So after Superman flies away in Scene 35, we cut to a damaged batmobile ripping its way back toward the batcave near the bay between Gotham and Metropolis. They came up with a pretty creative new way for the batmobile to have a hidden entrance to the cave. A doorway opens up under the waterline in the bay and the water drains away, allowing the batmobile to launch through the doorway and onto the track that leads under the bay into the batcave.
I have to admit that in my first viewing, I didn’t like the shot of the batmobile here. I thought the CGI was too apparent, especially after everything looked very practical and realistic in the chase scene itself. But then I heard lots of people afterward specifically talking about how cool that Batmobile entrance was to the batcave. So I’ll just call that a difference of opinion, and I do admit that the concept of the lake entrance to the Batcave is brilliant. And in fact, in the Art of the Film book, they show that there was also a planned scene where the Batmobile jumps out of that lake tunnel, not just the scene of it returning back in.

Next the batmobile pulls up into the cave itself. And remember that this entire set was built for real, which makes up for the CGI hiccup during the entrance. Batman then jumps out of the batmobile and pulls off his cowl as he’s heading up to his computer console. We’ve already seen Batman’s cowl removed by Superman and now he’s removing it himself. This emphasizes that Batman really is just a guy wearing a costume. Note that we’ve never seen, in Man of Steel or BvS, Superman putting on or taking off his suit. And this makes sense because Kal-El really is Superman, it’s not just a costume he puts on, so even though he technically does have to put it on and take it off, the filmmakers were wise not to show it to us, because that would not fit with the theme of Superman being idolized and feared as something larger than life. He’s not seen by the world as someone who puts his pants on one leg at a time. Bruce, on the other hand, is the one grappling with his relative powerlessness and his feelings of failure as Batman, so showing him as the man in a suit emphasizes that human frailty. It’s especially potent because we just saw how powerful was with Superman knocking around the batmobile.

Bruce gets up to his computers where he can check the tracker that he placed on the truck carrying the Kryptonite. We get a nice transition here where the beeping goes from the computer to tracker to the truck beeping as it backs up. We mentioned before that it’s a bit silly for a stealth tracker to beep at all, but that’s a very minor issue and was probably included for the benefit of the audience.

Overall, Scene 36 is a quick scene where we see the payoff of Batman shooting the tracker onto the truck. And fans of the comic books probably enjoyed the classic visual of Batman with his cowl off in the batcave.

Scene 37: Kryptonite Delivery

Moving on to Scene 37, the truck is backing up to unload the Kryptonite in Lex’s research park. This shot really struck me funny during my first viewing of the movie just because of how wrecked the truck is as it’s trying to proceed with normal delivery operations. I honestly think there was quite a healthy dose of humor in this movie, though the humor was there amidst very serious drama and character development. It just still surprises me that people try to put forward the “no jokes” complaint.

Anyway, this scene is the culmination of Lex’s efforts to smuggle in the Kryptonite because he was not able to get the import license from Senator Finch. We didn’t really fully explain the smuggling angle in the episode for Scene 34, but Man of Steel Answers has that covered very well. In short, Lex’s first preference would be to have the legitimate backing of the government, but once it was clear that wasn’t happening, his back-up plan was to smuggle it in. This connects with what Jesse Eisenberg said about Lex always having multiple contingency plans, and it also deals with the theme that Pulpklatura mentioned about tensions between public vengeance and private vengeance.

Lex is there in the research park to receive the Kryptonite and he waves the forklift back toward him just like he waved Zod’s body toward him back in Scene 13. He’s pulling the strings like always and everything that he wants is coming to him, through all of his arrangements.

Alessandro has recently been doing some nice analysis of Lex Luthor on his blog, And so here he’s going to share some of his thoughts on Lex and the Kryptonite, which are slightly different from some of my own thoughts, but a complex movie like this can sustain multiple interpretations.

In this scene we see Lex successfully having smuggled in the Kryptonite.  People have asked why Lex doesn’t just smuggle the Kryptonite into the country to begin with instead of asking for an import license since that is how he does it anyway?  In previous episodes Sam has echoed Man of Steel Answers’ sentiments that Lex’s initial plan was to work with the government and his plan B was to have Batman take out Superman.  This is where I differ in opinion.  While I do believe Lex hoped to sway the government to his way of thinking, I don’t believe his goal was to work with them.
Normally when transporting radioactive material, a Department of Nuclear Defense Form must be submitted to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and their scientists have to approve or deny the material according to the regulations set forth by the government.  The reason Lex needed the Senate's approval for an import license on Kryptonite is because being of alien origin it is not covered by the Code of Federal Regulations for shipping radioactive materials because it has no classification or defined hazards to humans since an in depth study and report hasn’t been made on the xenomineral.  And it doesn’t fall into any existing guidelines since it isn’t found on the periodic table. The Senate would need to approve the transportation of said substance or Coast Guard and Customs Border Patrol would detain or, more likely deny, the cargo. The businessman that he is, Lex is trying to appeal to the Senate's homeland security efforts to justify the legal importation of the Kryptonite. He is not asking permission to create the silver bullet deterrent or necessarily for the government's backing of such a plan, although the act of approving the license would certainly validate those efforts.  He is just hoping this excuse will encourage them to approve the license while making him appear to care about security and safety.  
Senator Barrows takes it upon himself to get Lex access to Zod and the scout ship because he agrees with Lex's idea of needing to keep Superman in check and wants to help him how he can.  He tells Lex “There are ways we can help each other.”  That statement is outside the context of the import license which is one reason I appreciate it coming later in sequencing for the theatrical cut.  
Since Senator Finch blocks the import license Lex is forced to smuggle the Kryptonite into the country which he has successfully done as we see in this scene.  But the legitimacy of its entrance into the country does not have bearing on the reasons he would want to bring it here in the first place which is to eliminate the sin of Superman’s existence, something he can’t do before demonizing him and showing the world the fraud he is.  That is why I believe Lex was always planning to use Batman to demonize and kill Superman by forcing Superman to kill man or be killed by man.
The fact that Bruce had clues about the White Portuguese before Lex even asks for the import license indicates Lex was leading him to the Kryptonite before shipping plans had even been made, meaning even if the import license had been granted Batman still would have stolen the Kryptonite.  The files Bruce decrypts from Lex’s home indicate a legitimate vessel and voyage number.  Had the ship not been registered the Coast Guard would have stopped it in international waters.
Given this information it is impossible for Lex to have known the exact vessel the Kryptonite would be shipped on.  Bookings can only be done once ship sailings and schedules are determined, which would appear in the Journal of Commerce no more than 30 days in advance.  The only way Lex could have known the Kryptonite would be on the White Portuguese is if he went out of his way to schedule the shipment to coincide with when the vessel happened to be calling that port it would be shipped from.  And the only reason Batman would know about the White Portuguese is if Lex leaked the information for him to find for the purpose of him getting his hands on it to kill Superman with.  
At the point when Bruce clones Anatoli’s phone, the booking of the Kryptonite shipment aboard the White Portuguese must have already been made because there are two mentions of it on Anatoli’s phone with a signal leading Bruce straight to Lex’s house where he finds the booking information that we know Lex intended for him to find.  And the cloning of Anatoli’s phone occurs before Senator Finch even blocks Lex’s import license.  This tells us that Lex was planning on bringing the Kryptonite in with or without the import license and always planned on having it aboard the White Portuguese meaning Batman was always intended to get his hands on it.
It makes sense logically too.  In the African incident, Lex puts Superman in a position which he is forced to take sides by acting in the interest of Lois over the US Government or the African rebels.  Lex uses the same tactic when he forces Superman to take sides in order to act in the interest of his mother over Batman.  Both these instances reflect Lex’s belief that God cannot be all Good AND all Powerful because he will always have to take sides and choose who lives and who dies and ultimately he will act in his own interest.  This tells me that it was his plan all along.
    So instead, I believe in the simpler explanation about why Lex seeks the import license.  And that is that there is more risk involved with smuggling the Kryptonite than bringing it in legally.  With an import license Lex would not need to fear government intervention in the shipment via homeland security and customs border patrol, nor would he need to squander resources by employing his mercenaries and paying off the terminal operators, and he is less likely to be pinned for criminal activity.

Now, Scene 37 is just about wrapped up. There’s a great shot where Lex approaches the Kryptonite and puts his hands on the glass, similar to how he had his hands on the glass case back in Scene 10 when he introduced the Kryptonite.

The main function of this scene is as a set-up for when we see the batarang later, with Batman having stolen the Kryptonite. The scene also helps the audience explicitly keep track of the Kryptonite, which is Chekov’s biggest gun in this movie. At this point, we are wondering how Lex is going to use the Kryptonite and we have a budding physical threat against Superman to go with the emotional turmoil that’s already been established.

Scene 38: Finch’s Invitation to Superman

Moving on to Scene 38, we get another aspect of Lex’s plan that is coming together and that we know is somehow threatening to Superman but we don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out yet --- and that is Lex’s use of Wallace Keefe to draw Superman to Capitol hill. An astute viewer may wonder if the placement of these two scenes together is an indication that Lex is planning to lure Superman to the Capitol so that he can use the newly acquired Kryptonite on him. This would make some sense because of Lex’s traditional motivation of just killing Superman, but as we’ll find out later, Lex’s motivation in BvS is much more nuanced than just a desire to kill him. His master plan has many more components than just a simple intention to kill.

One thing I really enjoy about Lex in this movie is that almost every time he gets someone else to carry out his desires. In Scene 38, it’s Senator Finch. She is inviting Superman to come to a Senate hearing to address the government and the public about his role in the world.

She asks: “How do we determine what’s good? In a democracy, good is a conversation, not a unilateral decision.”

Here Finch is staking out a position on the big questions of good and evil in this movie. We talked way back at the beginning about how this movie is exploring modern society where notions of absolute good and evil are largely rejected. In some ways, abandoning absolutes might be seen as a unfortunate situation of moral decay, but moving beyond absolutes can also be a sign of societal maturity because life is complex and full of gray areas. Senator Finch represents this positive side of things because she casts good as a conversation and part of a democratic process that weighs multiple perspectives rather than taking absolute, unilateral actions. This also ties into the theme that was mentioned in the Art of the Film book -- that BvS is a movie about people struggling to but eventually learning to take another’s perspective.

We can also think about Senator Finch’s doctrine of conversations over unilateral decisions in light of prior ideas in the movie. Right away, Senator Finch seems to be condemning Superman’s intervention in Africa because he affected the civil war and the U.S.’s neutral position because of his unilateral decision to save Lois. But Senator Finch’s doctrine also indicts Bruce, whose 1% doctrine and commitment to taking out Superman is a unilateral decision. The only one Bruce has conferred with on that decision is Alfred, and Bruce doesn’t actually listen to Alfred’s advice or anyone else’s … he’s going to do what he wants to do and take out Superman without any consent from others.

Also, here in Scene 38, we also have another piece of Superman’s mantra coming into place -- Superman, ever since the old radio show, has been associated with the ideas of truth, justice, and the American way. We’ve already seen Superman grappling with the issue of justice as he sees what Batman is doing, and “justice” was literally written on the bottom of one of the polaroid photos. Here we have Senator Finch challenging Superman to show up based on democratic principles, which is rooted in the American way. And later, at the actual Senate hearing, we’ll round out the trifecta with “truth.”

The rest of Finch’s line is that she invites Superman to the “hill of the people.” And it’s worth noting that it’s an invitation and not an official summons, so it really is up to Superman to decide whether he’s going to show up or not. Finch goes on, saying that Superman should face those who’ve suffered. “The world needs to know what happened in that desert, and to know what he stands for. How far will he take his power?”

Interestingly, the wording of this invitation, although it sounds threatening to Superman, actually also contains a glimmer of hope because what actually happened in the desert is that Superman was framed and he simply saved Lois’s life. The rest was out of his control.

There are also some nice parallels between Finch’s invitation here and Lex’s monologue later at the helipad -- Finch says that good is a conversation, Lex rebels against God as all good. Finch asks what Superman stands for, and Lex forces Superman to kneel. Finch asks how far Superman will take his power, and Lex tries to force Superman into a situation where he has to take his power beyond moral limits. Also, Batman witnessed a vision of Superman having taken his power too far.

We see Lois reacting to Finch’s comments as she is still undertaking her investigation, there in Washington, to clear Superman’s name. She knows that perhaps this hearing is also a chance for Superman to clear his name, but it could also turn very ugly with protests and with anything he says being misconstrued or interpreted in a biased manner.

The scene ends with a shot of Lex admiring the Kryptonite as Finch’s words echo away. Musically, Lex’s theme chimes in, indicating that this is part of Lex’s plan to lure Superman in.

Alessandro has also noted that this scene is also important because it shows Lex alone with the Kryptonite. Practically speaking, this is a clear and present opportunity for Lex to chip off some Kryptonite for himself before Batman steals it. It’s also a sign of Lex’s being closer to getting what he wants. He has reached the “emerald city”.

Seeing Lex after hearing Finch say that “good is a conversation” also makes us think back to Finch and Lex’s conversations about the Kryptonite. The conversations led to Finch clearly expressing that bringing in the Kryptonite as a weapon against Superman was not a justified course of action, and so Lex not heeding the result of that conversation is clearly on the bad side of things.

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