Friday, July 8, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scene 34

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 34 of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is the batmobile chase scene at the Port of Gotham.

  • Batman aperch and affixing the tracker
  • Batmobile design
  • Batman killing
  • Car chase action (Wilhelm scream)
  • Why didn't Lex let Batman steal the Kryptonite?
  • BONUS: Announcement about upcoming schedule
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco
Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit
Discussion of Lex's Motivations

<Transcript of the episode>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this episode of the podcast, Alessandro Maniscalco and I are going to share our analysis of Scene 34 of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Warner Brothers pictures. This scene is the batmobile chase where Batman acts on the two important things that happened in his last scenes -- he had a vision of a horrible future in which Superman has turned tyrannical, so this confirmed his bias against Superman as too powerful to exist, and he also found out the location and plans for the Kryptonite chunk. So he had an increased motivation to act and the information on which to act, which leads us very well into this scene.

There is no dialogue in this scene, so we’re just going to comment on some of the key moments and share some thoughts from the filmmakers responsible for the batmobile and the action sequence. We admit, however, that this is the sort of scene that is best enjoyed visually and viscerally. And we’re going to be having more of these sorts of scenes from here on out, so we’ll still share our analysis but now that BvS is available on home media, these are also great scenes to just watch and appreciate all the creativity, stuntwork, and special effects that went into them, with many of the effects being practical effects as they really did run the batmobile around for several nights in Detroit, which stood in for the Port of Gotham.

But before we get to the batmobile, the scene opens with an iconic shot of Batman high up on his perch, overlooking the loading of the Kryptonite from the White Portuguese into the truck. He has his rifle, which is an homage to the Dark Knight Returns graphic novel. This is one of those memorable shots that is part of what makes Batman such an iconic figure -- almost like a gargoyle or dark angel overlooking his city. I know for me this was a shot that was especially cool to see in IMAX in theaters.

Batman waits for them to shut the truck door and uses the slamming noise to cover the sound of his rifle firing. He attaches a tracker to the outside of the trailer.

Many people asked why he placed the tracker if he was just planning to steal the Kryptonite from the truck anyway. But there’s a simple explanation to that criticism, and it’s that Batman placed the tracker as a back-up plan in case he is unsuccessful taking the Kryptonite from the truck. They do have an armed escort, after all, so there was no guarantee that Batman would be able to get it with the batmobile.

Even though Batman almost knocked the tracker off inadvertently, that doesn’t make it a bad plan to try to have the tracker on there so that he knows where they end up. In other words, just because a plan could have easily failed doesn’t mean it was stupid or a plot hole to have tried the plan in the first place. And anyway, the tracker did stay and it worked as a successful back-up plan, so there’s really no issue.

You may be thinking -- why is that the back-up plan? Why isn’t it his first option to just use the tracker to find out where the Kryptonite is taken, then steal it. But if you think about it, Batman doesn’t know where it’s going to be taken nor what type of security the place will have. It’s pretty likely that it will be more exposed during transportation than at its destination, and so waiting would take longer and waste more time. He also doesn’t know if it will always stay on the truck that he’s marked, and he doesn’t know how long the Kryptonite would remain at the final location before being moved or if it will still be intact once he is able to steal it.  His best bet as a Plan A is to at least try to get it while it’s being transported.

One of our listeners, “B” on YouTube, had a more nuanced concern about this scene and the tracking device. B did not mind the tracker being placed but he did have some issues with how aggressively Batman came out in pursuit of the truck. Perhaps he could’ve been more stealthy in his approach all the way along. And I know other people online have also complained about some of the violence that follows here in the batmobile chase scene, so I think this scene is definitely at least part of the reason for the divisive response to the movie, especially with regard to Batman’s characterization.

But overall we would just point out that Batman is at his new low point psychologically, having just had his vision and his visit from the Flash, and having a heated discussion with Alfred, and so he’s pretty tunnel-visioned on getting the Kryptonite to then take out Superman. He is also overly aggressive in trying to prove his worth and capability as Batman, and so he’s going a bit over the top with his batmobile efforts.

And in terms of the violence here, it’s important to note that Lex’s men did open fire first and then Batman returned fire, albeit perhaps somewhat more than he needed to. As Zack Snyder has said, this Batman doesn’t kill directly, but will kill indirectly.  He won’t flat out shoot you, but if you happen to be in the way of a grenade he deflects, then so be it. If you happen to be in a vehicle that he is returning fire at, then so be that too. Regarding the Batmobile turrets in this respect, in the Dark Knight Returns Batman used rubber bullets. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, but they don’t make it explicit exactly who dies and who doesn’t, so a lot of it is up to whether the viewer wants to look for deaths or wants to look for survivors.

Now, a valid critique with regard to the tracking device, and one that I noticed right away in my first viewing, is that it makes a beeping sound and has a flashing light. That does not seem like a very good design for a stealthy device, and the same critique can be leveled against the tracking device in the CIA camera back in Africa.

But having a flash and a beep is a pretty typical thing in terms of movie logic where it’s there to help the audience get clued in right away. And the filmmakers do end up using the beep as a way to transition between scenes as the beep from the truck matches up with the beep on Bruce’s computer.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s talk a bit about the design of the batmobile. I think it’s a great design and a nice new interpretation on an iconic vehicle. This one is strong and brutal but sleak. A sort of mix between a sports car batmobile and the tumbler from Christopher Nolan’s movies. I also think it seems to match Batman’s personality in BvS overall. Mike Justus, the stunt driver, called it “Functional and tough and powerful… it’s an amazing car!”

In the Art of the Film book, they explain that they actually had two cars. The main batmobile was used for all the closeups and the speed shots, and they had another proxy car that they would use when it needed to smash or be smashed. You can see some behind the scenes footage with the batmobile on the ultimate edition bonus features.

We should mention that production designer Patrick Tatopoulos is primarily responsible for the design, and he actually came up with the initial sketch on a napkin. Zack Snyder though, of course, had input with Tatopoulos on the final design.

So like we said before, this is really a kinetic action scene that is better watched than analyzed. They did give the batmobile a dramatic entrance by having it rev up and blast through a port terminal. The reactions of the men out in front emphasize the moment. And as most people probably noticed, the terminal is called the “Nicholson Terminal and Port Company’ which is a nod to Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman.

This launches us into the car chase proper, and I think there was a lot of good but also some not so good about this car chase. The good stuff was the choreography and the setting. You can tell that they worked hard to plan this chase out so that it was more than just cars driving fast. The setting was unique, using the rough and dirty port that is a good representation of Gotham and incorporating port features such as the boats and ships directly into the chase action. The fishing scenery also links nicely with the Moby-Dick revenge connection that we mentioned back with scenes 30 and 31. They also executed some memorable moments in the chase such as the batmobile blasting its way through a boat and soaring out of a building and into the truck.

So that, plus just the general design of the batmobile, make this a pretty solid action scene. But to me, there were also some not-so-good moments where the speed of the vehicles seemed to be inconsistent. It seemed like in a couple shots all of a sudden the vehicles appeared to be going a bit slower than I thought they were going a moment before. Now, although the speed didn’t always seem exceptional, it may have actually been pretty realistic because a tractor trailer taking sharp corners is not going to be able to go very fast at all. And they were down along the port, not on open road, so it kind of makes sense that this would be a bit slower chase scene than in other action movies, and like we said, they made up for the speed limitation with their creative staging and by having the tension build of whether Batman was going to be able to get the Kryptonite or not.

A couple small things we noticed are that this scene is where the audio team incorporated the famous Wilhelm scream. In Man of Steel, the Wilhelm scream happened on the bomber when the soldier fell out the open bomb-bay door. Here in BvS, there’s a scream when the vehicle is blasted and flips into the office trailer.

Also, the Batmobile executes a cool tethering maneuver here where he hooks a vehicle, drags it and then releases it flipping forward to hit another vehicle in front. This type of move is also executed by Batman later in the Warehouse rescue, where he uses his grappling gun to throw a person and also to whip a crate at a guy in front of him.

Now, earlier we talked about how some people have criticized Batman’s violence in this scene. Maybe it’s okay that he shot back but perhaps he didn’t need to totally obliterate the SUV and drive right through its remains. But another criticism people have had about this scene is that Lex’s men were too violent in the sense that they should not have been trying to so hard to protect the Kryptonite if Lex actually wants Bruce to steal it.

But that’s a pretty short-sighted criticism. First of all, even if Lex wants Batman to steal the Kryptonite, he probably didn’t tell all of his low-level goons that his master plan is to have Batman steal it and go after Superman. Therefore the men in this chase scene assume that they are on a legitimate protection mission. Second, even if Lex wants Batman to steal the Kryptonite he is going to make it challenging for Batman so that Batman doesn’t suspect it’s a set-up. Thus Lex is going to instruct his men to fully protect the Kryptonite, and Lex is sort of expecting Batman to prove himself by being able to take it anyway. Third, Lex might want to keep a portion of the Kryptonite for himself before he lets Batman steal it, so he would want it to get to Lex’s research park before he lets it be stolen.

End of Episode:

So that’s what we have for Scene 34. As Batman comes around the corner and meets Superman for the first time, we’re going to call that its own scene and we’ll cover it next episode.

As we’re focusing on Batman and Superman here, you may be interested in getting some more information on Lex. If so, you should check out Alessandro’s new blog at . There’s an article there that lays out Lex’s primary motivations and also some great interactions on the comment board between Alessandro and Dr Awkward from Man of Steel Answers. So check it out if you get a chance.

Finally, we just want to make a quick announcement about our schedule between now and August 5th. As you probably know, August 5th is the release of Suicide Squad, the third movie in the DC Films Justice League Universe. It’s directed by David Ayer, another great director in this talented and diverse group that Warner Brothers has assembled. So we have about 4 weeks between now and then and Alessandro and I have calculated that we need about 15 or 16 more episodes to make it through the remaining scenes in Batman v Superman. So what we’re going to do is pick up the pace a bit where we will do brief analysis of the minor scenes, just mentioning the major points, and then we’ll do regular episodes for the major scenes like the Capitol bombing, Lex on the helipad, the Batman-Superman fight, and the funeral scenes. So we’re planning to push out about 4 episodes per week and we’re asking you to bear with us if some of the analysis seems less detailed than what we have done thus far.

The reason we are wanting to try to stick to this fast-paced plan is because, first of all, the last hour or so of the movie is more action-based and more about the tensions and themes playing out, and so that doesn’t require as much analysis as the first hour when all the characters and themes were being established. And second, we really want to make it through BvS so that we can give our full attention to Suicide Squad this fall. We expect that we won’t go 100% toward the Squad because we might still post some special episodes looking back at BvS more holistically, and I also have lots of notes on Man of Steel that I still want to turn into episodes eventually, but anyway we want to have the freedom to do those things by first making it through the scene-by-scene of BvS.

Alright, so thanks for listening. As always, we thank Man of Steel Answers for the inspiration to even do this podcast and we thank the Suicide Squadcast for their great coverage of DC news. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Alessandro and I will still try to respond as much as we can, but just as a heads up we are going to be primarily focused on the contents of these forthcoming episodes and we do both have some vacations to fit in this month, so we apologize in advance if we are a bit slower to respond than usual.

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