- Scout ship activated
- Superman and Lois, "No one stays good in this world."
- Wonder Woman before the fight
- The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg
- Lois and Perry's character arc
- Bonus: Additional thoughts from listeners on Lex's helipad scene
<Transcript of the episode>
Warner Brothers is showing how happy they are with the performance of BvS and Suicide Squad by expanding their DC Films slate. Not only is there Geoff Johns and Ben Affleck’s Batman but we have also had reputable reports of active production on a Man of Steel sequel and now Variety reported that Doug Liman will be directed Justice League Dark. You probably know Liman’s work from either The Bourne Identity or Edge of Tomorrow. I think it’s possible we will get official confirmation on the DC Films slate on September 2nd when DC All Access is doing a live broadcast.
But anyway, let’s get to the analysis. In this episode, we are going to cover the short scenes that followed up on the tour de force that was Lex’s helipad. So we’re going to quickly cover four scenes, which will lead us right to the big Batman-Superman showdown. First we see the scout ship activity, then we see Superman and Lois before he goes off to the battle. We also get Diana accessing the justice league files and finally Lois requesting the helicopter from Perry.
At the end of the episode, we’re also going to include a few additional thoughts about Lex’s helipad scene because we got lots of good feedback and additional thoughts from listeners on that scene.
So right after the helipad, they cut from Superman to the person he is now primarily concerned about, Martha Kent. We see Martha tied to a chair with Knyazev and several other of Lex’s hired men. With the extended cut, Knyazev and the flamethrower has significance beyond just the burning witch reference from Lex. It’s a connection back to the flamethrower scene in Africa. Also, because Knyazev was with Lois just a few minutes earlier in the helicopter, we know that Martha isn’t too far away from Lex tower, but of course Superman has no way of knowing that. This quick scene reinforces the danger that Martha is facing and makes it more tangible than the photographs. It also introduces us to the awesome warehouse setting that will be used to full effect later.
We also see the ticking clock that shows less than 35 minutes. This connects to Lex’s oven timer from the helipad and adds another layer of tension onto the Batman-Superman fight that is coming. Will Superman be able to resolve the conflict with Batman in such a way and in a short enough amount of time that he can save Martha? And it’s pretty natural at this point to think that Superman is going to be the one to save his mother, but it ends up being a great twist and a perfect character resolution for Bruce that Batman ends up being the one to save her.
The next shot is of a news report of lightning strikes and an energy drain happening at the scout ship in Metropolis. This is a reminder of Lex’s line that the cameras would be watching. In the Daily Planet office, Jenny reacts to the TV and Perry reacts to what he can actually see out the window. Together, this is showing that Lex, the master planner, has not only orchestrated Batman and Superman’s fight, using Martha as the final piece of leverage, but Lex also has something else going on with the scout ship. It is actually this scout ship activity, where Doomsday is being developed, that is Lex’s primary concern and the Batman-Superman fight is almost a sideshow at this point or just something to keep Superman and Batman distracted so that Doomsday has enough time to hatch.
Having Martha in danger and having the real threat emerging from the scout ship gives the audience even more reasons to be uncomfortable and anxious with the Batman-Superman fight. As we’ve said before, this movie actually seems to be an anti-glorification of violence. Batman’s violence is too brutal, for example, and when Batman and Superman are fighting in just a little while, we almost want to reach into the screen and tell them to get their act together because there’s a greater threat just across the bay. When Batman is about to kill Superman, we know it’s a huge mistake not just because it’s murder and it would represent Bruce losing his soul and losing his fight with powerlessness, but also because we know Batman is going to need Superman to stop Doomsday.
Another thing to keep in mind as people are seeing the scout ship becoming active -- the general public doesn’t know where Superman is and they tend to think of the scout ship as his ship. So people might be jumping to the conclusion that Superman is doing something with the ship, not Lex.
We see additional news coverage as Diana walks into her hotel. The lights flicker as the energy surges to the scout ship. It must be a significant amount of power that is required to reanimate Zod’s corpse and, as when Lex had the corpse in the genesis chamber, the lightning harkens to ideas of Frakenstein’s monster.
This is Diana’s first information about the eventual Doomsday threat, but it is noteworthy at this point that she has on a strikingly white outfit. White is usually seen as a color of purity and innocence. We can interpret this as her being removed from and washing her hands of the world of the men, the sins of man. At this point, she is still maintaining her separation and neutrality. And by the way, another cool feature of her outfit here is the metallic necklace that gives a subtle hint toward her Amazonian battle armor. I actually think that she has metal necklaces or bracelets in many of her scenes.
So that’s what we’re calling Scene 55. Then in Scene 56, we cut to Lois Lane down on the street hailing a cab so she can get back to the Daily Planet offices. The Planet is the pulse of the city, and from there she can acquire the knowledge and resources she needs to figure out what’s happening. Even after her kidnapping and near-death experience, she is still showing her tenacity and being “feisty,” as Lex would say. But off screen we hear Superman’s voice saying, “Lois.” She and the camera turn toward him and we see a distraught Superman. Just imagine how horrible he must feel at this moment where his loved ones are being used against him and he’s being forced into a no-win situation, just like he was with Zod at the end of Man of Steel.
That’s also why this interaction with Lois has to be brief -- because Lex said Martha would be killed if he didn’t proceed over to face Batman, and the clock is ticking. Superman says he has to go to Gotham to convince him to help. So his preferred option is to prevent the actual fight with Batman and to see if he and Batman together can find a way to foil Lex’s plot. But then Superman adds, “Or he has to die.” The look on his face when he says this is one of dread at the sheer notion of having to kill him. But even though he dreads the possibility, he is still recognizing it as a real possibility. He is open to the possibility of killing Batman rather than allowing his mother to die. Normally, of course, we would not expect Superman to ever kill in this way, but given that it may be one life or the other and given that Superman has already been primed to see Batman as a ruthless vigilante who is himself responsible for others’ deaths, it is plausible that Superman in his distressed state may rationalize to himself that it is justified to kill Batman. Seeing how he will resolve this dilemma gives us yet another thread to carry into the Batman-Superman fight. As we’ve said many times before, it is truly impressive how multi-layered they managed to make the Batman-Superman fight and how they also managed to come out of that fight with new developments in both of the main characters’ story arcs.
As the weight of possibly having to kill someone hits Superman, he adds one more line in this scene -- “No one stays good in this world.” This line not only refers to Lex, who just exposed all of his evil manipulations, and to Batman, whose methods Superman does not approve of, but the line also now refers to Superman himself. Because he is in “this world,” the world of mankind and its flaws, he is also feeling like he can’t stay good. He has been trying to stay good throughout the entire movie, and back in Man of Steel as well, but humanity keeps making it harder and harder for him to do so. That has been his arc that we have covered in our analysis from the beginning. All those negative repercussions, unintended consequences, and people bringing out the worst in each other is hitting Superman hard in this moment and he opens up to his most trusted companion that he’s not sure he can handle it -- and he’s not sure if he can keep his faith in humanity, the faith that he tried to establish after his visit with the priest in Man of Steel. That idealism is about to reach its breaking point, and the fact that it has been under such fire is a real critique on our society. Luckily, Superman is able to witness Batman’s redemption and his turn back toward the light, and things begins the process of Superman reestablishing his faith in “this world” that gives him the strength to sacrifice himself at the end.
But before we get there, we need to talk about the “no one stays good in this world” line a bit more, because it’s crucial for Superman’s arc and it is also often taken out of context as a way to criticize BvS and Zack Snyder for making Superman too dark or too un-Supermanlike. First of all, not only does this line represent the weight and frustration that Superman is feeling after he thought he had regained his optimism thanks to his trip to the mountain top. But this line also establishes a point of empathy and connection that Superman can eventually make with Batman. By actually experiencing how someone with good intentions can be pushed right up to and possibly over the line, Superman can maybe understand why Batman, after 20 years in Gotham, and losing family members like his parents and Robin, would become as brutal and unforgiving as he has been recently.
Moreover, I think Superman stays true to what it means to be Superman in this movie. Yes, his ideals are challenged and he is tested in an extreme manner, but he passes the test. It would be simpler to have him just be resolute through everything, like some people seem to want, but to me that would also be less compelling and less emotionally resonant. My heart really went out to Superman in the Capitol bombing because he was trying to do the right thing by humbling himself and coming to answer questions, because maybe that would satisfy the protesters, but then that went horribly. And after some soul searching, he still came back to Lois and to do what he could to stop Lex. What does he get for coming back? Lex kidnaps his mom and forces him into battle with Batman. Then, when Batman has him with the spear at his chest, he doesn't worry about himself but worries about his mom, showing selflessness. And even after this, he forgives Batman immediately and sets about doing what he can to stop Doomsday. He keeps getting knocked down or criticized by humans, but he keeps going on as Superman, until finally he makes the ultimate sacrifice and gives of himself in a way that finally no one can criticize or second-guess.
And finally, with this “no one stays good” line, I want to share a summary of a twitter conversation I had with Josh Carlisle and Marco Antonio Nájera. Josh pointed out some parallels to the “Father, why have you forsaken me?” moment for Jesus, with both of them being emotionally and physically beaten yet in their darkest hours they still persevere and sacrifice themselves to save others. For Marco this was one of his favorite lines because you could really feel that Superman’s heart was breaking, but we talked about him seeing Batman’s transformation, together with his love for Lois and Martha, gave Superman the hope that humanity could still be saved.
Anyway, scene 56 ends with Lois looking on as Superman flies away toward the bat signal. We are left with the question of whether Superman is going to stay good and pure during the fight, and if he’ll be able to find a way to circumvent Lex’s thorough plan. For Superman, it’s a question of whether or not he will actually be corrupted. And as Trent Osborne on YouTube pointed out, we are also going into the fight wondering if Batman is actually going to prove Superman right, that Batman does serve as the judge, jury, and executioner. From this perspective, if Batman “wins” and kills Superman, then he has actually proved Superman right. And if Superman “wins” the fight and kills Batman, then he has proved both Bruce and Lex right and he is corruptible. In this way, as Trent explained, “Both reasons for fighting personify each's view of others and represents their respective ideologies and, in an intriguing twist, it is pitting both against their own morals and beliefs. In a way it couldn't be more ideological, embodying everything their conflict was about while putting them against their own ideals in the process.”
So that gives us an amazing set-up for the marquee fight.
Justice League Files:
Yet, in what I think is a fair criticism of the film’s sequencing, we don’t actually follow all that momentum right into the Batman-Superman fight. Instead, we first get two more scenes. We cut back in to Diana’s hotel and see her at the computer, receiving an email message from Bruce. Even during my first viewing of the movie, and although I loved the Justice League cameos, I thought it was odd to get us pumped for these new characters right when we should be fixated on Superman heading over to fight Batman. And during subsequent viewings, I still thought it was a poor placement for the scene because of that interrupted momentum, but of course it’s easier to point out the problem than it is to propose the solution. It’s hard to really think of a better spot to put the Justice League cameos. I don’t think you do it as an end-credit scene because the existence of those meta-humans is very important for Lex’s motivations and the message he is trying to send with his desired defeat of Superman. It’s also important for Wonder Woman as she weighs her decision to join in the fight.
I also think end-credit scenes are a poor choice to deep and complex movies like Man of Steel and BvS because end-credit scenes take away from people walking out of the theater and processing the movie they just saw -- instead of letting ideas and themes percolate, the end-credit scene already shifts attention toward the next movie. It’s like a marketing campaign is coming in to interrupt what should be the audience’s chance to process all the complexities and nuances of what they just saw. So I’m glad BvS didn’t have an end-credit scene. I also don’t think the Justice League cameos can go later in the movie itself because everything from the fight to Doomsday to the death of Superman all flows really tightly. So the only other option would be to have it earlier. But I don’t think you really want to put it during Superman’s somber time between the Capitol bombing and now because it’s very exciting to see the Justice Leaguers, and the sheer awesomeness of those clips would conflict in tone with, say, Clark’s visit with his dead father and Bruce’s visit to the burnt out Wayne Manor. So I think these Justice League clips are good, but it’s hard to find the exact right spot to drop them in.
Now, with regard to Diana’s email, some fault-finding critics have tried to say that it was weird for Batman to send the email while he’s waiting at the bat signal, but that’s just a silly nitpick. Even though it’s a pop-up window that says new message, it doesn’t necessarily mean the message was just sent at that moment. We don’t know exactly how Diana has her email notifications configured, and it could be that Diana just now connected her computer to the internet and so it’s pulling in messages since the last time she was connected. Or Bruce could have set the email to be sent at a specified time. Or it could just be that the filmmakers wanted to have the pop-up window to make it easier for the audience to follow what was happening because we don’t want to have to look at everything on her screen, instead our attention can go right to the window that pops up. Anyway, none of this really matters unless you are going out of your way to try to raise complaints.
So she opens the message and its subject line is “Boys share too” as a playful reference back to the museum scene. Bruce says that he cracked Luthor’s drive and found the photograph that Diana was concerned about. So Bruce is giving Diana the information she wanted -- she was wondering if Lex had found out about her past, and this confirms that he had. Bruce then says that this was not just a photo that belonged to Diana but actually a photo of Diana. Bruce writing “Who are you?” shows us that Bruce knows she is not a normal human. In fact, as we find out later when Bruce says “I thought she was with you,” he suspects she may be Kryptonian. He also writes “Where have you been?” We can guess that Bruce has done his own investigation of Diana only to turn up nothing. Seeing her front and center in a photo almost one hundred years old but finding no other trace of her until recently in Lex’s surveillance leads to the question of where she’s been hiding all these years. This is also a question that the audience can ask and hope to find out in her solo film next year. “Where have you been?” can have this meaning of where has she spent the intervening years but it can also be interpreted as a question about all of her past experiences -- like, wow, were you involved in World War 1? What was that like? If you’ve been around for even longer than that, you must have some incredible experiences. It’s going to be great to further explore this implied history not only in the Wonder Woman film but also through Bruce and Diana getting to know each other better as partners in Justice League.
Speaking of Justice League, of course the big thing here in Scene 57 is Lex’s meta-human research on the Justice League members. Bruce shares this information with Diana, too, even though he doesn’t have. This is another olive branch and more evidence that he does share and maybe isn’t the type of man that Diana assumed he was. And Bruce may also wonder if Diana already knows some things about these meta-humans and so he is curious about how she will respond.
All of this, of course, comes from Lex’s research over the past couple years. In an Empire podcast interview, Zack Snyder said he liked the idea of Lex researching and naming the meta-humans, because it makes sense for Lex’s character to do this and it also makes sense because the names are not the kinds of things that people would give themselves. Although we should say that the full names are not totally clear, but we do see WW for Wonder Woman, CY for Cyborg, FL for Flash, and AQ for Aquaman. The Flash is also referred to as RedStreak on some of the files.
The logos also make sense, despite what some nit-pickers have said. As Suicide Squad confirms, the Flash has been operating with his preliminary suit and so has already incorporated the lightning bolt insignia. The Wonder Woman logo is based on her costume, not an original design by Lex Luthor. It’s plausible that Lex could’ve pulled images in a similar way for Cyborg and Aquaman.
Suicide Squad also supports the idea presented in our episode for Scene 46 that the government has been researching metahumans and that Lex has piggybacked off of their findings, which was already clear based on the government footage in Lex’s files. In Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller hands over files about the metahumans to Bruce. Some of this is info he already has from Lex’s files, but Lex probably only allowed Bruce to steal specifics such as surveillance footage to show they exist. Waller may have additional info that Lex didn’t allow Bruce to steal, and it was also important for Bruce to not just get info from Waller but also to find out what she knew about the metahumans.
Now we get to the three character introductions -- The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. There are lots of analyses online about these character introductions, so we’re just going to say a little bit about each. They are efficient in the sense that they are all brief but they show the character designs and give hints of how their powers are going to be represented in this movie universe. And they even indicate some the main themes or questions that the characters can explore.
- The Flash - Barry Allen seems like a simple, nice but quirky guy picking up milk. He is established as a street-level crime fighter and he has a great smirk on his face after he takes out the criminal. You can tell he has a fun personality and that he gets some natural joy out of his heroing. This clip also shows his powers and the speed force lightning with electrical interference.
- Aquaman - his domain is clearly the sea. It’s vast and dark and mankind is encroaching on his domain -- this is evidenced both by the wreckage and by the submarine probe. Aquaman isn’t too thrilled about it, and so maybe he can be used as a character to explore themes of planetary propriety, environmentalism, and mutual dependence. (Note: I saw BvS on opening weekend with a group that included one of my coworkers. She liked the movie, and her favorite part in the whole film was this appearance by Aquaman. She liked the attitude that Jason Momoa brought to it and she was really interested in seeing an Aquaman film.)
- Cyborg - we get a clear and strong relationship between father and son, and we also see the use of technology to defeat death. It also sets up themes of the relationship between humanity and technology. On a more practical level, we get the existence of STAR labs in the movie universe -- many people may be familiar with it from the comics or from The Flash TV show. We also see a motherbox, which is a highly advanced piece of technology from the planet Apokolips, so that will connect directly to Justice League.
- For Cyborg, it’s worth mentioning that he was not always a Justice Leaguer. He was elevated from the Teen Titans to the Justice League with the New 52 reboot in 2011 and he’s had his own comic book series in 2015 and now in the Rebirth era of DC Comics. Like Geoff Johns said in the CW Special on the Justice League Universe, I think it is great to have Cyborg as a 21st Century character now that we are all more linked with our technology than ever before.
Overall, I really loved these character cameos and I didn’t mind at all that they were presented through an email attachment. I think it made sense in the context of the movie and I also think it’s fitting that Bruce shared the information with Diana because we know they are both going to be working together closely to form up the team.
Now, to wrap things up before the big Batman-Superman fight, we get a quick shot of Batman and his bat signal with the rain beautifully falling around him… again it’s the strong falling motif that has been attached to Bruce since the opening scene of the movie.
Then we see Lois arriving at the Daily Planet and asking Perry for a chopper to Gotham. Having just seen Batman, it is implicitly obvious where she wants to go and why. At first, Perry is not open to the request. He says, “Go to the ship, Superman’s probably there already.” But Lois knows Superman is not at the scout ship. She looks Perry in the eye and says it’s not for a story, implying that it’s something personal and she wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t really important. Perry trusts his star reporter and his friend. This is the culmination of a nice minor arc between Perry and Lois that goes back to Man of Steel. They have great respect for one another and although they don’t always see eye to eye, when things get really intense, they support one another. I think this dynamic played out even more clearly in the Extended Cut.
Perry gives her the chopper and when he calls after her to say the roof instead of a helipad, this is a callback to the line about her riding “Coach” to Washington DC. It also might remind some Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder fans about the helicopter on the roof in Superman: The Movie, which is Lois and Superman’s first meeting.
We cut right to Lois on the roof, running up to the helicopter, and then when the pilot asks where they’re going, she says “there” and points to the bat signal in Gotham. This confirms the geographic relationship between Gotham and Metropolis and sets up a direct cut to Batman and the location of the Batman-Superman fight.
End of Episode:
So obviously the next episode for Batman v Superman will be the big fight and also the all-important Martha moment. But that’s going to be a big episode for us, so to give ourselves time to finish off our writing, we are probably going to shift back to Suicide Squad briefly and meet the team over there.
And before we close out this episode, we want to look back briefly at the helipad scene from our last episode. First, a quick correction -- I mentioned that it was interesting that Lex had learned Superman’s Kryptonian name, Kal-El, but it slipped my mind that of course Zod had already broadcast the name Kal-El when Zod arrived in Man of Steel. Thanks to our listeners for catching that, and that was just my own mistake.
Second, we want to give a quick inventory of Lex’s motivation, because many people in the general public seemed to be unclear about it. The briefest way to say it was expressed by Eisenberg himself in the Dawn of the Justice League Special: “Lex hates Superman.” That really is enough to explain why Lex is so obsessed with taking him down, taking him down both publicly and physically.
To get into a bit more detail, though, we could say the following: “Lex hates Superman and wants everyone else to join him in his hatred of Superman.” That’s why it’s so important for Lex to not just kill Superman but to kill him at the right moment. He wants to turn public opinion against Superman and show everyone the “holes in the holy.” He wants to completely destroy people’s faith and admiration of Superman, and then also show the fallibility of Superman. This is why he wants to raise doubts and concerns about the repercussions of Superman’s actions, why he wants to fan the hatred, and why he wants to coerce Superman into violence. As Man of Steel Answers explained, this take on Lex is probably directly linked to his abuse at the hands of his father. Lex saw his father as a monster, but everyone else saw him as a glorified hero. This issue from childhood was later projected onto Superman.
Another perspective on Lex is that he represents the idea of misotheism or the hatred of god. This is different than atheism, which is the belief that there is no god. To hate god is to accept that he exists but to think that he is evil rather than good, or that he is unfair or unjust rather than perfectly worthy of worship. This perspective is supported by all the explicit religious overtones and by the reference to waving daisies at reviewing stands, which is akin to worshipping god and both are abhorrent to Lex.
Our listeners also have some great insights on Lex, with many people saying he is the most compelling villain in a comic book movie if not any movie in general. Abdias Zuniga commented on ComicAndScreen.blogspot.com in response to our point in the last episode that Lex may also simply be envious of god and of Superman because Lex wishes he were god. Abdias said, “I think that the motif of "envy" fits Luthor perfectly as it places him alongside other religious villains like Cain (who was envious of his brother Abel) and Lucifer (who was envious of his father God).”
GaB on our podcast website said: “BvS is a movie about mothers. Martha Wayne and Martha Kent are two important figures in the movie, they are the mothers of the two main characters. [It] is interesting that we don't know anything about Lex Luthor's mother, we only know that his father was violent with him. [This] is a contrast between the heroes and the villain.”
And Planet G said the following about the helipad scene overall: “Really incredible scene and heartbreaking to see Superman forced into another no win situation. Eisenberg's portrayal is so frightening. It's interesting that in both movies now the villains have been very willing to open up to Superman about their plans. One in the hope that he will embrace them (Zod), the other expecting him to bend to them.”
Thanks for those thoughts, and it’s always amazing to see how much insight you all can provide even beyond what we come up with in our analysis.
Alessandro also had another thought that he wanted to add about the helipad scene. He made some connections when Lex was talking to Lois about the topic of circles.
When Lex says “Next category: Circles. Round, and round, and round they go to find Superman.” at face value we can consider that Lex has been monitoring Superman via radar which uses circles as we see later in the movie when the Department of Defense are monitoring Superman and Doomsday after launching the nuke. This is an indication that Lex has been looking for Superman and knows he has returned.
But the manner in which he categorically brings up the topic of circles spotlights it and suggests a deeper meaning and reason for wording it in such a way. While it may or may not have been intentional, Lex’s line about circles creates a connection to Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. This wouldn’t be the first reference to a Biblical epic poem in the movie. Let’s not forget the painting in Lex’s house which was inspired by Gustave Dore’s The Fall of the Rebel Angels from Book I of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. This makes it more likely that the reference to the Divine Comedy was intentional. In it Dante traverses the nine circles of hell to find God in Heaven. Similarly, Lex has gone through his own hell to get at Superman who is described as a god.
And Dante depicts Heaven as nine concentric spheres with God at its center. After the DoD launches the nuke and Batman says “Oh God,”, Swanwick seeks god, in this case projectile 2 which is Superman, in the heavens above within the concentric circles with increasing degrees of shading in their annuli as if to represent the spheres of heaven, after the devil, or projectile 1 which is Doomsday, has fallen from the heavens and can be found at the center of the unshaded circles on the radar in contrast, as if to represent the circles of hell. So that scene touches on both The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost, but is set up by Lex’s reference to circles in the context of finding Superman.
The Divine Comedy is an allegory with its first part, Inferno, describing the recognition and rejection of sin which Lex explicitly does when he tells Superman he doesn’t hate the sinner, he hates the sin, and Superman’s sin is existing, a reality which he rejects. Dante’s journey through Hell to Heaven is an emblem of all human experience and a recognition of life’s circularity. It is about the soul’s search for God which Superman is described as.
Circles have been a symbol of worship for a long time, with many followers believing circles are intrinsically “divine” or “perfect”. This could be why Lex corrects himself and says “wrong category, boy” because he doesn’t want to associate Superman with divinity or perfection, especially given his belief that Superman can’t be all good AND all powerful. The number three is also prominent in the Divine Comedy and Catholicism. Of note, Lex says the word round three times rather than the two times we usually heard it said. This idea of threes leads into Lex’s next line about triangles.