Wednesday, December 14, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scene 61

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Batman v Superman Scene 61, Batman, Superman, and Lois's conversation after the Batman-Superman fight.

  • Quick look back at the Batman-Superman fight
  • Two threat locations - scout ship and warehouse
  • Superman and Lois explaining the situation to Batman
  • Batman's rational and emotional appeal to Superman
  • Batman's promise
  • Rising/falling motif
  • Thoughts from listeners
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco
Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast
@JLUPodcast on twitter

<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 Warner Brothers films that are part of the Justice League Universe, a universe that will be growing substantially over the next couple years, with Wonder Woman and Justice League coming in 2017, and probably Aquaman and The Batman coming in 2018, and then possibly Gotham City Sirens, Dark Universe, and maybe Man of Steel 2, Suicide Squad 2, or The Flash coming in 2019, or even that Shazam movie that Dwayne Johnson was cast for. It isn’t exactly the same as the original slate announced in 2014 but it still sounds really good to me.

Anyway, we have been talking about Suicide Squad recently, but in this episode, we return to our bread and butter, which is Batman v Superman, directed by Zack Snyder and written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. We are going to be covering scene 61, the conversation between Batman and Superman after the fight.

Our last BvS episode was about the Martha moment, obviously, and so in this episode we are still addressing the aftermath of the Batman-Superman fight. I actually want to start by saying that I noticed something new when I watched the Batman-Superman fight again in preparation for this episode. Even though I’ve seen the fight more than a dozen times, it just stood out to me this time that when Batman triggers the automatic weapons to fire on Superman and Superman flies up and disintigrates them with his heat vision, this is a visual echo of the Knightmare scene when Superman heat blasts the two men on either side of Batman. This time it’s the guns on either side. And this echo is thematically coherent because in the Knightmare scene Superman’s brutal use of heat vision was a confirmation that he was a tyrant who Batman needed to stop but couldn’t, and in this scene we see that Superman is only using his heat vision in self defense because of the aggression by Batman. And even though Lex and Batman both have given Superman every reason to go straight ahead and kill Batman, Superman is not doing that. It shows how good to the core Superman is as a character and how the Knightmare scene is not a fair representation of Superman’s future. But Batman was still in his tunnel-vision mode and couldn’t yet see that contrast between the Superman heat vision there in the fight and his use of the heat vision from the Knightmare scene.

Another quick thing about the fight itself -- some people have complained that the Batman-Superman fight was too short, yet in the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns Alessandro went back and checked and the battle between them was only 8 pages out of 224 pages. So proportionally, that would’ve been less than 5 and a half minutes of the movie, so the movie actually had a longer fight than The Dark Knight Returns. And in BvS, the emotional and philosophical conflict between the characters is a much bigger part of the story than just the physical confrontation.

But going ahead to Scene 61, the fight is over, Batman has broken out of his tunnel vision and has taken his first shaky steps toward redemption. We first get a shot outside on the streets as a reporter talks about the military and police personnel surrounding the Kryptonian scout ship, which is visibly active with power surges and electrical arcs. We know that Lex is bringing Doomsday to life in there, but no one in the movie knows that yet. We also get a few quick shots of Martha still being held hostage, visually reminding us of her danger right on the heels of the Martha moment, and we see Knyazev light up a flame for his flame thrower. Basically these scenes set the stage for the explanation that Superman and Lois are making to Bruce about what has actually been happening and what Lex has been up to. This is made clearer when you hear Superman’s voice say “Luthor” while the shot is still on Knyazev’s flamethrower before it cuts back to Superman and Batman.

We see Superman still wounded and fatigued from the kryptonite. He hasn’t yet been exposed to the sun to heal and Batman is helping him up when Superman says to Batman, “He wanted her life for yours.” The “her” was obviously Martha Kent, because that’s what Batman had just reacted to a few moments earlier. And so now Batman is actually able to listen to Superman, which he never really did in the fight, and Superman is helping him see that Lex had put Superman up to the fight by using Martha Kent as leverage. Now that Batman is in a mental state where he can listen and his judgment has returned, we know he is clever and quick witted enough to connect all the dots pretty quickly.  As Batman is learning all of this, he must realize that Lex played him.  So that might make him feel weak or powerless in a different way than before, but it can also be a good motivator for Batman in the remainder of the movie because now at least he is aware of what’s going on and he has clear opportunities going forward to make up for it.

Now, I think it was interesting that Superman phrased it as Lex wanting Batman’s life for Martha’s. While this is technically true, it kind of misses the main point, which is that Lex wanted Batman’s life not because he particularly wanted Batman dead but because Lex wanted to impurify Superman and show Superman’s corruptibility. So I know it would be a clunkier line but he could’ve said something like, “He was trying to make me kill you to save her.” That would’ve been a bit more accurate because it indicates that Lex’s plan was really about Superman, not about Batman.

Anyway, the actual dialogue continues with Superman saying that Martha is losing time. He is inviting Batman into a collaboration to find a way to save Martha and stop Lex, which is what Superman wanted to do from the beginning. And it goes back to what we had said in a prior episode about how the countdown clock for Martha indicates an impending doom but it also actually gives Superman some flexibility because he knows that Lex isn’t going to kill her before the time is up.

Lois has the next line and she shares some information that she knows about but that Batman and Superman had been oblivious too because of their fight. Lex is at the scout ship and is drawing power from the city. They don’t know exactly what he’s doing there, but they know it’s something bad. The fact that Lois had to bring this to their attention and she couldn’t do so until after the fight had resolved confirms what Man of Steel Answers had pointed out, which was that a big reason Lex may have orchestrated the fight was to distract the two heroes so that he could have time to fully birth Doomsday.

Now that Lois has pointed out the growing threat from Lex at the scout ship, Bruce says to Superman, “They need you at that ship. I’ll find her.” This is a pretty rational position because Lex firing up some Kryptonian technology is a Superman-level threat, whereas Martha, a human being held by other humans, is more of a Batman-level threat. Of course, even though Bruce has stated a rational position about how to split up and address both threats, this isn’t a matter of cold rationality -- Superman says, “My mother needs me” and starts to take a step forward. This makes emotional sense for Superman. But it actually probably wouldn’t have been wise for Superman to leave and try to find Martha because if Lex or Kynazev had gotten any evidence of Superman leaving the Batman fight, there were probably orders to kill Martha immediately.

It doesn’t come to this, because Bruce stops Superman and instead of trying to appeal with logic he appeals to Superman on an emotional level. He says, “I’ll make you a promise. Martha won’t die tonight.” Most people noticed immediately that the use of the name “Martha” here is significant because not only is Bruce saying that he’ll save Clark’s mother but he is also going to finally have the chance to save his own mother, something that he has felt powerless to do for his entire life. In essence, his pain and anguish has all been rooted in the powerlessness he felt when his parents were killed in front of him, and now he is being given a chance to atone for that, at least in a vicarious way. He is also being given a chance to show that his work as Batman and the development of his skills does have value, it wasn’t just a beautiful lie.

But there is another very important word in Bruce’s line here -- the word “promise.” He is explicitly making a promise to Superman. This shows that he is beginning to regain his hope and his faith. Because remember that earlier with Alfred, he was totally jaded about the value of promises at all. “How much are promises worth?” His implication, they’re worth nothing.

So now is rekindling his faith in promises and he is reconnecting and re-committing himself to noble causes. But I do want to point out that, in this scene, Batman has stepped away from the edge and has pulled himself back from basically losing his soul which would’ve happened if he had carried out his revenge. But this is not yet his full redemption -- he is not yet back to being the pure hero of Batman. I think that full redemption comes after he witnesses Superman’s sacrifice at the end of the movie.

Speaking of that sacrifice, of course many people have talked about Superman as being a christlike figure and dying to save the world, but several of our listeners have also brought up the idea that Batman is kind of like the character Paul from the bible. Paul had his famous conversion on the road to Damascus where in a moment of divine inspiration he switched from persecuting christians to recruiting and leading christians. Similarly, in BvS, Batman was persecuting Superman but had a moment of clarity and then quickly came to Superman’s side.

Going forward in Scene 61, Superman considers Batman’s promise, and perhaps now that Batman has appealed to him emotionally Superman also may see the rationality of the proposal, and he nods in agreement. He then has a tender moment with Lois where, true to their characters, they share a deep and knowing look with one another but don’t need to say any words. She can see what he’s been through in the fight but she also sees that he has come out the other side of it, still himself, still with faith in humanity --- because remember the last time they spoke, Superman said that no one stays good, but she can now see that he didn’t believe that. Superman knows that Lois is good and is by his side, and he knows his mother is good, and he has also just shown that he is willing to trust Batman’s promise and so Superman is keeping his faith in humanity, too.

Lois also knows that Superman must be very worried about his mother, and so it isn’t easy for him to leave Martha in someone else’s hands, but the threat at the scout ship is serious and Lois and Superman both know that Lex is capable of horrible acts, as the Capitol bombing already showed. So the stakes there are much higher than just Martha’s life.

The scene ends with a beautiful shot of Superman’s red cape in the dust and concrete of the depot and he floats away to the side before he shoots up and out of the building. We said in the Martha episode that it was thematically significant that Batman took Superman down low, continuing the falling motif and the idea of up as moral and down as immoral. Now that Batman has started to right himself, and Superman was also able to make it through the conflict without giving in to the temptation of killing Batman, they are both ready to rise up. And right on cue, Superman flies up out of the scene. The next shot also shows Batman flying up in his Batwing now that he has pulled himself out of his downward spiral. So they are both back on their way up after having reached their low point. There also happens to be a nice contrast, though, between Superman’s effortless flight upward of his own accord and Batman having to strap in to a highly mechanized plane, with the shot emphasizing the landing gear, the engines, and the cockpit doors.

In the Batwing, Alfred immediately contacts Batman. Earlier, Batman had shut him out and so this is another indication of Batman returning from his dark place. He is opening himself up again to his human connections, and in the extended cut this is emphasized when Batman says, “I don’t deserve you, Alfred.” Which is probably as close to Batman gets to an apology, and Alfred knows that.

So anyway, Alfred, playing his role as a sometimes guardian angel and sometimes good angel on the shoulder of Batman, was keeping tabs the entire time. He has regained his ability to influence Batman in the right direction and tells him where to find Martha, again using Kynazev’s phone as they did before. This, of course, is going to lead us straight into the next action sequence, which is Batman’s warehouse rescue of Martha.

But we before that, we do see Lois, left alone, and she picks up the Kryptonite spear. We’ll talk about what she does with it in our next BvS episode.

End of Episode:

So that’s our analysis of Scene 61, which is kind of a collection of several mini-scenes. But like the rest of BvS, even the incidental and interstitial scenes are well executed and have strong thematic connections to the film overall.

To close out this episode we want to share a few things that we’ve collected from listeners over the past few weeks. First of all, looking back at something we missed in Scene 49 with Jonathan Kent on the mountaintop, @BuckSatan22 on Twitter noticed that at one point Jonathan Kent puts his hands on his hips like the classic Superman pose. BuckSatan22 said, “This seemed to me that this was Clark's impression of his father which was that of a hero.  Sons often try to live up to what they perceive as the expectations of their fathers but often feel they fail for one reason or another. It was nice to see this scene give Clark clarity on what might at first appear as failure, but in reality, was just a setback.”
Thanks for catching that, Bradey.

We also have a couple listeners who have noticed the color red, which seems to have been used strategically in the film. Section XP23 from YouTube noticed the color red throughout the movie and said that, “every single character has something with the color red like Lex's jolly rancher, Bruce's dream with mourning his parents,” and of course Superman had his cape and shield. Section XP23 also wondered if it might be representative of the blood of christ or of the other deaths in the movie, such as from the Senate bombing. It’s very cool to notice, anyway, and it’s something we can look for the next time we watch it all the way through. Ian Levinson on YouTube also noticed red in a specific set design -- namely, the batcave. This red, Ian said, may represent Bruce’s anger and violence, and it pays off especially well as the visual backdrop in Scene 31 when Bruce has his heated argument with Alfred.

Finally, we recently heard from a listener on our Podomatic site, but we don’t know his or her name. So we’ll just say they --- they were commenting on the point we made in our last episode about Suicide Squad and how we talked about the existence of a creator god in the Justice League Universe. In particular, the novelization of Suicide Squad confirms that there was some sort of creator god but it has left and no longer intervenes in the world. This listener pointed out that a creator god who is absent kind of justifies some of Lex’s resentment because it is true that god left him to suffer from his father’s fists and abominations. They also wondered if this absent creator god is similar to “The Presence” from Vertigo comics, such as the Hellblazer or Lucifer.
We don’t know the answer to that, but we do suspect that gods and new gods will be important for Justice League, and possibly for Wonder Woman as well, so more on that to come.

Thanks, as usual, to Man of Steel Answers and to the Suicide Squadcast for making your awesome podcasts. And if you’re still listening all the way to the end of the episode here, then thank you for your loyalty and we’d like to invite you into another one of our giveaways. Previously we’ve given away a digital version of BvS, a couple different graphic novels, and a classic Superman comic book issue. This time, we are going to give away a digital version of Suicide Squad. Now, we realize that many of our listeners probably already have the digital version of Suicide Squad, but even so, we encourage you to enter the giveaway contest because you can always pass along the DC love to other people who you think might enjoy it. So here’s how you can enter the giveaway: just tweet to us @JLUPodcast and tell us (A) your favorite character in Batman v Superman and (B) why they are your favorite character. That’s @JLUPodcast on twitter. If you don’t use twitter, you can also leave us a comment on our Podomatic site -- -- but if you do that please be sure to leave a name and a way to reach you if you win.

So favorite character from BvS and why they’re your favorite character. Please send in your entries right away because we’re only going to keep this open for about 12 hours. After 12 hours, we’ll compile all the entries we have and then randomly select a winner. If you’re the winner, you will get your digital code in time to watch the Suicide Squad extended cut along with Allesandro and me. We are going to release a Suicide Squad extended cut commentary episode at the end of this week. So please look for that in a few days. And you can also check out our past commentary episodes for Man of Steel and the BvS extended cut. Thanks again for listening.

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