- Superman and Lois farewell
- "You are my world"
- Who should wield the kryptonite spear?
- Trinity teamwork
- Doomsday's death
- Parallels to Man of Steel
- The Death of Superman
- Superman and christian mythology
- Was it too soon for him to die?
Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast
@JLUPodcast on twitter
So in the last episode, we left off with Superman and Lois recovering and looking on at Wonder Woman and Doomsday. Wonder Woman had just sliced off Doomsday’s hand, but being Doomsday, he actually just adapts and becomes stronger, now with a massive bone spike in place of his hand. So this bone spike is what ends up killing Superman, and Wonder Woman inadvertently created the bone spike but it’s important to realize that it was inadvertent -- there is no blame here for Wonder Woman. She did not know that Doomsday would later use the bone spike to stab Superman through the chest, and she didn’t even know that Doomsday would be able to regenerate his limbs at all. So of course it would seem like a perfectly good idea, a great move in fact, to cut off Doomsday’s hand and forearm. It is unfair for the audience to use subsequent events to judge Wonder Woman’s actions here, just like it was unfair for them in Man of Steel to blame Clark for activating the scout ship and inadvertently signalling to General Zod.
Now as we saw earlier with Doomsday, when he takes damage he is able to regenerate and become even stronger, which is similar to the comic book origin of the character. Given this capability and the fact that we’ve seen his bone protrusions growing over time, it makes sense that Doomsday would grow this bony spike in response to his hand being cut off. It’s also a nice filmmaking touch because the spike sets up Superman’s death to mirror his father’s death where Zod killed Jor-El with a spike. And Doomsday being made from Zod’s body is all the more symbolic.
So we cut right from a center-frame shot of the bone spike and in a clear bit of foreshadowing we cut to Superman, looking toward Doomsday at both the site and the cause of his impending death. A couple more details here -- Superman is sporting an S-curl, thanks to the wet hair from the spear recovery, and Lois has her head turned away, which is a fitting posture because Superman is ready to face what is about to happen but Lois isn’t ready for it. This leads into the farewell moment for Superman and Lois. As we’ve covered many times here on the podcast, Superman is a man of few words, which is a character trait that goes all the way back through Man of Steel. And it means that Superman and Lois also often communicate through shared understanding and an emotional connection rather than lots of rapid dialogue. They do talk with one another, certainly, but it is in quite direct and open ways where they get right to the point of expressing what they need to express. It is the same thing here, where they will share some final words with one another and each line they speak is meaningful and important.
Superman’s first line is very simply, “I love you” to Lois. This is the basis for what comes next and it is something that he absolutely wants to make sure she knows before anything else. It’s also something that we know very clearly as the audience, because it goes all the way back through Man of Steel. In our episode on why we love Man of Steel, we said that their love was on a much firmer foundation because Lois loved the whole character of Clark and Superman. And he had someone who accepted him as he truly was. Furthermore, Clark went through struggles and tried to do the best he could in difficult situations in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, and she was there for him and with him through all of it, which was a great comfort and connection for Clark, but it also allowed her to see him in ways that no one else did. She knew the anguish that he actually felt after killing Zod, she knew the entirety of what that meant to him to lose Krypton but to also take his leap of faith for humanity. In BvS, she knew that he was a good person trying to do the right thing and that the world was treating him unfairly. She knew how much it broke his heart at the Capitol bombing. All of this built empathy and love between the characters, and led to this moment between them.
Lois looks back over at Doomsday who is surging with energy and, as usual, without having to say it explicitly she knows what Superman is thinking. She says to him, “No.” And of course this isn’t “no” in response to the “I love you,” this is “no” in response to the unspoken decision by Superman to go straight at Doomsday even at the risk of his own life. And by the way, if you’re trying to keep tally of how many unspoken understandings like this that Superman and Lois have, I know that it’s at least 4 just in BvS --- there’s the African incident before Superman tackles the general, there’s the aftermath of the Capitol bombing, and there’s a moment after the Batman-Superman fight.
But at this point now Lois does speak up. She says, “No, Clark, you can’t.” She has already almost lost him at the hands of Batman, and then she thought she lost him in the nuclear explosion. She doesn’t want to bear the thought of possibly losing him again. But Superman, coming full circle from Man of Steel, once again embraces Earth as his own and himself as its protector. He says, “This is my world.” The phrase “world” has been a thread throughout several of Superman’s scenes in BvS. Most recently, he said that Doomsday was from “my world,” in that case, meaning Krypton. But now he has come back around to Earth as his world and humanity as his people. Even though they’ve protested him and some have defaced him or tried to kill him, he has refound his center and is about to stand proudly in front of the human race just like Jonathan Kent had hoped.
Superman had also said in a prior scene that “no one stays good in this world,” meaning Earth and mankind. And he said “this world” Earth instead of my world Earth. He was having some doubts about whether humanity was living up to the leap of faith that he had taken. It’s a similar sentiment to what he expressed on the balcony in Washington when he said that the S-symbol meant hope on “my world,” meaning Krypton. So we see that throughout the movie Superman had wavered a bit on whether Earth or Krypton was his world, not because he is being pouty or detached like people accuse but because he cares too much --- every protest, every act of violence, every action against his loved ones but also every tragedy that he fails to prevent, they hit him right in the heart. We see that throughout the movie and we should empathize with him, even though he keeps most of it internal rather than talking about it at length. He is wondering if his attempts to help this world are actually for the ultimate good, because people are telling him to stop and there always seem to be unintended consequences.
But after all this turmoil and reflection, and after a first round of fighting with Doomsday, he seems to have a calm come over him, and he’s with the woman he loves in a brief moment of respite. It is now clear to him what he has to do, and it’s clear that this is his world and he can see his role in it, a way to cut through the protest and the turmoil and the unintended consequences and save everyone all at the same time. Of course the downside is that he’ll leave behind Lois, but he knows what he has to do and he wants Lois to know what she means to him.
He calmly pauses, he smiles -- yes, Superman smiles, and this isn’t the first time, in fact --- and then he says, “You are my world.” This line, referencing my world but also tying it to Lois specifically connects to a few important things. First, back in the knightmare scene, he tells Batman that “she was my world” and so we infer that losing her, presumably Lois, is what caused him to go down the dark path of becoming a dictator. In that case, losing Lois drove him over the edge, just like in the Injustice universe, but in this case, Superman will sacrifice himself and thus become a hero who inspires the world, not a tyrannical dictator.
A second connection was articulated by @lexaluthor on Twitter, who pointed out that this moment links up with the Scene 6 back in the apartment. Lois at that time had said, "I just don't know if it's possible. For you to love me and be you." Now, as @lexaluthor points out, we see that it is precisely BECAUSE of Clark’s love for Lois that he is able to be Superman. They’re not incompatible -- in fact, being Superman depends on loving Lois.
And a third connection was pointed out to us by Abonny from YouTube, who saw a connection to Man of Steel: (quote) “In MoS, when young Clark has his anxiety attack in class, he tells his mom that he can't deal with the world because it's too big. This is the same thing that is happening to him in BvS, but on a much bigger scale. In both cases, the answer comes from his parents: Make the world small. In MoS it's a metaphorical island. In BvS it's Lois Lane. I think that is a beautiful connection between the movies.” (end quote) We agree that this is a brilliant way to interpret the scene and a great connection between Man of Steel and BvS. When you’re Superman, your powers and also your status in the public’s eye, it is very easy for the world to become too big -- it’s too complex and the idea of simple right and wrong doesn’t make any sense when you have to navigate political borders and competing interests and people who are actively working against you. We watch Superman as a character in both movies having to deal with those challenges, and he has the advice of making his world small and so here in Scene 72 of BvS, we see him quiet his mind and find his center again, his world in Lois Lane. She is worth saving, she always believed in him and protected him, and she represents what’s best in humanity. She ties him to this world, his world.
So the scene moves forward and Lois calls after Clark one last time, but at this point before we leave Lois behind, we also want to share a few thoughts from our listener MortalFluff on YouTube: (paraphrasing here) “The creators of the film are juxtaposing our knowledge of Super Heroes with our knowledge of other mythos like Religion, Mythology, literature, film, etc). They recognize that the story of Superman or Batman is as widely known as Jesus, or Frankenstein… Another example of self aware, meta statements is the Lois line [about being a journalist, not a lady]. While her character is going toe-to-toe with the terrorist leader, the filmmakers are going toe-to-toe with the audience. They know the typical role for women in these types of movies and they want to make it clear that Lois is an atypical character. Her role is a female yes, and we usually associate that with the "Damsel-in-distress" trope, which she does in fact fit -- BUT she's a reporter first. Her primary role in this movie is actually a reporter with an affinity for the same subjects that Clark and Bruce are trying to tackle. She should be given some respect for her importance to the narrative itself. After all, at the end she doesn't end up with Clark, showing ultimately that their relationship does take a backseat to her actual role in the film (and the same goes for Clark!)” (end paraphrase)
So I think MortalFluff has some great ideas about Lois being more than a damsel-in-distress. Yes, she is saved by Superman, as is unavoidable in Superman media, but she is actually a reporter and a truth-finder first, and I would add that she is just as protective of Clark/Superman as he is of her, it's just that he can protect her physically whereas she protects him emotionally and in the eyes of the public. And I’m actually curious if Lois will continue to have this protector role over Superman’s legacy and reputation in the Justice League film before Superman’s return.
So let’s go forward in the scene. Superman flies low and grabs the Kryptonite spear. This leads us to the Trinity team-up where everyone uses their available tools to finally bring down Doomsday. Wonder Woman gets her lasso around Doomsday’s shoulders and then pulls with all her strength to try to keep him relatively immobilized. This lasso, of course, is iconic to Wonder Woman and I can’t wait to see more of it in the Wonder Woman film. And because she immobilized Doomsday, it gives Batman a chance to finally use the last Kryptonite grenade, which explodes right into Doomsday’s face. And sure enough, Batman, who we’d last seen retreating behind a smoke screen, has just emerged from behind a brick wall of cover. There’s nice parallel editing that they used here. With Wonder Woman, we first see the lasso go around Doomsday and then we see a shot of Wonder Woman pulling on the lasso. Similarly, we first see the Kryptonite gas explode on Doomsday and then we see a shot of Batman lowering his rifle. I think the specific camera move from Doomsday over to Batman was probably not as good of a flow as just cutting straight over to Batman, but I like how the editing features each of the members of the Trinity here. And we can clearly see that Doomsday is the most vulnerable he’s been yet.
Then we cut back to Superman with the classic spit curl and the spear is glowing right into the camera. As Superman flies forward, the glowing spear leaves the frame and that allows us to focus more closely on Superman himself who is gritting his teeth and flying forward, which must be pretty difficult because he is in proximity to the Kryptonite. Indeed, he seems to be flying slower than usual and we can see sweat on his brow. This slower speed is probably why the first effort doesn’t actually fully penetrate Doomsday. But the flight continues forward with two quick shots, one from behind Doomsday where we can see Superman on his approach and then a shot tracking along with Superman toward Doomsday. The two shots use a film technique where the cuts are not actually continuous, like normal, but instead the cut actually puts us about a half second back in time, which heightens the importance of the moment and builds up more anticipation for what is about to happen -- in this case, the stabbing of Doomsday. You can see this technique if you track Superman’s distance to Doomsday. In the first shot, he basically makes right up to within a few meters of Doomsday, but then in the second shot he is back again 15 to 20 meters out and we see him cover the same ground again. We then go to a steady shot on Doomsday for the actually impact and Superman thrusts the spear in and Doomsday roars with pain, and before we go any further, we have to cover two things -- Superman’s decision to wield the spear himself, and the amazing musical score here.
So with regard to wielding the spear, many people have said that Superman didn’t have to sacrifice himself because he could’ve given the spear to Wonder Woman to use against Doomsday -- some people have even said he should’ve given it to Batman. You know, Batman the human. We are going to provide some rationales for why that doesn’t make sense, and our lines of reasoning basically fall along two categories. One, there is no assured success if you give the spear to someone else and in fact there is probably a lower chance of success with, say, Wonder Woman using the spear than Superman using the spear. And two, even if Wonder Woman might have a good chance of success with the spear, there is still the issue of Superman not wanting to pass the buck.
We’ll give a bit more detail on those two points in a moment, but we also want to say that audience members need to be sure to use a fair standard when they judge scenes like this. Just like we said back with the nuclear launch decision, the question cannot be whether it was the perfect decision made, the only fair question is to ask whether this was a plausible decision for the characters in this given situation. Maybe there’s a perfect scenario where Superman gives Wonder Woman the spear and she manages to be successful in using it, but that can’t be the standard. It is still very plausible that Superman would decide to take up the spear and try to use it himself.
Alright, so let’s go through this in just a bit of detail. Superman just now got the spear, and amidst the chaotic battle, the Trinity didn’t have much of an opportunity here to devise a strategic attack. They had to improvise, which is what Batman did with the Kryptonite grenade after he saw that Wonder Woman tied him down temporarily with her lasso. Seeing an opening thanks to Wonder Woman and Batman, it makes sense that he would just go forward with a full frontal attempt with the spear. Superman doing this seems like it would have the highest probability of success, because he has the benefit of flight and of Wonder Woman helping to hold Doomsday with the lasso. We’ve seen at least twice before this that Doomsday can catch Superman right out of the air, so if his arms were free, it would be hard for Superman or Wonder Woman to get in close enough for the stab. We also saw before some things that make us believe Wonder Woman may have a hard time actually getting in there with the spear. For example, she tried to stab Doomsday earlier with her sword and he blasted her away with heat vision. So although it’s possible she could make it through with a thrusting attack, and yes, she is the best fighter of the three according to Geoff Johns, it actually doesn’t seem like she has as good of a shot as Superman does here.
And by the way, while we’re talking about Wonder Woman’s skills, I personally think it was a good call to have the cinematic Wonder Woman be a great leaper rather than a flyer. It separates her powers from Superman's so it’s really clear that she's not just a female Superman knockoff, she's her own character. And leaping ability is also more explainable than flying ability for someone who is an Earth-based hero. I kind of like it that flying is specifically extraterrestrial.
Now, back to the spear, critics might say that Superman is weakened by the Kryptonite, so he shouldn’t stay so close to the spear and that’s why he should give it instead to Wonder Woman. But I still think it’s very plausible that Superman would want to carry this out himself. It’s clearly an action that is going to put a person’s life at risk, so Superman wants to take that on himself, he doesn’t want to pass that risk on to someone else. Great leaders and great heroes don’t pass the buck, they don’t, for example, blame failed military operations on their generals, and they don’t shed any responsibility for false statements they make by just saying, hey I heard it somewhere, that’s what someone told me. They don’t take multiple military deferments, allowing others to go to war in their place and then lie and say they had a high draft number. Superman isn’t like that -- he has integrity and wouldn’t quickly pass a dangerous task off to someone else.
We also want to let a couple of our listeners weigh in on this topic. Deo Robinson from YouTube wrote the following: (quote) “I never did understand why people think Supes should've given the spear to Wonder Woman. This isn't like most comics where they have known and fought together for many years and are aware of each other's tactics and abilities. Here, they only just met. Exchanging only two sentences... Because of that, despite becoming increasingly aware of each other's capabilities, they are unaware of the extent that each other can take. Superman has no way of knowing just how much she can take and doesn't want to risk it (especially since he was starting to notice that Doomsday was getting smarter and more resistant to his and her attacks). Preferring to risk himself because that's who he is. This little sequence could very well be a loose take on the comic "Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman: Trinity", where the three fought together for the first time in their careers. In the case of Superman and Wonder Woman first meeting and working together (before meeting up with Batman), the two became increasingly aware of each other's abilities. However, Superman nevertheless continued to warn and protect Diana because that's what he's used to doing, Diana herself commented on how used to working alone and inclined to protect all life Superman was. Superman grabbed a missile and prepared to get rid of it in a way that was dangerous to himself, not caring whether or not Diana could do the same and survive it (and she likely would have). In BVS, I think it's the same thing. Superman doesn't care whether or not Diana can handle Doomsday. He values her life just like everyone else and he himself wants to shoulder the burden.” (end quote)
Mike Minas from YouTube also felt the same way as the rest of us, saying that “superman doesn't give the spear to Diana because he didn't want to risk her life he's a pure hearted hero he would never let someone else risk their lives.”
Alright, the other thing we said we would cover right here is the amazing music. If it sounds kind of familiar, that because it’s a grand reorchestration of one of the themes from Man of Steel. In particular, it’s the same theme that was playing right before Superman killed Zod. So it’s basically the theme that ties together the two emotional and physical climaxes for Superman. In this case, Eric Whitacre’s choir and the orchestration make it even more grandiose than Man of Steel, but you can really hear the connection, especially right around the moment when Superman shoves the spear in fully. The sound designers also made the connection between Zod and Doomsday as they mixed in Superman’s Zod death scream into his BvS scream of pain.
So now let’s continue with the action as Superman is right up close with Doomsday. We see that Doomsday screams and his reaction to the initial stab plus his energy release causes some rubble to crumble and this actually knocks Wonder Woman free from her lasso hold. This allows Doomsday to grab Superman by the waist and then we get a close-up shot on the bone spike, which I think was a great editing choice because it causes us to grimace in anticipation of what is about to happen. Then Doomsday violently stabs Superman right through the S-shield, the symbol of hope. Perhaps hope is going to die there, which was Lex’s desire probably, but as we’ll see, hope actually increases as Superman becomes a martyr and an inspiration. Another meaningful aspect of this moment is the connection to Jor-El being stabbed by Zod in the beginning of Man of Steel. That stabbing was shot similarly, and Doomsday has literally come forth from the corpse of Zod, so it is kind of the same being stabbing both generations of Els. And there’s a parallel in that Jor-El was stabbed and killed as he protected the future of the Kryptonian race, and Superman is now getting stabbed and killed as he protects the human race. And as Man of Steel Answers pointed out, Jor-El sacrificed himself so that his son could have a chance and so that Krypton might continue on through a connection with Earth. Superman sacrificed himself so that Batman and Wonder Woman could continue, with a model for what superheroism means.
There is also an incredible frame at the 2 hour, 11 minute, and 59 second mark of the theatrical cut where we see Doomsday looking at Superman in the eye. You can almost see a sense of vindication in his eyes, as if part of Zod was still inside the creature. But it is also a great shot just visually of a Doomsday that does not look like a cave troll but more like the Doomsday from the comics.
Next up we get some intense acting from Henry Cavill, who we both think does a nice job with these scenes of extreme physical exertion. He’s not afraid to go a bit ugly for the realism and the intensity and it works really well to emphasize the moment. He loses himself in the role, like he did in Man of Steel. And now he takes the blow right through his chest but gathers his last ounces of strength to finish the job. In a parallel to King Arthur in the movie Excalibur, Superman grabs a spike on Doomsday’s arm and brings himself closer, impaling himself even further so that he can shove the Kryptonite spear the rest of the way through Doomsday’s heart, which is what finally kills him. As Doomsday dies, he has one final energy surge and shoots another beam up into the sky but this time it is like his life force leaving him, because he is limp and crumples to the ground.
And Alessandro wanted to point out here that the 2:12:24 mark is his favorite musical phrase from the entire movie. It is so epic, and it’s that link back to Man of Steel that we mentioned. The first three notes, walking up A,B,C, also remind Alessandro of “Going the Distance” from Rocky. Then it continues D,E,F,A,G#, and finally a low A from the cellos, with the somber low note matching the feeling of the end of the scene. We see Superman’s fate lying in Doomsday’s hand. And both of them lying in roughly the same position allows us to finish with a good size comparison of the enemies, and we can see Doomsday’s skin and fingernail for some nice detail, and the spear is sticking straight up with Doomsday’s heart glowing green.
This overhead shot, called a Bird’s Eye Shot (or God’s Eye shot) -- is typical in death scenes because it gives the sense of a soul leaving the body. It is used in cinema to emphasize fate and finality. Furthermore, it is also a tribute to comic imagery. In particular, there’s a similar panel in Adventures of Superman #498, which is book one of the Funeral For a Friend story arc.
And while we’re looking at Superman here in Doomsday’s hand, that brings us to another parallel to Man of Steel -- this one is via Big Blue @cineloon on Twitter: big Blue said that, in MoS, baby Kal was born and cradled in Jor-El’s hand, and now Kal dies cradled in Zod’s hand. https://twitter.com/cineloon/status/771773137323253762
Jor-El said that he held the hope of Krypton’s natural future in his hand, and now Kal-El is dead, but he has passed on that hope to humanity, giving his life so that humanity could continue. Picking up this line of thinking, Adam White @adamcw3232 on twitter asked, Did humanity deserve this gift? That’s a big question that all of the DC Films seem to be exploring.
But here with the parallel hand shots, it wraps up a larger arc that began with the opening scenes of Man of Steel -- MoS was a battle between two different versions of Krypton, Jor-El’s and Zod’s, and also Zod pledged to destroy humanity without mercy, but Kal-El has now come full circle from that opening sequence in Krypton. He has made his decision and defeated Zod for good this time.
Another quick but nice connection to Man of Steel is a line that Colonel Hardy said: “A good death is its own reward.” This connection was pointed out by chanmanthe2nd on tumblr, and I think it really rings true here because Superman has a very good death. We’ll talk more at the end of this episode about what makes it such a good death, but the obvious reasons are that it was a selfless sacrifice, it saved the world from Doomsday, and it inspired so many people including Batman and Wonder Woman. A good death is its own reward, and it is finally a reward for all the heroism that Superman has been showing and not necessarily getting credit for it, neither in the movie universe or here in the real world from the audience.
Also, yet another connection to Man of Steel is that Superman again has his arms splayed out in the christ pose. In Man of Steel, it was when Superman was flying back down to Earth to save it from Zod, so it was kind of a moment of him taking up the mantle of being a savior. In BvS, it is a moment of personal sacrifice and martyrdom, which also has parallels to the christ stories. Snyder also gives us a close up of Superman’s lifeless body to let it sink in for us that he really is dead, this is not going to be a recovery situation like after the nuclear bomb. In that instance, he was withered but still intact. This time, he has been impaled while in close proximity to Kryptonite, so his organs have either been pulverized or they have been severed from their systems, and he really is dead. By confirming for the audience first that he really is dead, this allows us to fully mourn and sympathize with Lois rather than speculating and trying to ask ourselves if he’s really dead or if he’ll spring back to life.
We then go back to a God’s Eye shot, this time pulling up and slightly rotating, which is even more typical for those shots of the soul departing, and we see Batman walking over to the body and Wonder Woman stepping up to the edge of the wall. Lois then runs up and there’s a sad moment as Wonder Woman and Lois make eye contact and Lois realizes that this time Superman is actually gone. There’s great acting here from Amy Adams in her breathing and her facial expression and in crying that almost starts off as the word “no,” and there’s also a nice character beat for the two women as Diana deduces that Lois and Superman had a personal relationship. Diana did not know Superman for very long, but she knows how much this loss must mean to Lois and she also realizes what this loss of a true hero will mean to the world, so even Diana is somber and mournful here.
Batman kneels down over Superman and folds his arms and then wraps his cape around him. It’s a very poignant moment for Batman, who throughout the movie had been hell bent on killing Superman and now, here with the actual slain Superman, he is treating him with respect and is saddened by the loss. It’s a shame that Batman only just now realized his mistake and started having some admiration for Superman, but Superman is already gone. Batman then lowers him down to the mourning women below, and Wonder Woman receives the body with a cross in the background. This continues the Jesus imagery as an echo of the moment when Jesus was lowered from the cross in his shroud to his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. There are many famous paintings of the Descent from the Cross, such as by the artist Rubens -- we’ll put a link in the show notes. But the concept artists for BvS were clearly inspired by the Descent from the Cross, as shown in the Art of the Film book, and we can also remember that Zack Snyder studied art history before film school. This is one of several moments in the movie where there are nods to paintings or the inclusion of actual paintings themselves.
One of the earlier art connections was the depiction in the Wayne mausoleum of St. Michael the Archangel slaying Satan. That artwork, with Michael’s red cape, foreshadowed this moment as Superman has now slain Doomsday and is wrapped in his red cape.
The frequent connections to christian mythology involve Superman serving different roles. There’s a hint of St. Michael, and obviously with the sacrifice here and the resurrection that is sure to come in Justice League we have parallels to Jesus. There is also a connection to Jesus in the sense that Kal-El was sent to Earth as the only son of Jor-El and then rose up when he was 33 years old to take the mantle as a public hero. But as you know, the creators of Superman were actually Jewish and so we can’t overlook the strong connections to Moses as well. Moses was placed into a basket and sent down a river by his parents to avoid death, just like Kal-El was sent off in a rocket to avoid the destruction of Krypton. And Moses was then adopted and grew up amongst Egyptians even though he was an Israelite by birth, just like Kal-El was adopted and grew up amongst humans even though he was Kryptonians. Then when Moses was of age, he learned of his true heritage and became a great leader, again, like Superman. So this cinematic version of Superman, like many of the previous incarnations as well, is drawing upon religious mythology to construct a new mythology. If you like cleaner parallels rather than an amalgam of several religious figures, I think the easiest way to think about it is that Man of Steel is primarily a Moses story and BvS is more of the christ story, but that’s just a rough description. It will be really fun to look at the full trilogy of Snyder films and see how it all fits together once we see the way they handle his rise and rebirth in Justice League. Oh and by the way, as we come up on the anniversary, don’t forget that Batman v Superman, featuring the death of Superman, literally opened on Good Friday.
Anyway, going forward, Diana receives the body from Batman and you can see that she has enough strength to handle it easily but she also shows great care. She places him on the ground with his head in Lois’s lap. The background music with the vocalist using pure vowel sounds evokes the sound of angels singing. We get an extended moment with Lois, for whom the death is the most profound, and then we see Batman walking around to join them. He ducks his head and steps up and out of the shadows. Throughout this whole analysis, we have covered his falling motif and the constant association of Bruce and Batman with the downward direction, and here now is the turning point. He is stepping up and out of the flames of hell, this is the moment when he is fully redeemed and back on productive footing, and it is literally Superman’s death and sacrifice that pulled him out. Drawing on christian imagery, he is now redeemed through Superman’s sacrifice. Casper Richter and Eclipse on YouTube noticed this same thing, with Eclipse saying “there's symbolism of batman walking out of the darkness surrounded by rubble and fire, looking almost hellish, and into the light.” It’s our interpretation that this moment was the filmmakers marker of Batman’s redemption. And note that this confirms what we had said about Batman not being fully redeemed yet at the “Martha” moment. That was just his turning point, but this is his full redemption and restoration of his faith in the possibilities of himself and of humanity.
We then close Scene 72 with the camera slowly pulling back on the iconic shot of all four characters together. There is a beam of sunlight shining down from the left onto Superman, but it’s not healing him this time. In addition to the light, there is also Lois’s white shirt drawing our eyes to that spot on the screen as the focal point. And white also symbolizes the color of purity, a fitting marker for Superman’s selfless sacrifice. Wonder Woman and Batman stand on either side and the crosses are still visible off in the background, similar to the crosses of the thieves on either side of Jesus. @ImperiousLex on twitter recently pointed out that there are crows sitting on the crosses. I hadn’t noticed that, but he said “in popular mythology, crows and ravens are thought to be harbingers of death.” Superman’s head resting in Lois’s lap is a reference to the Death of Superman from the comics books, particularly issue 75 of Superman, and the whole shot here is an homage to Michelangelo’s Pietà, the famous Renaissance sculpture wherein Madonna cradles the body of the crucified Christ. (http://hubcityreview.com/2016/03/25/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice/)
This final shot is basically like a still painting, but there is the subtle camera motion and there is one final move as Wonder Woman slowly looks toward the sky, takes a breath, and then turns away in mourning. Casper Richter from YouTube had some thoughts about this scene, particularly focusing on Wonder Woman. He said, (paraphrasing here) “Because Diana comes from the world of gods and immortals, she may not have anticipated Superman as something special, but now she realized what he tried to stand for: kindness, help and forgiveness. (He forgave Batman and humanity, who directly or indirectly tried to kill him.) Wonder Woman may also be surprised by Lois. Because Wonder Woman may have seen Superman as sort of like a god from Greek mythology, it may be surprising that he seemed to have a deep relationship with a human woman, and the human woman seems to return that affection in full. This may be very different than what Diana and the Amazons are accustomed to in terms of relationships between men and women. And finally, still from Casper here, the moment when Diana looks up at the sky and away again, down to the ground. Casper thinks this is to illustrate that Diana might be disappointed because she knows the Greek gods are real, but they do not help people like Superman tries to do. And yet Superman’s reward for his efforts is death. Thanks for the thoughts, Casper.
In closing out this scene, I just want to say that even though people always say Zack Snyder is really great at shooting action, I happen to also think he has a great touch with these contemplative, silent moments, like the opening with the Waynes’ murder and here with Superman’s death. It hits me like a beautiful mixture of visual poetry in motion and shots that are almost like paintings in their composition and tone. For me personally, this whole sequence was very effective emotionally, as I teared up in theaters after seeing Superman go through so much, and so much that he didn’t deserve, and then to have it all culminate in this moment, it really hit me, and even still when I watch it all the way through, I can feel it in my throat. It’s amazing to me to have a movie that can pull off such an exhilarating Trinity superhero fight and a solemn death in back-to-back scenes. I think it’s something truly special about Batman v Superman.
End of Episode
So that’s our analysis of the scene. Next up will be a bald Lex and the two funerals. To close this episode we want to do just two more things. First, Alessandro had some thoughts in relation to the graphic novel Superman: Earth One Volume 3. That book was written by J Michael Straczynski while BvS was in production and Straczynski was in communication with Geoff Johns and others who were involved in the production. So there were opportunities for creative connections. In BvS, Superman was faced with Doomsday and all the destruction he was causing and even at the risk of death, Superman flew in to save the Earth because it was the right thing to do. Superman rushed into the fire, so to speak. Alessandro connected this to a passage from Earth One Volume 3. It that book, Superman said the following: “It took just one person, fueled by rage and desperation to make a choice not just to turn his back on the world--but to see that world destroyed. But for every one of those, there’s someone out there willing to rush into the fire where no one else will go--making a choice that would one day change the world in ways he could never, ever imagine...because that’s not why he did it in the first place. He did it because he knew it was the right things to do.”... And then later Superman is talking to Lois. “Funny how that works sometimes. Trying to do what you thought was right, you tried to tell me to be careful...tried to warn me against going too far, too fast.”
And Lois said: “You didn’t listen.”
And Superman responded: “No, I didn’t--and I should have, Lois. It’s another mistake I don’t intend to repeat.”
And finally, the last thing we need to touch on is the criticism that this was too early to kill off Superman in the Justice League Universe. Many critics talk about how the Death of Superman in the comics was a big hit and worked as a story because it was done after about 50 years of developing the character, so that we all knew him and trusted him and loved him, so were saddened by his loss. Although I think that was true for the Death of Superman event in the comics, I think the mistake people are making is that they assume the movie universe Death of Superman has to be the same kind of death as it was in the comics. That death in the comics was a we-loved-him-so-much-and-now-we-lost-him kind of death. It’s very meaningful and it’s kind of like losing a beloved parent or grandparent who you’ve known and looked up to for decades. But that is not the only type of death that is meaningful and it’s not the only type of death that can be effective in storytelling. In the movie universe, they executed a different kind of death. This was a we-didn’t-appreciate-him-until-he-was-gone kind of death. Think of something like an artist who dies too young or someone who only got the recognition they deserved posthumously. I think this death worked very well for the BvS story because it resolved Clark’s character arc of trying to deal with a world who was protesting and debating his existence, and a world in which some people were actively working against him. It also works well in the arc of Man of Steel to BvS to Justice League because it sets the stage for a return in Justice League where both individuals, like Batman, and the public in general will have the chance to make it up to Superman and appreciate him that much more because they realized how they had not given him a fair shake before.
With regard to the critics who say BvS made a mistake simply because it wasn’t like the death in the comic books, I think some of these people are operating very simplistically and are just saying that if something is true to the comics, it is good, and if it’s not true to the comics, it’s bad. That is not a very helpful way to evaluate art, in my opinion. Instead, you should look for connections with and inspirations from the source material, but you should allow the filmmakers to tell their own story and see if their decisions make sense within the narrative they are creating. In the case of BvS, I think the way they handled Superman’s death does make a lot of sense for the character and for the realistic setting they are working in --- it is true that our society tends to become partisan and look for the flaws in our heroes, and it is also true that we often adore people more after they’ve died. So it’s realistic to have Superman’s death be a turning point and a unification in public opinion. And yes, it is also an added bonus that Superman’s death here gives more impetus for the Justice League to form because someone needs to protect the Earth in Superman’s absence. This is also an ironic situation for Bruce, because Bruce had thought he should take out Superman to protect Earth and now we actually see that Earth is in danger precisely because Superman is dead.
Anyway, another way people criticize Superman’s death is not based on the comics but is based on the idea that Man of Steel wasn’t really a Superman movie because he only became Superman at the very end when he took his role at the Daily Planet. And they also said BvS didn’t really feature the fully confident Superman yet, so it was a mistake to kill him before having a proper Superman movie in the sense of a hero who is firmly established in the world and in his own mindset. But again, I think this a bit of a misguided criticism because it is presupposing that there is only one possible order of things -- namely, origin, establishment, then death. But there is another possible order, and it seems to me that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman set up this other development of Superman really well -- that is, origin where Superman chooses Earth, conflict where Earth struggles to trust Superman, but then through his sacrifice and death he wins Earth fully over to his side, so that he can return in Justice League and THEN have the established phase of the character. So it’s origin, struggle and death, then rebirth and establishment.
Our listener, Michael Schinke from YouTube, said it this way: (quote) “These are some of the criticisms that this portion of the film in specific have faced. They usually have almost nothing to do with the film itself, its internal logic or how the scenes work in the films own context. Rather they address the larger issue of some audience members coming in wanting a vastly different movie than what they got. ... none of these criticisms actually challenge the on screen logic. Like Zod's death in Man of Steel, the scenes are written and staged quite specifically to funnel the action to the conclusion reached. To change anything would mean removing the ends of the thematic arcs for the characters; Batman does not become inspired to hope once again, Wonder Woman does not follow his lead back into the world to fight for it, the world doesn't see what it had and what it lost in Superman and, most importantly, Superman isn't able to inspire others by holding on to his faith and making the ultimate sacrifice for a world that hasn't exactly been all that kind to him... It's intensely frustrating because you can't really argue people’s fandoms or their opinions, and when the conversation actually begins to center on story logic and their criticisms start to falter they will inevitably pivot to their opinion based commentary and shut down all conversation.” We share your frustration with the criticism, Michael, but we hope that having this podcast helps a bit as a way to think about what the filmmakers were after and what they did accomplish with the scene.
Now, one final small thing before we close, @AndrewBDyce on twitter noticed a really cool visual element that we missed back in Scene 27. It’s in the museum as Diana is approaching the Sword of Alexander. We did mention in our analysis that Alexander the Great was a brilliant tactician and warrior, so there are some parallels to Batman, and there may be even more parallels if the historians who think Alexander was mentally insecure and prone to rage are correct. But what we did not notice in that scene, but @AndrewBDyce did notice, was that Zack Snyder framed up the shot so that Bruce Wayne was literally reflected in the case containing the sword of Alexander. It’s at the end of the long one-shot as Diana is being led up to the sword, and as she arrives her back is to us in the foreground and Bruce is standing in the background on the far right, which places his reflection right over the sword on the far left. It’s technically brilliant that they could pull this off at the end of a long one-shot where the camera is moving all through the museum, but what makes these little moments really great is that they actually have conceptual meaning for the movie. There actually is a compelling connection between Bruce and Alexander. It’s not just a meaningless flourish.