Thursday, June 9, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 24 and 25

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, scenes 24 and 25, which are when Wallace Keefe is bailed out by Lex and then goes to meet Senator Finch.

  • Wallace Keefe's apartment contrasted with Lex's mansion
  • Lex is "just a man" and Wallace is "half a man"
  • Quotes about Lex's character (Times of Israel)
  • Listener question: What's your response to the critiques that Superman is too depressed?
  • Superman as an introvert (tumblr link)
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco for his help on the analysis.

Man of Steel Answers
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<Transcript of the episode>

Welcome fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, I share my analysis of the movies that are part of the DC Films division of Warner Brothers Pictures, focusing especially on movies in the Justice League Universe.

This episode contains analysis by myself and Alessandro Maniscalco of scenes 24 and 25 in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. These are two short scenes where Wallace Keefe is bailed out of jail by Lex Luthor and then Keefe goes to meet with Senator Finch. So we have Lex visiting Washington DC to orchestrate things leading up to the Capitol bombing, and after that, he’ll return to Metropolis.

Scene 24 starts with Wallace in jail because of his vandalism at Heroes Park. He gets bailed out and asks, “Who paid?” This is the beginning of him being used as a pawn by Lex and the beginning of it is appropriately marked with Keefe’s perplexity. Also, it’s interesting to note that Keefe asked, “Who paid?” in an open way rather than saying, “Who paid the bail?” or “Who bailed me out?” Those would not have been appropriate because he’s not really being bailed out at all, it’s more like an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fryer situation, but he doesn’t know it yet. Also, as we find out later, it is really Wallace himself who will pay the ultimate price, not Lex.

We then see Wallace proceed to his rundown home in Phillips Manor. We’ve mentioned before that Wallace has a relatively straightforward character arc in this movie compared to the complexities of all the other characters, but two things that his character does nicely is (1) present a commentary on confirmation bias, which is a big problem in our society. Because of his mental state, he looks at all these heroic deeds by Superman, but instead of viewing them as positives, he sees each one as more evidence of Superman not being revealed for what he is. He is not a hero, to Wallace, and to him the newspaper clippings all feed his fire, even though someone with a different mindset might see those things completely differently.

The second thing Wallace does is provide a clear contrast to Lex. Their homes, for example, couldn’t be more starkly different. We just had the extravagant party at Lex’s modern mansion and now we see Wallace’s decrepit living conditions. Yet both share a hatred of Superman -- one from the top of the world, the other from rock bottom.

As Wallace enters his apartment, he sees Lex in the wheelchair and asks, “Who the hell are you?” The “hell” connects Lex with the Devil, which is of course more accurate than Wallace thinking Superman is a monster. And little does Wallace know that Lex is currently planning something particularly devilish.

Lex then rotates around in the wheelchair with the funny buzz noise that is a send-up of James Bond villain tropes. I saw one critic of BvS who listed this as a moment that was unintentionally funny, but I think this gag was totally planned, putting Lex in the stereotypical villain position, although Lex, I’d say, is more than a typical villain. For example, what will happen later in the Capitol catches the audience off guard and is much more brutal on more levels than most villains’ actions. In the next scene, when Wallace recreates the slow buzzy turnaround in the wheelchair, it reads like another little callback gag but also foreshadows that Wallace has become part of Lex’s plot.

So Wallace asks, “Who the hell are you?” And Lex responds, “Just a man.” Again, Lex is toying with Wallace. This scene gives some evidence to the interpretation of Lex that this is all just a game to him. Lex is acting like, because he’s just a man, he’s right down on the level of Wallace, which of course we know Lex does not actually believe about himself. He believes he has the right to totally use and manipulate Wallace. By saying “man,” Lex is also implying that he’s not SUPERman and not claiming to be a righteous hero, which Wallace resents Superman for being treated as.

Wallace then asks, “Yeah, well what do you want?” This is also the question that the audience should be asking themselves. What is Lex up to with Wallace?

Lex says, “To help you stand for something.” Okay, Lex is a jerk, saying that to a double amputee. And you can see on Lex’s face that he kind of tickled himself with that line. Yet Lex knows that Wallace won’t call him out on it because there’s a slight chance that maybe it was sincere and Wallace is also probably grateful for getting bailed out and is somewhat curious as to what Lex’s offer is going to be.

In typical BvS form, we don’t explicitly hear what occurred next between Lex and Wallace but we see Wallace, now cleaned up and well dressed, with clothes probably provided by Lex, and he’s outside Senator Finch’s office waiting to meet her. He has received the gift of the electronic wheelchair, which of course becomes important later, but right now, him spinning around in it shows that he is basically Lex’s puppet.

Wallace says to Finch, “He made me half a man. Let me face him.” He doesn’t explicitly say Superman, but it’s assumed that’s who he’s referring to. Interestingly, it is actually Lex, not Superman, who is reducing Wallace to less than a person because he is just using him as a means to an end. This connects to the main theme that powerlessness can sometimes corrupt more than power. Wallace feels like half a man, and Superman is clearly more than a man. Wallace felt and feels powerless. And he wants to “face” Superman, rather than facing and accepting his own circumstances as an amputee.

The “half a man” phrase is also juxtaposed with Lex saying a few moments earlier that he’s just a man. So we have a man, half a man, both positioning themselves in relation to a Superman.

But in terms of plot, what we see here is that Superman is going to be lured into the Capitol, into a Senate Hearing like was already foreshadowed in Scene 5. The actual invitation to the Capitol from Senator Finch doesn’t happen until Scene 38. But when we get there, we’ll have to remember that the whole thing is being orchestrated by Lex.

We’re going to close our analysis portion of this episode with a few quotes from Jesse Eisenberg about the character of Lex. Here’s one from the Times of Israel:
“When I started reading the comic books, I realized why they had staying power. They create a universe that gives us the opportunity to talk about big ideas, talk about the evils of unchecked power, the corruptibility of power and xenophobia. Luthor is a classic bigot: He feels [Superman] is not like us, he doesn’t belong here.

And here’s another quote from Eisenberg, this time at the London Comic-Con: “What I wanted to do with the character is I want to humanize these people that you have seen dehumanized... To me, the most interesting acting is when actors can bring you into that other side of the person. When you feel like you are not just seeing the kind of purpose of them for plot. That they are not just delivering a message. They’re actually showing you humanity. And that’s what I tried to do with that character.”

We think Lex’s character revealed a lot about humanity -- with respect to power, powerlessness, manipulation, the evils of treating others as means to an end, and relationships between god and man. In fact, based on the public’s reaction to Eisenberg’s Lex, the script and his performance may have gone too far away from just executing a plot and toward the human psychology, because people couldn’t follow along and seemed to miss a lot of the levels to his character. But that is not a negative thing from our perspective because we thought it was a bold and compelling take on the character that only goes up several notches after this point.

End of Episode:

So that’s it for Scenes 24 and 25 -- two short ones, which means we have some time for a listener question. So Umesh Narayan on YouTube asks: “What do you think of the complaint of BvS that Superman didn't act enough like Superman and he was too detached and depressed? That seems to be a common theme from my friends who didn't like this movie.”

This is definitely an important question that touches on a lot of the negativity toward BvS. But I think it’s completely misguided negativity. First of all, let me share a few of Alessandro’s thoughts here. Alessandro reminds us that the Superman in this movie, and Lex Luthor too, for that matter, are in the early stages of their hero and villain careers. They don’t have the decades of comic book, television, and movie history that we have with the characters. Now, after BvS, having finally accepted Earth as his planet, and having finally earned the acceptance of the residents of Earth through his selfless act of sacrifice, it would make sense for us to see the confident and hopeful Superman in future movies. But this film is essential to his growth and maturity into the Superman everyone is used to seeing. And this being Lex's first failure to take down Superman, and the psychological turmoil he has endured through the movie and from learning about the evils that are out there in the universe, he is most certainly primed to become darker and meaner, especially after serving some time in prison alongside some of the more vicious criminals he had not yet had the pleasure of being around given his luxurious lifestyle beforehand.

As for myself, I would respond to Umesh’s question by saying that the Superman in Man of Steel and BvS is still basically the same character, with the hope, optimism and idealism inside him, but the filmmakers have chosen to put him in a realistic setting. Right from the beginning of their planning on Man of Steel, they were guided by the idea of what if Superman was actually here in the real world? This means as filmmakers they had to think organically about what the real reactions would be from the people and institutions in society if someone like Superman were to arrive.

And it’s pretty realistic that people would divide into camps of love and fear, defenders and haters. The governments would be very concerned about Superman’s level of power. The media would have a field day, first glorifying him as a celebrity and then riding the ratings of all the Superman fear mongering. Business leaders and other power brokers in society would also make their moves based on Superman’s existence. Religious leaders would have a lot of theological gymnastics to perform to bring their doctrines into alignment with the presence of a powerful alien.

In this context, it would be fake and hollow to have Superman completely ignore the ways he’s being perceived and the turmoil that he has caused in people’s beliefs and senses of themselves. Thus a smiley, happy-go-lucky Superman wouldn’t fit at all.

Imagine the alternative. Imagine if the filmmakers had provided that confident, happy-go-lucky Superman that people say they want:
Imagine that Superman saves someone and then is fawned over and worshipped as a god. People are abandoning their religion and faith to bow at the altar of Superman. And then Superman is supposed to go, “Haha, great to see everyone. Don’t forget to brush and floss!”

Or imagine after a destructive fight with Doomsday, Superman turning to a camera and saying, “Well, I hope this incident hasn’t put you off genetic research.”

Or imagine Superman, through the course of a movie, facing all the complexities of being an active power in the world, with all the difficult choices and the unintended consequences, but then having Superman just be very confident and straightforward, as if it was all so simple. “It was the right thing to do, Lois.” But in the real world, the right thing is not usually obvious, and even when it is, that doesn’t mean people should just ignore other people’s perspectives about it, because even the right thing is never a perfect thing. That’s one of the reasons I love Zack Snyder’s versions of the Kents, because they give unconditional love and support to Clark through all the complexities, rather than trying to remove the complexities and just give simple folksy advice.

So while I like other versions of Superman too and I’ve been a Superman fan since before Man of Steel, I have to say that I very much respect this new version that is taking Superman seriously and putting him in a realistic setting, because it ends up being a story about ourselves as a society just as much as it is a story about Superman. Is there good in this world that we beat down with our negativity and divisiveness? Are there people who could have done great things but were scared of the reactions they would face? How do we do the best we can even when the best thing will not always turn out perfectly?

I also think it’s important to point out that even though Superman goes through some doubts and has to think hard about what his place in this realistic world will be, he always comes through, even at great cost to himself. And his selflessness and natural inclination to be a hero, which goes back all the way through Man of Steel and into BvS, eventually inspires others to rise up.

Okay, those are my thoughts. I could explain further, but it will come out in the analysis of other scenes. And it will also be a big part of my Man of Steel episodes, if I ever find time to do those.

One last thing, though, about Superman’s character. I recently saw this short post from thegeekydietition on tumblr, and it was shared by simplyredqueen. That post, which is linked in the show notes, talks about Superman as an introvert, which should not be viewed as a bad thing or as somehow less than if he were an extrovert. Some of the negative reaction to Superman’s portrayal, however, may have been because introverts are not often represented in leading parts of blockbuster movies -- they are relegated more to independent or off-beat films. But here in the Justice League Universe, we have an introverted Superman who was bullied and outcast as a child, but who still rose up as a young man to be a hero everywhere he went, even before he had the cape. And his first act as Superman was to save the planet, a planet he wasn’t even sure would accept him. And then in BvS he goes around the world trying to do good, even as he’s disheartened to observe the way people are fearing him, debating him, and worshipping him. He continues trying to do good, even when it sometimes comes with unintended consequences.

I appreciate it about his character that he takes all these things to heart and that he is very aware of the effect he is having on society. He also has to try to deal with these two alpha dogs, Bruce and Lex, that make it a sport almost to take him down. Even amidst all of this, he comes through in the end because he has the strong connections and the conviction that he needs to sacrifice himself for this complex, cruel world.

Thank you for listening. And thanks also the Alessandro Maniscalco, Man of Steel Answers, and the Suicide Squadcast. Next up we go back to the Daily Planet to check in on Clark and Perry.

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