What Supergirl Got Right that Batman v. Superman Didn’t
This article contains some pretty big spoilers for Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman as well as Supergirl (the CBS show)- you’ve been warned.
I’ve come down pretty hard on Supergirl in the past, and for good reason: the show has some serious issues. It opened with a bunch of faux-feminist baggage that never went anywhere, it ruined The Man Who Has Everything story with stupid office hijinks and and pointless auxiliary drama which took away precious storytelling time from what was supposed to be the main plot, and it’s very guilty of ruining the character of Jimmy- excuse me, James Olsen. I would’ve much preferred that Jimmy stay in Metropolis, and that our James be somebody else entirely- there’s nothing wrong with his character, but he’s not Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy Olsen was never cool.
Anyway, while Supergirl has a lot of flaws, somehow it keeps me coming back every week. Maybe it’s because the show isn’t totally grimdark or perhaps it’s just the snarky Cat Grant, but for whatever reason I’ve seen every episode of the show.
Then, there’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I walked into the film very excited, and walked out very disappointed. For a bit of perspective, I was rather fond of the mythopoeic quality of Snyder’s previous Superman movie, Man of Steel, and was hoping that Batman v. Superman could cover some new thematic ground while expanding upon the characters who’d be the founding members of the Justice League. Additionally, I was looking forward to seeing how Ben Affleck would handle the character of Bruce Wayne- I was hoping he’d be better than George Clooney.
The movie started off strong- there was a very Southern Gothic dream sequence involving a young Bruce Wayne rising from a well in a cloud of bats, which seemed to be a nice contrast to Superman’s introduction in the previous film. The film flashed back two years to the fight between Superman and General Zod from the previous film, this time following Bruce Wayne’s perspective as he drove through the imperiled city to the Wayne Enterprises building, which Superman and Zod had been fighting. He discovers that many of his employees are injured- or dead- due to the fighting, and it’s from this point that Wayne begins to hate Superman.
It’s certainly a stronger introduction than the first episode of Supergirl– unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. The film is completely monotonous; it’s a smile-free movie. Perry White (played by Lawrence Fishburne) drops a snarky bit of pithy humor here and there, and the antagonist, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) vacillates between cartoonish, Joker-esque silliness and creepy, threatening brooding. The film’s attempts at comic relief fall flat, and don’t seem well timed- not even Jeremy Irons as Alfred could make me laugh.
The tonal monotony wouldn’t have been so awful if the movie was laser-focused on Batman. If he never put on the mask of Bruce Wayne and spent the entirety of the movie just being Batman, it would’ve been less awful. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t shift its tones between characters. Scenes with Superman were unnecessarily angst-ridden, and he hardly seemed to be in character as Superman. Superman’s whole focus is bringing people hope, right? Well, why didn’t he ever seem to smile? During the scene in which he rescues a girl from a burning building and is surrounded by people eager to touch him, do his lips curl upwards? Does he reach back and reciprocate? Nope. He just stands there, brooding.
Compare this to Supergirl. During the 16th episode this season, “Falling”, there’s a scene in which a girl is being bullied for wearing a Supergirl outfit to school. Supergirl catches this with her super-hearing and shows up to bring a smile to that poor little girl’s face- declaring her a friend. It was a little scene, but it spoke to the element of Supergirl’s character that’s meant to inspire hope.
It gets better, however- in this very episode, Supergirl is exposed to red kryptonite, which causes her to behave angrily- almost evilly. She becomes a threat to the public and causes fear and chaos- and there’s a scene in which the little schoolgirl throws away her Supergirl outfit in shame and sadness.
The episode raised questions about Supergirl’s accountability as a hero and gave people a real reason to be scared of a powerful and seemingly benevolent alien- one who’d have to fight hard to regain their trust. The regaining of trust did happen in a later episode, though the moment in which it happened fell sort of flat, and felt like a weaker version of a similar scene from Spider-Man 2– but that’s a discussion for another day.
Compare this to Batman v. Superman– Superman causes a bunch of collateral damage, and there’s supposed to be some sort of hearing to address this. Superman, looking to prove his innocence, goes to the hearing in Washington D.C., but before the proceedings get underway, the courtroom bursts into flame because the principal witness was actually a suicide bomber. Much like the hearings, the theme of whether or not Superman could be trusted was blown away and forgotten about.
What’s worse, Batman’s character causes tons and tons of collateral damage himself. We see this version of Batman shooting guns, blowing up thugs and generally doing very un-Batman-like things. While it’s been brought up that Batman has killed- intentionally- in the old comics, it’s also worth noting that the Batman of old was a very different character than the modern Batman we know today. The brooding, grumpy detective vigilante who occasionally pretends to be a billionaire playboy philanthropist was very different long ago.
Of course, modern Batman has killed- but only as a last resort- and he’s felt awful about it.
It’s just strange that Batman is campaigning against Superman because of all the damage he’s caused, while he causes plenty of it himself.
This is never addressed in the movie.
Also, this version of Batman behaves more like the Punisher than Batman. He brands criminals. Seriously, he burns the Bat-logo into their shoulders. What kind of justice is that? It would’ve made infinitely more sense for this version of Batman to have been Thomas instead of Bruce Wayne; for those unfamiliar, there’s an alternate take on Batman in which young Bruce Wayne was killed on that fateful night at the theater, and his father takes up the mantle- and has no qualms about killing.
While we’re talking about character, Lex Luthor (who, much like James Olson in Supergirl, bears no resemblance to the character he’s named for) has an interesting motivation for creating an eldritch abomination to kill Superman- simply put, he’s not fond of Superman’s brand of justice and fears that he could become a brutal judge, jury and executioner- but his methods don’t seem to make sense. Because Superman is too powerful and dangerous, Lex Luthor will… Create an uncontrollable monstrosity that arbitrarily hates Superman? He’ll try to convince Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) to allow him to import a large piece of kryptonite, and when she blocks him, he’ll have his goons smuggle it in… And then have Hunter killed anyway, when she’s no longer standing in his way? What did he stand to accomplish by blowing up the proceedings, besides making it seem as though somebody, somewhere, was afraid of what Superman might have to say?
Meanwhile in Supergirl, we have Maxwell Lord as our on again, off again antagonist. He’s a smarmy billionaire, an unlikable version of Tony Stark, but his motivation for creating the Bizarro Supergirl- as well as his use of her- make significantly more sense than Luthor’s creation of Doomsday. Lord is scared of what could happen if Supergirl ever went rogue- and so he creates his own Bizarro Supergirl, who’s totally under his control, to fight her.
Admittedly, Lord’s actions didn’t make total sense, but they were a lot more believable than what went down in Batman v. Superman.
The 19th episode of Supergirl, “Myriad”, aired last night- it’s all leading up to next week’s season finale, and in spite of the show’s flaws- its ham-fisted drama, awful Red Tornado design, contrived love octagons and other problems, Supergirl has remained true to its themes and created and developed characters that I care about. That’s a lot more than Batman v. Superman managed to do with a hundred times the budget. There was a scene in last night’s episode in which Maxwell Lord is ready to detonate a bomb which would stop the villains from taking over the world, but it’d also kill thousands of people. Supergirl almost goes along with his plan because it seems like the least awful option- but at the last minute, comes up with a new solution- one that, as you might guess, relates to her own personal theme of hope.
I’m not saying that a superhero movie can’t be serious- Netflix’s Daredevil is quite famously one of the grittier adaptations of a comic, and yet it’s not without its lighthearted moments and in-character comic relief. It can be incredibly dark but it avoids the trap of boring monotony.
Batman v. Superman had no hope. It was all style and no substance. If somebody let Kylo Ren create a superhero movie, I’m pretty sure that this depressing, nihilistic thing would’ve been the result. I’m sad that this movie is the way that the live-action Justice League has been introduced. What was supposed to be the DC Comics equivalent of the Avengers has turned into the Fantastic Three.
What do you think? Am I completely wrong about this? Was Batman v. Superman the best DC movie yet? Is making everything gritty and serious the best possible route for a film? Did it do a good job with its themes? Should Wonder Woman have been a surprise? Sound off in the comments below or hit us up and follow @Blackmannrobin on Twitter for all the greatest sci-fi news, reviews, previews and interviews; follow me for my own views.