Batman V Superman is arguably one of the most divisive films of the decade. The received mediocre to poor reviews by critics (28% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 4.9/10) and didn’t make as much at the global box office ($US 873 million) as a film with the words “Batman” and “Superman” should have (easily more than $US 1 billion). However, to this day the film is argued about passionately. Some of its most ardent fans will even tell you that it’s a misunderstood masterpiece.
One of the many odd decisions made by director Zack Snyder and writers David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio in the second DCEU film is, of course, the death of Superman. But before I get into why that’s an odd choice, let’s see what Snyder himself had to say in a live commentary for the film this past weekend. Per THR:
Snyder revealed that Superman’s death scream, which echoes, was the sound that awakened the Mother Boxes and would have alerted Steppenwolf, hence the Justice League line, “no Kryptonions,” which would have also been in Snyder’s cut of the film.
The film begins and ends with a death, that of the Waynes, and that of Superman. The canon shot fired at Superman’s funeral echoes the bullet firing from Joe Chill’s gun at the beginning of the film. Snyder said the cyclical nature of the film was important to him and the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne broke something, while the death of Superman allowed for healing to begin, not only for Bruce Wayne but for humanity. He said that as the film evolved, Superman’s sacrifice became more impactful on where the characters were left, citing an earlier idea to have Batman brand Lex at the end of the film, but instead showing him struggle with his rage and refuse to brand him, an initial effort to take Superman’s sacrifice to heart.
Now, Snyder does make a good case here. However, while the theme may have thematic significance when put under a microscope, it doesn’t have emotional weight. Why does the fight between Iron Man, Captain America and Bucky in Captain America: Civil War feel so emotionally exhausting. Why did we cry when Tony Stark die at the end of Endgame? Why did we clench our fists when Black Widow plunged to her death? It’s because we’ve gotten to know these characters on such a profound level over the years. We’re connected to them emotionally.
Now, imagine it’s 2010. We’ve only gotten one Iron Man film in the MCU thus far. But in Iron Man 2, Iron Man and Captain America fight each other because they apparently hate each other and then Thanos shows up at the end and Iron Man and Captain America team up to fight Thanos, then Captain Marvel shows up, and in an effort to kill Thanos, Iron Man dies. Would we be emotionally moved? Hell no. But that’s exactly what transpired in Batman V Superman. On top of that, the death becomes even more meaningless when we know for a fact that Superman will be making his triumphant return in Justice League.